Q&A with Sally Jenkins
BRIAN LAMB, HOST, CSPAN: Sally Jenkins, can you remember when you first thought you might want to write about sports?
SALLY JENKINS, SPORTS COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I grew up with it in the household. My father, Dan Jenkins, is a Hall of Fame sports writer, and so from the time I was a baby, the television was always tuned to whatever game he was following or writing about that week. And so it was osmosis. I don’t think I ever considered writing about anything else. Once I decided to be a writer, my father always said, ”Write what you know.” And sports was what I knew best.
LAMB: Where did you graduate from college?
JENKINS: Stanford University.
LAMB: Studied what?
JENKINS: Studied English Literature.
LAMB: And your work history involves what publications?
JENKINS: ”The Washington Post” has been my home on and off for 25 years. I started there my first tour of duty at the Post was in I was 24 years old. I went back there in 2000 and have been there ever since, and it’s really been my professional home my whole adult life.
LAMB: Do you write any differently because you’re writing for ”The Washington Post” in a capitol and a federal town?
JENKINS: Yes. I think you have to, because the business of government is really the core of what the paper covers. It’s a captive audience. It’s a changing audience. I think you have to be highly cognizant of the fact that I mean one of the fun things about being a sports writer in Washington is that you’re read by the most interesting people. You know I get the mail is fascinating; military guys, generals, congressmen, senators, judges. So it’s fun to play to that audience. It’s fun to write to that audience.
LAMB: Is there such a thing as a philosophy of a sports writer?
JENKINS: You know sports are about human behavior, and it’s Steve Young, the great 49ers quarterback, once said, ”It’s the football is the greatest laboratory for human behavior.” I’ve always tried to view it that way. I think he’s right. It’s about ethics, it’s about all sorts of neuroses. I think that you know sports is it’s so knit into American culture and American life that you have to view it from a broad philosophical standpoint as a reflection of all of our ethics and morals and neuroses.
LAMB: During the program, we’re going to show some clips from some hearings to establish the connection between the feds and sports. First up is 10 years old. This is Former Governor Ventura of Minnesota. Let’s watch.
JESSE VENTURA, FORMER GOVERNOR, MINNESOTA: All is your business, and I emphasize business. You can meet in Chicago, conspire to control output of your product in order to maximize profits, and it’s perfectly legal. That’s not fair, and I think you ought to do something about it.
In 1922, when the United States Supreme Court decided Major League Baseball was a sport and not interstate commerce, perhaps it was a sport. But today, Major League Baseball is a self-regulating billion-dollar monopoly. Major League Baseball is really no different than OPEC. It controls supply and it controls price with absolutely no accountability. The simple, logical and common sense fact is that Major League Baseball is a business that should be governed by the same laws as every other business.
LAMB: First thing you might have noticed is that the Congress and women’s chairs are full, which is not often the case in a hearing anything like that. So there’s a good turnout from the subject. What did you hear him say that you were thinking? What were you thinking about what Mr. Ventura was saying?
JENKINS: Well, first of all, I was thinking good show by a former athlete. No. You know my first thought is he’s exactly right, and he’s still right. He is getting right to the heart of the matter. For some reason in this country, we have decided as a people to support professional sports as a as a great public endeavor. We devote hundreds and hundreds of millions, billions of dollars to building stadiums for privately held teams. They have the best of both worlds. They have their cake and eat it too.
We spend a good deal of time you know concentrating on the money that players make and worrying about whether they’re overpaid. We very seldom stop to think about what owners make and what we give to owners in terms of huge tax breaks and huge windfalls in public funding for their stadiums and their teams simply because we want to feel the emotional connection with the athletes.
LAMB: I want to read back to you something that you wrote. Part of a column came out in ”The Washington Post” on February 8. I’ll read you the first paragraph and then get you to comment more, ”It’s a rough morning after morning-after for the NFL. The Dallas Super Bowl was a bender, but now that the confetti has fallen, it looks like litter. The hangover has hit; a splitting headache and a sour stomach from the $19 margaritas and the $12 wine and the $10 beers and the rest of the fiscal insanity. Is this really what the NFL wants to become, a divorced from reality debauch?” Why did you write that?
JENKINS: Well, because I found what happened at that Super Bowl to be unseemly. Two thousand fans were left out in the cold. They had spent thousands of dollars to get to Dallas and see the Super Bowl to discover that their seats were no good because, you know Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL, tried to cram too many seats into a stadium you know for the Super Bowl that, by the way, a stadium that cost $1.1 billion, and $300 million of which was federally or I’m sorry, publicly financed.
LAMB: From Dallas?
JENKINS: From Arlington. Arlington, Texas passed a bond issue to give Jerry Jones $300 million, free and clear, to build his Taj Mahal. It’s a beautiful stadium. It’s clean, it’s safe, it’s gorgeous. And it’s highly expensive, and the reason he built it was so that he could charge higher ticket prices and more expensive meals and drinks and parking. And you know it’s a spiral financial spiral that they’re hitting the fans with on both ends, not just in the stadium at concessions or ticket prices, but frankly as taxpayers.
LAMB: How widespread is the funding of stadiums around the country in all sports?
JENKINS: Well, it’s ludicrous. It’s everywhere. It’s hard to name a stadium, particularly in the NFL these days, that doesn’t have some degree of public financing. In New Jersey right now, the New York Giants are playing in a brand new stadium while the State of New Jersey still owes $110 million on a stadium that was just demolished to become a parking lot for the new stadium.
So there are actually communities in this country that are carrying huge, in some cases, hundred-million dollar debts on stadiums, that are phantoms that don’t even exist anymore that we’ve knocked down to build a new stadium for a sports owner who wants bigger luxury boxes and more fancy concessions to charge higher prices.
LAMB: From your Super Bowl column, you wrote, ”For absurdity, how about those four Navy F-18s flying over the stadium with its retractable roof closed? Everybody inside could only see the planes on the stadium’s video screens. It was strictly a two-second beauty shot. Know what it cost taxpayers? I’ll tell you; $450,000. The Navy justifies the expense by saying it’s good for recruiting.”
JENKINS: I love the flyover. I actually think it’s one of the most thrilling things. I think it’s a great recruiting tool for the Air Force and for the Navy. I have no problem with flyovers in general. I think the money you know people would probably tell you those flights, they were going to fly some kind of training flight that day anyway. What’s the harm in flying it over the Super Bowl? What was ludicrous was that the roof was closed. You know the notion of a flyover was a mockery, in that instance, because nobody in the stadium could actually see it. So I’m not sure how great it was for recruiting of spectators inside the closed dome.
LAMB: We see so much of these flyovers at sporting events. Do the sporting teams and I know NASCAR does it all the time, and the NASCAR the cars themselves are sponsored by the military. Does that ever is that ever talked about in Congress?
JENKINS: No, I’ve never heard anybody discuss the flyover, really, until this Super Bowl, when it sort of struck everybody down in Dallas as a little odd that we had you know these marvelous airplanes sailing over a closed roof.
LAMB: What do you think of the idea of recruit money being spent at these sporting events on
JENKINS: You know I think you know what, it’s fun. You can’t get away I mean some things are just fun. You know some of this stuff we want to pay for. I’m not saying that every dime taxpayers spend on baseball teams or football teams or NBA teams is ill spent. I think a lot of us love these teams we love the spectacle of it, and I think there’s nothing wrong with spending some money on this stuff, even some public money on this stuff.
What I think we need to do is ask tougher questions about what the right, seemly levels of that spending are. There’s a lot of hidden cost to taxpayers and to ticket buyers that they aren’t they aren’t always alert to. And so my thing is not so much we shouldn’t spend any public money on sports in this country. My thing is let’s explain to people what we’re really spending, what we’re really doing here.
When Arlington, Texas builds helps build the Taj Mahal of football stadiums to the tune of $1.1 billion, well, something else doesn’t get built. One of the things that didn’t get built in Arlington, Texas was a light rail system. You can’t get to Arlington except by car. The bond issue that taxpayers passed to help finance these stadiums, it means there’s money not going to be spent on something else. It also means bigger deficits.
You know deficits are killing states. Why should New Jersey be strapped with $110 million debt on a stadium that no longer exists when they are laying off cops and firefighters, and public schools don’t have supplies for kids? These are questions we probably ought to be asking a little more frequently when we talk about spending public money for this great cultural celebration we call football.
LAMB: Where do you live?
JENKINS: New York City. Although I’ve lived in Washington on and off for many years, my base now is New York City.
LAMB: Why New York?
JENKINS: I was raised there. My dad moved us there when I was three, and it’s been my home pretty much since then on and off, except for the decade I spent here in Washington. So it’s where I’m from.
LAMB: Your father, Dan Jenkins, for those who don’t follow sports, wrote or write still writes some, but wrote what?
JENKINS: Well, he was a senior writer at ”Sports Illustrated” for 35 years. That was his main gig, but he also became a very successful novelist. He wrote a great novel called ”Semi-Tough” that was a big best seller in the 70s and got made into a movie with Burt Reynolds. And so that would probably be the most notable thing that people would recognize him for.
But he is a Hall of Fame sports writer. He writes for ”Golf Digest Magazine” now. He’s probably one of the greatest golf writers who really ever lived. He knows more about golf than any human being on the planet.
LAMB: Here’s that clip of Senator Joe Biden back in 2003.
NCAA CHAIRMAN MYLES BRAND The Bowls have a deep and important history, a part of football. We all know that. And I think everyone is want to make that go away. We want to find a way
SEN JOE BIDEN: That’s not true, by the way. I mean there’s a whole lot of us in the east who don’t give a damn, really, about the Rose Bowl. There’s a whole lot of us in the east who don’t give a damn about the Sugar Bowl. There’s a whole lot of us in the east who don’t give a damn about the Orange Bowl. If they’re the only things there to get the play in, we care about them a lot. But there’s a whole lot of us in the east who would much rather see a playoff system.
So I understand. But I want to know, what is the mechanical difference? Why mechanically will it not work? Why functionality would it not work in terms of stress on players or student quality of life or
NCAA CHAIRMAN MYLES BRAND: There’s no functional reason why it couldn’t work. I mean that’s correct. But the desire to keep by others to keep the Bowls in tact is what’s leading in that direction. Now, what about the idea of having a post-Bowl championship? That’s
SEN JOE BIDEN: What about the idea of having a post-Bowl game after the championship?
NCAA CHAIRMAN MYLES BRAND: That’s what I just asked.
SEN JOE BIDEN: Oh, OK. I’m sorry. Got it. If I misunderstood you, I apologize.
NCAA CHAIRMAN MYLES BRAND: And here’s the question that has to be answered, if that makes sense; some people claim that by doing that, you diminish the interest, fan attendance, and most especially the television media interest in it. Is that is that if there were a post-Bowl game, is that true? I don’t know. I mean I think that has to be market tested.
LAMB: Miles Brand was the witness, died in 2009 of pancreatic cancer. But the issue still exists. I see this all the time in articles, BCS. What’s it stand for?
JENKINS: Bowl Championship Series.
LAMB: And is that what he’s talking about there?
JENKINS: That’s what he’s talking about, the Bowl Championship Series. Some people say you should take the C out and just call it the BS. That’s my view. It is a rigged system that was devised by a handful of very powerful football schools via their conferences to hoard the vast majority of Bowl game revenue and concentrate it in the hands of large universities that spend a lot of money funding their football programs.
It’s not a fair way or an equitable way of determining the national championship because it locks out a good half of the competitors in college football never have access to these bowl games because they don’t really belong to the right conferences. It’s sort of like saying if you don’t live in Newport, Rhode Island, you can’t come to the Ball.
LAMB: Is that the kind of subject that should be brought out in a hearing?
JENKINS: It should because a lot of the schools involved are large, public state universities. And it’s very costly to the to the universities that don’t have access to this rigged system. There are the Bowl revenues have grown exponentially you know in the last 25 years. It means that your athletics department could be facing a serious deficit if you don’t gain access to one of these Bowls. If you do gain access to one of these Bowls, you have better facilities, better locker rooms, more goodwill from alum who it’s proven when a football team wins and makes it into one of these major Bowl games giving goes up, better medical care for your student athletes, better academic support for your student athletes. It affects a whole range of issues, and you know the state universities that have access to this lucre don’t really want to admit that, but it’s true. It’s a it’s a form of piracy, if you ask me.
LAMB: What kind of column gets the most attention back to you?
JENKINS: Well, the Super Bowl column, the Jerry Jones Taj Mahal Super Bowl column was about as much response as I’ve ever had on a column. And I was surprised by it, but I think the reason that it got so much response was because the fan is starting to get a little fed up with being leaned on financially by the league. The expense now for going to an NFL game for a family of four is just astronomical. It’s the NFL is almost pricing the average fan out of the game day experience. You know it’s gotten to be it’s a $700 to $900 proposition, depending on where you want to go see the game, to take yourself and your spouse and your two children to see an NFL game. And so a lot of the response that I got from that column was about fans feeling abused by the NFL.
LAMB: Except if you watch the chatter about the Washington Redskins in this town, there were how many thousands of people in line for seats?
JENKINS: Well, we’re not sure how long the waiting list for Red Skins tickets really is. I mean that’s a that’s a disputable topic. But the fact is that the NFL fan hasn’t shown yet that the league has found the bottom of their pocket or the bottom of their goodwill. The truth is, if fans are being abused by their league financially, it’s because they keep coming back for more. You know it’s in some respects, you start to wonder if like NFL football sort of feels like crack. You know people just keep coming back and coming back and coming back, and you go when are people going to say that’s too much money or you know I’m not being treated very well at these games.
LAMB: Now, this stadium here used to be the largest at 92,000 seats. Is it still the largest?
JENKINS: Well, I think, depending on how many seats got crammed into Cowboy Stadium for the Super Bowl, you could you could claim maybe Cowboy Stadium. I think they wanted to hit the 100,000 mark there. So I’m not certain.
LAMB: Now, this is in the shadow of the capitol. Was that stadium built by taxpayer money?
JENKINS: FedExField, I think, had some I can’t remember now, it’s been so long. I think there was some I’m not sure, honestly.
LAMB: We did watch the Washington Nationals Baseball Stadium
JENKINS: Yes, that’s
come up for constant conversation and whether the D.C. people were going to fund it. Did they fund that?
JENKINS: Partly. You know taxpayers partly fund that stadium. It remains to be seen whether that stadium is going to do for business what was promised. You know the whole idea of bringing baseball to Washington, quite apart from the fact that it’s lovely to have it here for the residents, was that it was going to revitalize you know a whole segment of the town commercially. You know I don’t know that that’s happened yet. We’ll see. It could take quite a while for that to pan out.
You know studies economic studies of the impacts of these stadiums by real economists and not by leagues, the leagues try to pass around studies, but they’re really commissioned studies. Real economic impact studies show that these stadiums pretty much don’t bring what the league tells you they’re going to bring. They cost money. They cost us all money.
Now, if we’re willing to pay it, that’s fine. I think there’s an argument for paying it. I think it does a lot for morale. It does a lot for you know the esprit of the city. I think that culturally there’s a lot to be said for having baseball in Washington D.C. It’s the nation’s capitol. But the costs don’t tell me that it’s not going to cost you know.
LAMB: If you were an elected member of Congress or the senate, and you had control over our committee, or not control, but you ran a chairman of a committee that had anything to do with sports, how much would you bring sports figures before your committee?
JENKINS: I’d bring them all the time, and I would ask them repeatedly, insistently, ”Why aren’t you giving back more to your community? This community has given you a home. It gives you the dollars out of its citizens’ pockets, and it gives you huge tax breaks, and it gives you public financing. Why aren’t you doing more for public school kids in this town? Why aren’t you doing more for arts programs you know?”
If you want public funding from a city like Washington D.C. or New York City or Baltimore or Dallas or Arlington, I think that there should be an exchange there. I think that you shouldn’t just get a massive tax break and $300 million free and clear to build your luxury boxes without giving something other than fielding a team. You know give something back to this community, and I’m not just talking about sort of you know bringing out half-a-dozen players to read to public school kids you know once every two or three months. I’m talking about putting money into this community, into the public institutions of this community.
LAMB: So again, you’re the chairman of the committee. How many kinds of if you could change a law, what would you change?
JENKINS: Well, I mean you know laws aren’t always the best you know they’re like big, claw hammers. I mean laws are big clumsy things. I don’t know that they you know I think laws can’t cure, necessarily, what’s going on here. I think that first of all, I think that the culture of our professional sports leagues, and I’m talking about the ownership culture, should take a good look at itself and say is it seemly for 30 billionaires whose league revenue is $9.3 billion, which is what the NFL revenue is.
And by the way, Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, wants to grow NFL revenue to $25 billion by the year 2025. Now, you grow revenue by doing what? Jacking up prices, among other things. Building bigger stadiums, which means asking more communities for more public money to build bigger stadiums.
LAMB: Should government try to stop those increases?
JENKINS: I think government ought to stop those increases, number one. But number two, if they are willing as a community to give some public money to projects like that, again, ask for something in return more than just keeping the football team you know in Washington or in your community.
But back to the original point, I think that owners should examine their responsibility to the community. You know they’re barons. They act like barons. They live basically in the back room of the Palm Restaurant. I find more and more the behavior of professional sports owners to be unseemly in the sense that they want hundreds of millions of dollars from their communities, and yet they don’t really participate in the problems of those communities. And so you know I think that one of the things we can do is ask these people you know to really live in their cities.
LAMB: Will they talk to you when you call them?
JENKINS: I’ve had exactly two conversations with Dan Snyder. I’ve requested the owner of the Washington Redskins. I’ve requested others and been turned down. We don’t have a great relationship. I’m a very tough critic of his in town. You know other owners I’ve spoken with. I’ve met and spoken with Jerry Jones. I like him. You know I don’t dislike these people, by the way.
LAMB: Dallas. He owns the Dallas Cowboys.
JENKINS: Yes. I’m not sure. I guess my main point about some of these owners is you know they can be very good people. It’s but I think they live in a bubble sometimes. I think that they are genuinely out of touch, particularly lately in the NFL, with the average fan, with the average fan experience and with the problems of you know their communities.
I don’t know how you justify if you’re John Mara and Steve Tisch who own the New York Giants, who are good people. But I don’t know what they’re thinking in demolishing a stadium that is still carrying $110 million in debt and building a new stadium when Newark, New Jersey is right over there, and if you want to, you can really see the problems of that community, and you can really see what deficits are doing to that community.
LAMB: Two thousand and five, and here’s John McCain with the and you’ll see a lot of people on the dias that you recognize.
JOHN MCCAIN, SENATOR: The House of Representatives some time ago had a hearing, and some of the witnesses were the family members of young people who had committed suicide while under the influence of these substances. And that’s really what it’s all about. There’s some people who will say Congress has no business in this issue.
Well, I would make two points. One, we have enacted the professional sports have not acted, and two, that we have an obligation to young people to do everything in our power to prevent them from succumbing to this terrible attraction in the belief that the only way they can perform at a major league professional level is if they ingest these substances. Ask any high school coach in America, and as I have many high school coaches who have told me the same thing.
I want to finally say we don’t want to have to act legislatively. We know that this is a labor and management issue. But we have the additional obligations, and the fact that Major League Baseball in particular has still not been able to act is what but we also need to examine what’s going on with the other professional sports.
LAMB: You saw a lot of people there you know on the dias. Who were they, by the way, in case some of them
JENKINS: Oh, well, I mean everybody from Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball.
LAMB: Don Fehr was there from the
JENKINS: Don Fehr was there, yes.
JENKINS: Yes, all the usual characters and suspects. You know the baseball was hauled before Congress to explain itself on drug abuse. The interesting thing about that hearing, I mean that was one of the instances where I actually feel like we’re getting that one wrong when we when we you know Capitol Hill is a great tool for some things, and when citizens are cranky on a subject and you want to hear from the people who are making you cranky, it’s great to have these hearings. Unfortunately, what can also come out of them is a sort of mob mentality.
I think the steroids issue, we’ve gotten into a bit of a mob mentality, and we haven’t done some very hard and complicated thinking on drugs. Drugs in sports is a complex issue because it’s really only reflective of one problem. Athletes actually aren’t the lead users of steroids. Teenagers are using steroids across the board to look better, not to play sports, but to lose weight or shape their bodies. You know that is not a sports issue; that’s a cultural issue. You know Lindsay Lohan probably ought to be hauled up to talk about you know drug abuse also. I mean drug use in our culture, sports is picking up the tab for that one, and I think it’s unfair.
LAMB: What do you mean by that?
JENKINS: Well, I mean I think that we’re blaming athletes for doing something that Americans do every single day. You know let’s say you’re a student and you’ve got a big paper due and you’ve got to stay up all night. You might take a little something to stay up. Let’s say you’re a lawyer with a very big case to argue. You may take a little something to help you stay up all night or to feel a little sharper. Let’s say you’re a steelworker with a backache. You know you may take a little something, and you’re allowed to take a little something.
You know people performance enhance in this culture all the time to do a better job everyday. Athletes, for some reason, are demonized by this. Most of the athletes, I suspect, are using substances to repair injuries or try to feel a little bit better or to perform a little bit better or to play hurt the way we demand of them. I think they get a real raw deal on this subject, and I sympathize with them enormously. I think I think countless citizens in countless professions performance enhance without blame, and are even expected to.
LAMB: A couple of years ago, what, it was 2002?
JENKINS: Boy, was it that long ago? Yes. He won in 1999, I think.
LAMB: Lance Armstrong. You wrote this book with him.
LAMB: What’s your take on his steroid controversy?
JENKINS: Well, I think he’s you know he’s my friend, and so I believe him when he says he’s clean, which is what you do with friends you know. We’ve talked about it. I’ve asked him point blank. He says hasn’t performance enhanced, and I believe him, yes. I think he’s an unbelievable physical specimen. I’ve seen it first hand. I’ve seen him work. I’ve seen his body at work. You know I believe he won cleanly. You know could I swear on a stack of bibles? No. But I’ve asked him and I accept his you know his answer as an honest one.
LAMB: What was your reaction to the ”Wall Street Journal” investigation of him?
JENKINS: Well, I mean I think Floyd Landis, I don’t believe a word he says. I have I have very good reason not to believe a word he says. I don’t find his accusations credible. I think he had a real axe to grind. You know the interesting thing about the accusations so far in every instance against Lance have come from people who had arguments with him, legal arguments with him.
And until one of these accusations is ratified by someone who doesn’t have an axe to grind, you know if that happens, I’ll say, ”Hey, you know what? He was guilty. He lied to me. He lied to everybody else.” That said, you know I really like Lance as a human being. I really do. I think he’s a good person, and nothing can alter my opinion on that, nothing.
LAMB: How long did you work with him?
JENKINS: Couple years. We did two books together. We worked together, a good two years on and off and then have remained friends. I really I respect him a lot, and nothing can change that either. You know he has done more in the fight against cancer, he’s done more fundraising, he’s done more raising of morale, raising of hope than anybody in the fight against cancer. And I’ll always respect him for that, always.
LAMB: Why do you, who writes your own column and has your own opinions, spend so much time with others and helping them write their books?
JENKINS: Because I enjoy it. The first time
LAMB: How much of that have you done?
JENKINS: Well, let’s see. I did two books with Pat Summitt, who’s another very good friend of mine, the legendary women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee. She’s the one who got me started, she you know I was a much younger, less accomplished writer, and she was looking for someone to help her write her book, and I got the job. And it paid real good, but more importantly, I got a great friend out of it and a great experience. And I loved doing it. I loved ghost writing, it’s a funny genre. It’s very interesting to write in someone else’s voice and to sort of see life through their eyes.
The people I’ve worked with are Pat, Lance Armstrong, Dean Smith at North Carolina. So you know it’s sort of like getting to drive a Bentley and a Rolls-Royce and a Porsche. You have to give it back at the end, but you know it’s fun to live the Tour de France or live a national championship or live you know integrating college basketball in the 1960s. You know those were fascinating projects, and I’d start them all again tomorrow.
LAMB: Of your nine books, which ones sold the most?
JENKINS: Well, Lance has sold, I don’t even know how many millions of books. It’s been I’ve got copies of all the different languages it’s been translated into. I mean I’m enormously proud of that. And by the way, everything I have to say about Lance, you have to take with a grain of salt. I mean he was my great friend and he gave me one of the great successes I’ve ever had, and so I’m inclined to believe him. But because I love him, and he’s given me so much.
But that book I mean I honestly, I think, has been translated into 15 languages. It’s a I still get mail from cancer patients. You know there are 8 million Americans with cancer who feel like that book is doing them a little bit of good, some of them. So it’s I’m probably I love the books I’ve written on my own. I’m probably proudest of them, but that’s a close second.
LAMB: Let’s go back to the government relationship with sports, and we’re right now in the middle of this NFL possible lockout by the owners and the players and the decertification of the union and all that. If you’re not a follower, but you’re going to hear about this, can you give us a synopsis of what this is all about?
JENKINS: Well, it’s an argument between billionaires and millionaires, is the first way to put it. The owners are the billionaires, and the players are the millionaires, and right in the middle is $9.3 billion of total revenue. And the owners feel like too much of that money is going into the players’ pockets instead of their own pockets. Right now the way the deal is set up is the owners take the first billion off the top to offset expenses. After that
LAMB: And distribute it equally among the 32 teams?
JENKINS: Yes. To offset stadium expenses, all sorts of different expenses. After that, I think the split is 58 percent to the players, after that. So it works out to about a 50-50 split if you take what the first billion and give it to the owners and then you split the rest. It works out to pretty much an even division of the total revenue. After certain expenses are also factored in, it can get complicated, but that’s basically the deal. The owners want to take an additional $1 billion. That’s what they want. That represents, if you do the math, about an 18 percent pay cut for the players.
This is not a strike. Most people not most people but a lot of people at home are still thinking of this as some sort of work stoppage strike. It’s not. The players would go back to work in an instant. They are very happy with the existing contract. They’re not asking for anything more. The owners are saying, ”We need another billion dollars to help operate our teams, to grow the game, to feel more comfortable about our profit margins,” so on and so forth. That’s basically the deal.
Now, fans sitting at home probably need to think about it in these terms; do you want to pay your money to the owners or do you want to pay your money to the players?
LAMB: Let’s go back to the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1962, which exempted all these sports teams from the antitrust laws. First of all, why did we as a country exempt all these sports teams from the antitrust laws?
JENKINS: You know it’s a decision we’ve made. The baseball decision, the clip you showed of Jesse Ventura talking about the baseball decision, you know that decision was very clear. The Supreme Court basically said that it’s a national treasure, it’s a national possession and we’re going to treat it as not an ordinary business. It’s the to quote the Godfather, Part 2, ”It’s the business we chose.” It’s a decision we’ve made as a culture and as a country and as a government. And you know whether it’s the right one I don’t know. But we allow teams to operate as private entities, and yet we give them all sorts of public breaks. And it’s just what we’ve decided to do.
LAMB: By exempting them from the antitrust act, what do they do that ordinary businesses can’t do?
JENKINS: Well, they can do they can negotiate collective TV contracts, for instance. I mean that’s one of the big things they can do is that the 32 owners can act in concert to get to get their TV agreements.
LAMB: They couldn’t do that if they weren’t exempted?
JENKINS: That’s my understanding. I’m not a lawyer, but you know maybe there’s something here that I’m not understanding. But that’s my understanding is
LAMB: And they couldn’t do what they’re doing right now, as owners. They couldn’t get together and say, ”We want another billion.” collectively off the top. They couldn’t have that agreement in the first place?
JENKINS: Well I mean, actually, one of the things that’s going on here is there is some maneuvering by the football players union to decertify as a union so the that players would then give up their rights as a union legal rights as under labor law. And then that would put them in the position to be able to sue the NFL as a trust, to bring an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. That’s a possibility here. If the owners are serious about locking the players out, that is one thing that could happen. They lost the last antitrust suit that they faced, when Reggie White as a player and other players brought individual suits the last time we had this degree of labor disagreement between the owners and the players.
LAMB: Do you think we would be better off rather than asking it that way, which way are we are we better off as a country; having the antitrust exemption or not?
JENKINS: I don’t know. I mean you know I think it’s worked pretty well so far. I mean I think, again, I think we’ve decided as a country that we love these games so much that were willing to make certain financial and you know public sacrifices for them.
You know it’s funny if you for the I covered the Olympics in Athens a few years ago, and when you go back to Greece and you see the ruins and you do a little homework before you go cover that Olympics, you know one of the things I read was you know the great you know the great you know Hamilton book about Ancient Greece. One of the things that she says is, ”One of the things that we know best about this ancient culture is how they played,” you know.
And so sometimes when you look around at these enormous stadiums you know try to think of them in terms of archaeology. You know I mean eons from now, when people start digging, you know one of the things that they’re going to find are these enormous structures, and they’re going to understand how important they were to us.
LAMB: Did you play sports in college?
JENKINS: I played in high school. I smoked in college.
LAMB: What did you play in high school?
JENKINS: I was a basketball player and a volleyball player and a softball player.
LAMB: What do you mean you smoked in college?
JENKINS: Well, I took up cigarettes in college, and it lasted a habit that lasted for several years afterwards, and then I quit. But
LAMB: Why did you do that?
JENKINS: Well, I started reading too many books. No, you know it was something I had smoked a little bit in high school. It was the ’70s, the late ’70s, early ’80s, and it was a bad habit, and I kicked it. But I smoked too much to be a college athlete.
LAMB: So when you write, what kind of an atmosphere are you in, and where do you write the best?
JENKINS: You know I write best at the New York Public Library, which I’ve adopted as my office. There’s a concentration that takes over there. There’s a beautiful there’s several the main reading room is gorgeous, but there are several smaller reading rooms. The history room is where I’ve done a lot of research on my books over the years. And it’s become my real office in New York City.
LAMB: How often a week do you write a column?
JENKINS: Well, I write I write usually minimum of one a week, mostly one a week. There are weeks when I’m at an event when I’ll write everyday you know, I’ll write three or four. Or I might at an Olympics I’ll write you know 20 columns in three weeks.
LAMB: And when you write your column on deadline, where do you do it?
JENKINS: In my home, in New York in an easy chair, with a laptop on my lap sometimes, or at an event, depending. But generally at home.
LAMB: And what’s your favorite sport to write about?
JENKINS: You know it changes year-to-year. There have been some years when figure skating was the greatest sport in the world. You know when Brian Boitano was winning gold medals and fighting Brian Orser, the great Canadian skater, that was one of the great head-to-head competitions I’ve ever covered. There’s some years when the NFL seems like the greatest sport in the world. There were some fabulous years when golf, I mean a Ryder Cup year, if the match is close, can be you think golf is the greatest sport on earth. It changes, the characters change it. Tennis, I loved covering Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras and their rivalry. I got the tail end of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, which was probably the gold standard for a great rivalry and two fabulously interesting, good human beings to cover.
LAMB: You were nominated a number of years ago for at the Post for a Pulitzer Prize, because of the Len Bias story, what was it?
JENKINS: Len Bias was the top draft pick of the Boston Celtics, and he was a star basketball player for the University of Maryland. And at the time I was covering Maryland basketball for ”The Washington Post” as a young beat writer. And had gone to the NBA draft, watched him get drafted, interviewed him. I spent a few minutes with him afterwards, and then and then we both went home. And he went back to the Maryland campus, and I went back to my apartment on DuPont Circle, and got a call the next morning that he had overdosed on cocaine and was dead. And we spent months trying to find out exactly what had led him to do that to himself. And who had sold it to him.
LAMB: Did you find out?
JENKINS: Yes, a guy went on trial named Brian Tribble, who was eventually acquitted. You know people wanted to blame somebody. You know the big it’s funny, I remember an editor saying ”you know it seems to me the real story here is who killed Len Bias?”, and I remember thinking to myself, then, Len Bias killed Len Bias. And I think that’s the truth you know.
It was an agonizing story to cover, it was the greatest tragedy in sports that I’ve ever covered. He was a beautiful kid and a beautiful basketball player. And then that was the saddest truth of all is that Len Bias killed Len Bias.
LAMB: What year?
LAMB: We can back off of ’98 when they passed the drug law, but
JENKINS: What year was it? My goodness
LAMB: Eighty-two, or?
JENKINS: No, I think it had to have been around ’85 or ’86?
LAMB: Well, what I was leading up to is is that what impact did it have on the ’98, or the ’88 drug law that we passed?
LAMB: And they call it Len Bias
JENKINS: Yes, I mean, unfortunately, I think one of the things Len’s death did was wake people up to the fact that cocaine was a killer. I think right up until when Len Bias died, people told themselves that you know there was a time when people said cocaine wasn’t addictive. Remember that? Cocaine was the, quote, ”good drug” you know. It made you energetic and smart. And people didn’t really realize yet, I think, the real wage of it, you know the real toll of it. And I think after that I think we understood, and I ...
LAMB: Do you think that law was passed because of Len Bias?
JENKINS: You know I don’t recall. I think that my take on it at the time, I was so wrapped up just in his death,= and you know what it did to the Maryland basketball program and you know all of his teammates and kids. I think right was probably more caught up more the personal toll of it than I was the broader legal impact of it.
LAMB: Here’s some more excerpts of the hearing, and this particular one was in the year 2007 no it’s actually 2008. And it says Congressman Bobby Rush from Chicago, and again, this is self-explanatory.
BOBBY RUSH, CONGRESSMAN: Mr. Selig, do you support federal federal legislation that would promulgate rules and regulations requiring professional and amateur sports associations to adopt the Mitchell Report recommendations?
BUD SELIG, MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL COMMISSIONER: I can only speak from my own sport, and the answer is yes.
RUSH: Mr. Fehr?
DON FEHR, NAT’L HOCKEY LEAGUE PLAYERS ASSN: We believe the matter ought to be handled in collective bargaining. I’m not in the position to respond for any other sport.
RUSH: OK, for your own individual sport, OK. Mr. Stern?
DAVID STERN, COMMISSIONER, NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSN: We believe the matter should be handled by collective bargaining between the players and the Association.
RUSH: Mr. Hunter?
TORII HUNTER, BASEBALL PLAYER: I adopt Mr. Stern’s comment.
RUSH: Mr. Goodell?
ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: Yes, we do. We believe, as I stated in my testimony, that we are doing a vast majority of the recommendations the senator made.
RUSH: Mr. Upshaw?
GENE UPSHAW, NFLPA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR. I believe, to the extent that it should be collective bargaining.
RUSH: Mr. Bettman?
GARY BETTMAN, NHL COMMISSIONER: I believe this is a matter of collective bargaining, especially because the Mitchell report was focused on one particular sport, and did not have the benefit of looking at the practices and history of the other sports.
RUSH: Mr. Kelling ?
KELLING : No.
LAMB: What did you hear there?
JENKINS: A lot of the same thing. First of all a lot of agreement. I like Bettman’s answer the best. I think that one of the things again, as we talked about earlier, once you start having hearings on Capitol Hill, a mob mentality can develop, and dissent can get drowned out, and so can the other side of the issue.
And I think that drugs in sports you know when Bettman said, treat each sport as its own sport, I think that’s a great point. I mean, one of the things that I actually was disappointed in was when the PGA Tour adopted a drug testing policy. Golf operates on an honor code, players turn themselves in. The culture of that sport, and it’s a wonderful culture, is that conscience will bloom in a vacuum. If you put players out on a golf course and you tell them they’re responsible for their own score, their own ball, for following the rules of the game, you know it’s a wonderful thing that golf has culturally.
A drug testing system treats them like cheats. It’s totally contrary to the rest of the ethic in that sport. And I was really disappointed to see golf sort of traduced and sort of publicly pressured into adopting a drug testing system that was really an antithesis to everything to game is about.
LAMB: Looking at the group of men sitting they’re all men sitting at that table, one thing, first of all, Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner’s father, was Senator Charles Goodell, who was over there on Capitol Hill from the State of New York, was a republican and then he turned democrat. But the reason I bring that up is that they’re talking about the Mitchell report, which is after Senator George Mitchell.
LAMB: What is your opinion of the Mitchell report and the idea of having a former senator asked to do this kind of investigation?
JENKINS: You know I mean I think George Mitchell was a great guy. I think the Mitchell report was baseball’s attempt to look like it was doing something when they understood that it would be profoundly unfair to actually punish the people who were singled out in that report. Unfortunately, you know federal investigators have leaked names. Grand jury testimony has been leaked.
You know these investigations into steroids in baseball and to professional sports has led to, I think, serious, serious violations of people’s personal rights. I think that the Mitchell report was a Pandora’s box that then led to a lot of what I consider to be really unfortunate stigmatizing of people. You know I understand why they did it. I thought it was well intentioned, but I mean I think there’s a real witch hunt mentality when it comes to professional athletes and steroids. I really do.
LAMB: What’s your opinion of when you see those men sitting at the table, you probably know them all. How do they do I know this is a broad question representing their different sports to the federal government?
JENKINS: Oh, I think they do a good job. You know Roger Goodell is an incredibly intelligent man. David Stern is a smart guy and is personable and
JENKINS: The NBA commissioner. I don’t know Bettman , but he seems to be a very strong leader for his sport.
LAMB: What sport?
JENKINS: Hockey. You know he brought he brought hockey back from a very serious labor stoppage and labor issue. I’m not a big fan of Seligs, but you know.
LAMB: Why not?
JENKINS: Oh, I just because I don’t know him. I’ve never met him. But his public statements have been kind of wishy-washy you know. I think he could have managed the whole steroids in baseball thing better. I think that he you know sometimes the federal government’s intrusion is wrong you know. Sometimes there are matters that aren’t the federal government’s business, and
LAMB: Here’s an ”amateur,” quote on in quote marks, a sport that I want to ask you about. This is a report that actually came out today from Sports Illustrated and CBS, and I’ll just read you the first paragraph. ”Few football programs had a more difficult season in 2010 than the University of Pittsburg, led by running back Deon Lewis, a Doak Walker candidate. The Panthers were the pre-season pick to win the big east and go to the BCS,” there it is again..Bowl Champhioship
series. ”But things quickly began unraveling on and off the field.” One more sentence. ”In a span between mid July and late September, four players were arrested for four separate violent crimes.”
And this report goes on to talk about the top 25 Sports Illustrated teams showing Pittsburgh players charged with police records, 22 of them. And it goes Iowa was 18, Arkansas 18, Boise State 16, Penn State 16, Virginia Tech 13. Is this of any value, the fact that these games either didn’t know or didn’t report that their players had previous crimes?
JENKINS: Well, I think it is of value. It’s you know it’s something that you feel and suspect if you cover a lot of college football. You know you read isolated accounts of crimes being committed on campus. I think the story concludes at about 7 percent of athletes at the top 25 football programs have some sort of criminal record. You know sexual assault is a is a concern. You know there’s been this nagging question for years. You know do college athletes commit crimes against women at a proportionately higher rate? You’d be tempted to think so from reading the newspaper sometimes. That’s a good question.
And you know I mean we’re certainly concerned if a if a normal student has a criminal record and is on campus. I think that’s something everybody wants to know, right? You know if there’s somebody in a freshmen dorm that has a criminal record and you’re a parent or you’re a freshman living in that dorm, you’d like to know that. I think it’s
LAMB: Are you surprised about the 7 percent figure?
JENKINS: I’m not surprised. I’m surprised I’m surprised at the thing that’s most surprising is that those teams don’t win more. I mean if you’re going to if you’re going to be that you know that bald facedly ambitious as to keep a guy on a campus with a criminal record because he’s a good athlete, boy, you’d better win games. You’d better do better than Pitt did you know.
LAMB: Well, two of the teams Stanford had one and TCU had zero
did well, but didn’t
JENKINS: Texas Christian University is, in my mind, the real national champion this year. They won the Rose Bowl. Garry Patterson’s a terrific coach who appears to run his program right with real discipline. I mean you know any great coach will tell you discipline is the is the lynchpin of a championship team. I mean what stuns me is that is that schools think that they can they might actually you know be getting ahead by keeping some guys with discipline problems around. I mean that’s a proven loser, and it’s kind of desperate, so.
LAMB: We are in the month of March, and does March Madness mean anything to you?
JENKINS: Oh, yes. It’s the great it’s the greatest period of temporary insanity in the world you know. I love it.
LAMB: And what do you think you’ve referred in one of your columns to the college sports being nothing but a farm team for professional sports.
JENKINS: Well, that’s true enough, but I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with that. You know I mean we always act like that’s a bad thing. I don’t know why. I mean it’s a college campuses are farm systems for all sorts of professions, aren’t they? You know I mean
LAMB: What do you think of the different concepts that young players ought to have to stay out for a year and get their grades
JENKINS: I’m all in favor of freshman ineligibility, and I think that it’s it would cure a good 50 percent of the ills in college sports overnight, and the only reason it’s not happening is economics. It’s because universities don’t want to pay the scholarship costs and the costs associated with supporting an athlete on campus when he’s not bringing in revenue. That’s it. That’s the only reason it was abolished.
Freshmen were ineligible for most of the history of college sports in this country. The NCAA voted it out a few decades ago for economic reasons, and that was a bad decision. And frankly, you know a really strong leader of the NCAA probably should make it their very first priority to forge a consensus on this. Every president every school president in the country knows it’s the right thing to do. Every coach knows it’s the right thing to do.
LAMB: And what’s your reaction to these athletes who come to college and after a year or two leave to go to the pros?
JENKINS: Well, I mean they’re prodigies, and I think they enrich the campus while they’re there if they’re participating in their in their college life. Kevin Durant was a classic example. He went to the University of Texas. He was arguably about to become the greatest basketball player in the world. I think he’s very close to overtaking Kobe Bryant for that mantle. Went to the University of Texas for one year, loved it and then left and went to the NBA. I see nothing wrong with it. You know he had a great time while he was there. They loved having him. He was exposed to a college campus and got to have one more year of a normal youth before he became the great player that he is.
You know, I’d like to see them stay two years, frankly. I think if you commit I’d like to see a freshmen ineligibility rule so that when Kevin Durant commits to Texas it’s actually a two-year commitment. He sits out one year while he finds his classrooms, and the second year he plays, and then he’s out.
LAMB: We’re about out of time. How many kids in your family?
JENKINS: Three. Two brothers.
LAMB: Older, younger?
JENKINS: One twin brother and one year younger. So it was sort of like being triplets and outnumbered.
LAMB: And what do they do for a living?
JENKINS: Well, they’re very interesting guys. My younger brother is a surfing photographer who lives down in Costa Rica. And my twin brother was working as a contractor for awhile in San Diego, in the San Diego area, and now he’s living up in Vermont feeding farm animals.
LAMB: And you grew up or actually born and grew up in what city?
JENKINS: I was born in Fort Worth, Texas. I’m a Texan by birth and affinity, and I grew up in New York City. I was raised in New York.
LAMB: How long did you spend in Texas?
JENKINS: Well, really only three years, but we went back every summer and still do. And my family lives there again.
LAMB: Are you married?
JENKINS: No, sir.
LAMB: Have you ever been married?
LAMB: Do you have any children?
JENKINS: No. No kids. No nothing
LAMB: And what’s the what part of this job of going all over the world for sports do you not like?
JENKINS: You know I guess I don’t like the only part of it that I don’t absolutely love is the part where you have to write critically of people. I mean that’s not fun. It’s not it’s not fun to scold someone in public. It’s not fun to write something that you know must hurt. You know that part of it I have qualms about, and it’s not easy, and you know I struggle with that one.
LAMB: Author and sports columnist for ”The Washington Post,” Sally Jenkins, thank you very much for taking this time.
JENKINS: Thank you.