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.

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Dan Wetzel: Looking Past the Black Hats and White Hats

Dan Wetzel: Looking Past the Black Hats and White Hats

Dan Wetzel takes us into the gray netherworld of sports, where some writers aren’t willing to tread. We discuss how his experiences covering college basketball and AAU taught him to look beyond cliches. Hear about characters such as Sonny Vaccaro, Jerry Tarkanian and others who were easily cast into roles for a simple narrative. Dan puts us in the media room when John Chaney threatened to kill John Calipari. And the Yahoo Sports national columnist describes the tensions and emotions that existed in the court rooms when he covered the trials of Aaron Hernandez and Larry Nassar.

Wetzel has become one of the nation’s most versatile and respected sportswriters since joining Yahoo Sports in 2003. He has reported and written about the Olympics, men’s and women’s World Cup, NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, NHL, college sports, NASCAR, UFC and boxing. Wetzel has worked on major Yahoo investigative stories on pro and college sports, including scandals at Miami, Ohio State, Connecticut, Oregon, USC, the NCAA, IOC, FIFA, and various sports agencies. He also specializes in sports crime, including covering high profile cases and trials of Jerry Sandusky, Nassar, Hernandez and others. His columns have been featured numerous times in the anthology “Best American Sports Writing.” He has been honored more than a dozen times by the Associated Press Sports Editors, and he has been induced into the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame. Besides writing, he also hosts the “Yahoo Sports College Podcast” – a must-listen – twice a week along with Sports Illustrated writer Pat Forde. Wetzel is a New York Times best-selling author, a screenwriter of the 2014 movie “Life of a King,” and executive producer of the three-part Netflix docu-series “Killer Inside” about Hernandez. His book “Glory Road” with former college basketball coach Don Haskins was made into a Disney movie by the same name.

Adrian Wojnarowski, an NBA insider for ESPN, once posted this about Wetzel on Instagram: “Few have done so much, so well. The volume, depth and insight within the body of Wetzel’s work is staggering, perhaps even peerless. And yet, it barely begins to tell the story of Wetzel’s impact on the industry because he changed the whole thing. He influenced a generation of college basketball reporters, teaching them to reassess the stereotypes and prejudices that have long surrounded coverage of the sports. The so-called good guys weren’t always so pure, and the so-called bad guys weren’t always so flawed. In a sport full of bullshit guys, you were never bullshitting Dan Wetzel.”

Dan is a native of Norwell, Massachusetts near Boston. He’s a 1994 graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he was editor of the campus newspaper (The Daily Collegian) and majored in political science. After college, Wetzel interned at the Indianapolis News, covering the police beat. He moved to the Chicago Tribune, where he also worked on the news desk. After college, Wetzel started covering basketball for the Basketball Times, where he eventually served as managing editor. He then became senior writer for SportsLine, the official website for CBS Sports, in 2000 before moving to Yahoo Sports three years later as that website’s first sportswriter. He has served as fill-in radio host on “The Sports Inferno” in Detroit (AM-1270).

Wetzel is the author of these books:

· “Sole Influence: Basketball, Corporate Greed and the Corruption of America's Youth” with Don Yaeger of Sports Illustrated

· “Glory Road” with former University of Texas-El Paso basketball coach Don Haskins

· “Runnin' Rebel: Shark Tales of ‘Extra Benefits,’ Frank Sinatra, and Winning It All” with former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.

· “Resilience: Faith, Focus, Triumph” with Alonso Mourning

· “Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series” with Josh Peter and Jeff Passan

And he has written several sports biographies for children as part of the Epic Athletes series :

· Stephen Curry

· Alex Morgan

· Serena Williams

· Tom Brady

· LeBron James

· Lionel Messi

· Simone Biles

· Kevin Durant

· Patrick Mahomes

· Zion Williamson

Follow him on Twitter (@DanWetzel) and Instagram (wetzelsports).

Dan Wetzel edited transcript

[00:00:02.410] - Todd

Hey, Dan. Welcome to Press Box Access. How are you, Dan?

[00:00:05.490] - Dan Wetzel

How you been?

[00:00:07.790] - Todd

You know, I'm getting along. I'm getting along. I used to type. Now I talk.

[00:00:12.410] - Dan Wetzel

I hear this is going to take like an hour, which is the longest, best conversation we've ever had without alcohol.

[00:00:19.070] - Todd

Well, I was just going to say I think I'm going to have to check your ID. Mr. Wetzel, I think you might be too young to be on this Tavern. I don't know if you've seen the guess list or not.

[00:00:31.490] - Dan Wetzel

It was a little humbling.

[00:00:35.090] - Todd

Well, we serve oatmeal and we soak our feet about midway through the show. And so if you need to take a break, we can do that. But yeah, I do think that your birth certificate says that you're actually a little younger than me. But I know for a fact kindred spirits. Yeah, well, you have quite a few miles on your tires. And I know that. I know that because I put a few of those miles on there with you. I seem to recall a pizza being taken into a bar at four in the morning in New York once sun coming up in New Orleans.

[00:01:13.370] - Dan Wetzel

I have no comment, but I'm not going to. Sounds right.

[00:01:16.450] - Todd

Yeah.

[00:01:18.950] - Dan Wetzel

That'S right. That's the whole point. That's the whole point of the job. What do you get in his job? So you don't have to grow up. You don't have to get a real job. Exactly. Why would I do that? Why would I do anything else?

[00:01:34.080] - Todd

Right. Let's see. Yahoo Sports National columnist for damn near 20 years. That's amazing new York Times best selling author, hosted a Yahoo Sports College podcast. A must listen. I must say, I'm a very faithful listener. Great show with Pat 40, executive producer of Docuseries, a screenwriter, a basketball writers hall of Fame. What is this? Is this the guy that I know? Oh, yeah. Wait a minute. Wanted in twelve States. All joking aside to Dan, I'm really glad that you're with us because in my estimation, you're the best writer going to columnist. And I always make sure to read when there's a big story or even a story that's not on the beaten path. Certainly the most versatile guy. And I'm really glad you joined us because your career spans the transition, really, from print to digital media. I've been wondering how have you been able to navigate going from the print world to the digital world so successfully?

[00:02:52.650] - Dan Wetzel

Well, that's an excellent question. I would say that the basics that you learn as a reporter, if you want to call it an old school reporter, where you report out your stories, report out your columns, make calls, journalistically sound different things like that are still extremely relevant and always are going to help a column that maybe aren't done as much. I don't know. I don't really know what everyone else does. But then when you get to the Internet, it's about topic. And I don't know, I'm assuming this. But if you're like a sports columnist in 1973, right. Or something like that, or 1980, they throw 500,000 newspapers into driveways or they get picked up at the subway and no one knows who the hell what got read. No one knows whether covering this made any sense. Nobody knows whether you wrote the right thing. And with the Internet, you know, down to the single person, those different placements and there's a lot of factors, but you have to go that route and at least understand, you can't just write anything you want. It has to be the topic. How are you differentiating yourself on the same topic and things like that?

[00:04:39.990] - Dan Wetzel

And that's where the reporting and all the other stuff you can do goes into it.

[00:08:58.190] - Dan Wetzel

Well, it's kind of a joke, but, yeah, what happened? Yeah, John Change tried to kill John Calipari. It's pretty awesome. I was there. I will say that didn't make me want to be a sports ride. I always joked that story, but I was like, this is exciting. If this happens every day, we got something to write about.

[00:09:18.550] - Todd

Yeah, well, let's set the scene on that one, because I really do feel like that's a moment that happened. It went viral the way you could go viral in those days. There was no internet for the most part. There was no social media. But that thing became a huge story. I was covering Atlantic Ten basketball at the Cincinnati Post at the time, and I just remember that thing was, like, out of control. You're at the game for the Daily Collegiation, and, UMass, wins by a point and John Kalapari comes in well, actually Cheney came in first, right to have his press conference, is that right? And then he left and things normal.

[00:09:55.220] - Dan Wetzel

So.

[00:09:58.130] - Todd

They did it.

[00:09:58.740] - Dan Wetzel

The Collegian years later some I can't remember who I apologize to whoever did it, they did like an oral history and tried to patch it back together like forensic science but as I recall it well, I think this is what it was. So Cheney would go right into the press conference and Callpari was going to go second but Cheney comes in and he compliments the team and it was this great game and he thought the team, UMass, is going to be really good. It was just a really good game and he was very complimentary John Cheney is a very interesting guy. I loved him, I got to know him to a degree later on even let the Collegian into one of his practices because he even let me come to one of his practices at six in the morning I think he wanted good press in Amherst I'm not the worst guy in the world but I loved him. I love Cheney but at the time I didn't know him but he comes in, he compliments you mess all the stuff and at the time Calipari is outside like getting into it with the rest about some Call that he thought wasn't fair in the game and he won't.

[00:11:08.610] - Dan Wetzel

Won the game so Cheney leaves, Cal comes in and then someone tells Cheney the Cal par was after the reps after the game if you ever really listen to it Cheney makes reference to all of this and he just loses it and comes back in and just starts I mean, it was just phenomenal.

[00:11:29.850] - Todd

It was just great what were you thinking when he's yelling I'm going to kill you?

[00:11:36.000] - Dan Wetzel

I didn't think there'd be a homicide but if he had gotten his hands on them so there are two players, Mike Williams and Derek Kellogg were there also they had a little side table they were sitting there and Cheney went up and tried to get a cow and the players blocked him today he'd probably be fired because I think he put his hand around one of their necks it took two College athletes who are like 20 years old and in prime physical condition to hold John Cheney back and they did but the whole thing goes down, he leaves and it was just like what the hell just happened? Like he couldn't even believe it just happened and then it was just that we got one of the local TV stations to replay it we're looking at it out in the hallway I'm like, you could get the camera to replay it. Like we're looking into the little camera. Yeah. And we're like, what the hell? What got said? I mean, you're in there, you got tapes but you can't hear everything because Cheney is yelling from the back of the room. And it was it was a different era of time so that there was no breaking in with the news.

[00:12:41.730] - Dan Wetzel

So until the 06:00 news in like Springfield or whoever was at the game, Springfield, Mass. Tv or whatever, there would be no video that would be out there. There was literally hours of like nothing. And then until Sports Center went crazy with it at like 11:00 nowadays, they break into whatever and say this just happened, that you could be watching whatever was going on. They would have cut to it, but there was none of that. So it was wild. And then they had a return game down in Philly, which was great. But anyway, it was like a week a couple of weeks later. It was awesome. I mean, all those A ten teams were great back then. You had Cheney and Mike Jarvis and Al Skinner and Prosser and Gillen and just so many good characters in the League. And they were all Cal party. He loved it. He got more attention out of it. Him and Cheney made friends. Like I said, Cheney just loses his mind every once in a while. But God bless that guy.

[00:13:45.530] - Todd

That's his soul. Well, that was quite an introduction to College basketball.

[00:17:49.590] - Todd

So you wanted to find out more about College basketball. You liked the sport. You start working for the Basketball Times, you put on that miner's hat and you go down that main shaft of College basketball. What did you start to find?

[00:18:04.170] - Dan Wetzel

It's phenomenal business, especially back then when it was more popular. The characters of the coaches, the recruiting is the lifeblood of the sport, and there's virtually no rules, or there are rules, but half the people, if half aren't obeying them. So there's all this, like, suspicion and cheating, you name it, it was a great sport. Everyone knows the College recruiting is. But if you really get intricate with the coaches, they're just dying over this stuff. Like, if I don't get this guy, if I get this guy, have this recruitment go down all the different stuff, and then they're just so they're unique. The campuses are unique. The whole thing was fun. And I always gravitated to kind of the real characters. I was never a believer in this, like, white hat, black hat thing. I always tried to cover that sport in all sports from the ground up rather than the top down. I was also young, so there was no way that I was just going to be like I wasn't going to become close with Dean Smith or something. It just wasn't happening. But I could know all the Au coaches or I could know the assistants or I could know the guys that the media was always bashing.

[00:19:27.790] - Dan Wetzel

I just saw it, the whole thing. Once you get in to College athletics and it's the same with football. I mean, when you know the seven and seven coaches of the Au coaches of high school or prep schools and all this stuff, you learned real quick that there's not CBS can paint this guy as the Paragon of virtue and a lot of media will go along with it. But the difference between one guy and the bottom guy is very slim. And so it's all bullshit. And so I was always willing to kind of add a necessity to write about a lot of the controversial people and all that. They were just colorful. They're interesting, right?

[00:20:13.820] - Todd

Who was one of the first people that you met that you thought to yourself, now this guy is misunderstood?

[00:20:25.530] - Dan Wetzel

It's a good question. I don't always know if they're misunderstood. Maybe misunderstood wouldn't be quite the word because they might be properly understood. It's just the miscast is a little bit. Maybe the priorities are all wrong. I still am very close with Sunny Vicaro. And if you read stories about Sunny Vicaro in the 90s or the early 90s or the 80s, there was a generation of sports writer that you would have thought Sunny Vicaro, the sneaker executive, was Satan because the NCAA didn't like Sonny Vicaro. He was a threat to their model. And this is where you're getting the coverage. Top down, you get commissioners with bash guys like him.

[00:21:15.490] - Todd

And Sonny Ficara set the table. He's the guy that signed Michael Jordan.

[00:21:19.480] - Dan Wetzel

Michael Jordan, Nike signed Kobe Bryant to Adidas, which might have been even a bigger game. Yeah. And he was a proponent of everything you see now. And he was also just this. But he was an Italian guy, this infinite pet. Who is this guy? And he would always say, Stop taking my money if you hate me so much. And he was always pro athlete. He'd say, well, why should I'm paying this coach a million dollars a year to make a grown man wear a certain sneaker and that kid can't get a Ham sandwich, right?

[00:21:59.730] - Todd

It was absurd.

[00:22:00.580] - Dan Wetzel

Everything he said was he pointed out. But at the time, there was a massive media effort to protect the NCAA. The words that would get used to describe sleazy and grime. I mean, they were very, you know, it's like, and the more you got to know Sonny and you knew how much he cared about people and the more stories you heard about. I remember a guy, he got picked second in the draft and there was a story. I remember it was a little after this, but the NBA was expecting this guy to go come out and he didn't come out. And somebody called the kid. This is like one of these street agents supposedly pulling kids out of College to go to the pros, God forbid. And he called, he said, why are you not putting your name in the draft? He says, my coach went through, he said he talked to the NBA, said I wouldn't be picked until late in the second round. I said, Son, you're going top three, and everybody knows it. So he came out, got picked second and played in the NBA 15 years something. But you start seeing those kind of stories from a different perspective and you go, this guy is freaking lying his ass off on this kid and his family.

[00:23:27.190] - Dan Wetzel

And anything bad happens, only one good thing can happen here. And it isn't making the Sweet 16 next year for Old State. You start really seeing it all through the thing and the hypocrisy of it all and how crazy it is now. And you got to remember, like, this stuff was this was non negotiable stuff. You can't have a player to make money. They were mad when kids would leave it after their junior year, right. You got to show all the different.

[00:23:56.000] - Todd

It wasn't that long ago. No, 25 years.

[00:23:58.710] - Dan Wetzel

Well, yeah, a guy like that, you start to really get to know. And you're like, well, how's he hurting them? And there's a lot of them, the financial planners or the AAU coaches, they're all terrible people, every one of them. And they're horrible. Well, one thing is most of them were from the city. Most of them are African American. So it's like you can't coach your own kids. They were all terrible. And some of them were I mean, there's no question some of them did some things. But I used to say you take like, let's say we're into boxing, okay? You're down in Columbus, right? So you say you start a boxing program in Columbus. And through the years, you send every other year, you get a guy to go pro and he turns out pretty good. And you've developed this thing and taken the youth of Columbus. And you got 100 kids in there boxing. They're staying off the streets. They're learning whatever they're doing, getting exercise. And every two years, one goes on to be successful. And let's say of those guys that get successful, some of them keep you on to be their manager, the corner man.

[00:25:09.150] - Dan Wetzel

You make some money off of that and all that. The city of Columbus and the state of Ohio would build a freaking statue for you in Columbus for helping out the youth of Columbus and being this pillar of the community and launching all these great careers because College sports is involved. If you didn't send your kids to Ohio State, you're a scumbag because you said, you know what? This kid is going to go to Michigan State or this kid is going to just go pro, or this kid maybe it'd be better if he goes and plays. He's got a family life, a little dicey, and it's not great for him to stick around. He needs to go out west. Right. And none of those things are ever considered by the College fan or all that. And so all of a sudden you're a scumbag and you make a little bit of money and you go, well, why is that? It's because we have this whole system set up that there's a rooting interest where if it was a different sport or you're the piano teacher and all your kids are getting concert pianists and all this, you'd be a hero.

[00:26:14.030] - Dan Wetzel

So what's the difference? And so a lot of it was learning that perspective on try to look at stories in a different manner.

[00:26:24.470] - Todd

Yeah. You and Don Jeger of Sports Illustrated at the time teamed up to write Sole Influence Basketball, Corporate Greed and Corruption of America's Youth. Now we're talking. Do you think you were kind of a bit of an outsider at basketball time? Did that help you come at it? Because if you're at a traditional media site, perhaps they're not asking you to do something like that. Is that kind of where your interest in the fact that you're coming at it from a different angle fueled some of that, or is it just general curiosity?

[00:26:55.700] - Dan Wetzel

A little of both. And again, there are plenty of the AAU system was absolutely out of control in certain ways, and kids were used the wrong way. But it's not all of them. Right. Same thing with the colleges or any other system of the world. Nike and Adidas got a lot better at, I think, handling things after that book. It got a lot more professional, which it needed to be. So now it's good because if you look at all these kids, they need that. The Nike Zbyl. It's always going to be crazy because there's money on the table. But yeah, probably I was able to explore things that was really I also didn't have a lot I was covering AAU basketball because I thought it was interesting. So Basketball Times, let me get into that. I didn't have old school Editors that were like, no, that's not a thing. I don't know. I didn't have to cover games. I used to always say the game is the easiest thing to cover. They got a big scoreboard, middle of the Stadium tells you what happened. They'll hand out a stat sheet, quote sheets. They bring in the people that's easy reporting?

[00:28:08.650] - Dan Wetzel

It's not really, but I used to think that the hard part is walk into a 1000 kid AAU tournament and go, what the hell is going on here? And figure out the personalities and all that. So I don't know. It was the opportunity to explore things like that, kind of on my own, with my own sensibilities maybe, and my own thoughts on what's a good story and to learn from it, I went in with the same preconceived notions that I've had read. Right. So it took a while to where you slowly and you grow up, you just learn. Right. And you hear more stories that you come along and see. This is maybe a little bit different. So no matter what I was covering, why is this happening?

[00:28:58.850] - Todd

Right? I mean, natural storytelling is there's a good guy, there's a bad guy. And that's kind of like you said, from the top down, especially when it comes to College athletics, somebody has to play a role. But when you start digging around, if you're willing to play chess and not checkers, what you find is that contextually. There's a lot more going on behind the scenes here. And things aren't just black and white, they are Gray. And I think you're always ahead of the game that way, especially when it came to College basketball and College football.

[00:29:30.590] - Dan Wetzel

Well, I appreciate that. Yeah, I think so. I think when we did, too, why is there the BCS? Why does the BCS exist that we dug through that? We did a lot of work on that, and I think we changed a lot of perspectives on what the bowl industry is and where the money is going and different things. But if you just kind of look in a different manner, it was there. So I don't know. I don't know that everything I've done stands up to the test of time. I don't want to make it seem like I had this all figured out, but there's certainly more than one side of the story. And just listening to NCAA presidents or commissioners just isn't. It the manufacturer narrative they manufacture? And we're doing it right now. Like the sky is falling, right? They have to have a panic to maintain. So everyone's all fired up by Ni. Oh, my God, we're going to have the transfers. It's like, what happened? Nothing happened. Relax. You guys are making this up like you made up every other thing, this crew. But we said seven on seven coaches don't have PR guys who set up press conferences.

[00:30:52.050] - Dan Wetzel

Right. You have to go find a Commissioner of a League, wants to sit down and opine and it's like, well, yeah, it's good for you. But what about the players?

[00:31:05.250] - Todd

Well, it's not all serious. You also found some funny stuff, too, right? When you think about how wild it was, do you have a favorite recruiting story or something that you always turn to is like, how did that happen?

[00:31:17.650] - Dan Wetzel

Well, the best part of covering AAU ball, first off, the AAU coaches, the prep school coaches, they were like me, they're not important people. They're regular people. Right. And so we would just have eventually get to know them and you're at some au tournament. I mean, we'd go to the ABCD camp in New Jersey and sit around the back there's like a pool at the hotel and sit around the back of the pool with a couple of cases of beer at night and drink to like four in the morning with everybody. My journalism strategy was often just find people who drank a lot and just hang out with them. And then eventually they became like really trusted sources, especially if you buy anybody who didn't have to buy. They just wanted the company. So that's probably not something they should teach in journalism school, but it worked for me. Yeah. So great characters, all of that. I'll tell you my favorite recruiting story. I know it's like about four or five minutes long.

[00:32:31.670] - Todd

Well, let's go for it. Come on.

[00:32:33.000] - Dan Wetzel

I wasn't there. This is not involved me. But this is a Jerry Tark. No, for my time. But it's a Jerry Tarcanian story.

[00:32:39.930] - Todd

All right.

[00:32:41.330] - Dan Wetzel

Tark has got a number of great ones. So Tark is recruiting this kid from La named Clifford Lee. He's about 7ft tall. Everyone's recruiting Clifford Lee Tarks at UNLV. But then Cliff, I can't remember what the initial charge was. He gets arrested for something and he gets put in the juvenile detention center in La, the El Paso de Robles Juvenile detention center. So Tark says almost everyone bails on recruiting Clifford. But Tark is like, he's going to get out. And this kid is 7ft tall. He can run all this stuff. So I'm going to keep recruiting him and he's going to get his GED inside the prison Juvy. And so he goes down to the detention center. They got like the glass up and he's got the phone and that's the home visit if you want to come to UNLV. Cliff's, like no one else is recruiting me at this point. Yeah, hell, yeah. So Clifford, Clifford, put some money on some Ho HOS on my books, going to get some snacks, put some money on the book. Anyway, Clifford Lee is going to go to UNLV, right? So this is a big score for Tark.

[00:33:51.530] - Dan Wetzel

He's going to get out this summer and he's got his GED, all this stuff. So it's a big win. Unlv at this time gets a new President of the University. And this is back in the late 70s or something. I don't know, maybe early Eighties. Unlv is a young school at that point, needless to say, not attracting maybe the best students in America. And so the President comes up with this new strategy that if you are, no matter where you went to high school, you could be in Vegas, you could be in Los Angeles, Smalltown, Kansas, whatever high school in America you went to, if you were the valedictorian, you get free. A free ride to UNOV. Any school in America, right?

[00:34:33.450] - Todd

Sounds good.

[00:34:33.980] - Dan Wetzel

Maybe we'll get some smart kids out here. Okay, so Targe reading the paper and with the guys in the office, and he says, hey, this is unbelievable. If we get a valedictorian, we can get an extra scholarship. You get them on full academic ride. Then you can recruit like a 14th dude, right? It's like a freebie. So they all joke and they like, Tark, what the hell you think is going on around? We ain't exactly getting a lot of valedictorians in the UNLV recruiting. Where we're going to find one of these. Tark goes, well, what about if Clifford Lee was the valedictorian of the GED program at the El Paso de Robles Juvenile Detention Center? So they all laugh, come on, man. They don't have valedictorians of a GED program, so why not, right? So one of the assistants flies to La, they find the guy who's handing out who's running the GED program. They get them and they meet with them, and he says, can we make Clifford Lee the valedictorian of the GED program? We don't have valedictorians. It's not even how it works. Pass the test. There's not even a class. And the guy, what about maybe $500 or something?

[00:35:52.000] - Dan Wetzel

Yeah, sure. What the hell, guys? The valedictorian. We're not harming anybody, right? Clifford Lee gets named the valedictorian of the El Paso, much to his surprise and everyone else's. So Tark is all excited. Now we can recruit this point guard from Phoenix. We like to. We're going to get an extra guy. This is genius, right? This is where Tark really would get in trouble with the NCAA. He'd break rules that didn't exist because no one else thought of the rule. Right? Like, he wasn't really cheating. Wait a minute. We didn't think we had to write that rule, okay?

[00:36:33.230] - Todd

All genius is twisted, right?

[00:36:35.700] - Dan Wetzel

So he puts in the paperwork. Well, even at UNLV and whenever this was the academic people like, wait a second, okay? You cannot have a juvenile detention GED program. So they set up a hearing, and Tark is going to go and make the case for Cliff to get the academic thing. They have a hearing. He's like, I think I got it. I think I'm going to get it. I think I got the votes. He finds out who's on the thing and gets all those people. So I said, all right, what happened? He says, weekend before the hearing. At this point, Cliff's out. He says, Cliff boosts the car in La, gets sent back to prison. The whole thing blows up on us.

[00:37:31.610] - Todd

Well, you wrote a great book with Tark Running Rebel. I highly recommend it if you want.

[00:37:38.050] - Dan Wetzel

300 pages of that.

[00:37:41.010] - Todd

So I wanted to ask you, how did you report, how much time did you spend with Jerry Tarcanian working on a book? And what was the day like?

[00:37:49.990] - Dan Wetzel

The book took like five days to report. Four days, maybe. So Tart is a great storyteller and very organized, very hard working guy. He's a son of immigrants.

[00:38:04.110] - Todd

And what a career think about this. 31 seasons, 778 and 19 of those seasons.

[00:38:11.090] - Dan Wetzel

And then the Jukebox, he was nobody. And he took over like Pasadena. He was coaching Juko in the almost no African Americans could go to College. Even the schools out west, they'd only take one or two guys. And it would have to be a certain kid. He'd go to like a playground and walks and grab like three guys and put them on the Pasadena JC and go 33 and one. So he always had that credibility. Yeah. So I waited until he retired. He always wanted to do it. Tark was such a figure you had to write about. I couldn't get in business with them, although I did like him a lot. But I literally was in Vegas. I went to Vegas and sat there. He'd picked me up like eight in the morning. We'd drive around his car, go get breakfast. I don't drive around some more, hang out. And he would just tell story after story after story after story. And after like four days, I had probably 90% of the book. Easy book to write. He's a great storyteller. Very colorful guy. I was just like, I'm like, I.

[00:39:15.410] - Todd

Think I got it.

[00:39:18.690] - Dan Wetzel

Go ahead. What?

[00:39:19.970] - Todd

Yeah, please. I mean, how many more? I mean, we're going to have four books.

[00:39:23.290] - Dan Wetzel

Yeah, I'm like enough. Sorry, some didn't make it. He just had great stories. He's great storyteller. He's a colorful guy. I mean, he was awesome, but he.

[00:39:34.540] - Todd

Was a guy that really. He was like vilified and he's kind of what we were talking about. Black hats and white hats. He was the guy that was the black hat suing the NCAA, fighting the NCAA. But there were other guys like that, too, I think. And those were the guys that always made it fun if you're willing to go there with them. Right. You just had to be able to ride with the black, so called.

[00:39:56.670] - Dan Wetzel

They're a ton of fun. And yeah, their stories are that one's insane. But look, he would talk about like rungs on the ladder and stuff. He said, we get dumped on because my guys didn't graduate. And now he's working as a pit boss at the casino or something like that, or floor boss and like that. But he goes, you got to look like that kid's home life. And where he came from, he climbed more rungs on the ladder then I'm not getting Grand Hill and Shane Batty a out here. And so it's like, yeah, Gran Hill is going to be really successful. Basketball never existed. And nothing against Grant Hill. It's not his fault or it's not Duke's fault, but it's sort of like everyone gives us crap. But look what we did do for him, and some of that was disingenuous. He mainly wanted to win. I'm always like, you guys are always trying to help out the underprivileged when there's no five foot six guys in the high school, right? I guess no five seven slow kid needs any help. Okay. I mean, they're full of crap, too, but it's just a different I'm here to mold men.

[00:41:14.070] - Dan Wetzel

Well, there's a lot of ways to do that other than being a College basketball coach. One problem with College sports is they got up the athletes, not the athletes. That's the Red Smith line, right? Don't Gought up the athletes. They got up the coaches. So your College coach is not just a good winner, but he's like practically infallible.

[00:41:35.810] - Todd

Yeah. They're encased in values, and I don't.

[00:41:39.690] - Dan Wetzel

Believe anyone sits there. If you're a New England Patriot fan, do you really think Bill Belichick is the greatest human on the face of the Earth? You just think he's a hell of a damn coach. And I'm glad we got him. Okay, these guys, they're regular people and they're trying to win. And I get it. You have to portray yourself that way. It doesn't hurt. But if you're really that into helping people, you'd probably find a different route than just helping twelve really tall guys.

[00:42:29.990] - Todd

Yeah. It always amused me that the different narratives that surrounded what ultimately was coming down to wins and losses. So you had all these different experiences in College sports covering it. And then in 2003, Yahoo Sports hires you as national columnist and when you think about your days, like you said, cover news as an intern in Chicago and Indianapolis and then going into the belly of the beast and getting away from just the scoreboard, how did that type of mindset inform the type of columnist you became at Yahoo?

[00:43:47.930] - Dan Wetzel

Well, at first it was like, we just need to get this going. I was the first sports writer, really the first journalist, almost journalists they ever hired at Yahoo. We had some Editors, the editor that hired me. So we had to try to get the thing going because we were a search engine then. We're a tech company. We're not a content. The word content didn't exist. No one was like, oh, you're a content provider. So it was a battle to build that business up. And it was like working for a start up that happened to be worth like $50 billion at the time. So it was great. But our division could get cut at any moment because it was just a total flyer. So it was a lot of work of just trying to get readers who would come back, make an impact, build credibility with the leaks. It was probably a four or five year period of just a lot of growing that way. But the same thing, you couldn't cover everything. So in a lot of ways, you had to either try to cover the big events, obviously, but you also had to try to do stuff that could make an impact away from the scoreboard.

[00:44:56.590] - Dan Wetzel

Those are many years I was the only guy, only person. So you just legitimately cover so much. So how do you do it? And that was kind of the challenge there. But part of that was like, how are we going to make this site matter? How are we going to have a brand? What are we going to do? And it was a process, a lot of learning, a lot of figuring it out. How's the Internet work? I mean, it was brand new. Internet content was just brand new. We weren't writing for it. It wasn't also on a newspaper. This was it. So learned a lot of lessons back then and figured a lot of stuff out. We do a ton of brainstorming and really looking at the data and how things work, the way emotions play into the Internet. The Internet is a very different way of a different beast. When you read a newspaper or magazine at the time, you lean back in your chair and you read it, and when you are on the Internet, you're leaning forward into your computer. And that little bit is a different element, whether it's more aggressive or more emotional or more connected to what you're reading, it's there.

[00:46:24.950] - Dan Wetzel

There's a million things we started. We did live blogs very early, if not one of the first to ever do it. Different type of trips, space didn't matter. There's so many different things that we learned it's pretty funny because you still get people come in and that was almost 15 years ago. And you'll hear people talk about stuff and you're like, yeah, that doesn't work. I'll hear about this. Oh, they're going to do this. That ain't going to work. We tried that in like 2005.

[00:46:57.080] - Todd

We tried that didn't pan out. Well, I think what you guys did and what you particularly did was the bedrock was always journalism. It was always willing to get your hands dirty due to shoe leather reporting. And so when I think about some of the work that you've done, a lot of it has involved scandals, whether.

[00:47:16.960] - Dan Wetzel

It'S the number one sport in America is controversy.

[00:47:21.170] - Todd

Right. And you think about the sports and how much money is involved. And I always felt like that was just underplayed in general. And yet you were willing to go into that type of world again with your Miners hat on. Let's go down and see what we can find. What was it like working on some of those big scandal stories that you and the great Charles Robinson and some others were able to work on together?

[00:47:44.610] - Dan Wetzel

Well, when it came to College athletics, we were very into, like exposing the whole system. And whether that was showing a perspective of how, again, from the bottom up, what players and athletes and parents think all that. The big thing in College football right now is the transfer portal. Right? It's horrible, absolutely terrible chaos. Have you heard one player or his family complain? Zero complaints from the parents. Not one parent thinks, could you please give us less rights? Please stop us from making money. We don't want it. There's zero complaints. But you would think because the coaches are all screaming and the ads are screaming that this is the worst thing that's ever befallen, and yet one side is perfectly great. They're like, this is great. It's part of that. It's showing how corrupt like the College football play the BCS was, how much money they were just letting these bowl games steal from them and happily doing because they were getting a kickback through a bowl bonus or something like that. And it was showing that the NCAA's enforcement system is complete crap and there are no white hats and black hats. So we sat there and said, you know what?

[00:49:03.080] - Dan Wetzel

We're going to investigate everybody. There's nothing sacred. I don't have a favorite team. I went to UMass football team is the worst team in the whole country and the best irrelevant athletic program. Right. Don't care. We will go after any sacred cow. We don't care. Everyone says no one will investigate them. We will. And as you build that up. And so it wasn't really about, did we catch this school doing this or that? And we shied away from the like. You can always find some like, well, this point guard at a kind of high mid major took a little $1,000 in the side. You always bust those guys that's easy. Can you catch the coach orchestrating it? Can you catch the school orchestrating it? There was one where this guy, Will Lyles, who's running a seven on seven program in Texas. He kind of had this bogus scouting service. You had to buy a scouting service, and Willie would help you kind of recruit. Willis is a great guy. Willes does a ton of stuff for the kids in Houston. And part of it is that the scandal came out first. We do the scandal, and it starts breaking, and everyone's like Willis, actually, Will Aile is a good guy.

[00:50:19.050] - Dan Wetzel

He spent a lot of time with these players. But the University of Oregon paid him with a University check, right. We just went after it anyway. Those were intense. They were kind of fun. But it wasn't the way people sometimes a lot of people got it, but it wasn't anything about, like, let's bust Miami for cheating. It's like, dude, they had a billion dollar Ponzi schemer, literally recruiting players, like, everybody knew. So don't sit there and tell me when you go, oh, my God, we're shocked. Players can't get paid. No, this is what was happening. You know it as well as everyone. Everybody knows what's going on. Admit it. And once you admit it, and once you start losing that cloak that the media often provided, that there were white hats and black hats, and this guy is a scumbag, and this guy isn't. It starts becoming harder to justify keeping all the money for yourself.

[00:51:25.570] - Todd

And then something becomes so big that it can't be ignored by anybody. And that's something like the Jerry Sandusky controversy at Penn State. That scandal. Larry Nasser, you were there writing that every day in the courtroom. And then outside of the College realm, you're covering something like Aaron Hernandez. And the idea that you are willing to go into the courtroom day after day after day, you just don't see a lot of that in sports media. And for a guy like Hernandez, you were there every day. Pretty much, right?

[00:51:59.010] - Dan Wetzel

Trials. Yeah, a lot of them, yeah. I mean, I work with the lawyers. They clue you in. Like, look, can you text me if we're getting a good guy tomorrow morning? I can fly in, but I can't be sitting here for three days doing cell phone when they're doing, like, we need to use the cell phone. You ever watch Dateline? Like, cellphone technology shows the guy was in the neighborhood. That takes, like, days to go through. Like, it's the Boris. And then this tower pinged for 14 seconds, and then this is, like, the worst. I'm like, I can't be here for that. But if you're going to have we're bringing in this guy. So, yeah, I was there for a great deal of it.

[00:52:40.430] - Todd

So on that day in April of 2015, when the jury convicted Hernandez, the former New England tight end. New England Patriots of murder of Odin Lloyd. What was the like in that courtroom?

[00:52:58.790] - Dan Wetzel

I would say the most dramatic things I've ever been involved with are verdicts at murder trials. I've covered a few murder trials, and when they bring the jury in, Foreman reads the thing. It's incredible, right? You have unbelievable anguish and emotion in the room. Someone's been murdered. You have a family desperate for a yes or guilty. You have another family desperate for a not guilty. Sometimes it's closer than you think. There's so much pain because you can sit there and say, this guy is a murderer. I hope he goes away for life, and that's fine. He should, but he still has a mother or a brother, a friend. It's unbelievably painful for them. And then you have the victims families. That just unbelievably painful. So the drama of that moment and the pain in those courtrooms is always just almost unbelievable, even if you have no connection. And generally you've sat through so much, you've gotten to know these people. One thing about covering a trial is very few people go to them. So if you're there for a week or let alone weeks, we're going to take a 20 minutes recess. Everyone steps outside.

[00:54:30.070] - Dan Wetzel

There's no one to talk to except the other people. So you tend to get to meet everybody, at least in some manner. Not everyone wants to talk or whatever, but it's just small talk, right? See the game last night or was snowing on the way in to make it. All right. So you kind of have these connections with a lot of different people. That was amazing. I remember the woman who delivered that one. She was very small. I don't know, she was in the jury box, but maybe 5ft tall. I think she was like an operations manager at some manufacturing company. Right. Anonymous. But this incredibly well organized. And you see the jury, but they never speak. So you try to figure out who the jurors are. And this is the last thing I thought this woman would like. I was like, wow, they voted her the Foreman. Interesting, right? Or four person. And she stood up there and delivered that guilty. And it was amazing because they made them immediately sit down if you're watching a video because you're innocent until proven guilty. But once you're guilty, have a seat. They lock you up like you're no longer, because in the courtroom, he's supposed to be.

[00:55:52.810] - Dan Wetzel

He's in a suit. He's allowed to walk around all that. He's innocent. But granted, there's a lot of cards. It was amazing drama. And that woman, I always thought it was the first person to ever really hold Aaron Hernandez accountable for his actions in his life. He'd always been able to skate by on everything he ever did, either through his personality, his intelligence, or his football gifts. And then here was this woman just saying, you're out flattened them and then the wailing of crying from both sides. It's just awful. Those things are just awful. Nasser was the worst, though. Nasser was the worst courtroom I've ever been in. He was guilty. Plea deal, pled guilty, ten counts. And he already was going in for child porn. So he spared the trial. But then they brought in, they're like, we're going to do this little district court in Lansing. They had this judge, let me get her name right, if you don't mind. Just give me 1 second. Rosemary Acquainta. That's it. All right. Three, two, one. That is Judge Rosemary aquilinable credible woman. And so she says what we're going to do is any victim who wants to speak at the sentencing can speak.

[00:57:34.230] - Dan Wetzel

And if it takes weeks, we're going to do weeks. Anybody can show up. They can talk for as long as they want. They can talk for as little as they want. So he had so many victims. And these women are all these formers.

[00:57:47.850] - Todd

Are a gymnast, many gymnast or athletes.

[00:57:52.430] - Dan Wetzel

Of some sort, one after another after another. These young women now who were girls and honestly, at least three, four, five times a day, you just choke up and want to cry, if not cry. The stories were horrible. I think in the end, there were 170, but at one point they were going to be 88. And then they started inspiring the others. Everyone remembers Ally Raceman. She wasn't even going to do it. But the stories we were writing out of the thing and the video that's coming out inspired the others to start coming forward. So they had 88 to end up with like 170 or something. And every one of them deserves their own column. Right? But there's like 20 a day. And you're like, I can't write. I mean, I just can't do it. But the stories were so awful. That was the worst. But then there was like this empowering part to it. And this release almost that in some ways is better than, I don't know, crazy scene. Crazy.

[00:59:00.170] - Todd

You're also in there as a follower. You have your own kids. So what was the worst moment for you sitting there watching that?

[00:59:07.990] - Dan Wetzel

Well, I was talking to this one woman and her daughter. This was after the girl had heard her hip. And I don't even know if it was gymnastics, but whatever was the hip. And she was from the Detroit area, and the girl was eleven, and she got a recommendation. And they said, hey, I can get you in with Larry Nasser up in Lansing. He's the Olympic gymnastics doctor. So like a good parent. Wow, that's incredible. This would be right. I mean, who wouldn't take that? Ok. We got literally the best of the best. Like, that's crazy. And she drove her up and Nasser rapes her right in front of the woman. She doesn't even know what's going on. They're all in the room. But she said to me, the girl was so young. I go, how old was she at the time? She says, well, I think she was eleven or something. And she still sat in the back seat. And I remember thinking as a parent, just like, oh, my God, she's not old enough to sit in the front seat. She was fine. But it was like it's very rare. You're the one trying to keep it together, right, in an interview.

[01:00:37.650] - Dan Wetzel

But you're just like, oh, my God. And the girl was sitting there, girls down. There was a long stretch where she had they didn't know what was wrong. Suicide. Like they couldn't keep they couldn't leave her alone, all knives out of the house, all drugs, locked up, all medication, locked up, literally tortured their life for six years before she finally admitted what had gone down and turned this whole family's life. Now she was heading off to well, she was heading off to Boston. Call, I don't want to reveal too much, but I guess she did the interview. I don't remember, but she was doing much better. But that whole scene and then imagine your whole family's, just the whole entire family suffered because they all had to spend their time trying. Like, why is my twelve year old trying to kill herself? And no one could figure it out? So awful stuff. Anyway, it's an uplifting but important well.

[01:01:36.450] - Todd

I think it's very important because I think what it shows again is we think of sports as just, oh, it's entertainment and it is, but it also reflects life. And if you're really going to be the type of columnist that you are, what sets you apart is that you're willing to go there. You're willing to go there in person, you're willing to go there. Work sources, develop relationships, do the shoe leather reporting that I don't care if it was back in the print days or if it's now in the digital era. You got to go there, you got to do the reporting and you got to put some type of perspective into this that others aren't willing to do.

[01:02:12.840] - Dan Wetzel

Or they're not allowed.

[01:02:13.850] - Todd

Right?

[01:02:14.120] - Dan Wetzel

I mean, I don't know. But one thing about that kind of a story, I remember I did a long podcast with Jim Rome. I did a number of Jim Rome bought a radio off of NASA, which was good because you're reaching the audience. And I used to say this line I'm like, look, when you get together with your friends and if you're a dad, you don't sit around and go, hey, hear about that child molestation. It's not really a discussion that comes up when you're having beers at watching Monday Night Football. But every dad and every parent wants to protect their kids. So to bring those kind of conversations into an audience that isn't normally going to hear it is particularly huge because you just don't know. I mean, every parent, it's just one little thing like, you know what? I'm going to keep an eye on my kid today a little bit more. You got to have bosses committed to it. And one thing about trials, they usually pay off. And it's incredible readership. But there are days when nothing happens and you got to kind of find a story. But so we've always done that. But we've always gotten true crime is obviously a huge thing. So we've always gotten terrific readership on that. But Hernandez was weird. Like, there was very few the coverage was not enormous, especially the second one. And it was kind of wild. And yeah, you don't get many sports writers there. But I think that sports Editors just not I don't know. I mean, to think that there was an interest in Aaron Hernandez. It's crazy.

[01:05:50.770] - Todd

Yeah, it is crazy when you think about it. All right. But I think what it is also a reflection of, again, oh, it's sports. It's games, it's wins and losses. But no.

[01:06:01.030] - Dan Wetzel

Or your sports writer can't handle it. But maybe they can.

[01:06:04.620] - Todd

Yeah.

[01:06:06.250] - Dan Wetzel

We'll just have the court reporter handle it or we won't bother with it. That guy's gone. And it's like, now trust the sports writer they're good at telling stories. There's so many talented sports writers who go to a game and turn a three two baseball game or six one baseball game into something where it's readable give them a chance.

[01:06:32.030] - Todd

Well I'm certainly glad you're still doing it for us and you do it as well as anybody for Yahoo sports and I know you've got a lot of sources to work and phone calls to make and you're busy you've been very gracious with your time but the bar owner has turned up the lights and I think I'm going to have to buy the last round not the.

[01:06:49.900] - Dan Wetzel

First one.

[01:06:52.850] - Todd

And so until we meet again Mr. Wetzel I want to thank you a lot for joining us I.

[01:06:57.360] - Dan Wetzel

Appreciate it Todd talk to you soon




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