When word got out Friday that Sports Illustrated was laying off staff, Taps-blowing colleagues went on about how SI led them into sportswriting. All I remembered was how important it was for me to read.
There were two life preservers in my University of Kansas Oliver Hall mailbox the fall of 1986 when homesickness hit – letters from Christy and my rolled-up Sports Illustrated magazine.
SI arrived Thursday afternoon. That meant reading Rick Reilly on Brian Bosworth Thursday night sprawled out on my dorm room bed hoping to digest dinner, Ron Fimrite on the Red Sox-Mets World Series Friday morning wedged into the bus crawling up Mount Oread for Econ 101, Rick Telander on Michael Jordan while sunbathing on Wescoe Beach in the 45 minutes between Econ and English, and Gary Smith on whatever he felt like composing back at Oliver before Friday night hit and it was time cut loose with Pizza Shuttle washed down with Bartles & Jaymes.
The B&J reminded me of high school, just not as much as Christy’s letters. Or SI.
In Tulsa, I’d pull the rolled-up magazine out of our mailbox on North Zenith every Thursday. I’d read it to kill time before soccer practice sometimes, but mostly because I preferred it to homework.
When word got out Friday that Sports Illustrated was laying off a bunch of staff… no, make that a bunch more staff… Taps-blowing colleagues went on about how SI led them into sportswriting.
All I remembered was how important it was for me to read.
I graduated from SI pictures to articles in junior high when I was pissed off at the world for no reason other than “13-year-old boy.” Sports were still an escape mechanism, along with cable TV and The Catcher in the Rye.
Dad suggested I gravitate to the words that went with SI’s hypnotic artwork. He knew I’d like them more than the text in my civics book. I was skeptical. He was right. It killed me at the time but my parents were always right.
I was reading cover to cover by the time I graduated from high school. I started to marvel at what it might be like to talk to Jordan and The Boz like Telander and Reilly did, or to Wayne Gretzky like Jack Falla did.
I started to talk to Dad about the stories we were now both reading. So this, like dating Christy and driving to school, was growing up.
Dad forked over my own SI subscription when I moved into Oliver. It was a good idea. I was considering journalism.
I was also apart from Christy, and my whippet, Belle, and my mom who made sure I had clean clothes and warm food. All three loved me unconditionally.
I savored the adventures my first semester of college brought, but between them, I really wanted to hold Christy’s hand, roughhouse with Belle and pop through the front door on Zenith and know I was home because everything felt like Mom.
At least I could still read SI.
I read the magazine through college and then when I graduated and went into radio. SI wasn’t my sportswriting gateway, but I got the biggest thrill from having Peter King on my sports talk show and meeting Austin Murphy and Michael Silver at games.
The magazine was still a teddy bear, like when I’d take it on Wichita Thunder bus trips and kill time on I-35 to Oklahoma City devouring stories. It was still so important to me through the 90s.
I stopped broadcasting and started writing at the millennium. Christy and I began a family. We took comfort in Gretchen and Holden, not movies, books and magazines. Those things drifted away like space debris as time reached warp speed and we just wanted to hold onto our kids.
I don’t honestly know when I specifically stopped reading SI. Probably around the time my kids became teens. Irony can be cruel.
Anyway, I don’t want to pinpoint it because then I’ll realize what time has done and what it has cost. I’ll recognize the day I finally didn’t renew my subscription for a publication half its former size and a fraction of its former quality was like a surrender.
Now Gretchen and Holden are well into their own lives and it’s nice I still have comforts to fall back on.
I can hold Christy’s hand curled up on our couch watching a movie together, the cat curled up with us. I can visit my parents in a house that feels like Mom and sounds like Dad when we talk about the Buckeyes, Jayhawks, Cowboys and Sooners.
I don’t have Sports Illustrated, though.
I thought of that Friday as SI withered further away. Journalism suffered. That hurt.
I hurt. I was reminded how far I am from the time I could unroll a magazine and feel better. What I’d give to do that again, and not feel so old and sad.