Scoop Jackson has seen it all in his 15 plus years of writing. He’s gone from writing for hip hop slam dunk dreams in the counterculture magazine Slam, to the “He could go all the way!” mainstream audience best associated with ESPN. His unique voice is one that challenges what we think a sports writer’s voice should be. He’s paid his dues and even with his recent rift with former ESPN writer Jason Whitlock, he’s stood fast in his written rhythmic position of personal powerful journalistic conviction. His views should be associated with the fantastic sights and sounds that emotionally attack us during moments when we truly appreciate sports. He translates the action of sports into words of calculated description and skillfully uses his innovative avant garde talent to help educate the masses.
Michael Tillery: Respond to Jason Whitlock’s statement that you are Bojangling for dollars and that you don’t have any street credibility.
Scoop: I’m not one to believe too much in street cred. I haven’t found anyone to actually define what that is. He was on a couple of radio stations in Chicago saying I was from the suburbs. That’s so far from the truth. That shows that he knows nothing about me. You know full well how it is. In this business the first thing we do is make sure that we do our research. I’m from 48th and Ellis—the hood in Chicago. Still live in the hood in Chicago, always have. I take pride in that. I’ve been offered to move to Bristol. I’ve been offered to move to L.A. I’ve been offered to move to New York when I was with Slam. Chicago is where I’m from. One of the biggest mistakes we make as African Americans is to move out the place that put us in the position to be successful. We then complain about living conditions without lending a helping hand. That’s hypocrisy. The way we truly help is staying there and also by helping to make things better. It drives me. I choose to lead by example. That’s just the way I roll. I don’t know if that gives me street cred, but…Then he says on one hand that I bojangle and on the other hand I’m anti-white? You gotta make up your mind dude. I can’t be both. I have to keep in mind of what I’m dealing with. People need to keep in mind of what they are dealing with. Why is this dude saying all this stuff about me in the press? I think it’s disrespectful to call another brotha that, regardless of how you feel about him. Before you start making those kinds of comments, have something concrete. If you are constantly referring to me as a buffoon, a clown and whatever else, know exactly what you are talking about. You can’t waver on something like that and it sure as hell can’t be an opinion—it has to be fact! I was a colleague of his. It’s ridiculous. I haven’t done anything in my career to make his “opinions” valid. I stand firm on that. In one interview he referred to me as Kunta Kente. Why is he speaking out publicly about another African American like that? If you want to get technical, Kunta was the brotha you wanted to be like because he fought for his freedom. Did he mean Chicken George? Once again, the man didn’t do his research. My work and my personal background speak for itself—period.
Tillery: Give our readers an idea of your style.
Scoop: Good question. I try to be different. I try to be creative in telling a story. I try to challenge both myself and the reader. To get them to do their research by purposefully leaving something out. Similar to Chuck D in his going against the grain delivery, I don’t want to go the same way as most other journalists. I want to make my own mark. I’m not trying to fight against anybody, I’m just trying to be my own man. Since I’ve been at ESPN, the visibility has gone up obviously as well as the amount of work. With ESPN, you are looking at a large mainstream audience. So we have writing styles that reflect that. Actors such as Deniro, Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman all vary in style, ESPN is nothing different. Coaching styles are different. Sometimes differences are hard for people to swallow. My style of writing is being presented in a whole different light. I try to do things differently and now that I’m on a bigger stage in ESPN, it’s not as acceptable. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to change. When I was working for other outlets—the underground, if you will—there wasn’t this much asking of me to change. To certain individuals it’s unique, but to others my style makes them uncomfortable. Very similar to when Hip Hop came on the scene, or when Prince came on the scene. Jazz is the classic example. When Charlie Parker and Miles Davis were doing their thing, it wasn’t avant garde. There was a resistance of the masses, but they got it. Ali came along and people weren’t comfortable with the way he chose to live his life, but they ended up getting it. I bring up these great people to make a point. Obviously, I’m not comparing myself to their collective greatness. We all use a certain part of our existence when we write, there’s nothing wrong with that. Different styles bring more objectivity to a story and gives it more truth. My style is not an urban style, it’s not a Black style, it’s “originatic” if you will. I try to catch a rhythm. Dwyane Wade is a rhythm basketball player. I try to do the same thing with words. I try to make the reader find that rhythm and connect with my sense of style. Sports journalism really hasn’t changed in the way it’s presented. It’s time for that.
Tillery: Why is there a lack of Black journalists? Is it because Blacks are used to how the media has been presented historically? Blacks don’t have an interest? What is it? Would the way media is presented be varied if there was a higher concentration of Blacks in powerful positions?
Scoop: Great questions. There’s really not one correct answer. I’m just dealing with mass media. It’s no different than any other business that exists in this country. 12% of America is Black. So you would think that the workforce would show such diversity. It doesn’t work that way in this country. Especially the higher up you go in most occupations. So, journalism to me is no different than it would be in law, medicine, architecture or any other industry.
Blacks do have a large percentage in sports and entertainment. That has always been the case after most sports were integrated. Because of that, you would think there would be a higher density of Black journalists covering sports, but it simply is not.
Whose fault is that? Is it White America’s fault? Probably. Is it Black America’s fault? Probably. Is it the fault of education and government? Probably. You can go right on down the line. If there are more positive role models presented like you and I then we will begin to see some inroads in journalism. Like Katrina for example. Once Spike’s documentary was aired it showed that you couldn’t point your finger at just one person. I want to see it change not just in journalism, but every other industry.
I think there would be a slight change. This is all hypothetical of course, but if the numbers were different I don’t think the witch hunt associated with Barry Bonds would have been so blatant. There’s just a different fairness in judging Bonds with Blacks. This is where I have to applaud someone like Jason Whitlock for standing up and saying what he truly feels. If there were more of us, I truly feel that we would have spoken out like Jason did.
Tillery: Who has been your biggest influence?
Scoop: I have a lot of influences. Ralph Wiley of course. Nelson George had an urban feel with Billboard and the Village Voice. They didn’t fear letting you know exactly where they stood. You knew they were Black by the way they wrote and I was able to identify with that. My father was a journalist in Denver. His influence was a little bit different because he lived in Denver and I lived in Chicago. To see what he went though in Chicago as a reporter let me know early on that that is not what I wanted to be. I always looked at reporters as people who invaded personal privacy. The way they attack stories. I gained a different kind of appreciation for what he did. As a result, I became a magazine type. Getting into writing from a magazine perspective. That’s where Ralph and Nelson came in. Rob Marriott dealing with cultural issues. Gary Smith of Sports Illustrated and Nancy Gibbs of Time Magazine. I read all these people and wish that I could be half as dope as they are. Gary Smith is sick! He’s like Michael Jordan. He’s unbelievable. Even writers like Chuck D, Common, Ice Cube, Lupe Fiasco, KRS 1 and Rakim. Just the way they approach their craft influences me. How they construct their rhymes. I can’t forget my crew of boys. We all have a crew that we can bounce ideas off of. They give me ideas. I feed off of them and the way they live. That’s the good stuff. I can look at art, a magazine article, and a show like Grey’s Anatomy—the sister that created that show and I’ll gain influences from there. Something Bob Ryan wrote seventeen years ago and I’ll pull something from there. I can read an original Batman comic book and gain something. It’s all over the place. Voices of Freedom, Eyes on the Prize.
Tillery: It’s my opinion, but I just don’t see that broad based influence that you allude to in sports journalism so when something is said they consider off the wall, it’s seen as negative. That’s unfortunate.
Scoop: Exactly, and it never should be apologetic. Remember when Chuck D said (Rebel without a Pause) “A supporter of Chesimard?”(Assata Shakur—activist in Black Panther Party currently living in asylum in Cuba) I guarantee you that nine out of ten people never knew who Chesimard was. Chuck D remained unapologetic in his lyrics. He never explained who she was. He wanted the listener to do the research. I’m the same way. It’s the same way when hypothetically a White writer like Lupica or Albom references a Bob Seger song. I wouldn’t know what the hell they are talking about! I have to do the research to find out. When I mention an Ojays song or something by Gil Scott Heron, or something deep from an Oscar Peterson song, or Kool G Rap or Ultramagnetic MC’s, I’m not going to explain. Do the research. An ESPN executive told me that when I came over from Slam Magazine that I might have to explain some things as I write them. I told him no. I wanted my writers to enlighten themselves by taking the time out to do the research. African Americans history and future at the same time is enriched with all kinds of knowledge and experience. When we pull from that we are educating the masses and they should see it as such. We are the only race of people in this country that has the past that we have and are unsure about our future. If we don’t pull from that and associate it with our craft then we are just like everybody else.
Tillery: Like the spoken word pieces that I use as a summary of—depending on the subject of course—who I’m writing about. That is a direct effect of Black culture.
Scoop: Yes, I probably am a victim of doing it too much. I know exactly what you are saying. You pull words out of the context to give it more texture. I feel you on that. It gives your words a third or fourth dimension!
Tillery: Yes that added dimension is what my reader can attach their subconscious to hopefully understand my words more clearly.
Scoop: I hear you all day long on that. That’s what we are supposed to do as writers.
Tillery: Is the media partly at fault regarding T.O.? Do Terrell and the media mirror each other?
Scoop: Yes. I think so. Sports journalism forever has believed in leads. I know how it is at ESPN. If a story is going to make us money, then we would be fools not to run with it. It spikes here every time Owens is on so there must be a demand. I’ve written many Terrell Owens articles myself, so I’m also to blame. You win some and you lose some in the media. The media is in the supply and demand business.
Tillery: Talk about Buck O’Neil’s affect on American sports culture.
Scoop: My boy is from Kansas City. I’ve been dealing with Buck O’Neil on a personal level since 1981. He was like my man’s surrogate father. There’s a personal connection to Buck O’Neil. My boy is very upset that Buck didn’t get into the Hall of Fame. I’m of the personal belief that if they don’t teach you right, how can you expect them to treat you right. Regardless of Buck’s accomplishments, Blacks should not be upset that he isn’t validated through the Hall of Fame. We all know what kind of player and coach he was. Let that glorious impression of us marinate in our hearts. Baseball has never done anything without force. Baseball is fine, they aren’t a bad organization but I don’t think I am in the minority in saying that they don’t have our best interest in mind at all times. That goes with their treatment of Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson—the way the Atlanta Braves treated Hank Aaron up until recently. It doesn’t bother me as much that Buck died without that honor as much as it does those closer to him in Kansas City. There are going to be a lot of people—and it’s going to be a groundswell—that are going to have issues with Major League Baseball because they didn’t elect Buck last year when the other veterans got in. It was a slap in the face. How many did they let in?
Tillery: I think it was twelve players and five executives.
Scoop: Yeah something like that. Then the people they did let in could carry Buck’s jock on the field! We won’t even get into his managerial skills. His legacy is how he carried himself in giving the game of baseball 80 plus years at least. That’s a disgrace. I don’t hold that against them though. They just won’t get his true affect on us as well as the game.
Buck O’Neil’s legacy goes down in my eyes as being rooted in the games truth. It’s going to be interesting how his legacy is truly recognized. The writers that had the opportunity to write him in, how are they feeling right now?
We are doing with a lot of hypocrisy in this country—the war, and Katrina. Look at Ali. He’s a national treasure now? He should have been a national treasure a long time ago when he was going through everything he had to experience.
A lot of writers that had the chance to vote Buck O’Neil in will have a lot of nice things to say about him now. We should not let what other people think of Buck O’Neil validate what he means to us. Major League Baseball should not get that satisfaction.
Some people don’t see it this way, but Buck was one of our last holders of the 40 acres. The Negro Leagues was part of our 40 acres.
Tillery: What is your impression of Black athletes?
Scoop: Athletes are like onions they have layers so I’m not going to lump them all in a basket and say they are all any sort of way. I’m not going to say because Stephen Jackson fired a gun that athletes are all criminals or whatever. I’m not going to let Kevin Garnett’s millions or Warrick Dunn’s social responsibility overshadow whoever is out there messing up. They are people just like every single one of us regardless of how much money they are taking in. The majority—especially Black athletes—are doing the right thing. I would say 80%. That’s what should be highlighted. 20% should not be the basis of opinion on all athletes. They must take more responsibility for their actions. I will say that. I know I respect them for what they do.
Tillery: The reason why I bring this up is because of athletes like Chris Webber who seems to be about more than just the athletic journey. I’ve done a couple of pieces on him. His philanthropy as well as his collection of African American information is unquestioned. You are more of a national figure in sports journalism than I, are there other athletes out there like that?
Scoop: Chris has always been one of the truest brothas out there. I’ve been doing this for a while to. He always seems like his heart and his soul are in the right place. He’s dealing with a situation where the general media doesn’t understand him and I don’t think he cares if they do. He’s gonna catch some flack. I do appreciate brothas like him that are unapologetic in their dealings—as long as it is positive. Chris does not misrepresent his race. I don’t think an Allen Iverson misrepresents his race. I think he should speak up for himself a little more. For example, going back to the Laker series when he caught a lot of flack nationally for what they deemed his lack of coming through in the clutch. I wish they would have looked at the game on both ends. Chris personally took Vlade off of Shaq. Vlade was getting killed by Shaq. Chris took it upon himself to guard Shaq and didn’t do a bad job. Anyone who has ever played basketball knows that playing defense—especially on a man Shaq’s size—takes a lot out of you on the offensive end. He should have told them to basically kiss his ass for questioning his manhood. Sacramento hasn’t been the same without him.
On the same hand, remember the famous sound bite with Allen Iverson about “practice?” The question was about his boy being killed. So he says, “You people are up here talking about practice and my boy just died? Practice man, practice?” Allen has never talked about that. That’s why I’m here. I just don’t want to protect athletes, but to make sure the total story gets out. Right or wrong. That’s my job. If we do seem like we are protecting athletes then we get pegged the wrong way. People then call us out. There are things we can’t even address. There are certain things we can’t say as Black writers. It will be all we are known as. Case in point. When I wrote the story about there being a lack of sports editors, I wasn’t the one who broke the story. Norman Chad from the Washington Post broke the story. He didn’t get the type of attention that I received did he? No. I’m the one who came across as controversial because I’m a Black man writing on Black issues. Bill Plaske of the LA Times just wrote a story on Roger Clemens saying that he’s going to be treated better than Barry Bonds because Roger is White! Do you know what would have happened if I wrote something like that? Keep in mind that it won’t be that much different even with more Black journalists. We have to be careful collectively as well as individually. William C. Rhoden has to be careful. J.A. Adande has to be careful. Michael Wilbon has to be careful. Phil Taylor has to be careful. Jason Whitlock has to be careful. We all can’t jump on a situation. We have to choose our battles. The landscape is not going to change that much.
Tillery: When it’s all said and done, how do you want to be remembered? What are you in it for? Are you in it for the fame?
Scoop: I’m in it for the craft. I want people to finish reading all of my stuff and one day maybe say, this dude was a genius. At the end of the day, that’s what I strive for. I’m always pushing for greatness for this generation. I would be remiss if I didn’t characterize my talent in such a fashion. Like a Rakim, or a Prince catalog, I want people to really feel my writing and truly just get it.
Tillery: Scoop we appreciate the voice.
Michael can be reached through email at MASDALUNKIN@aol.com.