Archive for the ‘media’ Category

Writing A Book Part 1: Idea to Execution

The 21-month period ended this Saturday with the publication of my latest book, Terry Bradshaw: From Super Bowl Champion to Television Personality. The long process appeared to be common with certain kinds of non-fiction publications.

Things started last January when an editor for a new series of books on sports idols who became popular culture icons asked me if I wanted to submit a book proposal. Having had my book, The Bullets, The Wizards and Washington, D.C. Basketball published with Rowman and Littlefield, I knew something about the steps they sought in their book proposals. The difficult part was figuring out whom I would write about.

At first, the names that popped into my head were female tennis stars, specifically Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. Each had played a role in furthering women’s roles on the tennis circuit, but they also were well known for their sexual orientation and became major figures in announcing. After thinking twice about them, I focused on Jim Brown. The former NFL star running back had a long career as a movie actor in Hollywood. He stood as a player in the Civil Rights Movement and had also voiced his opinion on matters in politics and culture over the years.

Then, the set of struggles over the Confederate flag in South Carolina and on the car used in the television show The Dukes of Hazzard happened. I read a wide-range of articles and felt there was a lot about the American South that I did not know. I realized that Terry Bradshaw had as rich a career in popular culture as in sports so I looked into him as a possibility for a book. I wrote a chapter on Bradshaw acting in 1970s Burt Reynolds movies, polished it up after my friend Brian gave it a great read, and shipped it off to the publisher along with the book proposal.

With university and some academic presses, after the editor completes a review, he/she submits these documents to people with expertise in the field for comments. Rowman and Littlefield have “reading boards” with librarians who offer their assessment, including whether they would have an interest in buying the book upon completion. The group gave the possible Bradshaw book the nod in January 2016. I received a contract giving me an October 2016 completion date. I doubted that I could complete the ten chapters in this time frame and sought a co-writer. This time I could not find one. Fortunately, Brian volunteered to read chapters, then raise questions and identify gaps.

As always I started with researching the subject. Bradshaw has written four books about his life and they proved very helpful. These books featured stories that I could use later and people and places that I knew had to be corroborated in other books, magazines and newspapers. Bradshaw’s books showed why he was a popular culture icon. His football career covered the 1970s and 80s. He served as a color commentator for games during the 1980s, and has been a studio analyst for professional football on two networks for 27 years. He has sang country western and gospel music, made movies and appeared on television shows in the 1970s and the 1990s and 2000s. Has has made commercials for nearly every type of product.

The other books ranged from fan and journalist books on football and the Pittsburgh Steelers to academic works on  of the 1970s.  Sports reporter Gary Pomerantz’s Their Life’s Work: The Brotherhood of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, Then and Now provided details about the team and the individual men. Several figures from the team wrote autobiographies, including the team’s President Dan Rooney through linebacker Andy Russell and announcer Myron Cope. All these works provided context and stories about the team and Bradshaw’s personality. A few scholars wrote about on road movies and Southern movies during the 1970s as well the depictions of Southerners in popular literature and television which offered perspectives on imagery of Southern white males, specifically the Good Old Boy.

This information got me off to a great start but I noticed great gaps about his childhood and days working in television. I used resources like the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame to identify people who wrote about or played with Bradshaw while he played high school and college football. Thankfully I discovered that people from the area proved very nice and willing to help. Doug Ireland, the head of the Hall of Fame, gave me several names, and they remarkably included Bradshaw’s old high school football coach. The coach provided details about Shreveport, the school system, the football program, and Terry’s personality. I also spoke with the journalists they had told me about and they had grown up with Terry so they could provide some childhood insight as well as high school and college football stories. Again, my great fortune to meet open and straight-shooting people.

I figured finding out about television broadcasting would be more difficult. There are small cadres of people working in the field and reputations are guarded closely. I tried to reach out to a few groups including the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.  I left messages and heard nothing back. Some articles in sports weeklies such as Sports Illustrated, featured a few articles about individuals who worked with Terry Bradshaw while he was with CBS Sports. Through various searches I found information for sports producer Terry O’Neil. I re-read the articles, read his autobiography and prepared a list of questions. He proved very helpful and insightful about the work of a color commentator and studio host and analyst for the NFL.

Other searches for producers and on-air talent did give me a few email addresses and telephone numbers. Most significantly I got to talk with Bradshaw’s broadcasting partner for a few years Verne Lundquist. He proved generous with his time, providing responses to my questions but also offering stories.

Unfortunately, other well-known people I called failed to return my messages. Getting in touch with players I figured would be a challenge. When I wrote the basketball book I received a list with contact information for some former players. This helped a lot and I conducted quite a few interviews, particularly with players who were active decades ago. A few active general managers, assistant coaches, scouts and former players spoke with me. But one former player gave me particular insight into why many would not discuss their past or other players. He said, “This is a fraternity. If you want to get a chance at a job in the league, you have to keep things tight.”

While that stunk, I revealed in the discovery of how much simpler researching history has become because of the digitization of many magazines and newspapers. Before starting specific searches, I consulted the yearly Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature to find any article published about Terry Bradshaw, the Steelers during the 1960s and 1970s, and items related to NFL quarterbacks. I then found many of these articles through the specific search engines for the magazines, including Sports Illustrated and Time, People and Variety. Most fortunately, people with specific interests such as in radio, or in movies, have digitized some special interest magazines, such as Broadcasting and Cash Box, which contained significant insight into Bradshaw’s television, movie and music careers.

The number of newspapers that have been digitized is amazing. Thankfully I live in Washington, DC and have the Library of Congress as a resource. They have access to the digitized versions of the largest newspapers, including Washington Post, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe and the Atlanta Constitution. They also have services providing access to African-American newspapers and to small-town and rural newspapers as well. The city’s library has a service that provides access to historical newspapers across the United States. Most of these newspapers start from the 1990s. These are incredibly valuable resources, especially when you are interested in knowing what reactions reviewers, critics and the general public had to a person’s artistic and other activities.

I spent weeks printing or copying the details from thousands of articles covering Bradshaw’s playing career through his years on Fox’s NFL Pregame shows, which have changed names and contributors over the years. Among those with regular appearances on the show are comedians Jimmy Kimmel and Frank Caliendo. I organized these materials chronologically in individual chapters based upon Bradshaw’s activity: childhood, football player, singing, acting and commercials, studio analyst. I drafted a chapter every three weeks and received pretty quick reads from my friend.

While Brian read the chapter 9 and the conclusion I searched for photographs. I asked several of the people whom I interviewed if they had a photograph and thought that two would send a copy. I consulted with Louisiana State University in Shreveport and discovered that they had digital images of the Woodlawn High School newspaper. This included a few photographs of Terry Bradshaw. I called the Louisiana Technical University’s Archives and they had a large collection that did not yield what I hoped to put in the book. The Pittsburgh area newspapers and magazines had a couple of excellent photographs. However, I ended up only using a bird’s-eye view of the new stadium (Three Rivers Stadium in 1970). The problem with the others was that they had NFL depicted on them and the photo archivist stated that I might have to pay the league for the rights to use them in the book.

I am not sure about the legal issues but I heard something similar when I called the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Library and the Warner Brothers’ Library. Each had photographs of Bradshaw in the movies, specifically Hooper and The Cannonball Run. Unfortunately, each photograph cost more than I planned on spending and they mentioned that I was responsible for getting the rights clearances. The expectation was that I would contact the person in the image and get their consent to publish the photograph in the book. Way too much to do and quite unlikely to be granted if the person isn’t able to exert control over how the image is used.

After creating a list of the photographs and indicating their location in the book, I shipped these documents, copies of the photographs and the nine chapters to the publisher in late September 2016. The book editor read the manuscript and shipped me back copies within a month with questions to clarify points or offer suggestions about words or sentence structure. The largest comments focused on the size of the book. The contract called for 100,000 words and this I delivered. However, the book ran 400 pages which was too costly for production. The editor asked me to reduce the context surrounding everything from the economy of the South in the 1960s through the attempts of athletes to make music and star in movies. I could also make some small changes in word choices, spelling or other items. Another big decision involved splitting up the chapter on the Steelers’ four championships in two because of its size.

The first round of editing ended in December. The copy editors and printing staff at Rowman & Littlefield took over. We looked at a couple of possible cover images and I offered my opinion.They also asked me if I knew of people in the field of sports history and popular culture who would be interested in reading the first draft and providing an endorsement. I belong to a few groups of academics but am not very well connected so I wasn’t sure whom to ask. I contacted the people who initially got me involved, the series editors, and asked them if they had any recommendations. With me sending out a few requests and the editors looking, we arrived at finding three people who offered to read the draft. To my amazement, all submitted raves for the book. I felt great.

I received this first version of the book that the three readers got in early April 2017. This gave me the chance to see what the book will look like and determine if anything generated heartburn and needed changing. Every paragraph received a numerical label in brackets representing the chapter and when the paragraph appears, for example [2.3]. I understood the purpose of the numbers in brackets. Instead of using page numbers, the published wanted me to place these numbers in the book’s index. I had 2-3 weeks to place these numbers in the index next to the persons, places, and things that I thought worth tracking. After starting the indexing of chapter one, I realized that several people and organizations would need many subheadings to indicate the different activities and events they participated in. As I finished the second chapter I felt exhausted and another 250 pages remained. I decided in order to meet this deadline I needed to hire someone. A neighbor had some time so she took over the indexing of the two non-football focused chapters because she is not a big fan of the sport. She did a fantastic job and helped me with another chapter as well. I emailed the completed index to the publisher.

A month later, the book editor at Rowman & Littlefield emailed me with the final copy of the book’s cover. A week later I received a second  copy of the final draft of the book, including the index. They also sent an author’s questionnaire and a document I filled in with places that I thought would be potential locations for a book review. The press’s small publicity department generally sent out copies of the book to four of the outlets the review books for libraries. The publications are Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Choice and Booklist. I knew a few places from previous books that I’ve published, such as Journal of Sports History and Journal of Popular Culture. I researched for other outlets, particularly websites, and forwarded a list to the publisher.

In July, almost two months before the book came out, the first review emerged. The Publishers Weekly reviewer thought highly of the book and gave it a great review. My editor sent me notice of it. Now I became curious what else might come out. I noticed this blurb from Library Journal:

FIRST AND TEN: TOP FOOTBALL TITLES FOR SUMMER AND FALL

Abrams, Brett L. Terry Bradshaw: From Super Bowl Champion to Television Personality. Rowman & Littlefield. (Sports Icons & Issues in Pop Culture). Sept. 2017. 304p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781442277632. $40. SPORTS

Arians, Bruce with Lars Anderson. The Quarterback Whisperer: How To Build an Elite NFL Quarterback. Hachette. Jul. 2017. 256p. ISBN 9780316432269. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780316432252. SPORTS

**Bell, Upton & Ron Borges. Present at the Creation: My Life in the NFL and the Rise of America’s Game. Univ. of Nebraska. Nov. 2017. 400p. illus. ISBN 9781496200396. $24.95. SPORTS

Carlson, Chuck. Ice Bowl ’67: The Packers, the Cowboys, and the Game That Changed the NFL. Sports Pub. Oct. 2017. 224p. illus. ISBN 9781683580973. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781683581017. SPORTS

George, Thomas. Blitzed: Why NFL Teams Gamble on Starting Rookie Quarterbacks. Sports Pub. Sept. 2017. 208p. notes. ISBN 9781683581079. $24.99. SPORTS

Myers, Gary. My First Coach: Inspiring Stories of NFL Quarterbacks and Their Dads. Grand Central. Aug. 2017. 288p. index. ISBN 9781455598465. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781455598472. SPORTS

**Oriard, Michael. The Art of Football: The Early Game in the Golden Age of Illustration. Univ. of Nebraska. Aug. 2017. 280p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780803290693. $39.95. SPORTS

Savage, Phil with Ray Glier. 4th and Goal Every Day: Alabama’s Relentless Pursuit of Perfection. St. Martin’s. Aug. 2017. 336p. index. ISBN 9781250130808. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250130815. SPORTS

Stewart, Wayne. Remembering the Stars of the NFL Glory Years: An Inside Look at the Golden Age of Football. Rowman & Littlefield. Jul. 2017. 238p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781442274235. $38; ebk. ISBN 9781442274242. SPORTS

**Zimmerman, Paul. Dr. Z: The Lost Memoirs of an Irreverent Football Writer. Triumph. Sept. 2017. 304p. ed. by Peter King. ISBN 9781629374642. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781633198487. SPORTS

The R&L publicist said that indicated a full review of the book would be coming in the near future. It did and the person called it a unique take on Bradshaw’s life and career. The R&L editor thought the reviews were outstanding.

Anybody who knows me immediately realizes that I start combing through the Internet to see what else would appear. The book did not get reviewed in the other two locations. The hard work of marketing and publicity remained ahead to be discussed in the second part of this chronicle.

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DC Environmental Film Festival

The 25th Washington DC environmental film festival is halfway through its 10 days. I’ve seen a few movies about the wilderness near the Arctic Circle, glaciers and other themes. I enjoy that the movies take you to see very unique spaces all over the world.

However, my favorite movies focus on animals. One took us only two states south of the Nation’s Capital where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)  created a success story with the development of a habitat for Red wolves. The species had been limited to a very few in the mid-1980s and the USFWS moved them into one part of their historic range in North Carolina.

Currently, the reintroduction faces cultural, economic, and biological challenges in Eastern North Carolina. Natures abhors a vacuum and coyotes moved in to the territory and pose a threat if the wolves interbreed with them. Most interesting, the area farmers have issues with the coyotes invading their farms. They want to shoot the beasts and sometimes they end up shooting red wolves instead.

This conflict between people near the wildlife reserve or national park and the animals in the park also occurred in Mozambique. After years of civil warring, the government and several other national governments along with non-profits focused on conservation worked to reestablish Gorongosa National Park. In this case, the planning has focused on the huge park and all the farmers surrounding its borders. Efforts have been made to help those people improve their living conditions by helping them earn money and farm more profitably.

As the panelists after the movie stated this is the new way of approaching conservation, taking the entire ecosystem into account, including people outside the protected area. It seems to be working and is something that the USFWS and other agencies of the US government ought to consider when they try to save species. You need to win over the local population to the effort.

Loss of a Old Pro

The Bullets, the Wizards, and Washington, DC, Basketball_cover_rev

I was fortunate enough to interview former Baltimore Bullets owner Earl Foreman for this book.

He owned the team that Dr. J started his professional career with in the early 1970s. He was very sharp and funny during the interview. He even played little games to test my knowledge. The best part of the conversation involved all the efforts he made to try and get himself a franchise in the National Basketball Association after selling his portion of the Bullets to Abe Pollin.

Foreman owned the only Washington, D.C. based American Basketball Association team and they made the playoffs.

 

I’m sure his family will miss him greatly.

Good to Be Goofy White Guy

Friday, Aug 19, 2016 11:33 AM EST
The ballad of “Swim Shady”: Ryan Lochte’s Rio fiasco is more proof that male athletes are a protected class
The Olympic swimmer’s fake-robbery debacle is being brushed off, while gymnast Gabby Douglas is the target of abuse
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Topics: 2016 Summer Olympics, Gabby Douglas, male entitlement, Rio Olympics, Ryan Lochte, Life News
The ballad of “Swim Shady”: Ryan Lochte’s Rio fiasco is more proof that male athletes are a protected class
Ryan Lochte (Credit: AP/Martin Meissner)

It must be a heady thing to have all the privileges of a male athlete. You can pretty much do anything before you’re held even remotely accountable — and then when you do have to face any consequences, you’ll get a nice chorus of despair about your lost opportunities. In what other realm could the misdeeds of a 32-year-old man be gently passed off as the antics of “kids?”

Oh, to be you, Ryan Lochte.

Early this week, reports emerged that the blue-haired Olympic medalist — along with three other members of the U.S. swim team — had been “robbed at gunpoint” early Sunday morning. USOC spokesperson Patrick Sandusky issued a statement saying that while heading toward the Olympic village, “their taxi was stopped by individuals posing as armed police officers who demanded the athletes’ money and other personal belongings. All four athletes are safe and cooperating with authorities.”

Lochte himself gave an eminently Lochte-ish account of the event, telling NBC, “They pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground — they got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn’t do anything wrong, so — I’m not getting down on the ground. And then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, “Get down,” and I put my hands up, I was like ‘whatever.’ He took our money, he took my wallet — he left my cell phone, he left my credentials.”

And the the tale began to change. On Thursday, Brazilian police said that “It seems that they lied. No robbery was committed against these athletes. They were not victims of the crimes they claimed.” Instead, it appeared the swimmers had vandalized a gas station — USA Today reports “one of them broke down the bathroom door and police found damage to a soap dispenser and a mirror” — leading to a confrontation with armed security guards and a payoff, possibly to cover the damages. The AP reports that “police said the swimmers were unable to provide key details in early interviews, saying they had been intoxicated.”

The response to these hijinks has been generous, to say the least. Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada shrugged Thursday, “Let’s give these kids a break. Sometimes you take actions that you later regret. They are magnificent athletes. Lochte is one of the best swimmers of all times. They had fun. They made a mistake. It’s part of life. Life goes on. Let’s go.”
Video: Rio 2016: Swimmer Ryan Lochte’s Crime Story Unravels

I guess if you’re “one of the best swimmers of all times,” you can do whatever the heck you want! P.S. This “kid” is 32.

NBC, Olympics and Gays

NBC Sports Has A Gay Problem

What the what?

08/10/2016 02:09 pm ET

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

This article by Cyd Zeigler originally appeared on Outsports.

It’s been apparent for years.

When Australian diver Matthew Mitcham won gold in the 10-meter platform in Beijing, stopping a Chinese sweep of diving gold on the final dive of the sport’s final event, NBC Sports, the perennial broadcaster in the United States of the Olympic Games, failed to mention Mitcham’s partner in the stands despite highlighting the partners of other straight athletes. Even worse, the network failed to mention that Mitcham was the only publicly out gay-male athlete at the Games.

When called on it, NBC first argued that the network doesn’t discuss sexual orientation (despite the historic nature of Mitcham’s win) then offered a terse two-sentence “apology.

Eight years later, nothing has changed at NBC. The network failed to identify Dustin Lance Black in the audience of the men’s synchro diving finals as bronze-medalist Tom Daley’s fiancé. Not boyfriend, not long-time friend… fiancé. And an Oscar-winning fiancé at that (read: public interest). They are, arguably, the “it” couple of the gay community, yet NBC didn’t mention a word.

When NBC broadcast the match of Brazilian volleyball player Larissa França, they followed her to the stands where she embraced her wife. NBC commentator Chris Marlowe’s colorful commentary?

“That is her husband. She married Lili in 2013 and Larissa is celebrating with her pals.”

Her husband. You can’t write this shit. Yet NBC released no public apology, relying on a one-line statement from Marlowe.

At the U.S. Olympic diving trials, diver Jordan Windle was accompanied by his two dads.

“They wouldn’t say ‘Jordan’s dads’ during the finals of Olympic Trials,” Jerry Windle said. “They just said ‘parents.’ Then they wouldn’t show both Andre and I together like they showed other parents.”

Two years ago in Sochi, all of the NBC networks combined offered less than two hours of coverage of LGBT issues, including the new anti-gay law that had been implemented in Russia, during the 18 days of the Winter Olympics. There were mentions of the plight of Russian LGBT people during primetime coverage by NBC Sports, but according to HRC it diminished over time and was mostly pushed away from NBC Sports and onto MSNBC. According to HRC, during two of the Winter Olympic days ― 14 and 17 ― there was no coverage of the issue on any of NBC’s networks.

To be clear, this all goes well beyond the Olympics.

For the last few years NBC Sports has employed an avowed proud homophobe, Tony Dungy, as one of its lead NFL commentators. Dungy has raised money to oppose equality for gay people, has said he “disagrees” with Jason Collins being gay and, in a fit of hypocrisy, said he would not want openly gay NFL player Michael Sam on his team.

Of course the network also employs openly gay commentator Johnny Weir. It’s the one possible on-air feather in the network’s cap. Though Weir’s dress and manner leave some reducing him to the role of clown, it’s a role he welcomes and plays well while also offering some great figure skating commentary. His antics (while I appreciate them) leave many gay people wishing for less.

Still, it’s impossible to make the case that NBC Sports is sensitive to LGBT issues. While NBC has started NBC Out and has a robust NBC-Universal LGBT employee network, that is desperately lost on the coverage NBC provides sports.

While Dungy’s continued employment on NBC Sports’ cornerstone program is a slap in the face of the entire LGBT community, the subpar job the network has demonstrated covering LGBT athletes and issues at the Olympics over the years is downright inexcusable.

There are plenty of opportunities for NBC to recover. Ten days of LGBTI athletes competing and winning lie ahead. Will the network acknowledge their presence? Simply demonstrate the common courtesy to these athletes they show their straight counterparts?

Frankly, I doubt it. Their failure to properly address the Mitcham snub eight years ago, followed by transgression after transgression, shows very clearly that NBC Sports couldn’t care less about gay athletes or gay fans. Maybe ESPN can get in the running to broadcast future Olympics.

For more from OutSports, check out these stories:

Seattle Mariners tell lesbian couple to stop ‘being affectionate’

The first Olympic marriage proposal in Rio is between a rugby player and her girlfriend

Male Olympic gymnasts want to compete shirtless

Also on HuffPost

29 Truly Remarkable Olympic Photos

Washington Theater Year: 2014

The top critic for the Washington Post compiled a list of the top plays and musicals of the 2014 year in the city. Happy to say that I saw half of the shows and one more when it appeared on Broadway. I agree with most of the choices, although I thought choice seven was a good character study that didn’t really get me thinking or generate any emotional response. The top choice wen to Broadway and didn’t draw enough audiences to keep running. Tribes was an incredible show that offered much, as did Bad Jews.

 

1. “Side Show,” Kennedy Center. Forever ahead of its time, this heartbreaking musical about conjoined twins turned vaudeville stars, nurtured in a splendid revival by director Bill Condon, was a succes d’estime, but both in D.C. and on Broadway after that, a disappointing box-office performer.

2. “Tribes,” Studio Theatre. Nina Raine’s play detailing the mixed and missed signals in an intellectual London family brilliantly intermingled the perspectives of deaf and hearing characters.

3. “Sunday in the Park with George,” Signature Theatre. The Pulitzer-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine remains a profound statement about the art of making art, as director Matthew Gardiner’s smashing revival demonstrated.

4. “Bad Jews,” Studio Theatre. The funniest play of the year, set on a night of operatically pitched family battles, courtesy of a playwright, Joshua Harmon, we’re bound to hear more from.

5. “The Admission,” Theater J. A searing drama by Israeli playwright Motti Lerner that inflamed passions about the Middle East and, in the resulting political firestorm, likely contributed to the firing by the DC Jewish Community Center of the company’s artistic director, Ari Roth. (Honorable mention: the inspired Tovah Feldshuh in Theater J’s companion one-woman show, “Golda’s Balcony.”)

6. “Sleeping Beauty: A Puppet Ballet,” Pointless Theatre. This small-budget and enjoyably big hearted staging of the Tchaikovsky ballet with both puppets and actors established this resourceful troupe as Washington’s most promising young company.

7. “The Wolfe Twins,” Studio. Artistic director David Muse commissioned of Rachel Bonds this surprising and sharply drawn study of an American brother and sister (the wonderful Tom Story and Birgit Huppuch) having a devastating falling-out in Rome.

8. “Colossal,” Olney Theatre Center. Playwright Andrew Hinderaker and director Will Davis found parallels in the physicality of football and ballet, creating in the process an exhilarating dance-drama about a player dealing with a catastrophic sports injury.

9. “Sex with Strangers,” Signature. Laura Eason’s entertaining tale of boy writer-meets-girl-writer felt like a camera-ready romantic comedy, with expert help from director Aaron Posner and actors Holly Twyford and Luigi Sottile.

10. “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” Folger Theater. The clever folks from visiting Fiasco Theater showed how excitingly newly minted Shakespeare can feel, when presented on a refreshingly intimate scale, with close and revealing attention to text.

Documentary on Knicks of the 1970s

After reading the Sports Documentary/Sports History issue of the Journal of Sports History (Summer 2014)  I watched Michael Rapaport’s contribution to ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, “When the Garden Was Eden.” The documentary intended to show how important the New York Knicks teams of the early 1970s were to the NBA and that they represented an oasis in the tumultuous era, where people from different backgrounds came together and played as a team. As a professional basketball historian and fan I wondered about accuracy of its main argument but also how it fit with the sports documentary analysis I’d read.

As part of ESPN’s series, this documentary fits into the company’s model that Travis Vogan describes (“Institutionalizing and Industrializing Sport History,” 197). While the actor does not provide the cache that some of the earlier film makers in the series did, he brought the enthusiasm of a Knicks fan to his project and the style of the series provides the makers with cinematic signifiers that Joshua Malitsky discussed in his article, (“Knowing Sports,”  206).

The documentary proved to have a few minor inconsistencies and errors.  “Garden was Eden” began by presenting the National Basketball Association as second to college basketball in New York City and as a “minor” professional sports league compared to professional baseball and football through the 1960s. One example mentioned is that the players received such small salaries to its players that they had to take jobs during the off-season  (When the Garden Was Eden, 5-6 minute mark). Interestingly, while the comparison is made among the sports league, there is no investigation of how much players earned in baseball and football. In both of these sports, as well as hockey, players found themselves in the same position of having to work second jobs. Basketball had two centers that earned significant salaries, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, each earned around $100,000 annually. Walt Bellamy, the Baltimore Bullets’ center, earned $30,000 before becoming unhappy with contract negotiations with the team. Baltimore traded Bellamy to the Knicks, and his salary with them undercuts Reed’s comment here that none of his Knicks teammates earned more than $22,000. (The Bullets, The Wizards and Washington, DC, 78)

As part of the discussion about the insignificance of the NBA prior to the emergence of these Knicks, the film mentions that the league sometimes had its playoff finals shown on tape delay (When the Garden Was Eden, 6-7 minute mark). As Mario R Sarmento showed in his work, “The NBA on Network Television: A Historical Analysis,” the league had gained ground on television during the 1960s through the skillful directing of Roone Arledge. Ratings crept up and the NBA received increased revenue for its product. The tape delayed finals were not resolved by the development of a championship team in New York, as the film leads us to believe. The tape delay showing of the NBA Finals occurred during the late 1970s, when the broadcasts of all NBA games suffered severe ratings declines (Sarmento, 48-50).

More than the aforementioned inaccuracies, an omission proved a very important to making the point about the uniqueness of the Knicks. While painting the Knicks as a multi-racial team with a variety of individual personalities, the documentary failed to discuss the composition of any of other NBA teams. Wouldn’t Boston’s Celtics, Los Angeles’ Lakers, or Washington’s Bullets, also provide this same cohesion of different individuals into a winning team? I would argue that each team met this standard as well.

The style of its presentation aided immensely in making “Garden was Eden,” appear persuasive. The documentary adopted most of the claims that Malitsky described as assertions that contemporary documentaries make about sport. Rapaport’s film certainly used sports as visually spectacular, as individual expression and as already narrativized.  However, it interplayed these three in an ingenious way that enabled them to reinforce one another and give more power to the argument the documentary advanced.  During a twelve-minute stretch, the director took people from a black-and-white image of a down New York City, through colorful individualized introductions to each of the new Knick players, as they joined the team. This individual introduction of the biographies and special talents of these players included visually spectacular footage that depicted these youthful players as heroes were typically presented in many a Hollywood narrative movie.  After more context about the disruption era with Civil Rights and Vietnam War protests, the montage ended with a photograph of all the players on the team seated in rows, presenting the  documentary’s argument that these people of diverse backgrounds came together as a team. “Garden was Eden” also touched on sport’s connection with Capital but was neither critical or accepting sport as a business like any other. The movie celebrated the Knicks as significant to lifting up the fortunes of a struggling league, drawing celebrities (31 minute mark) giving it cache in the advertizing world and in magazines and books (52-55 minute mark). Interestingly, the documentary missed one opportunity to further this point when it presented the trade of Earl Monroe to New York. “The Pearl” wanted to leave Baltimore for a few reasons, a major one being a lack of advertising and business opportunities that could be had if he played with the Knicks.(59-62 minute mark, The Bullets, chapter 6).

Book Festivals

The Library of Congress Book Festival ends today. George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia continues its 10-day fest Fall for the Book until next Sunday. Covers popular fiction, historical fiction, history, biography, sports and culture.

Sportswriting: Baseball, Basketball, and Historical Perspectives@ George Mason Regional Library

Sep 26 @ 7:30 pm – 8:45 pm

Cultural historian Brett L. Abrams and Mason communications doctoral student Raphael Mazzone, co-authors of The Bullets, The Wizards and Washington DC Basketball, join long-time journalist Tom Dunkel, author of Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball’s Color Line, to talk about their books and the art and craft of sportswriting in general. Sponsored by the Friends of the George Mason Regional Library.

Bullets, Wizards, Or?

The Washington Wizards blogger for ESPN had fun this morning. What should the team nickname be? After spending three years writing about DC basketball, I’m still partial to the Bullets from the Baltimore days.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Bullets-Wizards-Washington-Basketball/dp/0810885549

Wizards Exec Says “Probably Not” on Bullets Name Change, But Not in CAPS; Here are some alternatives

 | June 18, 2013 | 5:33 pm

More anti-name-change news was made yesterday. Really, has a city ever been held under such an enduring siege of controversy surrounding the names of two of its professional sports team as Washington, D.C. has? Doubt it.

You have the “Redskins,” which can be a terribly racist term, and you have the “Wizards,” which can just be terrible—specifically, for a pro basketball team in the nation’s capital.

This latest tid-bit of info naturally pertains to the “Wizards,” previously known as the “Bullets” from 1963 to 1997.

On Monday, Joe Dupriest, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Monumental Sports & Entertainment, told John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal that the franchise would “probably not” be renamed the Bullets, also alluding to the locker room gun incident between Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton as being a factor.

“I don’t see us changing the name to the Bullets. But I see us using the Bullets with the Wizards mark and using that history a lot more,” Dupriest also told Ourand.

The DC Sports Bog’s Dan Steinberg called the statement, “the strongest thing I can remember a team executive saying on this topic.”

Unlike Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who told USA Today in mid-May, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use caps,” Dupriest evidently did not specify a preference for CAPS in his statement. Perhaps related but not so much, the current description on Dupriest’s Twitter account (@joedupe) reads: “Caps, Wizards, Duke, Braves with plenty of Ronald Reagan ideology mixed in.”

So there’s that.

Steinberg also rehashed Ted Leonsis’ punting of this very issue in his Bog post. The team owner has several times claimed how “major” a name-change process would be, indicating that it would take “years” to accomplish. Meanwhile, over this offseason, the New Orleans Hornets have changed their name to the Pelicans, and the Charlotte Bobcats will soon return to being call the Hornets. Sure, there is a process [note: “process” is Ernie Grunfeld’s favorite word], but if someone wanted to make it happen, it would’ve happened by now. For Leonsis, the action has only been in the bottomless pixel-talk.

So, this latest news is not really news. The language may be the strongest to date, and perhaps it came out of nowhere, but it is hardly a surprise. Even with the blessing of Irene Pollin, it’s long been suspected, by this blogger at least, that a return to the “Bullets” would be out of the question. My advice to people has been to move on. That said, the name “Wizards” should not be accepted. And choosing not to more strongly consider a name change puts Ted Leonsis in the realm of “obtuse” with the warden from The Shawshank Redemption. Then again, the ole pixel warden himself could have a trick up his sleeve.

Anyhow… in light of knowing that I will not be punished for blasting “Ave Maria” over a loudspeaker, I shall blog with freedom about the non-Wizards team name options that may or may not exist.

>The Washington Lincolns.

The city is named after the first U.S. President, George, but the argument can be made that Abe Lincoln is the most iconic. Not many teams are named after a person (the Cleveland Browns, the Charlotte Bobcats, technically (for now)), but Lincoln would be a worthy exception to make.

I mean, if Lincoln is worthy of being the subject of DeShawn Stevenson’s frontal neck tattoo, then what other reason do you need? Now, the marketing wizards at Monumental might have to get creative with team branding, but calling them the “Lincs” for short and having a fake beard promotional give-away night seems easy. Also, beards are popular these days.

Worth noting: there are calls for the U.S. Mint to kill the penny, which features an image of Lincoln—pennies cost more to make than what they are worth. Abe would still have the $5 bill in his corner, but should the penny die, naming a pro basketball team after Lincoln would be nice. Plus, the owner before Leonsis was named Abe.

>The Washington Stallions.

Horses have helped this country a lot, you know, with the towing of carts and stuff before there were cars. So after the eagle, perhaps the horse is the most American of species. And it would be tough to change the name to “Eagles” with that Philly football team up the road. That said, amongst the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS, MLB, and CFL, there is only one team called the Eagles. Also, “Stallions” was one of the originally narrowed-down team name options in 1997.

>The Washington Federals.

D.C. is the seat of federal government in this country. That said, the District is also a land without the rights of a state—us residents pay federal taxes without any true representation in the legislative branch of government.

So I’m not sure if calling the pro basketball team the “Federals” would be ironically good or ironically bad other to say that watching the Wizards has been very taxing for fans over the years and they have noting to show for it. Thankfully, at least blogs provide the power to talk, which pretty much jibes with the power of Eleanor Holmes Norton.

>The Washington Freedom.

Maybe it could work. I mean, we all like freedom (even if it ain’t exactly “free” … amirite?).

Otherwise, I probably only mention it because my imagination takes me to a spirit squad dressed up like french (or, shall we say freedom) fries throwing out free trinkets, like T-shirts and burritos, while George Michael’s “Freedom” blasts through the arena and Ted Leonsis sings, “I won’t let you down, so please don’t give me up!”

I don’t know where all of this is going other than the fact that if I had to pick a “sleeper” of this whole charade, it would be Freedom.

Worth noting: Freedom was the nickname of a now-defunct women’s pro soccer team in the Washington area. After 10 years in operation, the owner of “magicJack” purchased the team, changed its name to “magicJack,” and moved the franchise to Boca Raton, Florida.

>The Washington Diamonds.

Has a team ever been named after a shape? (Do the Dallas Stars count? Even if they used to be called the North Stars?)

Now is probably not the time to start. Plus, without Virginia, the District is simply not a diamond. Woulda, coulda, shoulda…

>The Washington Hoops.

If you can have the Brooklyn Nets, why not the Hoops? Plus, if would be a good reason to bring back the old team mascot (from during the Bullets days), also named “Hoops.”

No, “Hoops” does not bring much of an association with the nation’s capital, but it’s at least 35.7 to 68.4 percent better than “Wizards.”

“HOOPS!” … in pin form.

>The Washington Dragons.

Like the Stallions, “Dragons” was part of the original name set along with Sea Dogs, Express, and … Wizards.

Unlike Wizards, dragons are real. Perhaps not the fire-breathing types, or even a magical dragon named “Puff,” but there are creatures that walk about this earth known as dragons. So that’s a start. [Full disclaimer: nope, dragons don’t really exist, it’s just that the name of certain lizards/reptiles includes the word “dragon” in them.]

Otherwise, such a nickname would be an ode to Chinatown, legendary creatives in Chinese folklore and mythology, but would perhaps also lend itself to unfortunate terminology … “I went to watch the Drags last night and boy did things get hairy.” … “Totally, I could’ve put out their lame fire-breathing with my Wiz.” … “Sounds ‘great,’ so when’s the next Drag Show?”

>The Washington Justice.

“Justice” seems popular, and marketable. And it’s perhaps the most reasonable option that’s been tossed about. In June 2010, I wrote a post about the nickname ordeal. The Washington Post’s Mike Wise was one of the many participants who opined. Wise:

The Washington Justice. Now that’s a name. You just got served.

Something tells me it’s going to be Monuments in three years—hence the company name change.

With Justice, there would more spins and local ties than a marketer would know what to do with… Plays on “Justice League” … “Just Us” … the list goes on like drawn-out litigation over several years that gets tied up in the judicial system.

>The Washington Monuments.

With Leonsis’ ownership group going from “Lincoln Holdings” to “Monumental Sports & Entertainment,” upon his assuming majority ownership of the franchise, calling the basketball team the “Monuments” seems so simply easy that it’s an improbability. You’d think that Leonsis would’ve pulled the trigger by now instead of simply diluting the presence of the word “wizards” with jersey changes and the what-not.

With Leonsis recently creating the Monumental Sports Network and likely aspiring toward one day owning the broadcast rights for all of his teams to show on said network, calling one of those teams the “Monuments” seems less and less likely.

Come to think of it… Maybe the big hang-up is actually on what to call the Mystics.

Or maybe this is just an unsolvable riddle with an answer that pleases no one. So the safe bet is to just twiddle thumbs while pixel saturation, like this very post, makes us increasingly numb toward caring until the day that we become so attached to the name “wizards” that we can never imagine life otherwise lest we carry pitchforks in revolution.

To be continued… 

Vote?

If not the Bullets, then what?
LincolnsStallionsFederalsFreedomDiamondsHoopsDragonsJusticeJust keep ’em the freaking Wizards

Election 2012: Clash Style

Rock and Roll Perspective: Speaking Out for The People

White Man in Hammersmith Palais by The Clash

Be realistic about revolt: Cause it won’t get you anywhere fooling with your guns. The army is waiting out there and it weighs 1500 tons.

This country can’t decide to tax peoples’ earnings at a level that would provide for more equitable contributions to the federal government or to pare down the debt.

White Youth/Black Youth better find another solution: Why not phone up Robin Hood and ask him for some wealth distribution.

The inevitable commercialization of peoples’ rebellion whether in punk music or rap music:

The new groups are not concerned with what there is to be learned. They got Burton suits, huh you think its funny, turning rebellion into money.

The sameness of the major political parties, and thee issue of a plutocracy:

All over people are changing their votes, along with their overcoats. If Adolph Hitler flew in today, they’d send a limousine anyway.