Nice data, USA Today. But share the data with us!

USA Today published its annual database of college basketball coach salaries today.

It’s a truly great resource. It shows what all Division I coaches earn from their schools, other sources and how much their bonuses are worth. It’s sortable by conference, by salary, by name. It’s got everything you’d want.

Well … not quite.

In fact, it’s missing something really important.

The data.

Where is the link to the data itself? Why isn’t there a link to a spreadsheet, or CSV file, with all this data that users could download?

I teach data journalism and data visualization in three different classes. This kind of data file would be a dream come true for my sports writing students, and probably a lot in my online journalism and data journalism classes. They could learn their way around Excel, data sorting and making fun visualizations out of a robust data set.

But they can’t.

Because USA Today didn’t share the data in a raw format. The only way to access it is through their own site.

I get it, I think. This is proprietary work. The USA Today journalists put a ton of work into creating this database, and it is excellent work. But a huge part of the data journalism movement is rooted in the open-source mindset. Data journalism is about showing your work, and providing the information for others to check your math and do their own work. It also gives students interested in sports journalism and data journalism the chance to learn and practice their skills.

Except for corporate greed and branding purposes, there’s no legit case I can make for USA Today not publishing the coach salary database as a downloadable file. Share the data, USA Today!

"It's what's right for them."

My wife is attending the annual American Copy Editor’s Society (ACES) conference in St. Petersburg this weekend.

This afternoon she sent this tweet.

You know it's good, because my wife never tweets.

It's a great point about editing. Editing is not about the editor. It's about the reader.

An editor is the first reader of a work. Her job is to make sure a piece makes sense, content wise tonally, for the reader. It's not about making corrections. A good editor loves nothing more than a piece they don't have to do anything to.

Last week, there was news about a court case in Maine being decided because of a serial comma. And it drove me crazy. The serial comma is one of those things that grammar nerds will argue about. I rarely use it but only because I learned AP style so I think in that. My wife, who is a genuinely gifted copy editor, believes that what matters is not adherence to any rule or style but clarity. If the reader knows what you’re trying to say, the grammar is fine. If they don’t, there’s an issue.

It’s not a blind adherence about rules, it’s not about showing off your linguistic snobbery and it’s not about you.

It’s about the reader.

Rich old white men never get anywhere with me ...

Perhaps the greatest line Aaron Sorkin ever wrote came in the first season of Sports Night, when Dan Rydell compared himself to Rosa Parks in a coversation with ihs boss, Issac Jaffe.

Jaffe's response:

No rich young white guy has ever gotten anywhere with me comparing himself to Rosa Parks. Got it?

Today, in the Detroit Free Press, Mitch Albom wrote about the New England Patriots players who said they will not visit the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl title (a column, it should be noted, Albom never wrote when Tom Brady or Tim Thomas refused to visit the Obama White House after titles).

It is surely their right to do so as Americans.

It is also rude.

No one is asking them to endorse a candidate. And taking a photo with your nation’s elected leader doesn’t mean you surrender your right to disagree with every single thing he does. That’s the beauty of America. In fact, the visit may give you a rare chance to express your views to the leader himself.

Mitch ... no rich old white man has ever gotten anywhere with me telling young black men how they should express their political beliefs.

Thinking about Kyle Shanahan's backpack

Certainly, one of the silliest stories of Super Bowl week involves Kyle Shanahan’s backpack.

Earlier this week, the Falcons’ offensive coordinator briefly lost his backpack, containing the Falcons’ game plan for Super Bowl 51 against the Patriots. It turns out San Francisco Examiner columnist Art Spander had accidentally picked up the wrong backpack. Spader returned it to Shanahan, and all is well.

But it got me thinking.

And it led me to a poll on Twitter:

This issue — what would you do? — was addressed on PTI on Tuesday:

Wilbon: (Spander’s) gonna hand the backpack back to the proper person. What gets me is it could have been a big deal because about 70 percent of the people in our business now would have posted something about it, on Instagram, Twitter, something Art Spander has zero chance ending.

Kornheiser: What would you have done if you found this thing?

Wilbon: I would have called the Atlanta Falcons executive that I know personally, and I would have said ‘Hey, I got your coaches backpack.’ I would not have reported it to anybody. I would not have told anyone. I wouldn’t have looked at it.

Kornheiser: That’s interesting. I would have called the league because it could be awkward calling the team, there could be some suspicions calling the team.

I asked my sports writing students about it, and most of them agreed that the right move would be to return it to the team. Which seems fair.

But it got me thinking.

What if this wasn’t sports journalism? What if it was news journalism? What if it wasn’t the Falcons’ game plan but, instead, a collection of all of the Trump administration’s proposed policy memos for the first 90 days of his presidency.

Would you publish it then? Would it be so cut-and-dried for veteran reporters to return it, sight unseen, all happy like? Would the public be understanding of this, or would people be outraged?

Now, clearly, this is apples and desk lamps. One is a collection of policy memos that would have a direct effect on people’s lives. The other is a collection of plays for a football game. The stakes are way different.

But on at least some level, this demonstrates the difference between sports journalism and news journalism. The default, as expressed in the Twitter poll, on PTI and in my class, is to be between respectful and deferential to the team. It’s not a critique of sports journalism, though I’m sure it sounds like one. But as Michael Schudson has pointed out, there is historically no more symbiotic relationship in media as there is between sports teams and sports reporters. We need each other. On the news side, the adversarial nature of the media-government relationship is codified, both legally and professionally. This isn’t to say that sports journalism isn’t good or serious. It’s just pointing out the defaults in the relationships between sources and reporters and how those defaults influence what is and is not reported.

Like I said, it got me thinking is all.

Tom Brady and white privilege

Well. They asked. A lot.

I’ll give the reporters covering the Super Bowl credit. They asked Tom Brady about his previous support of Donald Trump.

And Brady’s response?

““What’s going on in the world?” Brady said. “I haven’t paid much attention. I’m just a positive person.”


Look, Tom Brady is under no obligation to have a political opinion, or to express it. He’s not. I felt that given his previous actions, reporters had an obligation to ask him about it. But the First Amendment includes a right not to speak. Brady doesn’t have to discuss his past, present, or future support of Trump. He can say this in any number of ways. “Guys, I’m not talking politics this week.” “I’m completely focused on the game this week.” “I know it’s a challenging time for the country, but I’m confident we can find unity.” “No comment.”

But that statement. ““What’s going on in the world? I haven’t paid much attention. I’m just a positive person.”

That’s the most tone-deaf, glib statement possible. To claim to be unaware of mass protests, a proposed ban on refugees and muslims and general fear of what’s happening in our government, to shrug it off with a statement like “I’m just a positive person” is so out of step with the times, so

It’s the epitome of white privilege.

White privilege doesn’t mean that all white people have it easy. All it means, at its core, is that there are certain structural, political structures in place that give us the benefit of the doubt that minorities do not get. It’s how I can become a nervous wreck if a police officer pulls behind me, but it’s not because I’m afraid I could get shot. Lord knows I’ve benefited from white privilege, and do so every day.

Brady’s statement — What’s going on? I haven’t paid much attention. I’m just a positive person — is the epitome of this privilege. He’s not paying attention to the world because he doesn’t have to. He's not speaking about politics because he doesn't have to. He’ll be fine no matter what. But the glib lack of acknowledgement that something is going on — at a time when more and more athletes, many of whom are black, are speaking their minds — is stark.

I’m glad the reporters asked this week. We learned a lot about Brady.

Ask Tom Brady about Donald Trump

Against the backdrop of a looming constitutional crisis and the largest mass protests in a generation, a football game is being played this weekend.

The contrast between what's happening at airports and in Washington D.C. and what will be happening in Houston this week is stark. It feels almost wrong to start paying attention to the Super Bowl. At a time when green-card holders -- some of them children -- are being detained at airports, when protests are a weekly occurrence, when our notions of a working constitutional republic seem to be at best wobbly, asking grown men about a game feels like a huge exercise in vacuous ephemerality.

Because, of course, it is.

The contrast between the work journalists and lawyers are doing in airport concourses and the work reporters are doing in a football stadium will be stark.

Because, of course, it is.

But just because sports writing is about an ultimately trivial subject doesn't mean it's something we can't care about or do well. It doesn't mean the real world can't touch be felt at Super Bowl world.

Asking players at the Super Bowl for their opinion on the Muslim ban or the protests is certainly a natural story. But there’s limited value in it. It forces players to speak on an issue they may not be comfortable with or have thought about (pro athletes are famously tunnel visioned). It also leads to the "some are in favor, some are opposed" story that has absolutely no value to readers.

Now if a player has been outspoken - about this or other issues - then it's more fair game to ask them. As a reader, I'd be interested in what, say, Richard Sherman has to say. Or Richie Incognito. Or Jim Kelly. Or Rex Ryan

Which of course brings us to Tom Brady.

Brady's a tough call. He's never been particularly vocal on social issues. He's a focused pro athlete straight from the Bill Belichick school of do-your-job. He also displayed a Make America Great Again hat in his locker (of his own volition) and told reporters it'd be great if Donald Trump were elected.

So I hope Brady gets asked about it this week. "Do you still think it's great that Trump was elected? Do you support the Muslim ban? About 3 percent of NFL players are Muslim. What would you say to them?"

Is that fair?

Sure is.

Brady brought himself into the public eye on this issue the second he put that hat in his locker and talked about Trump with reporters. He did that of his own accord. Once you do that, you lose all right to say, “It’’s not fair to ask me that." When you voluntarily put yourself in the public eye over an issue, reporters have a duty to ask you about it. It doesn't matter if you think, "Ah he won't say anything about it." Our job begins with asking questions. That's what we do.

This isn't about capturing Brady in an ah-ha, j'accuse type moment. We do that too often as journalists. "Ah ha! You said this thing and now explain yourself!!" It's not about getting Brady. It's about holding him accountable for what he said and did. (And I think the same should be done to Kelly, my boyhood idol, in case you think this is a Brady thing). If he deflects the questions or shrugs it off or just wants to talk about football, that’s fine. Brady doesn’t have a responsibility to comment on it. But reporters do have a responsibility to ask the question.

Brady didn't have to have that hat on display in his locker and he didn't have to publicly support trump. But he did. So now that Trump is president and making controversial decisions leading to nationwide protests and a looming constitutional crisis, it's our job to ask him about it.

Failure to do so will make the gap between what's happening in the real world and in Houston feel even greater than it already does.

Remembering The Sports Reporters

This post is going live at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, in honor of The Sports Reporters, which is being canceled.

It’s a show that was a part of my life growing up. Sunday mornings were, in a way, structured around it. Church first thing in the morning, then my paper route, and home by 10:30 a.m. to watch The Sports Reporters. As many people have noted, this was essentially Meet the Press for the sports world. It was the first time, at a national level, that sports writers were given the same kind of stage as TV broadcasters. At the time, the split between print and TV was much more of a hard line than it is today. This was the pre-convergence era. There was a seriousness, a sobriety, about the show. These were serious print journalists talking about the issues of the week.

For people my age, it was an introduction to a generation of sports columnists. There was Mike Lupica, loud and abrasive and full of opinions. There was Mitch Albom, striking a more serious, literary tone. There was Tony Kornheiser and Bob Ryan, big fun personalities. There was Bill Conlin, who even then seemed a little creepy and cranky. In the middle of it all was Dick Schapp — smart, measured, in control. He was replaced by John Saunders, whom I never watched much but was well respected.

The Sports Reporters is an insanely influential show. It was the introduction of sports writers to TV on a national scale. It was the precursor to PTI, Around the Horn, His & Hers, and every columnist on TV show you see. It increased the star power of the sports columnist. There were rarely, if ever, reporters or feature writers on the show. It was a columnist show.

But looking back at it on a more personal level, it’s the kind of show that should fell more influential to me than it really was.

I watched it every week. I enjoyed it every week. But the more I think about it, I can’t say that it was influential on me as a future sports writer or sports journalist. It didn’t make me want to be a columnist. It didn’t influence my thinking or my writing. It was just part of the media landscape. This isn’t a criticism. It’s just odd to me. By all accounts, this should have been a formative show for a generation of sports journalists, and I don’t think it really was.

Looking back on it now, there’s of course plenty to criticize about it. The panel was hopelessly homogenous — it was the middle-aged white guy show, for the most part. It was very east-coast centric. But as much as anything else, that was a product of its time.

And while the show maybe isn’t as influential as I would have expected, it’s not to say it had no influence. I know of Novotel, the Times Square hotel, because they provided accommodations for the panelists. In the pre digital age, when you read the local paper and that was it, I knew of Lupica and Albom and Kornheiser and Ryan and others.

For years, I spent Sunday morning with the Sports Reporters.

My favorite piece of sports writing: A Big Game, by Charles Pierce

As part of the first week of my Sports Writing and Reporting class, I had my students pick their favorite piece of sports writing, bring it to class and discuss why they like it.

It’s an idea I got from Kevin Van Valkenburg’s excellent reading list/syllabus. The idea, as Kevin so eloquently put it:

If you can’t pick a piece of journalism that has inspired you over the years, one that you’ve read countless times and still discover new stuff nearly every time you read it, you aren’t much of a reader.

Their picks are posted here, on the class Medium page (check in throughout this semester to see the writing they do). This assignment also inspired me to bring my favorite piece of sports writing to class to discuss.

And boy, was that a hard pick. I mean, picking one piece of writing as your favorite? It sounds like it should be easy, but when you sit down to do it …

But one piece kept coming to the top of mind, one above all others. I’m not saying this is the best piece of sports writing I’ve ever read. I’m saying it’s my favorite. There’s a difference. I would never argue that Ghostbusters is the best movie of all time, but it is my favorite.

With that in mind, my favorite piece of sports writing: A Big Game by Charles P. Pierce.

Picture it: Olean, N.Y., 2000. I was in my first year as a sports writer and columnist. Pat Vecchio, who was the paper’s editor (before becoming an excellent professor at St. Bonaventure), suggested I start reading the sports writing of Charles Pierce in Esquire. He thought I’d like it, that it would strike the same chord in me that it did in him. I bought “Sports Guy,” an anthology of Pierce’s writing, sight unseen from Amazon.

A Big Game is the first piece in the book, a brief essay that is centered around a Kansas-Kansas State basketball game at Allen Field House. But it’s more about the difference between a Big Game — one that organically matters — and an Important Game or Championship Game, both of which are ordained from the outside and often by commercial interests. It also lays out Pierce’s worldview of sports.

I am a sucker for a Big Game. Which is not necessarily the same as a Championship Game. It is not necessarily the same as an Important Game, as defined by television hucksters. A Big Game is more than that. It is a piece of living history, a theater of the generations with an outcome more compelling than theater of any other kind. Thousands of actors have played Hamlet, but Hamlet always dies. Thousands of players have played in the Harvard-Yale football game, and very few of them have the same story to tell. If all the elements are right, and if history has aligned correctly with the emotion of the moment, I would rather be at a Big Game than almost anywhere else in the world.

It has been said that we all carry our own America with us. My own personal America comes with six seconds left and the home team-anybody's home team-with the ball and trailing by a point or a goal. There is barbecue at the concession stand, and there is beer in a paper cup, and a band is playing across the way. I can be happy there.

As someone who grew up around sports media but read mostly traditional sports writing — game stories, features, columns, many of which were outstanding and well done — this piece was a revelation. I remember feeling like I’d gotten a glimpse of something new and wonderful. There’s such a beauty to the writing, the lyrical flow of the sentences, the command of language, the depth of thought. This was smart, intelligent sports writing, at a level I hadn’t seen before.

For me, it felt like the moment a rock musician firsts listens to, say, Abbey Road. It’s the moment where you realize “Oh, THIS is what’s possible! THIS is what I want to do.”

Which is why it’s my favorite piece of sports writing.