With a dollop of guilt, I read about the plague of layoffs at Sports Illustrated.
After all, I dropped my subscription shortly after retiring as a sports columnist at the Times, nearly eight years ago. I no longer needed to keep up with most of the sports; I needed time to read other things. So it’s hard to level blame at the decline of a giant that meant so much to generations of fans and readers.
It’s a sign of the times. I have seen very good newspapers decline or disappear. No sense going over the list. Apparently, the economy does not support the printed word you can hold in your hand and read without having advertisements and other diversions slither into your vision.
Thank goodness the NYT and Washington Post and Wall Street Journal and others keep up the staffs and budgets and the standards to keep track of the scoundrels in our midst.
But Sports Illustrated – once a plush weekly with talent and swagger plus the budget to back them up – has now been sold to something called a digital platform company.
As a young newspaper reporter, I appreciated the writing style -- and space -- that went far beyond the daily accounts in the papers. Stars like Dan Jenkins and Robert Creamer in the early years, Neil Leifer with his camera, always in position, and then young stars like Frank Deford and Gary Smith. It took time to read their articles. These were no tweets, no muscle-twitch fire-the-bum impulses from the Blogosophere.
If I had to pick one article that stood for all the expertise and talent (and space, and money) of Sports Illustrated, I would choose the ode to Secretariat written by my friend Bill (William in his byline) Nack, upon the putting down of the great champion in October of 1989. (As it happened, I had petted Secretariat on his swayed back in May, had felt the earth tremble when he moved. )
Bill loved the big red horse, loved the Bluegrass milieu, and he cried when he got the phone call he had been dreading. Later, Bill went through the self-torture of writing he felt every time, only worse this time. But SI had space, and patience, and when Nack was done, there was the article, the masterpiece.
But Nack was not alone. Like a Secretariat of magazines, Sports Illustrated raced through more decades of stories and stars: Tim Layden with his versatility, Steve Rushin with his columns, Michael Farber on hockey, Tom Verducci with baseball, Grant Wahl treating soccer seriously, Doctor Z -- Paul Zimmernan - with pro football. So many more I could, should, mention.
(Plus, I should note, before SI, there was the great Sport Magazine, RIP, edited for over a decade by my friend Al Silverman, who passed recently. Sport was doing long-form articles long before SI did.)
Then the model began to show its age. Advertisements declined. Attention span declined. People were slinging opinions over the Web. Instant gratification. I’m old. I don’t know 99 percent of what goes on out there in the Web. I get the New Yorker in print form every week, and peruse it ceremoniously, and The New York Times arrives in my driveway every morning, plus its magnificent website, and if I want to find out what my Mets did in the past 24 hours I consult Newsday (paid) or the New York Post (on line.)
Plus hard-covered books, all over our house, plus magazine articles friends send me. More than enough to read. Hence, my tremor of guilt about the imperilment of Sports Illustrated.
Then I read about good people, whom I knew when they were youngsters just breaking in, like Chris Stone, the editor-in-chief, who just got fired by the “digital platform,” whatever that is.
Bill Nack cried over Secretariat. I just shake my head and write this piece…and put it out there…on line.
Thanks, Sports Illustrated, for all the great articles over the years.
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Bill Nack's masterpiece on the death of Secretariat, standing in for all the glorious long pieces in SI:
NYT article on the talent massacre at SI:
A list of great writers at SI:
The time I petted Secretariat, courtesy of a friend:
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.