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What the Hell Were You Thinking?: The Lightning Rod of Sports Journalism Explains What on Earth He's Doing In San Francisco 

Wednesday, Mar 25 2015
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Translation: No one is telling me what to write or say. It wasn't that way at ESPN — where the North Carolina academic-fraud scandal hasn't been attacked with nearly the energy of other sports investigations, perhaps because the company president is a Tar Heel. We were told to reserve comments on our TV show when the network was cutting a massive college football deal or doing urgent soccer business. In Chicago radio, I was ordered to sign a form promising I wouldn't criticize the White Sox and Bulls — the station was trying to do a rights-fee deal with the teams' insufferable owner, Jerry Reinsdorf — and when I refused, I was fired the day after Christmas.

At the Chicago Sun-Times, I was told to avoid certain Reinsdorf-related topics and rip the Cubs at will (they were owned then by the rival Tribune) when I wasn't being threatened in press boxes by wacko colleagues, forearm-shivered against a wall by an editor-in-chief, navigating through a cesspool where the paper's top two executives wound up in jail or dealing with a national firestorm after the White Sox manager, twice-since-fired Ozzie Guillen, called me a "(bleeping) fag." He did so while criticizing me for not going to his clubhouse, conveniently disregarding that too many visits had become setups in which someone would try to start an incident with me, creating news I did not wish to make.

No intimidation tactic stopped me from writing what the hell I wanted, until I realized in 2008 that a dysfunctional paper had no real future, prompting me to hand back a million bucks in guaranteed money and resign peacefully. Not dealing with it well, the paper had Roger Ebert, the legendary film critic, call me "a rat" in an open letter. On the Great Wall at the Beijing Olympics, I'd had an epiphany: Why risk dropping dead, after suffering a Bruce Bochy-like heart issue a year earlier, for those people at that godforsaken place?

I weighed offers and signed a deal as national columnist at America Online, one of those web initiatives that talked big, threw money at dozens of writers, then cut bait — as it struck a content deal with Arianna Huffington. I wrote a book, then tried a national writing-and-radio content site only to realize such "boutique" destinations need constant investment infusions from entrepreneurs. Over these last four years, the way news is reported, analyzed, and disseminated has changed to the point of being unrecognizable and disturbing. The internet has enabled too much irresponsibility and ignorance. A business that is wilder and younger still must have professional standards, or it becomes an Alfred E. Neuman self-parody that no one takes seriously and has the believability of a seventh-grade bathroom wall.

The media should be firm but fair, edgy but accurate. I realize this more than ever now, having experienced my own news-cycle storm that made me understand why people in sports — and everywhere, really — dislike and distrust the media. To recap, I was accused of domestic violence offenses I did not commit by a plaintiff who tried, without success, to win a financial reward in a civil suit. Not only did that suit fail quickly, the original case was dismissed and expunged ("Not guilty," read the court documents), which means there was no conviction. Expungements, as The New York Times recently noted, are issued rarely and with considerable diligence.

I've maintained my innocence from the start, never acknowledged guilt, and only pleaded no contest four years ago because coverage of the case was absurdly one-sided against me and littered with false allegations published as facts. Pleading no contest allowed me to save the half-million dollars (or more) in additional legal fees required in a Los Angeles court proceeding so I could keep my youngest daughter in college, important when ESPN played judge and jury from 3,000 miles away and removed me from its TV show without contacting me or my attorney.

Know this: Just because someone is accused doesn't mean he is guilty, and just because one pleads no contest doesn't mean he is acknowledging guilt. I did not hit anyone. I did not stalk anyone. I do not hit or stalk people. No one abhors domestic violence more than I, as the father of two amazing grown daughters who never were exposed to it, and no one was more disgusted by the Ray Rice video last year — not only the sheer hideousness but the chilling reality that every public figure accused of this crime, whether that person is guilty or not, is bound to be associated with Rice. I've seen firsthand how sleazy it all is — traffic-obsessed media, sloppy and dishonest police work, headline-seeking prosecutors, predisposed judges, a rival lawyer who advised my lawyer not to represent me. I wrote about it three and a half years ago in my e-book, The System, and I've learned a mean lesson about watching my associations.

In my case, only one media outlet has bothered to try to complete the story and publish news of the expungement. And that happened only when I had the document sent to a confused San Francisco Chronicle reporter earlier this month — he said he was having trouble finding it — and demanded that he publish it, as did my attorney. That didn't stop the Chronicle's tweeting editor-in-chief, who should know better, from mischaracterizing a quote of mine from her own paper and calling me a name that does not legally apply. Since the announcement of my appointment at the Examiner, how many news outlets have written about the expungement even after the Chronicle grudgingly reported it? None that I've seen. I'd suggest media outlets require all writers and editors to take law classes. It took a lecture by one of GQ's attorneys to force the magazine's editors to retract/correct a lie that I'd videotaped the aforementioned ESPN executive and tried to extort the company into giving me a story assignment. And even in doing that, GQ still got it very wrong. The Chicago Tribune had to make its own correction after piggybacking GQ without calling me.


About The Author

Jay Mariotti

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