A Front-Row Seat with the Sportswriters Who Sat There
Sit down with host Todd Jones and other sportswriters who knew the greatest athletes and coaches, and experienced first-hand some of the biggest sports moments in the past 50 years. They’ll share stories behind the stories -- some they’ve only told to each other.
Damon Hack: “Don’t Put Your Foot on the Furniture.”
Damon Hack reflects on his 16 years as a sportswriter and how those experiences informed his work in the past decade as a TV journalist at the Golf Channel. Learn protocol lessons taught by the San Francisco 49ers of Steve Young, Jerry Rice and Chris Doleman. Damon takes us to a Super Bowl party with Peyton and Eli Manning, into Adrian Peterson’s home, overseas for the Olympics, and into the mascot costume of Ricky the River Rat. Damon also discusses being a Black reporter covering the predominantly white world of golf for 20 years, and how Tiger Woods has impacted the sport’s diversity. And he shares his favorite Tiger moment, as well as his own score the first time he played golf.
Hack has spent the past decade at the Golf Channel, where he’s co-host of “Golf Today.” He also works as an on-site reporter for the network’s live tournament coverage and for Golf Central at select PGA Tour tournaments. And he contributes to Golf Channel digital as a writer. Besides his responsibilities with NBC Sports Group’s Golf Channel, he covered biathlon events at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea for NBC.
Damon joined the Golf Channel and NBC Sports Group in 2012 after covering the PGA Tour and the NFL for five years as a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. Prior to SI, he covered golf and pro football as a New York Times staff writer from 2002-07, and he covered golf and the New York Knicks as a beat reporter for Newsday (2000-02). Damon also previously covered the San Francisco 49s during his tenure at the Sacramento Bee (1996-2000). He was born in Los Angeles, earned a bachelor’s degree in history from UCLA and a master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. Damon and his wife, Suzanna Yip, have triplet sons.
Damon, it's very nice to reconnect again. Welcome to press box access.
[00:00:05.440] - Damon
Todd, it's great to be with you. It's been quite some time and I'm looking forward to catching up a little bit.
[00:00:10.330] - Todd
Yeah, we're both a little older. I'm a little older than you, so I'll give you a break on that.
[00:00:15.260] - Damon
I don't know how much, buddy. I feel like the gap is closed. At least it feels that way with eleven year old triplets.
[00:00:22.120] - Todd
Oh, that's true. You're quite a busy man with you and your wife chasing those triplets around. But hey, I wanted to congratulate you not just on your family joy, but also ten years at the Golf Channel. I can't believe it's been ten years already this year.
[00:00:36.300] - Damon
It's amazing. I used to as a sports writer in a newspaper and magazine guide. Look at those TV guys. Those guys, they don't even know what they're doing. They're just stealing all our stuff and then repurposing it for television. And now I'm a talking head myself on the boob tube. Todd, it's been a good decade, and I have a whole lot more respect for television journalism than I did when I was working in the newspaper business.
[00:01:02.380] - Todd
Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that. I first knew you as a sports writer, a guy that you were one of us, one of those ink stain wretches out there and the mustard stained T shirt and bad wardrobe. Now you're on television, you're all sharp, looking good, sounding good. What kind of transition was that for you to go from being a writer for 16 years to all of a sudden going into television?
[00:01:29.160] - Damon
It's still a transition, if I'm honest. Ten years in, I still feel new in some ways. I lean on my old newspaper chops in terms of the love and appreciation I have for the written word and journalism and kind of how I got into this business originally. The mechanics are a bit different. You got a television camera, you've got makeup, and people ironing your clothes for you, which is a little bit odd.
[00:01:56.250] - Todd
It's like this flannel shirt that I'm wearing.
[00:01:58.760] - Damon
But I still try to tell stories and I try to speak the way I write. And I still write, too, from time to time. I'm unfortunate enough to keep some of those chop sharp. I write for the Masters Journal. I've done that the last couple of years, writing pieces ahead of the Masters tournament and occasionally write for Golf Channel.com as well. But it is different. Your energy level is important, your look is important. During commercial, someone will come up and fix your collar if it gets out of place. You don't have to worry about that too much when you're on deadline at an NBA game or while you're kind of chasing down the baseball or football game. So it's a bit different in that way. But I still try to lean on journalism and asking the who what when, where, why, right?
[00:02:44.200] - Todd
Well, we're going to talk a lot of golf because not only have you done it with the Golf Channel, you did it for ten years prior to that with New York Times and Sports Illustrated. By the way, how is your golf game?
[00:02:55.410] - Damon
You know, it's not as good as you think. People assume you work for Golf Channel, that you're automatically shooting in the still have not even broken eighty s. I played. Shot 86 in my most recent round of golf. So I feel like I'm starting to be a person who can shoot in the 80s, but the guy that can shoot in the 70s, it still seems to be a bit elusive for me at this point, ten years into Golf Channel notwithstanding.
[00:03:31.330] - Todd
Well, I have a number in mind. I have sources. I know the number. The first time you played golf, what you shot. Do you care to share it with us?
[00:03:42.260] - Damon
Well, if I recall, it was 144. That's it.
[00:03:47.310] - Todd
That's the number. 144. Wait a minute, was that the front or the back?
[00:03:54.330] - Damon
That was basically both. Can you imagine if it was the front? But 144 and your sources, Todd, as they've always been, are impeccable your reporting skills. A buddy took me out to play. I had no idea what I was doing. it was ugly, but I played well enough on maybe one or one and a half holes where I thought, this is fun, I want to try this again. But yeah, dude, you're right. 144 swipe at the golf ball. That's a pretty ugly afternoon.
[00:04:33.220] - Todd
Hey, they pay you by the stroke. You pay that much money, you might as well get a lot of swings. And listen, if anybody has seen me commit golf, I have no place to demean your own game. And you're now shooting in the 80s. My golf clubs are in my garage. They literally have cobwebs on them.
[00:04:48.700] - Damon
Now, I'm going to take you back to your days as a sports writer. Back in those days at Sports Illustrated. The Times Newsday, Sacramento B. Is where you started out. You covered quite a few things besides golf. The NFL. You did the NBA as a Beat Super Bowl Olympics. NBA finals. I think in Sacramento. You even covered the Roller Hockey International. Is that right?
[00:06:36.420] - Damon
Man, who are these sources? This is your Life episode and you're back in a thousand. I dressed up as a mascot for a story for the Sacramento Bee, ricky The River Rat.
[00:06:48.360] - Todd
Ricky The River Rat. I love it.
[00:06:51.190] - Damon
I mean, this is like my attempt at being George Clinton and what's it like to be a mascot for a night at a Roller Hockey International game in Sacramento, California. And I wrote this kind of first person account of spending a night as this six foot tall rat in this musty helmet and running around. And at first they put me on roller blades, but I was so unsure and unsteady on my feet that I said, you better put your tennis shoes back on and just run around the rink, which is what I did. And people were yelling at me, feed the rat and say all these different things in the stands. And I'm trying to look cool. I don't look like a fool, but it was kind of like getting out of your comfort zone and just kind of saying, hey, you know what? This is the assignment. My great sports editor at the time, Steve Blust, I'll never forget when he called me into his office and said, what do you think about doing a night as Ricky the River Rat? What am I going to say? I'm like, probably 24 or five at the time.
[00:07:52.930] - Damon
I'm like, hey, let's get it on.
[00:07:56.440] - Todd
Well, if you look like a rat, you look like a lot of sports riders.
[00:12:26.590] - Todd
you covered the 40 niners for the Sacramento Bee as a beat in the late 1990s. Now, this is after Bill Walsh, after George Seaford, but Steve Young is still there. Jerry Rice is still there. So it's still a very talented team. What did you learn as a young reporter, being around an NFL team on a day to day basis?
[00:12:46.980] - Damon
Gosh, you want to talk about a great incubation period for me in terms of the quality of the riders who were on the beat? And I can name everyone, really. It was IRA Miller, a legendary rider with the San Francisco chronicle. You had Clark Judge, John Krumpacker with the San Francisco examiner. You had Brian Murphy and Matt Maleko and Kevin Lynch and Lowell Cone. I mean, these were giants of Bay Area San Francisco riding. So I had not just a wonderful group of colleagues and competitors as well. And then you open up that locker room, it was like legends of the game that expect you to have done your homework and ask good questions. Steve Young jerry Rice. Tim McDonald merton Hanks gary Plumber ken Norton Jr. These were Chris Dolman. The late, great Chris Dolman was there, who taught me a pretty tough lesson one time. I think back to those days. It was probably like a Wednesday or in the locker room, there's a bench that kind of lines the inside of the locker room, right? Kind of there's the lockers, and then a couple of feet there's, like a bench where the players sit, right?
[00:13:57.850] - Damon
So we're all around Chris Dominan's locker one day, and I'm feeling good about myself. I put my foot on the bench, just kind of like we're all about taper quarters out, and I'm kind of leaning up against the bench, and my foot's on the bench, and he looks at me and he says, this is our house. Can you take your foot off that bench? And I was like, okay. And I put my foot down, and I was a little bit like Chris Dolman, not a small man, and my foot on the bench that sat in front of his locker. And I was a little bit embarrassed and a little bit bummed out about that. But then later on, we actually became, after he left the league and after I wasn't covering anymore, I bumped into him at a Super Bowl one year. He was on the verge of getting inducted into the hall of Fame. We had lunch. He said, Damon, I'm not going to get the votes. There's no way. I'm just not going to be inducted. I'm not feeling good. Then a couple of days later, he finds out he is going to be inducted.
What did you learn from when he said, Get off our furniture?
[00:15:24.340] - Damon
This was their house. They considered the locker room their kind of domain. And it almost felt like an uncle telling me, walking into his house, don't put your foot on the furniture. That's not how I looked at it. I don't think he was being mean. I don't think he was being brusque or rude about it. He didn't, like, put his finger in my chest, or in fact, he's intimidating, is that he's one of the greatest pass rushers of all time, and I know what he does on Sunday. So that was more my perception, probably. But I think he was just saying, hey, when you come in here, keep your feet on the ground. You have a job to do. You're in here for the 45 minutes or the hour. A lot of time that we were given, and let's have a respectful relationship.
[00:16:10.610] - Todd
Yeah, like be a pro. Right.
[00:16:12.040] - Damon
Be a pro. Exactly. And as you know, I was very young and feisty and feeling good about myself in my 20s on this beat of 30 and 40, and in some cases 50 year old riders. And here I am, definitely not a hot shot, but young and hungry. And it was just a good reminder, hey, you know what? I have to build interpersonal relationships with these players, and I have to build their trust. And that comes from the stories that I write and also my behavior. And there was another little run in I had with a young offensive lineman named Tim Hanshaw, and this was during my first ever training camp. And Tim Hanshaw is trying to make the team, and it's a preseason game, and I write that Tim Hanshaw missed the block and Steve Young almost got decapitated. That was my description. And I'm thinking this is a wonderful description, active verbs and very, very compelling to the reader. And Tim Hanshaw, the next day, he sees the story because we're all at that point, the Niners are training in Rocklin, which is a suburb of Sacramento. So they're seeing the Sacramento Bee and he's like, decapitated.
[00:17:23.360] - Damon
Decapitated. He didn't always get decapitated. I missed the block, but why do you have to say decapitated? And I was like, Tim, how I saw it, I didn't really back down. I said I had to write it. How I saw it is what I said. And he kind of shook his head and walked away. It gave me some perspective. He's a guy, a kid fighting for his job, and I'm trying to find some electric good active riding. And I still think it was a good description. It might have been a little exaggerated. Obviously, Steve Young wasn't going to be decapitated, but it just gave me a little bit of perspective on what the player is thinking about.
[00:18:05.760] - Todd
It is an active word. Now, decapitation is an act of what.
[00:18:09.640] - Damon
NFL is a rough game. And if we're honest, Steve Young did deal with concussions, especially in the 1990s, one of those first players who was really concerned about what the damage of ships were doing. So I think that was probably part of the reason I chose that word as well. In fact, I was at the game where Steve Young was knocked out for the final time. It was a missed block by Lawrence Phillips and Anise Williams on Monday night in Arizona. Knocked him basically cold for a little while, and that was the last time Steve Young played football. So the relationships you make, the choice of words, it's a dance, as you know, as a beat rider yourself, and how you have to deal with these players over an entire season and sometimes over 510, 15 years, if you cover the beat and if the players are on that team for such a long.
[00:19:01.630] - Todd
Young was at the end of his career. Rice was kind of getting up there. You're a young guy. They're in different parts of their own career. What was that like to deal with those type of guys, young and Rice especially?
[00:19:22.200] - Damon
Yes. I was no question intimidated. I just didn't feel like I had the depth of knowledge or comfort that a lot of my peers did. I was one of the few writers in his first year in 97, which is my first year on the beat full time. And Rice and Young were such established players and had such great relationships already with the IRA Millers and the John Krumpackers of the world and the Lowell Cones of the world and the club judge. I didn't have that gift of gab with them where I could talk about other things. It took me some time, I'd say toward the end, like, I was on the beat 98 again. And in 99 and toward the middle and end of my time, I could talk to Steve Young. I found out through just hard work and observation he was a fan of Negro League baseball hats.
[00:20:16.780] - Todd
[00:20:17.200] - Damon
And so, yeah. And you're like, how about that? He started bringing, like, homestead gray hats and different hats into his locker, and I noticed that. And that struck a conversation for us that was outside. They don't always want to talk about football. What kind of music do you like? What kind of food do you like? You're a Negro league baseball fish. You like, you can't just be about, you know, what do you think about the packers coming into town? They've been answering that question for 1520 years.
[00:22:48.210] - Todd
Let's talk about covering the league because you learned your lessons as a young NFL beat rider covering the 40 Niners. And then you went off to New York, you did a little basketball at Newsday, covering the Knicks, but then you go over to Si, actually New York Times, and then Si, you're covering golf, but you're also covering the NFL as a league. And that's quite a dichotomy, right?
[00:23:26.460] - Damon
Yes, it's funny. You're so on the money. I'd be so happy in the spring and summer because golf, it's all day games, and you're going to the Masters and you're going to Hawaii for the Century Tournament champions. And then I'd be a little grumpy in the fall and winter. I'd have to gear up and prepare.
[00:23:45.580] - Todd
To deal with these Roman gladiators. You got to COVID these Roman gladiators? Yes.
[00:23:50.430] - Damon
Angry coaches and these angrier players. But I had some good moments, man. I realized that, like the Payton Mannings of the world, how much they read The New York Times and Sports Illustrated and are aware kind of your job. One of my first stories, my first two features for The New York Times covering the NFL, one was on Peyton Manning, and I went to Indianapolis and got great time with Peyton.
[00:24:43.950] - Todd
Well, let's talk about the Manning story. What's the story behind the story?
[00:24:48.560] - Damon
Yes, the story behind the story was he was Pete Manning at this time in his career already kind of building this remarkable resume of stats, but trying to kind of make that next step and kind of get over this little bit of a knock, I'd say earlier, his career, if I recall, coming out of Tennessee, incredible stats, but didn't beat Florida. That was kind of the big story.
[00:25:10.560] - Todd
Couldn't win the big one, right?
[00:25:11.820] - Damon
Couldn't win the big one. So that was part of it as well. Kind of like, where is Peyton Manning, this remarkable athlete stats, son of Archie? And it was a big piece, but I was just so impressed with how Peyton, he kind of knew what I mean, he's just so intelligent, not just in his film study. And I got his high school coach on the phone, if I remember. And just how hard he worked. That was the crux of the story, was he was like, built this way at high school.
[00:25:48.750] - Todd
You said he gave you a lot of time. What did you do?
[00:25:51.190] - Damon
Yeah, as in most NFL facilities, there's like a zillion rooms in these facilities, and there's like an hour between the beat riders and the players. And then there's often like these little side rooms where if you're coming into a special project, say the NFL on CBS or football by in America on NBC, they get an allotted amount of time on like a Thursday or a Friday. And Craig Kelly. He was the PR guy in Indianapolis. Knew I was coming. Didn't really know me from Adam. But set aside time where I had Payton one on one by myself. Away from everybody else. Because for a lot of these players. Brady. Steve Young. Even back in the day. Payton. They speak one time during the week to the gathered media. And then the rest of it is. You wait till Sunday.
[00:26:45.660] - Todd
That has changed. That has changed a lot since the 90s.
[00:26:48.760] - Damon
[00:26:50.510] - Todd
Since the 80s is what I'm okay.
[00:26:52.440] - Damon
Yes. Back then, Pete, he gave me what I needed. I didn't feel rushed. We were in a separate room by ourselves, no media people hanging over us, no other reporters hanging around. And whatever I asked, he answered and gave me just good sound bites. It was just really, really it told me a little bit about him and how good he is and how smart he is. It also told me about the power of the times and how people respected that newspaper as the paper of record and knowing that it's a national paper that's going to be read all over the place. And it was similar with Gibraltazo as well.
[00:27:31.990] - Todd
He knew what you needed, right?
[00:27:33.880] - Damon
[00:27:34.590] - Todd
And he knew. How to deliver it. Right?
[00:27:36.760] - Damon
Exactly right. And that continued Todd, throughout my time, covering him and Eli and Archie like I covered that. Patriots, Giants second Super Bowl in Indianapolis, it's all coming full circle now. And I called Archie on Monday of that week before the game Sunday. I said, Archie, I'm writing a game story for Sports Illustrated, and as you know, Super Bowl week, it's all staged. The media day, you got these big.
[00:28:08.730] - Todd
Booths, and everything is controlled.
[00:28:11.890] - Damon
It's controlled chaos, but it's hard to get individual stuff, like unique stuff. And here I am going to be writing a game story for Sports Illustrated, and there's newspaper writers everywhere and TV cameras everywhere. So I called Archie. I said, Archie, listen, it's Monday. Can you just let me know what the rhythm of the week is like for Eli here and maybe let's talk on Friday? And that would help me paint the picture should the Giants win, and even if they don't, it'll be a big part of this game story ultimately. And sure enough, I called Archie on Friday, and he just like his sons and Peyton especially, he was just a wonderful talker. He gave me insight. He said Damon. Okay. On Monday, Eli took the offensive line to St. Elmo's.
[00:29:20.520] - Todd
They had steakhouse in Indianapolis.
[00:29:23.800] - Damon
Yes, shrimp cocktail. And it was a great night. On Wednesday, Eli came into the city where Peyton has an apartment, and it was just me and Olivia and Eli and Archie, and I think Cooper was there also. They had dinner as a family. And so he's just giving me little nuggets, and I think it's because I'm writing this for Si, and that's now what, 2009? And I've been covering the NFL in a pretty high profile way, going back to the late ninety s a little bit, but especially since two, and I just had enough of trust within the family. The game happens, the Giants win. I'm getting more anecdotes that night. I'm talking to such and such. I'm observing Todd, I see OCU menora on the phone, and he's talking to somebody in the locker room, and he says, we're going to take over the town. We're going to burn the town down. That's a quote that I could use. And then there's Brandon Jacobs, this huge fullback running back, and he's got champagne, and he's like, these bubbles taste so good, and that's a quote. And then I find out that there's the postgame party, and this I had to ask the PR guys, avis Roper, for example, in Peter, John Baptiste.
[00:30:37.800] - Damon
And I'm saying, Guys, can you get me into the postgame party and before the game? It's a maybe. And after the game, everybody's happy? Sure, why not?
[00:30:48.520] - Todd
All right, you're at a Super Bowl teams victorious party. What the hell was that like?
[00:30:55.390] - Damon
It was unbelievable. Let's see if I can remember the name of the group. It was I want to say Lady Antebellum. Yes, thankfully, I remember that Lady Antebellum was performing in the giant Super Bowl party because Eli knew them for many, many years. The Manning family did. It's mayhem. It's dark, everybody's drinking, the guys have their champagne flutes, and they're having a great time. And this ended up being the lead of my story because Archie, at that point, he's gone. But Eli and Peyton walked into this parting, and they look like it could be Tuesday at an NFL facility. The shirts unbuttoned a little bit, but they're not like it's not like wild celebration for them. And I kind of just wrote, that was my lead. Like, Eli kind of slipped into this party where Lady Annabellum is singing, and my quote was something about him. We had a young team that we could believe in, and it wasn't an electric quote, but the scene was good. And then Peyton, who had always given me stuff, knew I wanted to talk to him. And he had a beer in his head, and they both might have had a beer, a light beer.
[00:32:10.470] - Damon
I mean, they're keeping in the fairway.
[00:32:12.570] - Todd
Light beer, light beer, even in this post game moderation.
[00:32:16.840] - Damon
And Payne's saying, you know what? I hope my brother wins five Super Bowls, and I hope I win five two. And at this point, he had one Super Bowl, and this was Eli's second Super Bowl. And he just goes and he says, before I even ask the question, he goes, people think I would be jealous. Eli is my little brother. I used to drive him to school. We used to talk every day and still talk every Tuesday about game planning. If he's playing the Titans and I played the Titans last year, I'm giving him everything I have, every bit of knowledge. He's playing the Patriots. He doesn't even need my help. He beat him before. I mean, it was just that kind of stuff. And he wanted to emphasize and he wanted to get out in the public that, hey, my little brother has two Super Bowls and I have one, and I'm okay, even if he's not okay. It was kind of like almost like a preemptive strike quote from Peyton.
[00:33:10.300] - Todd
He was savvy. He was savvy about he knew what the story was going to be.
[00:33:14.010] - Damon
He knew what the story oh, Payton's jealous. How's Peyton? About span? He just wanted to put that out there immediately. It was almost as if he, like, hunted me down in that dark space in that hotel ballroom post super bowl.
[00:33:26.800] - Todd
That's interesting. It all gets back to relationships, too. You had developed that with Peyton and his family. And then it paid off for you to get the story. You actually were able to then put the reader in the party where you.
[00:33:39.430] - Damon
Had access to I got one more for you. This is just a cover story for Si. They sent me to Eden Prairie to do an Adrian Peterson story. And this is Adrian Peterson height of power. And you'll remember this as Ohio at season opener. They're playing the Browns.
[00:34:02.980] - Todd
Of course they're playing the Browns, right? And the Browns are going to lose, and they're going to end up on.
[00:34:06.370] - Damon
The COVID So you're onto it. You're on to it goes. And I explained to Adrian, I said, listen, there are like three or four games going on. And so I go to his house. I'll take you back to the beginning of the week. I call this agent. And this is again, I don't know if this happens anymore. Maybe it does. I said, listen, Adrian has a chance to be on the Si cover if he has a great game in the Vikings win. But there are other games, other season opening games, and he can't have like, a 55 yard no touchdown game and beyond the COVID So, yeah, he's got.
[00:34:42.160] - Todd
To earn that spot.
[00:34:42.960] - Damon
He's got to earn that cover when the Si cover is some serious real estate. So I go to his house to do a profile. Adrian Peterson in Minneapolis. Minneapolis. And I remember he opened up the refrigerator, offered me something to drink. It was like Muscle milk or EAS protein drinks. There must have been 100 of them in the fridge, which is a scene I'll never forget. Then we walk down into his basement, and he has a purple pool table, and the balls are all back then NFC Central teams. Like, there's packers and there's Bears, and there's all the pool table balls. The billiard table balls are all NFC Central teams. Like we're playing pool. I use that as a line in the story also. Anyway, so finally, it's game day. And I've explained to him, like, you have to have a good game, and I have to call my editor at halftime and see what other games are going on. So the first half were in Cleveland, and the Browns fans hope springs eternal. The dog pound is full. It's season over. Its gorgeous day on the lake. It's sunny, and we're playing football. And I'm up in the stands, and I'm in the press box doing my thing.
[00:35:54.420] - Damon
And first half Peterson is like, shut down. Like he's doing nothing. Nothing. And I call my editor, Mark Murrayvick. I'm like, yeah, I guess this is not happening. He goes, yeah, he's got 35 yards rushing and nothing else?
[00:36:10.840] - Todd
I go, yeah, that's not a cover.
[00:36:12.360] - Damon
It's not a cover. So we're thinking it's probably done. Second half starts kind of starts the same way, but then all of a sudden, he takes this pitch to the left, and I'll never forget it. And you've probably seen his highlight. He breaks a couple tackles and sprints down the left sideline, and there's a defender coming to him, and he unleashes this wicked straight arm, shoves the guy out of the way, sprints, like, 65 yards for a touchdown. That photo ends up being on the COVID But the funny story was, Adrian, at the end of the game, runs into the locker. They have a ten to 15 minutes cooldown period, runs into the locker room, past me as I'm standing outside the door, and he goes, did we get the COVID And I said, we got.
[00:37:00.510] - Todd
The COVID He got the COVID He.
[00:37:02.980] - Damon
Had the presence of mind to be able to be a badass running back who's having a tough first half, breaks this incredible 60 some yard run, and he knows that he's done enough to get the COVID The Vikings win the game, and the COVID if I remember it, said Dominator.
[00:37:21.260] - Todd
And the Browns helped him. Of course.
[00:37:22.930] - Damon
The browns. That was the end of the heyday. I feel like when s, I really, really still meant something. And the COVID story really, really meant something. Man, I had five great years at the time and five great years at Si being able to do things just like that.
[00:37:43.910] - Todd
Peterson obviously was one of the best running backs of his Era, like 15,000 rushing yards, all kinds of honors. And he obviously had a complicated life off domestic violence. He was suspended for child abuse, striking his son with a tree branch. And I think he also had a two year old son, Die. Another man killed his son, the father of the mom. So these stories are like, you see him in the arena and then you see him out, and it's complicated sometimes, right?
[00:38:18.930] - Damon
It is his upbringing with his father and his relationship with him, and I thought his father might have done some time, if I remember you're right. Especially with the NFL, they're asked to be so tough and to be so violent and then, you know, ask to be normal members of society. And I've talked to players and heard anecdotes about players who struggle post playing days with not having things to do on Sundays. I've heard a story, an anecdote about an exnfl linebacker who got a pit bull after his playing days and would get on the floor and incite the pit bull to try to bite him and tackle. And he would, like, literally shove and tackle and fight with this dog. The human being an NFL ex linebacker, because he could not mimic and recreate that, the intensity and the violence of the game. And Tega Todd, I have three boys who love the NFL, and we watch it, and I watch it having seen the violence and know the toll, the concussion story going all the way back to the Steve Young. And we don't let our boys play tackle football, even though we have a fantasy team, we each have a team, and we love the game, and it's conflicting.
[00:39:49.450] - Damon
But we were told that if you let your boys get that shoulder pads and helmet off, they won't take it off because it's a feeling that you get when you're ten years old or twelve years old. You feel like a gladiator and you feel impenetrable and invulnerable.
[00:40:05.200] - Todd
Yeah. Football, football, football's like smoking, you know, it's bad for you.
[00:40:09.270] - Damon
[00:40:09.520] - Todd
But it's addictive.
[00:40:10.560] - Damon
[00:40:12.940] - Todd
Football's complicated. And another thing that's complicated is the Olympics. There's so much good and bad that goes on at the Olympics, and I know that in 2004 you were in Athens, Greece, covering the Summer Games for The New York Times, and I was there too. And I think we spent a little time getting to know each other over there in Greece. You have said that it's your favorite assignment ever. Why was the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics your favorite assignment?
[00:40:42.580] - Damon
Yeah, it's a wonderful question, and I do feel that way. As someone who's traveled quite a bit and a history major undergrad and kind of fascinated by the history of the planet, of the world, of geopolitical issues in the history of war and peace, being in the Olympics is like the crystallization of all of those things in a sporting venue. But even beyond the track and field and the swimming, there are these stories of athletes coming from different parts of the world and sometimes those different parts of the world. There's conflict going on. In 2004, we're still in a state of grieving and healing from 911 and still in the midst of the war in the Middle East. And there was a little bit of that even in Greece, we're much closer to the Middle East than we would be in the States. So the safety protocols, we had to go through like a whole you know, beyond just getting your passport stamped, you had to go through a whole safety and security protocol because of the time that it was in 2004. And just being around journalists from around the world and athletes from around the world and kind of hearing the different languages and being in an IOC or International media center and looking around and seeing all of these different people and hearing these different languages, I felt inspired by it.
[00:42:13.810] - Damon
Meeting athletes and hearing their stories and kind of the joy and unbelievable pain if you just missed off the podium. For example, there's a Japanese athlete who I think she might have won silver, and she was so distraught and heartbroken that she didn't win gold, and she was just so hard on herself, and I was just sitting there in that area of the mix zone. It's just like heartbroken for her as she was just basically beating herself up over the close call. But it's those stories of joy and pain. The fact that you had athletes from Iran and Israel who are always at Lagerhead seeming, but they're suddenly in the same arena together. Those things just fascinated me. And being in that kind of venue and environment in 2004, especially, your eyes are wide open, you're a little bit nervous taking the buses here and the venues there. And it was just a very interesting time to be a sports journalist, especially being in that part of the world.
[00:43:19.630] - Todd
I remember being at a soccer game. It was Iraq's first soccer game in the Olympics that year. And obviously the war was going on. And I sat down in the press box area and you just heard this loud cheering going on. I looked down there's probably 300 Iraqi men together just going nuts, just cheering and going crazy about every moment. And I'm like, I'm going to go down there and see what this is all about. And I went into the middle of the pack of the fans and of course, I couldn't speak their language, but I just got a sense of what this meant to them, the pride that they felt to be there, especially with their own home country at war. I remember thinking like, this is more than this is more than sports. It sounds like a cliche with the Olympics, but when you are there and you're lucky enough to be there, you experience it differently. And that's what you're trying to do as a journalist, is put the other people who aren't there with you in that pack of Iraqi fans with you. Right.
[00:44:23.970] - Damon
Such a great point. It's really bringing those stories home to the people who can't be there and what they can't see or feel on television and being in the arena for that moment. And I met some athletes and covered some events and saw Rulon Gardner comes to mind and some of these other athletes and just kind of telling their stories in a way that really kind of brings that full color picture to the folks that aren't able to see it or experience it. And I can only imagine. And you think about those men there. These are decisions that are being made outside of their purview. And as war often is, it's 19 year olds and 20 and 21 year olds that are set off to battlefields and the complications they're in. And just for that three week period, I always feel better about the world, even though I know it's temporary and I know it's sports, but I love seeing people come together. I'm an optimist as well, even though we have to be skeptical. I think as journalists, it's important to kind of make sure that we hold the people accountable, the stakeholders, the people that are in charge of these events, but I still in my heart of hearts, I'm an optimist.
[00:45:45.430] - Damon
And when I see that kind of humanity, that diverse amount of people and languages in one place, you can't help but feel a little bit hope and a little bit better about the planet.
[00:45:56.440] - Todd
It's definitely unique. There's a unique energy there. And you mention the diversity. And the diversity that you see in the Olympics is not something that you see in the world of golf. Just never has been part of the game., and you show up covering it as a print reporter in 2002, and you arrive on the scene of golf, obviously as a black man. What was it like for you to go into this world that just did not have a track record of diversity?
[00:46:27.560] - Damon
Yeah, I had some uncomfortable moments, double checking of my media credential to make sure I was who it said I was. Really? Oh, for sure, yeah. The unusual stare you see, the long stare, you kind of sense it especially early. We're talking 20 years ago now. I've been on TV for ten years running my mouth, and people know me. They didn't know me that that well back then, and I felt nervous. And golf and I've said this before, I think in some ways, Todd, Tiger Woods was the best and worst thing to happen to golf, because the best, in some ways, is that this multicultural player was the best, wins the Masters by twelve. But it also golf can kind of pat itself on the back. Oh, look at us. Look how diverse we are. The best players in the world, and maybe the history of the game is AfricanAmerican and Asian, and it really kind of in my opinion, it took the killing of George Floyd two years ago to really make the sport reexamine itself. And I can say that with full conference because I spoke to people at the PGA Tour in PGA America and USGA, who were like, whoa, what just happened?
[00:47:43.750] - Damon
Everybody's sitting at home during Cobid, and they see this, and it reminded people in golf. But you know what? Tiger woods notwithstanding, what are the C suites in golf look like? What does the majority of the playing membership look like? The sponsors, who are these companies? They're not African American owned businesses that are sponsors of events. It forced the Tour to look inward. And I had conversations, Todd, on the record and off the record with people to Tour and people at the PJ of America and USGA. And to their credit, the Tour has earmarked $100 million for diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. The USGA announced they've re upped on their relationship with First T. Doing these Idea grants, 25,000 for 25 First T programs. And so I think it's getting better. It's slow. It's behind, like, baseball integrated in 1000, 947, and golf had, like, a Caucasian only clause on the books into the 1960s, so they're, like, 16 years behind. When Charlie sipperd finally got the play on what is now known as the PGA tour, golf had more ground to make up. It was exclusionary for most of its existence, and I think it's taken some very notable events outside of the game to kind of remind people that there's more work to do.
[00:49:09.670] - Todd
I want to point listeners to a column that you wrote for golf channel.com, and that was in June of 2020 after George Floyd's death, and the headline on the column is, can I be both thankful and horrified? Can I? And it was such an outpouring of your heart and your own life experiences. Can you take us back to why you decided to put yourself out there in a personal way like that?
[00:49:36.490] - Damon
I remember feeling in that time, as we all were, so many of us were horrified and sad and upset, but I found myself in that time, we had a television camera. I had a camera in my house because of Kobe. Weren't going into the studio, but I was still doing television and going on the air and talking about birdies and Bogeys. And I just I'd be going to sleep at night, and I could feel my chest was tight and my heart was hurting. And I'm like, why am I feeling this way? I'm like, I've got a great wife, great kids, wonderful job, dream job, but I'm also a black man living in America. Can I be both, like, thankful and, like, can I love my country but be mad at my country at the same time that this happened? Can I be thankful and upset? Can I be patriotic, but a patriot who wants to see things get better? And so I said, I started an instagram post. Then I asked my editors and producers, I want to write a column, and they said, absolutely. And I wrote this column because I felt like I had to be transparent to the viewer and to myself and to my family, to my sons, as my dad was to me and my grandfather was to him about some of the challenges that black people can face.
[00:50:54.510] - Damon
And I could be on television 2 hours a day, but I'm still a six foot three, ball headed black man in America who's been pulled over and who's been frisked and asked if I had drugs or weapons in my car, which I did not, and frisked for weapons, which did not have in front of my mom's house when I was, like, 1920 years old. And people were like, wait a second. You're, like, on TV. You're famous. That happens to you. I'm like, yeah, that does happen. It has happened. And I'm one of the lucky ones where it didn't escalate to Eric Garner or Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin or James Bird back in the day or George Floyd or Emmett Till, you know, I'm thankful that it didn't happen. But I do get nervous as I get pulled over. My hands are tight on that wheel because I'm not on TV at that point. I'm a black man in a car in a nice neighborhood, and that means something to some people, and it makes some people nervous whether they know me or not. So I had a conversation with Jimmy Rollins about this after George Floyd.
[00:51:56.010] - Damon
And he was a wonderful allstar World Series winner with the Phillies. And he said, I had cops escort me into stadiums and give me fist bumps and making sure our bus made it through. And then at the same time, at midnight, got pulled over in a nice car, had guns drawn on me. Like, are these the same police? So those stories were important to tell. And I say this as someone with a cousin who's in the FBI, law enforcement, in my family. So I wanted people to know that, yeah, I can love my country. I can respect police officers and the job they do in FBI and CIA, but also, like, these are things that are real and sometimes scary, and you can be a patriot and you can love your country and be critical of it. I think that's what the beauty of America, that you can speak your mind and not worry about, like, in some places being put behind bars for 15 years because you said something against state, local or federal government. So I could not be on television and saying, hey, Justin Thomas won by four while cities are being torn apart and families are grieving and people are hurting without speaking my truth.
[00:53:10.030] - Damon
And it was a time in sports where black lives matter. We saw some signs on basketball courts and the choose love on the helmets and different things. We still see some of those things. And I just thought, I couldn't do my job and be transparent, which you should be on television and be yourself, which you're told you're supposed to be without being able to express this part of who I am. And it's like this dichotomy of, yes, gratitude and joy and optimism, but also tired of being 50 and having to prepare to have these conversations with my kids that my dad had with me, that his dad had with him.
[00:53:50.100] - Todd
Well, it's a heart wrenching column, and I applaud you for having the courage to put yourself out there like that., your own life experience as a black man, how has it informed your reporting on golf for 20 years? Golf especially because it is such a lily white sport.
[00:54:23.440] - Damon
Yeah, I think it's in some ways, it's allowed me to stand out like everybody knows who I am. If I'm walking up to them for a sound bite because I'm just so different. I look so different. There have been a handful, I think of clip brown, pete McDaniel, pharrell Evans for a time. This is over 20 years. There just hasn't been that many. So being on television, especially the last ten years, people, they know who I am. They know what I look like. And I think this of golfers, and I think of this of most people. I think most people are good people, and I think that most people just want the best for their kids and their neighborhood and their families. And I think golfers are no different. I mean, they make a zillion dollars, and they're trying to get the ball in the hole, and they play a difficult game, but I approach them as I approach anyone. I try to be empathetic, and I try to speak to them man to man, or man to woman if I'm coming into the LPGA. And sometimes we do get into topics, discussions on race.
[00:55:29.890] - Damon
I've had some players want to talk about that. I've interviewed some players. I interviewed Kirk triplett, who he's a white man with a black son. He adopted a black child, and he put a black labs matter sign on his golf bag on PGA tour champions, which is 50 and over. Pretty conservative group of golfers. And he talked about getting some awkward glances, and he said, you know what? I have to I have to have a different conversation with my son kobe that's his son's name than I do with my other children. It's sad, but it's kind of the way it is. And he wanted to say, I'm a white man at 60 years of age, and this is a conversation I had to have. So when I'm on the beat, when I'm doing my job, when I'm going to golf tournaments, I try to be who I always have been, which is honest, transparent, prepared, asking good questions and being authentic. And that's golf, that's football, that's life for me. That's how I want to be perceived. That's how I want to behave, and that's how I want my reputation to be, whether I'm in a locker room or on the 18th green talking to somebody after they put out for par.
[00:56:44.050] - Todd
Well, you grew up in Los Angeles, in Compton, and I'm sure when you were growing up, there just weren't many black golfers. Golf probably just wasn't part of your life. There was Lee elder and Calvin Pete, a couple of guys, but sadly, there's still not many when you think about it today. But at the same time, you mentioned that things are better, that things have changed, and you've seen it for 20 years, and so that still infuses you with hope, right?
[00:57:11.960] - Damon
It does. And I spent summers in compton. My parents went to Compton high school. I lived in the San Fernando valley, but spent many a summer roller. Skating on East San Louis, which is a street in Compton, and my late grandparents lived in Compton, Cousins in Compton. My parents were proud. Class of 1963, compton High School. So I have that in my background and also the eight one eight San Fernando Valley as well. And golf just was not a part of my upbringing at all outside of a birthday party and going to play miniature golf somewhere my parents didn't play. If golf was on our television screens, it's because we were waiting for a basketball game to come on. And it has been slow. It is an expensive game to play. The socioeconomics of the game kind of mirror the socioeconomics of the country. And in most African American communities, golf courses might as well be on the moon. They're just not accessible. It's not something that is readily in their purview. I do think the more outreach that the game does, the more that it acknowledges that things have to get better. There needs to be not just taking kids from their neighborhood to a golf tournament one day and then taking them back.
[00:58:33.660] - Damon
It's about legitimate, active proactive outreach into those communities and making the game look more like aspects of the African American community, whether it's clothing or music or making a real tangible effort to say, we want you as a part of this game and growing this game, and.
[00:58:52.590] - Todd
It'S a make off. Look more like America, right?
[00:58:55.480] - Damon
Make it look more like America. And that means all aspects of America. And really not just that. It's only for a certain segment. And I think golf has sometimes struggled with that. And I do think post 2020 and post COVID and George Floyd that from what I've seen and been in those rooms and talked to a lot of people, that I feel like the game is going in the right direction.
[00:59:20.440] - Todd
Well, I think it's so important that you're on television and that you're out there because we need that perspective. We need more of it.
[00:59:50.440] - Damon
I appreciate that. And I am appreciative of the seat that I sit in and cherish it as well and don't take it lightly. That just me. Being on Golf Channel is a wonderful example of how the game has has progressed, and hopefully more stories like that will be told as the years and decades roll on.
[01:00:44.290] - Todd You've been around for the highs and the lows of this man's career. One of the greatest athletes in the history of sport, American sport. Is there a moment that sticks with you of all the things that you've seen Tiger achieve during those 20 years, that you're always going to recall him as Tiger Woods to golfer?
[01:01:21.260] - Damon
I've been thankful that my time in journalism, in golf journalism, really coincided with his as a player. I'm four years older than he is. He's from Southern California. I'm from Southern California. We root for a lot of the same sports teams. So it's been fun having moments outside the ropes to talk about the Lakers or the Raiders or the Dodgers poked fun at each other because he went to Stanford and I went to UCLA. And to see that side of him athletically.
[01:02:33.480] - Damon
But I think back to the 2006 Open Championship at Hoylake, which had come on the heels of losing his father. He wins a golf tournament, hitting one driver the whole week. The sound of the strike of his golf ball is like nothing I've ever heard. And I've been around Henry Stenson and Justin Thomas and all these other great players, but to me, it's probably like he works harder than we even know, and he's starting to let people know, like, little anecdotes of what it was like for him. There was a story told a few weeks ago at pebble, and there was a gentleman who works at the Pebble Beach Company, and he's saying, Tiger, I remember in 2000 and pebble, and you were getting ready for your resumption of the second round on that Saturday morning, and you were in the gym, and you were working so hard. You were bouncing from the weight rack to the bench to the dumbbell rack, and you were just sweating, and you had this athletic shirt on, and your muscles were bulging. And then my kids walked up to you and asking you for an autograph, and you signed every autograph, and you went back to the gym, and you were lifting, and they were at the Pebble Beach gym.
[01:03:49.690] - Damon
There's, like a beach club there. And the guy said, Tiger, it just was such an example that you work so hard. You were working out before you went out to finish your round and then to play 18 more holes that day. And Tag goes, well, I'd actually run 3 miles before I got to the gym. And he looks out to the kids. He goes, kids, you have to sacrifice. He says, Kobe used to tell me and we're like, oh, my gosh. I used to talk to Kobe all the time. He goes, Kobe used to tell me, what are you willing to sacrifice to be great? What are you willing to give up to be great? And I was like, wow. I mean, no wonder this guy won 82 times in 15 majors, because he knew that every time he arrived to a golf tournament, he had outprepared, out worked, and out everything, everybody. Not to mention the great skills that he had and the wonderful hands and the fact that he'd been doing it since he was a toddler. But it wasn't an accident. You don't get to that point in your profession, in your endeavor as an athlete.
[01:04:55.890] - Damon
Just by God's grace, you have to put in the work. And Tiger was looking these kids dead in the eye and telling these stories about being a kid and walking 3 miles to school or skateboarding to school and skateboarding home and then going to play golf. And his parents said, you were a student before. You're an athlete, and as good as an athlete as he was, and he ran across the country. Also, he had to have the grades, too. And Tiger's face was just lighting up as he talked about work, work, and work. And it was a reminder to me that as talented as he is and as gifted as he is and I have a great golfing body, he has put in endless hours to be who he has become. And it was a reminder to me how lucky I've been to COVID him. And it was motivating to me and my job to make sure that I do my job just a little bit better every day. Also.
[01:05:50.510] - Todd
You put in your own work. You've come a long way since I first met you. We were both just insane where the locker room was, and you've gracefully shared so many wonderful stories with us. I really appreciate it, and I do have so much respect for you putting yourself out there and being willing to keep issues on the forefront.
[01:06:36.340] - Damon
Todd, I appreciate it. I've enjoyed being friends with you and colleagues and sharing a lot of locker rooms and press rooms back in the day. And I'm so glad you reached out. We could catch up. As I tell a lot of people, I'm an optimist about this country and I think that most people are really just trying to all row in the same direction and want the best for their loved ones. And that's really the crux of my message, both on camera and off.
[01:07:06.810] - Todd
Well, Damon is a very important message and thanks again for sharing it. Let's keep rowing, my man.