Can you believe I’ve been writing for 13 years?
Looked up the other day and realized that I’ve been doing this for 10 11 13 years now. I call it “this,” because there’s really no word for whatever this hustle has been. I still think of myself as a writer, even though I think I’ve written five full-length pieces in the last two and a half years. I think of myself as an economist, too, though I haven’t done a lick of research since 2004.
Then there’s the job they pay me for that consumes my life, but I’d be lying if I said I think of myself as a radio guy or anything else.
I’m writing this less out of self-indulgence than so I’ll have a clear answer for “how did you get your start in sports journalism?” Younger folks with ambitious of getting in this business ask me all the time, and I can rarely answer because it takes entirely too long to say over Twitter, e-mail or anything else. So, I’m going to do my best to give a timeline of how this went.
It’ll start with this disclaimer: don’t try this at home. Seriously. The only reason this has worked is that I’ve been able to ask people for money that I don’t have to pay back. And by “people,” I mean the best set of parents I can imagine anyone having.
April 2000: Left campus toward the end of my junior year. My best friend died, and it made me nauseous to be on campus. So, drove back to Atlanta from the funeral, stopped by the dorm, got some clothes, and went to my parents’ house, where I went to hide from the world.
May 2000: Started ordering books so I’d have something to do while I was doing nothing. One of them was Chuck D’s “Fight the Power: Race, Rap and Reality.” Chuck mentioned the shortage of capable writers in hip hop, largely because so few people who wanted to write about rap had a broad knowledge of pop music. Somehow, in that book, I saw enough to make me think that I could do what he was describing. Then, I read a book by a renowned cultural critic, a book that Amazon said was really good…but I thought sucked. After that, I saw zero reason why I couldn’t be a writer.
June 2000: Came across a site that allowed people to publish their own columns. You got something like five cents per hit. So I started writing and e-mailing links to anyone that might put a nickel in my pocket. A few of those people told me that I could be good. One of them told me I should pitch stuff to XXL. I’d never considered the possibility that, at that moment, I could make money off this or was close to being professionally good. So I hit up XXL, and they told me that I wasn’t professionally good. Or good enough for them.
Also, at this point I came across Napster. More on that shortly.
July 2000: A friend of mine named Cory Brown — the single most important person I’ve met in my professional development — gave me the information for a site called Africana.com. Twas the brainchild of Henry Louis Gates. I checked the site and decided to try to get on. I nagged the senior editor, Kate Tuttle, to give me a shot. Probably even lied about how much I’d written. Either way, I got in, wrote a piece on the NAACP convention, and that was that. Couple weeks later, I had a piece that got them out of a bind, and I suddenly felt like I belonged. It didn’t hurt that they treated me like a pro, and that boost in confidence changed everything.
I spent my waking, grieving hours reading stuff on the Net, looking for something I could write about. Spent that summer home alone, essentially, because my old man had a summer gig in D.C. So it was hardly any sleep, trying to keep my girlfriend happy when I was too immature and overwhelmed by life to even have a clue as to how, and downloading music on a dialup connection. If I was going to write about music, I needed to learn about music like Chuck wrote. So I did.
August 2000: Went back to school. Changed my major back to economics so I could hurry up and graduate. Went to class as much as absolutely required, drank just about as much as I possibly could on weekends, and stayed up all night trying to figure out how to become a writer. Figured it meant becoming a reader and listener. So I did.
Fall 2000: I remember very little, if anything at all. But miraculously, I pulled out a 3.2 GPA.
Winter 2001: Got the hi-speed connection in the room. In the first three weeks, I downloaded 2,000 songs. And I listened and I listened and I listened. I’d go on allmusic.com, find a record that seemed interesting, and download it. Along the way, I’d write a piece a month or so or anything, plus do some A&E work here and there for the school paper. Also figured out how to start hustling interviews. First one was in the fall with Guru. Got to interview Mystikal the day his album “Let’s Get Ready” hit No. 1. Did a couple with Talib Kweli. Oh, and free concerts with the plus-1, which was my “photographer” (my homeboy with a camera around his neck).
The one thing I remember: had a miserable day late that semester. Went to a senior sendoff event, which can be monstrous when you’re grieving. I came back to my room half dead…only to find out my car had been broken into. Come back to my room, ready to pass out, and my phone rings.
“This is Tavis Smiley, how are you?”
I’d written something about him. He mentioned me on Tom Joyner the morning before. Then, there I was, on the phone with him. Blew my mind.
Summer 2001: Graduated, somehow. Had no idea what to do with my life, but I knew I needed to do nothing in the immediate short-run. Met a guy through the Internet that was starting a magazine and said he wanted to center it around me. After weeks, nothing was moving. I borrowed $100 from my parents and rode with friends to Maryland, hoping to meet him. We never connected.
At some point, that hit me, cuz it meant I had no way to get out of my parents’ house and into an apartment with my homeboy. While sitting there, the phone rang. It was a woman from Claremont Graduate University inviting me to apply for a fellowship. I’d start school that fall…which was in less than a month. I applied and…
Fall 2001: …I was moving to Southern California. Parents had my back, but I had no clue. I was somewhere just to be there, in a graduate program involving economics even though I said the ONE thing I wouldn’t be doing after graduation was economics. And there I was. Didn’t know a soul out there, but got lucky. The only other black dude in my program? His father and my mother graduated from high school together. Another woman met my old man at a conference and let me stay with her.
And there I was, trying to find an apartment for the first time — with no car — and all that fun stuff. Eventually, I got it right.
Of course, going deeper into econ wound up being the best thing ever. Suddenly, I saw how economics could be helpful and interesting, a broadly applicable thought process that helped explain why people did the things they did. It was a perfect thing to use in the writing I wanted to do, and it made my work different from anyone else’s.
And I was in Cali. Africana wanted to do more entertainment coverage, but didn’t have anyone there. Well, there I was, going on Sunset to have lunch with singers, going to press junkets for movies at the Four Seasons and Beverly Wilshire, hitting up the Rudy Ray Moore celebrity roast, movie screenings, whole nine.
Summer 2002: Took the GRE, and blew it out the water. Suddenly, a Ph.D in economics sounded like a great idea. Now, the game was the “public intellectual” route. Yanno, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, etc. Needed a Ph.D to pull off that hustle, but I was sure I could do it if put in the right position.
Did my research, and discovered that Sandy Darity, an economist at UNC, was who i wanted to study under. My mother, an econ prof herself, knew him. He and I talked here and there. Then, I saw him at a conference in…
January 2003: …and he says “so are you coming or what?” That answered that. I was off to Chapel Hill in July. But before I went, my buddy Cory met Ralph Wiley. I begged Cory to send some of my work to him to see what he thought. Ralph read a piece and replied to Cory…
“Tell Bomani if he keeps writing great shit like that he’s going to be dangerous.”
After that, you couldn’t tell me nothing. And still can’t.
Fall 2003: Yeah, that econ program wasn’t what I thought I was signing up for. Harder than I imagined, more crank-and-grind math than I thought was coming…and no, it didn’t work out well. First time I’d ever considered the possibility I wasn’t smart enough for something, and those doubts were deafening. I understood the material and could discuss it in lots of contexts, but I wasn’t a very good graduate student and I clearly wanted to write, not run LaGrangian multipliers.
Winter 2004: Ralph sends a story about Marcus Dixon, a young man having some legal troubles in Georgia. I told him I used to work in the Attorney General’s office in Atlanta, and maybe could put him in touch with folks if he needed to talk to someone for a story. Instead, he put ESPN.com’s Page 2 in touch with me to ask me to write on him. First sports piece I’d ever done. And the first time I’d ever considered making any mone writing about sports. I wasn’t trained in the field, and I had no idea how you did it. I just wrote what I had on my mind and, luckily, I had a helluva letter of recommendation.
Summer 2004: Got word I was getting my own music column on AOL BlackVoices. More money than I ever thought I’d get writing. Great platform. All that. Got ready for my new life, where I made real money writing. Even got the courage to query ESPN.com again. I thought they put me on as a favor. When I was told I could do more, I rattled something off in two hours.
Oh, went and bought a house that October. And I passed the macro qualifying exam while failing micro. Not uncommon.
Fall 2004: Please get me out of school now. After Round 2 with the micro qual in January…
Winter 2005: No more grad school for me was the word. Good for them, and good for me. Oh, and no more column. So let’s do the math: no more school, which paid a stipend, and no more column, which paid the mortgage. Well, guess I’m gonna be a hustling writer for a living. Which sounded like a great plan…except it wasn’t, seeing how I had no idea how I was going to make enough money to live. Until…
Summer 2005: Got a call from ESPN.com. They wanted to talk about more work, and work that centered around what I’d been doing with music and movies. They wanted an interplay of those worlds with sports (keep in mind this is around the time of “ESPN Hollywood”). And I wanted checks. And boom, had an arrangement that meant consistent freelance work. Still had a blog with BV, so I could eat. And I was working with ESPN. At the least we had a short-term plan, and a long-term one: I was going to get a contract writing for ESPN.com. That was the plan.
Summer 2006: Yeah, it was my plan. Not sure it was anyone else’s. But, through a long story that’s not appropriate for this setting, I got that contract and signed it November 10, 2006. Got the chance to cover all kinds of cool stuff. Still remember being scared to death at the NCAA Tournament, wondering if i had any idea what I was doing, eavesdropping as the gentleman next to me in the press room tried to get his Internet up and running. Learned a lot about…a lot.
Summer 2007. Found out that one-year contract was just that: a one-year contract. Come November, time to look for another gig…except writing gigs were hard to come by for someone with an unconventional path, no beat writing experience, etc. Had to find the right place, the right editor, etc…and all while totally convinced no one knew my name. At least didn’t know enough to think of me when it came time for a job.
Oh, and I got engaged. The plan: to move to New York, since I had a job then that let me work from wherever I wanted. I’d done the self-actualization thing. She was younger than me, and it was her time to chase her dream, so it was time for me to make that move. Then I didn’t have the job.
Winter 2008: Two-pronged short-term plan: my good friend Mark Anthony Neal asked me to teach a course at Duke on the Black Athlete in America, and my good friend Adam Gold invited me to host a Saturday sports show on 850 The Buzz (as soon as Adam found out my contract was up, and my editor’s desire that I not do radio no longer mattered, he got this moving). I said yes, and he put me on the show with Shannon Penn as my producer. I can only compare it to how it must have been for Elton John the day he met Bernie Taupin: I found someone I’d be working with for as long as I possibly could.
On Saturdays, we just let it loose. He and I were from similar backgrounds, had similar senses of humor, and both had the supreme confidence that we knew what we were talking about. So we did our thing, and the sincerity and energy registered: our show caught on.
And then I wasn’t engaged anymore. If you’ve got any idea, that statement says it all right there. Or, if you need more: not only did I no longer have that flexible job, I had no reason to be flexible anymore.
Summer 2008: Filled in the afternoon drive show on 850 while the host took a summer vacation. I also did fill-in work. After all, the Duke thing was over. I had to eat. So I did more radio than I thought was possible, in hopes of earning a full-time job. Because if I didn’t get one, I had nothing. Had a house I couldn’t sell, a line of work that I didn’t think was as interested in me as I was in it, and no idea what else I could do that would keep me sane.
Fall 2008: I got that job. Started on my birthday, in fact. After my substitute work was done, I started building a show in my mind, and I called it “The Three Hour Lunch Break.” I was going to create a show that was so much fun that you’d forget you were at work. That was my goal. Also kept doing Saturday with Shannon. In 2008, I hosted a show on 50 out of 52 Saturdays. Why? Because sleeping in couldn’t have possibly been more fun than doing that show. And when I didn’t do it, I had no idea what to do with myself.
Winter 2009: The grind. My life was the show, and vice versa. I worked to come up with ways to promote the show with no budget. The station didn’t want to take up a podcasting platform, so I figured out a way to do so (which was what attracted me to Twitter, the chance to push the product on as many platforms as possible). If it wasn’t about that show or how to push it, I really didn’t have much time for it. Part ambition, part escapism…but 24 hours a day.
Summer 2009: What we did was working. Got word that Spring ratings for the Lunch Break were 200% higher than they were one year before. I was working on how to get a raise, given how we’d exceeded expectations and had built an Internet following that was more than the server could handle before it was expanded. And then…
Fall 2009: …I got word the station was being sold. The next day, I read a press release that said that my time slot would be going to someone else. Writing was on the wall (and, btw, it followed an incredible streak of good luck that ended at the end of this post). I was about to get cut loose again, effectively the fourth time that had happened in five years. Knew what was coming nearly two months before the end. To this day, I take pride in the fact no one could tell until my last two days. And yes, I still miss that show and the people I got to speak with every day.
But such is life. Got a call from some folks in Toronto that November, flew up the week of Thanksgiving, and I’d found a new home: Hardcore Sports Radio.
Winter 2010: Somehow, I got fired into a national radio gig. It’s the best job I’ve ever had, and it’s not close. For the first time, I had bosses that, even if they didn’t get it, trusted what I was doing. They let me put on a show that combined all those things from the previous 10 years — the book learning, the real life ass whoopins, the things I covered and people I’d talked to, the friends I’d made and lost — and put them in one place. The soundtrack? Effectively started building it when I was staying up until 4 am downloading music in the dorm. The approach, which is sports but not quite sports? I got in this game because I could make a hodgepodge make sense…and that’s what we do now. The confidence in my tone? Read what’s above and tell me what reason I have to be afraid of saying or doing anything.
And…let’s pick this back up with new information…
Summer 2010: Started doing a bit more television. Most of it was on Outside the Lines, but I also got to appear on The Score’s television network as their in-studio analyst for a weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Seriously, I was on television giving basketball analysis on the fly. I really can’t explain how cool that was. It also was sort of a realization moment for me: I was going to be doing more television.
Got on ESPN’s First Take, across from Skip Bayless. That was fun for the few months I did it and, if nothing else, hellafied practice. Then, after a while…
Fall 2010 I got an e-mail from Aaron Solomon. The subject line read “Around the Horn.”
This was like the first time I’d ever gotten an e-mail from ESPN for anything. Similar subject line, and I had a similar thought: is this really from someone in Africa trying to get me for my money?
Nope. Turns out they wanted to know if I would be available to do a day on the show. This may surprise you, but I found a way to get on. The best part was when I asked if the gig paid. I was told, “we’d never dream of not paying you.” I’ve never met anyone that wouldn’t dream of not paying me. I’d never heard anything like that in my life from someone I was working for. I came up hustling as a freelancer. I’ve never been keen on working for free, but I’m more than aware that people will ask you to do it all the time. This, I would have done for free (once).
But they wouldn’t dream of not paying me? OK, we can do this.
But while all this was going on, The Morning Jones was going strong. We’d done the few months it was going to take to figure each other out, and we made it to the back end. So much of that show was about me getting to know these two guys in Canada through an ISDN connection. That was going to be rocky at times, and it was. But along the way was built a mutual respect, and I became close friends with Corey and Sacha. We developed a chemistry that, quite honestly, surpassed even my wildest expectations. And I’m firmly of the belief that I can make any pair of guys behind the glass work, one way or another. I never thought I could get anything going that was that good.
And then we met Mike in Chicago.
Our listeners were the best thing to ever happen to us. We had Joe in Raleigh as Duke marched to a national championship. We had Rod in Charlotte call in every day at the same time to help wrap up our show. We had a community that could contribute to the show without being combative. We were really just hanging out. It was a dynamic I always thought could be captured in a sports talk show, but never had.
And all of that went to another level when we met Mike. He’s quite simply the most interesting, magnetic human being I’ve ever met. On top of that, he’s absolutely one of the best people I’ve ever met. Oh, and he’s the single greatest caller in the history of sports talk radio. And he listened to us every morning. He called us multiple times a day. And he was so good that I figured out, after a week, that we needed to produce introductions for his calls because he was, always, the biggest star on the mic.
I’m not a fool. I just shut up and got out of the way. We weren’t about to have any beef here. The show was mine, in large measure, but it was really ours.
And from there, we grew. It was clear we had more and more listeners of more and more backgrounds. I was always told it takes about 18 months for a radio show to take hold, if it’s going to. We’d done it in 12.
Winter 2011: For the first time in forever, there didn’t feel like there were many major changes. Except for being on television a lot. Twas a little different. However, it also meant getting to California in January to be on Jim Rome is Burning. Save for that unfortunate battle between my stomach and one Pollo Loco, it was super duper cool. The Morning Jones was humming. The Horn kept calling. And the best part: it was so so so much fun.
Really, I’m doing sports here. Fun with good sense will go a long way. Some of it’s serious. Most of it’s not. If you can explain why on both counts, you’re good. And if I can do anything, it’s explain why this really isn’t that big a deal, no matter what “this” is. After all the ups and downs before, one thing was clear: this isn’t worth it if it isn’t fun. And at this point, it was a lot of fun.
Spring 2011: Started selling t-shirts. It was really just on a whim. After getting #BEATEMDOWN to catch on via social network sites, people asked if I was going to make t-shirts. I was terribly afraid of ordering up all these shirts, and then not being able to sell them. I’m not keen on getting gassed up, and I’m really not keen on it when the result is me spending money. But I went ahead and did it.
As of now, we’ve sold around 800 shirts, and we’ve moved into different styles, colors and designs. I’ve got big ol’ Rubbermaid tubs in my office with shirts. The orders come in, I pack ‘em up and ship ‘em out. It’s not too difficult, but quite rewarding. Not to get all touchy-feely, but there’s something to be said about personally handling all that stuff. Plus, as someone told me, I’m the only talk radio host that knows his listeners’ shirt sizes.
So we’re rolling, right? We get into the summer, and the radio chemistry is fantastic. More and more people are listening. I was blown away when I was in California in March, went to the concession stand at the Staples Center at halftime of a game, and got stopped twice. And it wasn’t because of television. It was the podcast. I never saw that sort of thing coming.
Know what else I didn’t see coming?
Summer 2011:: My radio station going out of business. It’s a long story that I don’t have all the particulars on, but I knew this much: at some point this summer, it was clear I wasn’t going to have a job on September 1. I didn’t get fired, and I wasn’t going to play it like it was personal. I had a pretty decent side gig, and other projects to work on while figuring out the next move. Not everyone was that fortunate. There was nothing for me to cry over because of losing that job.
There were plenty of things to cry about, however, when it came to losing that show. If I do anything again that’s nearly as good and fun as that show is, I’ll die a happy man whenever that happens. I terribly miss being able to talk to everyone in the morning. There’s an intimacy to radio that can’t be replicated in any other medium. With The Morning Jones being on satellite, having a national reach, plus the Internet, it was insane the worlds we were able to bring together.
More importantly, there were a lot of serious friendships born there. Couples who have met through the show have friggin’ moved cross country to be together. Folks that came together through the show kick it on the weekend now. Hell, we had about a dozen people go to Chicago to party for Mike’s birthday. I don’t even know how many people listened or anything like that. I just know that we’re all still in touch. I have no idea if anything else I do will be like that, and I hate that we don’t have that common place anymore. It was like graduation, except if you actually liked the people you graduated with.
But, that’s life.
So while waiting, did a few things. Invested time and a little dough into the merchandise and my online efforts. With no radio show, I started doing video chats online to try to connect with the audience and answer questions. From there, The Evening Jones was born. We go on every Tuesday at 9 pm Eastern. It’s questions, guests, segments, rants…it’s as close to the old show as I can get right now. But we’re there, and a lot of us get together.
And it’s growing. And, yes…it’s a lot of fun.
So with that in place, after doing a little more television, and working on a few different projects…I finally found a job. Starting now, Old Soul Productions is on board with sbnation.com. Here’s my first piece for them.
I’ll be doing a little of everything. We’ve got the resources in place to take the things that come out of our heads and put them into a digital space. If you don’t believe me, check out what my man Spencer does. There will be more to tell later, but know that we’ll be producing lots of content. And, if I have anything to do with it, it’ll be fun…
December 2011. …and the fun started, all right. Most of the work I did with SB Nation was on a YouTube series called “Bomani & Jones.” I probably had more of an emotional attachment to The Morning Jones, if for no other reason than the intimacy radio affords. But “Bomani & Jones” had its own warmth because of the people I worked with. Hayes Permar, many years ago, thought I had a future in television. He worked at 850 The Buzz when I started there, and he later went to work with a TV production in Washington, D.C. While there, he kept me abreast of what he was working on, and we even worked on a television pilot together. He also took me to lunch more than once to talk about what kind of television show we might be able to do together. He was my friend, but he basically recruited me. More importantly, it meant I knew one guy, if no one else, who knew something about television.
Fast forward a couple of years, and we were working together (along with Chip Patterson) on a viral video I created promoting my first appearance on ESPN First Take. That led to us doing promo videos for The Morning Jones called “Two Minutes with Bomani Jones.” They ran on television on The Score in Canada, meaning that we kinda did what we talked about. It wasn’t a TV show, but we were on TV, and we did it together, and we were all able to get paid as a result. It was the kind of thing you hope will happen when you work with your friends, and we made it happen.
So when SB Nation approached me about doing a YouTube show, I was adamant that I do the show out of Raleigh. I could have moved to work with the folks they hired, but I had my guys. We were comfortable, and we did good work. We’d prepared for an opportunity like this, and we were ready to hit the ground running. Once SB Nation saw the work we’d done with The Score, they saw that we knew what we were doing.
So we tried to do it to death.
The show was called “Bomani & Jones.” There may have been content in our industry similar to it, but I can confidently say nothing was like it. We tried to be funny, smart and legitimately satirical. We wanted to be fearless without being contrived. And Hayes and Chip wanted it to be as great of a showcase for me and my talents as it could be. We rolled the dice entirely on ourselves with the content. We bet on Hayes and Chip’s creativity and technical proficiency. We bet on my personality. I, personally, bet on how well those two guys knew me and how much I could trust them. After we would shoot, I would leave, and they did everything else. They had that control on the final product because they should have, because they knew me as well as anyone else, and they knew my vision. They also knew what could be done to make that vision better, and that they didn’t have to ask for permission to do so.
Did it work? You can check the archive here. There are 75 episodes, and we can proudly say that nearly all of them stand up. For years, you will be able to go back and refer to them to make sense of what’s happening in the present tense. We would have loved to have more viewers, but not so much that we would have done much differently. We had a platform on which we could experiment. We had supportive employers who encouraged us to take chances and be as creative as we could be. And we developed the sort of rhythm and chemistry that people have to work years longer to develop.
It made me better. They made me better. We all turned out better. And when we went to dinner to celebrate the series, it wasn’t even bittersweet. We celebrated the chance as much as anything else. There were always twinges of longing, plus the occasional wish that we could get in the lab and work on a new video. But we did well. We did what we wanted. We’re proud of the result. And…
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January 2013. It had to end. No one’s fault this time. ‘Twas just a matter of our contracts and others running out around the same time, and things not breaking in such a way to let us continue. I love the folks at SB Nation and still recommend people to work for them. I help their writers out as they need it. They do the kind of work that I hope everyone will take note of, and they are absolutely on the good side of the fight. They just decided not to continue to fund our show and a couple others like it, and my next move needed to be a little more than was available at an Internet company.
So I took some time to see what was out there. Kept doing ATH, and I’d also begun doing appearances on “Dan LeBatard is Highly Questionable” a few months before. I’d been a fan of Dan’s forever, and I loved what he was doing with his television show. It made smart points without taking things too seriously, and they had Papi. Papi’s kinda ubiquitous at this point, so there’s no need to say much more about what “they had Papi” meant.
What I didn’t realize, though, was how far that relationship with Dan might take me. No one in the business had ever been as helpful as quickly as Dan had. That’s not to say others hadn’t done more for me, given how long I’d known them. But, for some reason, Dan quickly figured out ways that I could be better in expressing myself and being heard without too much noise clouding what I was saying. More importantly, and for reasons I can’t fully articulate, I listened to him more than I had anyone before.
For a while, I listened to nearly everything I was told by my superiors and people around me. Many were trying to help. Many weren’t. No matter what, it was hard to tell whether they way I was taking what I was told, or the things I was told — I can’t really tell which, or where on the gradient between them — was actually helping me. In some ways it hurt. There was no one I truly thought was like me in the industry. I thought I could put together a combination of things that no one else had before. It’s hard to find people to advise you when that’s what you’re thinking because most of that advice will come from the consideration of what had been done. I needed to look at an expansion of what was possible, because I had no chance of doing things the way they had been done. I didn’t have the training or certification, nor was I in a position to go through the usual due-paying. It was time to bet on me, because playing scared didn’t get me much but fired.
That was my approach with all the radio shows. That was the approach with “Bomani & Jones.” That approach saved my career, and it gave me a great advantage for the future. I knew of some things that would work that others didn’t, simply because we tried them. Those were the things people would not have advised me to do.
Thing is, that approach had taken me about as far as it would. At least for now. I needed to listen to people. I learned that, in large part, from doing “Bomani & Jones” and working with Shannon and Corey. I’d learned that other people could add to what I was doing, and I had become confident in what I had done that allowing more input wouldn’t take away from what I wanted. I could let other people make my work better by adding their touches and insights. They weren’t trying to change me or alter the direction I was going in. They wanted to make sure more people were able to go down those roads with me. With us, really. It wasn’t just great to have those people. I needed those people.
It became clear to me, very early on, that I needed Dan, too. Some of his input was uncomfortable at first. Not because he’d done something wrong, but he’d made me aware of things I was doing that I didn’t realize. As someone who always considered himself self-aware, it was jarring at times to find some of my own blind spots. It was also more helpful than I could have imagined. Dan helped me learn that some of the things I think are obvious about me…aren’t. I could act as if people should just get it, or I could do more to help them do so. So I did more.
Check the differences between appearances I did on TV in early 2012, then compare them to 2013. It’s still me, but I think that I got a little more approachable. Not every show allows for it, but it’s certainly on my radar, and I can’t say that was the case before. That’s Dan LeBatard’s influence, and it’s crucial. How crucial?
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May 2013. Well, crucial enough to get me a job? After the SB Nation gig ran out, I was in no real hurry. I was pretty sure that whatever came up next would be big, and I was in a financial position to be patient. So my agent and I talked with a few folks. We got a good look at the landscape of sports media. And…well, if ever I write a book on it, you’ll see how fascinating it all was. Now isn’t the time for telling other people’s business, though.
But what wound up happening was, like, the coolest thing ever. “Dan LeBatard is Highly Questionable,” of which I was an unabashed fan, became “Highly Questionable with Dan LeBatard and Bomani Jones.” Six years after my contract with Page 2 ran out, after I was totally sure I’d never work at ESPN again and — for a long stretch — being sure this current job hunt wouldn’t end there, I was doing a TV show with a guy I’d followed for 15 years. We’re working with Erik Rydholm, the best producer in sports television. We both, above all else, want to have fun and do good work. We, effectively, laugh for a living. And we’re doing a show in a way we truly believe no one else is. It’s not the sort of independent venture I’d grown accustomed to, but it’s the kind of work I decided in 2007 I would do for the rest of my career. And, yanno, it’s on national television. That’s a win, folks.
The next win? We’ll do that, and I’ll continue to do The Evening Jones, but as a non-sports podcast. We started the show, in part, because I didn’t have enough vehicles for my views on sports. That’s not the case anymore.
Which is to say, as of May 2013, I’m doing everything professionally I could say I wanted to do, and continuing to do so with good people. And I’m doing it with the encouragement, well-wishes and pride of all the good people I worked with before.
So yeah, in about 5,000 words, that’s how I got started and how I got here. None of it was planned. I just decided I was going to do a few things, and then rode those things out. If I could come up with something interesting, I thought I could write well enough to bring it to life. Then, once I got into the spoken medium, I thought the fact that people liked talking to me in real life could translate to a larger stage.
So far, it’s been correct…except when it wasn’t. And at some point, what I’m doing now probably will be incorrect to someone, too. What to do from there? I have no idea.
I took just about every cool opportunity I had, immersed myself in them, then tried to find a way that I could make them work. Maybe I’m lucky that I was too naive to know that nobody went about things like this, because then I didn’t realize I probably should have approached things differently.
But in 10 years, I got to hang with movie stars, talk music with cats that I grew up listening to, meet the writer that made me want to write and showed how much one can do if he takes the opportunities in front of him, and talk sports with figures I respect the same way I used to when I’d hang out at Mr. Kirby’s barber shop when I was a kid.
I thought, in 2000, I’d be large in a year, two tops. 10 years later? Still not larger…but done way more than I ever thought I would.
So, to answer the question: how did you get into sports journalism? By accident. And it had been planned, it couldn’t have possibly worked out as well. I’m not living a dream — I don’t set goals, weird as it sounds — but I’m knee-deep in this hustle, and that’s still where I feel most comfortable. And I have a ball every day I come to work.
I wish everyone could have it that good.