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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Kevin Blackistone: Depends on Your Perspective

Kevin Blackistone: Depends on Your Perspective

Some things you can’t unsee, especially when viewed up close. Kevin Blackistone was ringside when Mike Tyson chomped off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear. The horror. The horror. Kevin recounts that infamous boxing moment and discusses an up-close look at the rollicking Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s. He also shares how his perspective as an African American and a former news reporter informed his coverage of sports at home and abroad. In his keen view, all journalism is advocacy in one form or another. He sees more than games.

Kevin Blackistone, a sports columnist for The Washington Post since 2015, is one of the nation’s leading voices on sports, especially regarding how athletics relates to major social issues. He has been a longtime regular panelist on the ESPN show “Around the Horn.” He’s a contributor to National Public Radio and provides sports analysis for the PBS NewsHour. His work has appeared on ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentaries and for Politico.com.

Blackistone has covered the Summer and Winter Olympics, Wimbledon, World Cup, Tour de France, British Open, NBA Finals, Final Four, national college championships, Super Bowl, baseball playoffs, and world championship boxing. He serves as a guest co-host on the Sports Reporters on ESPN 980 in Washington, D.C. and a member of Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic’s Redskins Postgame Live. Previously, he was a sports columnist at the Dallas Morning News from 1990 to 2006 after four years of covering general assignment news and economics for that paper.

His journalism career began in 1981 as a city reporter for the Boston Globe. He later covered racial and social issues for The Chicago Reporter, and he wrote a sports column for AOL Fanhouse from 2007 to 2011. He is co-author of the book: A Gift for Ron: Friendship and Sacrifice On and Off the Gridiron a memoir by former NFL star Everson Walls published in November 2009 that details his kidney donation to one-time teammate Ron Springs. Blackistone is currently a professor of the practice at Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, where he teaches courses on sports reporting and on sports, protest and the media. And he is producing a documentary about Native American mascots in sport called Imagining the Indian. In 2018, the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University inducted Blackistone into its Hall of Achievement, the school’s highest honor.

Read Kevin's article on the Miky Tyson fight we talk about in this episode: https://greensboro.com/the-only-one-tyson-should-blame-is-tyson/article_1471698b-2042-571f-999d-18f449d738b5.html

Blackistone’s most recent columns for The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/kevin-b-blackistone/

Kevin Blackistone’s book, “A Gift for Ron: Friendship and Sacrifice On and Off the Gridiron”:

https://www.amazon.com/Gift-Ron-Friendship-Sacrifice-Gridiron/dp/B005Q78OS2

Kevin Blackistone’s curriculum Vitae: https://umd.academia.edu/KevinBlackistone/CurriculumVitae

Come on back on March 31st when we are talking to Dick Jerardi!

You can find Kevin on Twitter @ProfBlackistone

Follow our very own host, Todd Jones on Twitter @Todd_Jones

You can find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Press...

Contact us at [email protected]

Todd Jones:
Kevin Blackistone might be the only sportswriter I know who has written about Byron Nelson and Nelson Mandela. Kevin switched from being a news reporter to covering sports in 1990 and his columns in the Washington Post and before that, the Dallas Morning News, have always made me think. Read Kevin and you pause and ponder. He's also been entertaining sports fans while informing them as a long-time participant on the ESPN show Around the Horn. We're lucky to have him as a guest.

Todd Jones:
Kevin, thanks for joining us on the show. It's a real honor and it's great to catch up with you again.

Kevin Blackistone:
Thanks for the invite, Todd. Appreciate it.

Todd Jones:
We crossed paths a lot in major sporting events, but there was a day at the Athens Olympics in 2004 when you and I went to lunch.

Kevin Blackistone:
That's right.

Todd Jones:
And we were eating Greek food and I think both of our heads were going to explode out of the light.

Kevin Blackistone:
That's right, the Athens games. That little Greek diner just down the street from that dormitory that we were staying in.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, yeah. I mean, our eyes were like cartoon bug-eyed. We were like, "Oh my God, this food. Lord, I've died and gone to heaven."

Kevin Blackistone:
That was a good time.

Todd Jones:
So no slight, but when I think of you, not only do I think of great journalism, I think of great tomatoes. You've done this for 40 years and just covered everything and written so many great pieces. When somebody says something to you like, "Hey, what have you done the last 40 years?" How do you sum up a career like that?

Kevin Blackistone:
I've done sports since 1990. Prior to doing sports, I covered economics for about four or five years. And before that I did news, most of which was investigative journalism, actually data journalism into social justice affairs, which we didn't call social justice journalism at the time and we didn't call data journalism at the time. We just called it reporting. So for the last 30 years doing sports, it's been a lot of fun.

Kevin Blackistone:
It's taken me around the country. It's also taken me around the world. Covered the Olympics in Athens, covered the Olympics in Sydney, covered the Olympics in Barcelona, covered the Olympics in Vancouver. It's been great. And seen a lot of incredible stories unfold before your eyes. Talked to a lot of really interesting people so it's been a blast.

Kevin Blackistone:
And also seen a transformation of the sports media industry not only in the way that it does business, but also in the types of stories that it is interested in. ESPN has an entire site, The Undefeated, dedicated towards covering race and culture and social justice issues within sports.

Todd Jones:
Well, I think you're a real pioneer in this. I mean, you broke down walls in the world of sports journalism. You and Bill Rhoden and Michael Wilbon and Terrance Moore in Atlanta. Some of these guys that really paved the way for that and I think that's why I have so much respect for your career.

Todd Jones:
The thing that really makes me laugh about sports sometimes is that we think of it as a toy department and some of these really absurd things exist, but they exist in the culture. But I wanted to ask you about some of the absurd things too.

Kevin Blackistone:
That's right. Right.

Todd Jones:
And there was a night. It's funny, but there was a ... So you're so smart. Heck you teach. You're a professor of journalism at the University of Maryland.

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah, [inaudible 00:04:03] that.

Todd Jones:
I mean you have a vitae right? A Curriculum Vitae. I don't even know-

Kevin Blackistone:
That's right.

Todd Jones:
I don't even know if most sportswriters know what a vitae is.

Kevin Blackistone:
I also have a math vitae.

Todd Jones:
They might think it's a cheese.

Kevin Blackistone:
I have a math vitae.

Todd Jones:
"Hey, bartender, give me two vitaes."

Kevin Blackistone:
That's right. I was going to say I also have a math vitae [inaudible 00:04:15].

Todd Jones:
So anyway, so you bring this ...

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah.

Todd Jones:
That's right. That's right. You bring this wisdom and this smarts, but then there's a night like June 28th, 1997 and you're sitting ringside at the MGM Grand for a heavy weight championship fight between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. Tell me about that.

Kevin Blackistone:
Oh man, that was ... Yeah, that was a crazy night. So everybody knows what happened, right. You have ... That's the fight where Tyson bites off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear. And that, it sounds crazy even to repeat it. But yeah, I remember there was nothing more exciting in sports that I ever covered than a Mike Tyson fight. I mean, it was just-

Todd Jones:
Really?

Kevin Blackistone:
... electric. It was just the energy, and the crowd, and the anticipation. Mike Tyson fights were off the charts. And so yeah, this was a huge fight. And nobody thought ... Most people did not think Evander Holyfield could beat Tyson. If I'm not mistaken, we got there at the beginning of that week and I think the odds were 22:1. I remember Ron Borges bought a ticket at 18:1. So at any rate-

Todd Jones:
Ron, from the Boston Globe, yeah.

Kevin Blackistone:
That's right, from the Boston Globe.

Todd Jones:
Yeah.

Kevin Blackistone:
So he was very happy at the end of this fight. But yeah, so we're sitting there and the fight has started, and they're going on. And then all of a sudden there's this stoppage and we weren't really sure what the stoppage was for. And there was a little lull. And then you heard someone in the press area or right up on ringside say something like, "He bit his ear off." And everybody was like ... We looked at each other and we're like ... And it's very tight quarters when you're ringside. Like, "What did he say? There's no way that happened."

Kevin Blackistone:
And so they have a big screen in the MGM Grand Arena and eventually played the replay. We looked up and we're like, "Oh no, he did bite his ear off." So then you are certain.

Todd Jones:
Well, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. What was your reaction. Did you see that? What was your reaction?

Kevin Blackistone:
Well yeah, you looked up and you ... He didn't take the whole ear off, but you could see that he definitely gnawed into his ear and that he had taken out a little chunk of the ear. Holyfield was grabbing his ear and there was blood. And it was surreal. But here's the thing. You just knew at that point that the fight was over. Mills Lane, the famous Mills Lane, was in the ring, and you just knew the fight was over.

Speaker 3:
Disqualified. He bit his ear. He's out.

Kevin Blackistone:
The amazing thing was it wasn't. I said, "Let's see it. They got the quarter."

Todd Jones:
Hey, he's got another ear, you know?

Kevin Blackistone:
That's right.

Todd Jones:
He's got two ears.

Kevin Blackistone:
You're exactly right. So they start the fight over and not only does he have another ear, but Tyson goes after him again and bites the other side of his face. And at that point all hell broke loose and they stopped the fight. So one thing you'll remember, which nobody does anymore, but back in the day for a very late sporting event you write a pre piece to kind hold the space in the paper so you can just plug in your story right on deadline.

Todd Jones:
Yeah.

Kevin Blackistone:
And so I had a pre column that was written and it was holing the space in Sunday's paper. So I'm rewriting and I'm just writing crazy. You're right on deadline and it's just all sort of commotion. I get up and I go to the press room that's underneath the arena and go in there and finish up. I go to file and I can't get a connection. I try again and again.

Todd Jones:
That's about the worst.

Kevin Blackistone:
Oh my god, I can't get a connection. I'm looking at my watch. It's coming right up on whatever the time was, midnight or whatever. So I'm like, "This is crazy. I'm going to have to go to my hotel room." So I pack up and I run out of the press room. I go up the escalator and there is just a sea of humanity.

Kevin Blackistone:
One thing about a Mike Tyson fight is there are dudes at the Mike Tyson fight who you do not want to accidentally bump into, whose shoe you don't want to accidentally step on. And so I'm trying to maneuver through this crowd and it's just ... I just can't explain it. I mean, it is complete pandemonium.

Kevin Blackistone:
I get up to my room. I plug my computer in. I hit send. It goes through. I call my desk. I say, "Did you get it?" They say, "Yeah, we go it, but it's too late."

Todd Jones:
Oh no.

Kevin Blackistone:
So I go downstairs to get a drink. Well-

Todd Jones:
Oh yeah, I mean-

Kevin Blackistone:
You got to, right?

Todd Jones:
Right.

Kevin Blackistone:
So I go downstairs and it's just a ton of people. I go to a bar and all of a sudden you hear people screaming and you see people running. I'm going, "Now, what the hell is going on?" So all of a sudden the gendarmes come through and they're clearing out the casino, they're clearing the places where people are standing. If you don't have a card for staying there, they're ushering you out the door. It was crazy, which you've never seen. Casinos never send people out.

Todd Jones:
No, they don't you to leave, right? Yeah, right. Right, no.

Kevin Blackistone:
So come to find out days later or maybe the next day there were several sounds within the casino that sounded like gunshots and that sent people scurrying. And that sent the security in.

Todd Jones:
Wow.

Kevin Blackistone:
The MGM claimed that it wasn't shots. That some tables fell over. Who knows?

Todd Jones:
Yeah, that's what it sounds like when a table falls over.

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah, right. Who knows? All I know is that-

Todd Jones:
Wow.

Kevin Blackistone:
... Dave Anderson and Mike Wilbon they dove under a table at a restaurant they were at. I think they were at P.F. Chang's or something like that and it was just crazy.

Todd Jones:
Life of a sportswriter, right?

Kevin Blackistone:
Life of a sportswriter.

Todd Jones:
That's great. That's crazy. I brought that night up because in sports writing you have absurd moments happen. And again, you're bringing in a perspective from outside of sports. And yet, you have to put that type of moment into context. And I think that's what you always brought to sports journalism and still to. I mean, you're on ESP Around the Horn. You're writing for the Washington Post. You're still bringing this perspective. And yet, you still have these nights of that just are crazy and they're like, "What in the hell is going on here?"

Todd Jones:
So with that in mind and you didn't want to be a sportswriter, what the hell happened? How'd you become a sportswriter?

Kevin Blackistone:
That's crazy too. I was covering economics, as I mentioned, for the Dallas Morning News. I had been at the paper about five years, fiver or six years, and I had a couple of offers to go cover economics elsewhere. Two of which were in my hometown of DC. One was with the Washington Post and one was with USA Today, and I was mulling them over.

Kevin Blackistone:
And then the sports editor came to me and he said ... I had done a little bit of work for the sports department and he said, "We want to start a beat. We want to start a business of sports beat. Would you be ... We'd like you to do it. We're offering you that job." I thought about it while. I just thought at the time it was too narrow, you know?

Todd Jones:
Right, right.

Kevin Blackistone:
I wanted to do more that that.

Kevin Blackistone:
Well, just at that time there was a columnist at the Dallas Morning News, he left to go to Arizona. So that opened up a columnist spot. So Dave Smith the innovative sports editor for the morning news came up with an idea. He wasn't just going to hire one columnist to replace David Casstevens. He was going to hire three and he was going to do that by using diverse voices that really were very rare in sports journalism at the time and certainly-

Todd Jones:
Yeah, this is-

Kevin Blackistone:
... in Dallas and in Texas.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, it's 1990, right?

Kevin Blackistone:
1990.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, '89, '90, '91. Yeah, that's much different.

Kevin Blackistone:
So he promotes-

Todd Jones:
Right.

Kevin Blackistone:
He promoted-

Todd Jones:
So that-

Kevin Blackistone:
... Kevin Sherrington to a columnist, a young white writer. He promoted Cathy Harasta to a columnist, one of the few women.

Todd Jones:
I remember her, yeah.

Kevin Blackistone:
And then he recruited me. I had to think hard about it because now, I mean, I like sports. I knew it was not going to be easy going into a job that people covet and doing something I have never ever done on a regular basis.

Todd Jones:
That said, but journalism was always kind a part of your life, right? I mean, even growing up-

Kevin Blackistone:
Sure.

Todd Jones:
... didn't you deliver the Washington Post as a kid.

Kevin Blackistone:
Delivered the Washing Post, the Washington Star, and the Washington Daily News, which only lasted about a year. Delivered them all, yeah.

Todd Jones:
Wow. How many times did you change the tires on your bike?

Kevin Blackistone:
That's right. Lot a arm throwing. And I had a great system. I had a grocery cart and I probably delivered about 100 newspaper every morning.

Todd Jones:
You never thought you're going to be ringside when a guy bites a guys ear?

Kevin Blackistone:
No, but I did think I might be at the hearing for reinstating the license of the guy who bit of the guys ear, which is another crazy story. Flying back out to Las Vegas for Mike Tyson's hearings.

Todd Jones:
Well, let's hear it.

Kevin Blackistone:
Oh it was ... Yeah, let's hear it. No pun intended. But yeah, so after the Tyson thing, he is stripped of his or his license is suspended. So he has to go before the athletic commission in Las Vegas, the Nevada Athletic Commission, to plea for his license back.

Kevin Blackistone:
And so, it's a big news event. Go out there for that. And so we're in this courtroom like setting for most of the day and Tyson's sitting there. His representatives are speaking on his behalf. He speaks. I remember his wife at the time was there.

Todd Jones:
At the time.

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah, at the time.

Todd Jones:
Key words in that sentence.

Kevin Blackistone:
That's right. At any rate, they go through this whole thing and then the hearing is over. And then Mike and his entourage, they go out a back door. And so, we all scramble out the front door and try and ... Because we're trying to get to Mike. We want to get a quote, quote from Mike.

Todd Jones:
Right.

Kevin Blackistone:
And we find him coming out the back and underneath this building. And there was a Ducati motorcycle parked right there. Mike comes out and he's got a helmet on. He get on the Ducati and he cranks it. Rev it up. And we're yelling questions at Mike. The bike stalls. It won't start.

Kevin Blackistone:
And then Mike gets off the bike and as soon as he does some car pulls up, some dark colored car with tinted windows. The door opens up. Mike gets off his bike. He takes his helmet in frustration and he slams is to the ground. It hit the ground and it bounces up and I don't know that that has come back [crosstalk 00:16:51] since. Mike gets in the car, slams the door, and the car speeds off. That was it.

Kevin Blackistone:
So, that was part two of that crazy story.

Todd Jones:
Well, think about this. I mean, you spent a decade covering news, investigations, economics. You're with the Chicago Reporter Magazine. You're doing all this news stuff for the Dallas Morning News. And literally at the time that you decided to make the switch to sports you had just covered the Nelson Mandela US tour, right?

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah, yeah.

Todd Jones:
He had just been released from prison and was in the US. And you're covering this.

Kevin Blackistone:
Oh, that was another. Yeah, that was another one. Yeah, that was ... And you can appreciate this because it was almost like covering a basketball team on the road when they're doing back to backs. Because he was in ... He was over here for about a week and ever day he was in another city. So I split the coverage with one of my best friends, Kevin Merida, who's now the head of The Undefeated. He covered the first leg, I think, and I covered the second leg.

Kevin Blackistone:
So I was in Detroit, Oakland, Atlanta. You're so worn our because you fly into a city, you throw your bags down in whatever hotel is closest to the airport, you go cover him wherever he's at, you write your story, then you go back to your hotel and grab something to eat, and get on a place first thing in the morning and go to another city. It was just, I mean, Detroit, Oakland. I mean, it was crazy. But it was a lot of fun and it was an incredible thing to see.

Kevin Blackistone:
The challenge was, how can I write something that no one else is writing about the same thing? Because you're just seeing him giving these speeches and seeing him ...

Todd Jones:
Yeah, did you ever have much interaction with Mandela?

Kevin Blackistone:
No. No, you couldn't get close to him.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, right.

Kevin Blackistone:
But I came up with a few ideas along the way. My best idea was I was with him when he got to Atlanta and so he was speaking at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Georgia Tech's football stadium. So I was like, "Well, if I go over there I'm just going to hear the speech and [inaudible 00:19:24]. So I remembered that H. Rap Brown, who at the time had turned his name and he'd become Muslim, lived in Atlanta. He had a grocery store in Atlanta. I knew that.

Kevin Blackistone:
And H. Rap Brown was ... He was one of the great ... He was one of the infamous black power leaders of the 60s, early 70s. I think he was the one that came up with the phrase violence is .... What did he say? Violence is as American as cherry pie, something like that. Any rate, I knew somebody who knew him. So I called my friend. I said, "Hey, I'm going to be in Atlanta for Nelson Mandela. Do you think H. Rap Brown would talk to me about what he sees in this moment? Coming to Atlanta, the home of Martin Luther King, all that.

Todd Jones:
Right.

Kevin Blackistone:
So he said, "Yeah, let me call him and see. I'll put in a word for you." So he goes and H. Rap Brown gets back. He says, "Yeah, come on by. Come on by my grocery store" So I go to this grocery store in this little black neighborhood and we go in the back in his little tiny office on this little tiny television and we watch the whole thing. I talk to him about what he thinks about Nelson Mandela, what he thinks about Martin Luther King, what he thinks about this moment since Nelson Mandela had been such a powerful figure for the 27 years that he was in prison at Robben Island.

Kevin Blackistone:
So that was cool. That worked out. So you're always challenging yourself to find that story or find and angle into a story that other folks might not have.

Todd Jones:
Well, what you just articulated I think is what you brought to sports when you made that switch. So you go from covering Nelson Mandela the great antiapartheid politician in South Africa. He overturned a system and became the country's president.

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah, how about that?

Todd Jones:
You cover that and next thing you know you're interviewing some offensive lineman about a failed trap play that cost them the game. How did ... Just the idea that you had to juggle that type of thing.

Kevin Blackistone:
Right.

Todd Jones:
But I think what it gets to is that you always found the cultural context of where sports exist. Is that ... Do you think that's what news and everything brought to that.

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah, and I think that's news. There's a couple parts to news or maybe more than a couple parts. One of the parts is when you're energized to cover a story it doesn't matter what it is. You want to do it as best you can, but you also want to find a way to try and separate that story from all the other storied that are being written on the same thing, right? You want to find a new angle into it. A new way of ...

Todd Jones:
Right.

Kevin Blackistone:
A new perspective.

Todd Jones:
Well, it's about being open minded to what's going on. Looking around and seeing ... Trying to put it into context. In term so advocacy, obviously, one of the things that I think about when I started in the late 80s sportswriter, it was pretty evident to me that there weren't many black sport writers.

Kevin Blackistone:
No.

Todd Jones:
I would go to events and go to games and there just weren't. There just weren't many of the. And so you being an African American man came into this business and you brought it a much, much needed perspective and understanding about the vast majority of Athletes that we were dealing with were black. I just feel like ... How did you approach it when you made the move from new to sports, approach that?

Kevin Blackistone:
Well, that was always ... Thanks of saying that. I mean, that's always been foundational to me in journalism. I mean, the reason I got into journalism was to advocate about the treatment of people of color, people of lesser means in society. I mean, that's why I got in. And so, if I strayed from that, then I would feel that I wasn't being true to myself and I wasn't making an impact in the business, and our business is critical. We're the first amendment in the Constitution. Our business is critical.

Todd Jones:
Right.

Kevin Blackistone:
And so, I've always tried to apply that ideal to whatever I'm covering. I look for those stories in news. I look for those angles within covering economics. I always made a point to highlight games or loses by people of color and women when the employment report would come out, when housing stocks would come out, those kind a routine stories. I'd kind a remind people where everybody is in this picture. So you get to sports and it's the same thing.

Todd Jones:
Well, those are the type of stories that just weren't being done. They just weren't being done like when I started in the business, not many.

Kevin Blackistone:
No.

Todd Jones:
I'll give you an example of this, Kevin. I started late 80s. I think it was around 1990 I was at the Cincinnati Post and they had me become the college basketball writer. It's a big sport in Cincinnati. You've got the University of Cincinnati, Xavier, Kentucky fans. It's big. And I love basketball.

Todd Jones:
I remember I took that beat, the Xavier University beat and that was on a road trip early in the season. One of the players name Michael Davenport an African American guard, just a great guy, he and I bumped into each other on the road in afternoon of the game and we ended up having lunch. And we ended up talking for like two hours.

Kevin Blackistone:
Wow.

Todd Jones:
I was thinking to myself, looking back, I didn't really think about it so much at the moment, but I look back and I said, "That's the longest conversation I've ever had with a black person.

Kevin Blackistone:
Wow.

Todd Jones:
You know?

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah.

Todd Jones:
I grew up all white grade school, all white high school, and here I am very limited experience with dealing with meeting and talking with African Americans. Now, I'm writing about college basketball. And that conversation that I had with Michael, it really for the first time, I think, made me think about putting myself in others shoes. I think about a moment like that and I think about how I then looked at stories because of that one conversation. And it's all about experience. All about openmindedness, right?

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah, it is. Wow. I never knew that about you. See, I just figures you's one of the cool dudes. I didn't realize that you went through any ... And I wouldn't say that that was an epiphany for you, but that you were willing to sit down and talk it out. I mean, that's incredibly important.

Kevin Blackistone:
I remember when with the Texas Rangers when they had Ruben Sierra, Pudge Rodriguez, at the same time, and there was another Latin player. Ruben Sierra became ... I thought, through the reporting he got a bad rap and it really wasn't his fault as much as it was those of us in the media who would not take the time to listen to his Spanish. His English was not very good. And so, I think he kind a got painted in a way that it wasn't fair to him.

Kevin Blackistone:
But the thing about sports is when it comes to people of color is sports is the way that most of the rest of the world certainly in this country sees people of color. I mean, to your point, if you come up in an all white neighborhood, go to all white schools, your idea, your vision of people of color if you like sports, are the athletes you grow up watching on TV or you see in person.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, just never crossed paths.

Kevin Blackistone:
Exactly.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, they're just somebody else. I saw them on television.

Kevin Blackistone:
Exactly. And so you never realized that here are greater contours to these people than just these athletes and how they may behave and reflect on television or at a game that you went to. And so yeah, I mean, I think that's important.

Todd Jones:
Well, I think it's about communication and it's retrospect. 30 year later I looked back and I think of myself as a young guy. And it was a moment that made me just start thinking, you know?

Kevin Blackistone:
Right.

Todd Jones:
Thinking about where wherever it is that I'm writing about is coming from. And those are the type of conversations and the moments behind the scenes that sportswriters for ... Well, we're blessed to have those type of experiences I think, you know?

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah. I mean, it's all about ... I mean, it's just so many great people you run into.

Todd Jones:
So you were at the Dallas Morning News in the 90s.

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah.

Todd Jones:
And there's no bigger sports story at the time than the Dallas Cowboys. I mean, they're rolling.

Kevin Blackistone:
Huge.

Todd Jones:
They're rolling the Superbowl champions '93, '94, '96.

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah.

Todd Jones:
You've got Jimmy and Jerry. You got all those guys. So what was it like for you to be around the Cowboys, Michael Irving, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, on and on. What was it like being around that team trying to find something different-

Kevin Blackistone:
Sure.

Todd Jones:
... and just try to make an understanding of what this is all about here?

Kevin Blackistone:
Well, having been born and reared in Washington, DC, in a family that had season tickets to see the Washington football team play before I was even born and for whom religion was going to games on Sunday, and who's greatest memory in sports, most thrilling moment in boyhood was watching the Washington beat Dallas 26 to 3 in the NFC title game to go to the Superbowl in '72.

Todd Jones:
Hail to the Redskins.

Kevin Blackistone:
That's right. That's right. So I hated the Cowboys. I hated the Cowboys. So now I've got to cover them and try and be objective about it. In fact, Jim Jeffcoat who was a lineman on those teams and is rooted from Jersey any time Washington week came up for Dallas I would always joke with him. As I would leave the locker room, I would tell him, "You know Washington's going to kick your ass this weekend." And he'd just laugh. We'd have a good time about it.

Kevin Blackistone:
But, I mean, it was amazing to watch. Jimmy Johnson came in 1989. Jerry Jones and Jimmy came in, in 1989. They had a horrific year, 1 and 15. The only game they won in Troy Aikman's rookie year was over Washington. So they get rolling. And the amazing thing really was to watch them piece together the talent.

Todd Jones:
And so, do you have a favorite Jerry, Jimmy story that you witnessed or were part of?

Kevin Blackistone:
I'll tell you one I was part of. The Cowboys had this rookie running back one year coming out of training camp who was pretty good. I can't remember his name, but they were loaded at running back and they didn't want to cut this guy loose. And so after the last preseason game all of a sudden he showed on the injured reserved list, which meant that they could keep him around. And so I saw him in the locker room and I said to him, I said, "When did you get hurt?" And he said to me, "When they told me."

Todd Jones:
Yeah, right?

Kevin Blackistone:
Right. So I wrote this column basically saying that the Cowboys were learning the game system just like Washington, which was famous for doing the same thing. And some other teams were famous for doing the same thing. It was kind of a tongue in cheek column.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, the injury report. You never can really trust the injury report, right?

Kevin Blackistone:
No, you can't. So I come into work the day the column ran and Dave Smith calls me into his office. "What? What's wrong?" He says, "Jimmy Johnson is livid at you." He said, "You didn't check with him about what the running back said and now you're making him look like a liar." I said, "Well, I just quoted what the guy said. He's on the list. So I assume he's hurt." He said, "Well, he's really mad. You should go talk to him." "Yeah, okay."

Kevin Blackistone:
So get in my car and I drive out to Valley Ranch and it was the day of coaches availability. And so, after the availability, I just went up to Jimmy and I said, "I heard you're mad and you want to talk to me." He said, "Yeah." He says, "Come here." So we walk down the hallway away from where they do the little press availability thing to the front door of his office and he turns around. He's like nose to nose with me and he is cussing me out. "You made me look like a liar," blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."

Kevin Blackistone:
And so he gets done venting and so I said, "So this means I can't cover the team anymore?" And he goes, "No." And I go, "All right, we're good." And that was it. But that was one of the things that Galloway always taught me. He said, "If you're going to criticize someone ..." And even, like I said, I looked at this as a tongue in cheek column, right?

Todd Jones:
Right, right."

Kevin Blackistone:
"... you've got to be available. You've got to make them ..." And so that's what I did.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, face the music, right?

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah, face the music.

Todd Jones:
Yeah.

Kevin Blackistone:
And in fact, I remember ...

Todd Jones:
Show up.

Kevin Blackistone:
Show up, that's exactly right. I remember going out there that day and waiting for the ... I was in the locker room waiting for the coach's availability and Michael Irving came over. And he was like, "Man, that was some funny shit you wrote about. That was hilarious, man." He was rolling. Some other people said the same thing, but Jimmy didn't find it funny at all.

Todd Jones:
No, not at all.

Kevin Blackistone:
Not at all.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, tell me, I mean, so you travel the world. You bring this perspective and this knowledge and the background, and then you end up traveling the world in the Olympics, Wimbledon, Tour de France, British Open. That is an experience, too. What was it like to go around the world and write about sports?

Kevin Blackistone:
Not necessarily seeing the rest of the world, but you're seeing how the rest of the world kind a celebrates sports. I'm trying to remember.

Todd Jones:
Do you have a moment that stands out?

Kevin Blackistone:
Oh, yeah. When the Sydney games ... In fact, I'm drinking out of a Sydney mug right here. When the Sidney games happened, one of the things that I asked if I could do before I switched over to the sports department was cover the Olympics. I said, "Dave, can I cover the Olympics?" He said, "Absolutely." I said, "Good. We got a deal."

Kevin Blackistone:
So when I saw the Sydney games on the calendar I was like, "I've got to go." And the reason I wanted to go was because I wanted to meet Peter Norman. Peter Norman-

Todd Jones:
He's a great athlete.

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, the silver medalist in 1968.

Kevin Blackistone:
He's the third person, the silver medalist in the 200. That's right the third person with Carlos and Smith.

Kevin Blackistone:
And so I get to Sydney and before I got there I was trying to find out where he was. I located him. I got the message to him and we met one day at the track facility. And I interviewed him that afternoon and that was incredible. I remember-

Todd Jones:
I mean, that's a big moment in sports, and politics-

Kevin Blackistone:
Huge.

Todd Jones:
... and culture.

Kevin Blackistone:
All came together.

Todd Jones:
I mean, when they protested on the stand, there's Peter Norman a white Australian standing there with them.

Kevin Blackistone:
Exactly. And he suffered retribution for joining their protest by supporting their protest when he got back to Australia. So he was shunned for quite some time.

Kevin Blackistone:
Going to the rest of the world, I mean, that's what always fascinated me. It wasn't so much the sports there, but it was like what was going on. I also remember in Sydney there was the woman I think she was a 400, 800 runner for Australia and she was ...

Todd Jones:
Cathy Freeman.

Kevin Blackistone:
Cathy Freeman, yes.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, it's one of my favorite moment that I ever experienced as a sportswriter.

Kevin Blackistone:
You were there, right. Yeah.

Todd Jones:
I was sitting right there on the track, yeah.

Kevin Blackistone:
So that night I decided. I said, "You know what? I'm not going to go to the track, but I want to go to a neighborhood. I want to go to a neighborhood where her people would be-

Todd Jones:
Right.

Kevin Blackistone:
... and watch it there." And so that's what I did. I found this beer hall. Yes, for beer. This beer hall in Sydney and watched it there. And to see these folks-

Todd Jones:
Not hard to find in Sydney.

Kevin Blackistone:
No, not at all. Thank goodness for the beer over there. Man, that's a great country for beer. And if you remember, when we got to Sydney there was a big protest going on in downtown Sydney around aboriginal rights-

Todd Jones:
Aboriginal, right. Exactly.

Kevin Blackistone:
... people were camping out and everything. But at the same-

Todd Jones:
Yeah, because I visited one of those camps the day before Kathy ran.

Kevin Blackistone:
There you go.

Todd Jones:
That's kind a how I set up the race.

Kevin Blackistone:
Perfect.

Todd Jones:
I went and talked to people and tried to put it in that content.

Kevin Blackistone:
Exactly because that's the -

Todd Jones:
I remember like again, this wasn't a woman running one time around a track. This was something else going on.

Kevin Blackistone:
Exactly. Exactly.

Todd Jones:
Something bigger was going on.

Kevin Blackistone:
And that was the amazing thing. What a juxtaposition? You had these camps where people are fighting. People like her are fighting for their rights and at the same time she's on billboards, rights, where the country is celebrating her.

Todd Jones:
Right.

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah, so to your point, yeah, that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to be with those people that night and feel their sense of pride in having one of their own, a woman who grew up suffering the slings and arrows of a society that treated indigenous people horribly. And now-

Todd Jones:
Well, when she won her race, I don't know if you remember, but she walked the track-

Kevin Blackistone:
With the flag, that's right.

Todd Jones:
... with the flag and then she sat and took her shoe ... Remember she took her spikes off?

Kevin Blackistone:
That's right.

Todd Jones:
She sat down. Literally, she was 20 feet from me.

Kevin Blackistone:
That's incredible.

Todd Jones:
And I just think of that right now and I'm getting chills because it was a moment that I just ... It was top five moments I've ever experienced. And people always want to know about this sporting event or that sporting event.

Kevin Blackistone:
That's right.

Todd Jones:
I'm like, "No, it was this one race in Australia." And that's the kind of thing that I think sportswriters who've had long careers think about. And even in Sydney, like I was thinking about it, it doesn't have to be a great big political moment.

Kevin Blackistone:
No.

Todd Jones:
I mean, there was a time I went to cover table tennis, which I call ping pong.

Kevin Blackistone:
Exactly, right.

Todd Jones:
And I go there and there was a guy, somebody from Japan I believe who we like the Michael Jordan of ping pong. And there was like 30 reporters running around with this guy. He was so famous he had to wear a disguise in public. And it just again opened my eyes to this idea that what we see in America or what we value or what, there's things around the world that we just don't know. And sports brings that to life, especially at the Olympics.

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah, at the Olympics. I mean, it's just a smorgasbord of human stories.

Todd Jones:
I think it's about talking to people on an individual level and bringing them to how they fit into the bigger aspect of what they're involved in.

Kevin Blackistone:
Absolutely.

Todd Jones:
And sometimes it's the conversations you remember, right? I think you once mentioned that we dehumanize it, but the individuals matter, I mean. And I think ... Well, look what's going with the social context of sports now with Colin Kaepernick in 2016, but he was just a ... He didn't start sports protests. This has been going on for 100 years. It's always been part of the society we live in. There's no separation.

Todd Jones:
Again, I think that's what you bring to the coverage of the events, and the movements, and the individuals. I mean, you put it in such great cultural context that I always feel like I've learned something when I read a Kevin Blackistone column.

Kevin Blackistone:
I appreciate that. Yeah, it's a history that hasn't fully been told. That's why I teach a course in Maryland and it's called Sports Protests in Media, where I try and do a few things. Number one, I try and show people, I try and show students, that sports and politics have been bedfellows since sports were born.

Kevin Blackistone:
The marathon race was born out of a run made by a soldier to alert Athens as to what was about to happen, right? So that was the political reason for the marathon. And then I try and make them understand that not only have they been bedfellows forever, but sport is a natural platform for protests for a number of different reasons that scholars have made very clear as they've studied it.

Kevin Blackistone:
And then the other thing I like them to know is that there have been many instances along the way where people have used sports to protest.

Todd Jones:
Oh, yeah.

Kevin Blackistone:
Sometimes-

Todd Jones:
Think about-

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah. And sometimes it's been people in sports and sometimes it's been people outside of sports who have used sports to protest, whether it's-

Todd Jones:
Well, think about Rose Robinson, right? Rose Robinson-

Kevin Blackistone:
1950s.

Todd Jones:
... was a black high jumper.

Kevin Blackistone:
Sure.

Todd Jones:
Yeah, 1959 I believe.

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah.

Todd Jones:
She protested against the American foreign policy at the Pan Am Games, you know?

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah.

Todd Jones:
She refused to stand for the national anthem.

Kevin Blackistone:
Stand for the national anthem. How about that?

Todd Jones:
She was Kaepernick of her time-

Kevin Blackistone:
Yeah, yeah.

Todd Jones:
... in 1959, but I don't think people-

Kevin Blackistone:
People don't ...

Todd Jones:
We don't past last week, right?

Kevin Blackistone:
No, exactly. And her story really didn't get covered until the past few years. So people need to understand that so that we don't ... It's kind of like my mother used to say, there's little that's new today," right, when you start looking back in history and that's absolutely true. And when you have protests in sports it has a great impact because sports are transcended and even people who don't pay attention to sports will pay attention to sports when something happens in sports that is transcended. So yeah.

Todd Jones:
Right. Right. So you've done this for 40 years and you're still doing it at a high level. I'm not making you retire, but what's next? What do you want to do next in your career? I mean, you've done a little bit of everything. You've covered everything. Again, you're at the Washing Post. You're on ESPN. You've worked various places. You've done NPR, PBS, documentaries. You teach.

Kevin Blackistone:
So I'm working with ... I've been working on a film project the last five years now and slowly making progress towards the end. And I love documentary film.

Todd Jones:
It's about Native American mascots, right?

Kevin Blackistone:
It's about Native American mascots. I've been working on it since I started it in 2014 with a friend of mine and it's called Imagining the Indian. Racism started with what happened to indigenous people. That is the seed on this continent. And so, in order to eradicate it, racism, we have to understand what happened to these people and how we were and in this particular instance how sport and commercialism was an integral part in that, played an incredible role in that.

Kevin Blackistone:
And so it's very interesting just to watch how the protests in the wake of George Floyd's murder caught up to this idea, right?

Todd Jones:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kevin Blackistone:
It swept confederate imagery and confederate monuments out of view.

Todd Jones:
And teams changing their names. Yeah, right.

Kevin Blackistone:
And somehow teams changing their names.

Todd Jones:
Yeah.

Kevin Blackistone:
The Washington Football Team, the Cleveland Baseball Team. Atlanta you're up next. Chicago you're up next.

Todd Jones:
You're on the clock.

Kevin Blackistone:
Golden State you're up next.

Todd Jones:
Right.

Kevin Blackistone:
So it's really been fascinating to see this thing come around. So yeah, that's what I want to do. I want to finish that.

Todd Jones:
I think this moment all speaks to the work that you've done in your career, you and other great journalists. And I think if anything it's made us realize sports writing is not the toy department.

Kevin Blackistone:
No, not at all.

Todd Jones:
I mean, it's fun and games and there's been a lot of great things, times, and jokes, and laughs, but sports exists in the world.

Kevin Blackistone:
Absolutely.

Todd Jones:
It's not just a game.

Kevin Blackistone:
No.

Todd Jones:
You shed a light on that for years and years. And I think our business is better off for it. And I know personally I'm better off for having met you. My only regret is that we didn't talk more often during my career. We'd chit chat at an event. And I'd think like, "Aw man, that guy, I should get to know him better." So it's very fortunate to have you on this episode.

Kevin Blackistone:
Thanks, Todd. Appreciate it.

Todd Jones:
We've had some ... You're the only person I know who covered Nelson Mandela and saw Mike Tyson bite a chunk of ear off Holyfield's head. That's quite a career.

Kevin Blackistone:
That's pretty good. Pretty amazing stories right there, yeah.

Todd Jones:
All right, thanks. Thanks, Kevin. I really appreciate you joining us in the piece.

Kevin Blackistone:
Thanks for the invite.

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