Reflecting on a life seeking answers

by Gary Shelton on March 9, 2023

in general

Friday, 4 a.m.

At its most basic, journalism is about a pen and paper. About give and take. About questions and answers.

Only secondarily is it about events, or moments, or victories. Those come and go and, honestly, they have very little to do with journalism except for the simple notion that happy people are more interesting than unhappy ones.

The best interviews are about emotions -- happiness and pain, endurance and growth. The best ones occur when the questioner can succeed in visiting a place the athlete has never been, where he or she can prod a thought. The best ones come when the athlete, too, gets into the exchange rather than repeat the same thing they answered the day before.

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And when they work, it's a gift.

So here we go: 10 memorable interviews:

  1. Al Joyner, Olympian: When Joyner wrote a book, he quoted a blurb from one of my columns. The problem was that the book was titled "Running for Dummies." I was touched until I remember that, hey, I'm no runner.

Joyner, the ex-husband of the late Florence Griffith Joyner, and I did two interviews, and both were amazing. The first was about his treatment by the police in the Watts riots. The second was about Griffith Joyner. In both of them, Al bared his soul, his fears, his loneliness, his longing for a wife who had died.

Good guy, Al.

2. Warren Sapp, football: To be honest, there were reporters who hated interviewing Sapp. He would stare through stupid questions, shaking his head and saying "next" as he spit tobacco into a white towel at his feet. But if Sapp respected the questioner, he was a delight. He was smart and funny. My favorite memory is a shouting match I got into him when he suggested that, when he retired, Tampa Bay would be glad to see him go. I later admitted I was wrong.

3. Bobby Bowden, FSU: All the dad-gummits, all the dad-burnits, came from the heart. Bobby was a football coach, and on the field, his teams would cut your heart out. But he was a genuine good guy. Once, when FSU was barely leading Penn State in the polls, I said "gun to your head, who should be No. 1?" And he said, "I'll say whoever won't make you shoot me." Then he admitted Penn State should be.

4. Warrick Dunn, football: When Dunn came to the Bucs, he didn't say a lot. But over the years, I had a chance to talk to him on a deep level several times about raising his brothers and sisters as he was growing up himself, about his late mother, about confronting the man who had murdered her, about building homes for single mothers. Terrific guy, Warrick.

5. Tony Gwynn, baseball: Gwynn was a delight. Once he finally reached the World Series, he was swamped by reporters. He did a quick interview, but I was so far back in the crowd I could barely hear him. I figured I had blown the interview. But that was just a warm-up session. After batting practice, Gwynn singled us over, sat on the dugout steps and entertained the world. He talked about anticipating the way his name would be pronounced, about his legacy, about his dreams.

6. Amy Van Dyken, Olympian: The funniest woman in the history of the Olympics. After winning a gold in Atlanta, she was talking about growing up as an awkward teenager and blossoming. "This one's for the nerds," she shouted.

7. Evan Longoria, baseball: Longo always moved like he was late for an appointment. The next drill, the next meeting was always on his mind. As such, he didn't really relish his role as team spokesman. But he was great at it. He could speak in a simple, authoritative voice that dared you to walk away.

8. Chris Witty, Olympian: Witty spent an hour opening her heart about the sexual abuse she had endured as a child. She described the way the man looked, the way he smelled, with unflinching, open precision. Even now, I can get choked up talking about her bravery.

9. Steven Stamkos, hockey: Like Longoria, Stamkos was the voice of his team. No one is more honest, more forthright. Stamkos isn't the player he once was, but he still reflects the soul of his team when he talks.

10. Simeon Rice, football: Rice is an odd one to be on this list. Still, an interview with him was like visiting another planet where the sky was orange and dogs talked in rhyme. After he was punished in a game against San Francisco, I wrote that he needed to show up contrite the next day. Instead, he sat at his locker, reading a nudie magazine and talking about what a cool flight home he had. Yeah, that kind of attitude didn't help his case for the Hall of Fame, but he was pure Sim.

Honorable mention: Joe Maddon, Ron Karnaugh, Trent Dilfer, James Shields, Jon Cooper, Brad Richards, Dave Andreychuck, Earnest Graham, Kevin Cash, Doug Williams.

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