Football’s Best Tailgaters

22 09 2011

ESPN Magazine told me to find the country’s best tailgates for its GO section. That was an assignment handed to me two Tuesdays ago, due the following Monday and in the issue which drops this week. The idea was to find the best NFL tailgating spots; I expanded it to college football to capture a few of the traditions held on campuses a handful of Saturdays each Fall.

I eventually amended the story’s angle by targeting a specific tailgater for a select number of teams, rather than try to describe the tailgating culture, or atmosphere, of an entire NFL or college team. Given the limited space in which we have to write stories for GO, I thought it would be easier to detail specifics of a tailgater’s typical experience instead of an entire team’s tailgate scene.

The number of capsules I would have to write – one capsule for each team – wasn’t clear to me. The word count expanded during the week as I found more and more information. I had basically three days to do this, Wednesday – Friday. So, I had to hit it fast, which I did by emailing each NFL team’s PR department and 10-15 college team PR or SID departments. I estimated that I would have to do 6-8 capsules by the time the word count was somewhat finalized. (That’s usually a fluid process with these types of stories. And whatever I turn in will eventually get cut down as editors design their pages.)

Three things were imperative to the story as I began receiving information from teams: 1) I had to try to split teams between the NFL and college, 2) all, or at least most, regions of the country should be represented and 3) I would go after the tailgaters of teams that got back to me first. I was relying mostly on teams to tell me who their fanatic tailgaters were, and I didn’t have time to wait around for teams to get back. But it was tough.

For instance, I really wanted the Packers in there, but they had a Thursday night home game to start the NFL season. There was virtually no chance their PR department would have time to help me. So, I tried the University of Wisconsin, which is in this story. I figured the Seattle area would have something special to offer, and the University of Washington happened to have a very cool tailgating tradition. They’re in there. I wasn’t sure I needed another West Coast team, but the San Diego Chargers had die-hard tailgaters, two of whom I spoke with. One of them is in the story.

I didn’t feel as though the Rocky Mountain region was critical for inclusion, but the University of Colorado had an angle that doesn’t represent a team’s typical tailgate. I thought it might be refreshing to have their family-style atmosphere in a story which would inevitably have the drinking details that is associated with the story’s topic.

Now, the Midwest and the South definitely needed a couple of representatives. The KC Chiefs are a natural fit, but I didn’t hear from their people right away. I did hear back from the Houston Texans, who were exceedingly informational. We all know Texas barbeque is amazing, and the Texans had a boatload of willing “super tailgaters” who wanted to talk to me. I chose one of them for the story. Still, I needed another. I tried a group of New Orleans Saints tailgaters, but they never got back to me. The folks at LSU didn’t get back to me. But I did get in touch with the Ole Miss athletics department, who gave me a few leads. I ended up talking with one of their tailgaters, who has extended me an open invitation to join him for a tailgate whenever I find myself in Oxford. I hope to one day take him up on it.

Washington, the Chargers, Colorado, Wisconsin, the Texans and Ole Miss ended up being the six that made it into the story. I tried a few other teams, particularly the Cincy Bengals, but the editorial process sometimes weeds out information. It’s not ideal, but it’s a reality. I tried to find the most details I could in the amount of space I was given. Hopefully, this gives you a somewhat valuable peek into the football tailgates which exist throughout this country.

Click on the link below to read the story:

Football Tailgates

(I’ll tweet about additional story details Friday, Sept. 23 by using the #tailgate hashtag.)

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The U shitstorm

20 08 2011

That’s an appropriate title given the depth of NCAA rules broken by the University of Miami football program during most of the ’00s. The amount of information provided by Dan Wetzel and Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports on those penalties is astounding. Booster/fraudster Nevin Shapiro is a weasel and surely any other unsavory name designated to him. He’s a crook.

The players who accepted the dinners, jewelery, prostitutes and other benefits which Shapiro gave them can be viewed as greedy; they can also be viewed as representations of what most people would accept in those players’ situations. Those guys – ages 18-22 – were being given everything when many of them came from nothing.

I’ve started altering my thought process on college athletes getting paid. I used to think a scholarship was enough for them. But I see these college administrators and others who make money off college athletics with their hands out, and I become more emotionally invested in what the players are getting. In this case, it’s being sold out by The U’s administration and coaches, many of whom claim naivety at the presence of Shapiro.

It’s amazing how unaware these administrators can make themselves out to be when caught between a rock and a hard place. In this case, it’s between a pile of cash and a massive controversy. Shapiro gave them both. While The U’s athletic and academic higher-ups embraced the hundreds of thousands of dollars Shapiro gave the athletic program as a booster, they never thought – or didn’t want – to investigate Shapiro. Maybe they did investigate him and didn’t want to reveal his shady background. They wanted his money, though. And they can’t blame for the players for wanting a piece of that pie.





College athletes need Twitter freedom

10 08 2011

There has been a debate the last several days from CNBC’s Darren Rovell, CBSSports.com’s Gregg Doyel and others on whether college football coaches – college coaches, in general – should ban their players from Twitter. The reason why I think players should have access to Twitter and other forms of social media comes down to one point: people need to make mistakes to fulfill personal growth.

Doyel made a point in his column that he supports Twitter bans; he dismissed the argument that it stymies personal growth. Rather, he argued that there are plenty of other areas in which to mature and pursue a better understanding of one’s self and the world.

The point he misses is that Twitter – social media altogether, but Twitter takes up a huge percentage of most people’s social media consumption –has helped change how people perceive the world. It’s possible to stay on Twitter all day and gather a well-rounded amount of news and information without exploring any other websites. Cut a person off from Twitter, and it can remove a fair chunk of how he or she interprets the world’s events.

Where I also feel passionate about the rash of Twitter bans throughout college football is the idea that it protects players. That’s the last thing those guys need. Protect pre-teen kids, sure. Protect them in high school, why not? But once these guys get to college, they need to be challenged. They need the freedom to make mistakes. If they can’t be trusted to make their own decisions, such as what to post on Twitter, then the people supposedly protecting them are only delaying the inevitable. Some guys can learn from their mistakes. Those that can’t should at least be exposed to failure sooner rather than later.

This isn’t to say that Twitter is the sole basis for maturation. There are other ways, to do it although, as I wrote above, it’s a dynamic platform through which to view the world and to develop opinions.

I can’t write about this topic without mentioning the obvious component to this story: college coaches really don’t give a damn about their players’ growth as people. Coaches care about results on the field and preventing any kind of controversy from surfacing in their program. Coaches care about their jobs, i.e. their bank accounts. Not all coaches are like this, of course. But players have to learn how to look out for themselves while they’re in college. They have to prepare for post-collegiate life by understanding that there won’t always be someone there to protect them. Let them make mistakes. Let them form their opinions and develop their personalities.





Pryor not the root of Ohio State’s problems

22 06 2011

There was a question on ESPN’s SportsNation last week – and I’m sure the same question is being asked on radio and TV shows nationwide – of whether Terrelle Pryor was right to apologize for his actions at Ohio State. To phrase it better, SportsNation asked if Pryor should have apologized. I don’t think he should have.

There’s no need for Pryor to be the one to apologize because he didn’t bring that culture of deceit and dishonesty to Columbus. That would be Jim Tressel, whose proclivity to look the other way when players received illegal benefits was documented in Sports Illustrated. What does an apology mean, anyway? I’ve never understood why people, in general, place so much importance on someone else apologizing. Words aren’t necessarily sincere.

I don’t claim to be a body language expert. In fact, I probably fuck up half the judgements I make on athletes when I watch them and try to assess what they’re thinking or feeling. But in watching Pryor, in seeing him talk on TV about his transgressions and how he feels about them, I don’t get the feeling that he’s sincerely apologetic. I think he’s pissed off that he got caught doing what he did, likely because he knows plenty other guys around the country who do the same things Ohio State players have been accused of doing. Whether he apologizes just isn’t something that I think should be valued.

Frankly, what good does an apology do for people? It won’t change the circumstances of his life or the status of Ohio State’s football team. Sure, he has to accept a certain level of responsibility because he was the most well-known player on the Buckeyes. Yet he’s not the guy that has to take the fall for what happened at Ohio State. That should go to those managing the chaos – Tressel and Ohio State’s athletic department.