Hello, San Francisco, 2015

jay mariotti what the hell

In the lobby of the Twitter building, which is near the Uber building and the Dolby building and a residential tower where $5,500 a month will get you 969 square feet and a parking spot, I visit a gourmet market that makes Saison look like Burger King. I examine a $75 bottle of 2007 Fiorita Brunello, check out a $67 jug of French lavender shampoo, consider a $130 slab of Jamon Iberico Pata Negra (“pure acorn fed Iberian pigs”) and settle for a $6 ice cream cone. Then I stroll outside, absorb the glory of a blue-skies-and-71 afternoon, head across Ninth Street … and have to weave and shake like Steph Curry to avoid a fresh puddle of bubbly urine.

That shower, truth be told, is among many reasons San Francisco is the best place to write in our thrive-or-die republic. It was left by a shouting homeless man whose pants are undone, one of thousands whose blighted survivalism is juxtaposed against the backdrop of the city’s new rich. For a writer, this social clash is literary gold. I said as much to my new editor-in-chief at the Examiner — “You should have someone just walking up and down Market Street every day” — and, for a moment, I thought I should be the man for that beat. Who wouldn’t want a daily pass to view kid tech wizards getting off trains and striding past the encampments, addicts, and other sad stories? Or, in SoMa and the Mission, watching the homeless hassle the techies as they board, rock-band-style, Silicon Valley shuttle buses to Google and Yahoo and Apple and Facebook?

But I am not here to cover gentrification and other ongoing dramas in the most complex and compelling of American cities. I am here to explore a sports scene that, in a different context, is no less fertile for creative material. After a career intermission that had more to do with catching my breath — roughly 7,000 columns and 1,700 ESPN TV appearances, hundreds of radio shows, 14 Olympic Games, 24 Super Bowls, travel to five continents — than a recklessly reported legal case, I find no greater reward than resuming my commentary in the Bay Area, where the striking beauty and exhilarating mystique are accompanied by what we in the sports media call great shit.

Last time I had the potential for this much fun, Snoop Dogg was staring me down before an “Around The Horn” taping, saying, “Who do you think you is?”

Who do I think I is?

I’m the Diddy by the Bay.


San Francisco has been the place for flower children, poets, gold-rushers, tech dreamers, drifters, politicos, and reinventists. Now, I dare say, this is the place for sportswriters. In Chicago, a previous stop of 17 years, I often bemoaned lousy owners and bad teams who were in bed with corrupt media, including two baseball franchises that have won one World Series over a collective 203 seasons. Here, the immaculate Giants have won three in five years, a near-impossible run in the sport’s subsidy-driven parity era, while giving giddy fans a delightful roster of characters ranging from a Mad Bum to a Buster to a Freak to a scooter-driving hipster to a bitterly departed Panda.

Here, the Warriors play the most exciting basketball on the planet, led by the incomparable Curry, whose swag and splash on the court are matched by his decorum and charity work off it (as His Barackness quickly figured out and glommed onto). Here, the formerly regal 49ers are in a chaotic and cursed freefall, thanks to a front office that (1) allowed internal politics and professional resentment to subvert Jim Harbaugh’s ultra-successful reign; (2) chose a curious successor in tongue-tied, unproven Jim Tomsula; (3) absorbed a mass exodus of high-character leaders; and (4) watched helplessly as Chris Borland, my early leader for Sportsman of the Year, prioritized his long-term wellness over his prowess as a 24-year-old linebacker. Here, the A’s remain the quirky darlings whose winning defies reason and whose brilliant, Hollywood-famed GM, Billy Beane, finally may have outmaneuvered himself into a pretzel after trying to win it all last season. Here, the Raiders are at a low point in on-field cred as they threaten to move yet again, which, ideally, would hasten a gutting of the Coliseum — weep, you costumed loons — and lead to a new baseball-only park that restores the beautiful hillside views of yesteryear. Here, you have David Shaw, the coach the 49ers should have hired, mixing football prominence with Stanford’s cooler-than-Harvard academic boom. Here, you have a maddening hockey franchise owned by someone who may or may not exist.

Here, there still are tremors. Only they happen in the stadiums and arenas, one entrenched as the best park in baseball, another as the most intimate pit in the NBA.

And what is coming next winter? Did you say the Super Bowl? Imagine life as the first city to win a World Series, win an NBA Finals and host a Super Bowl in a 15-month period. What’s next, the Raiders going 8-8?

Amid those possibilities, I arrive as the sports director and lead columnist at the Examiner, which makes me a management guy for the first time and probably sparks visions of Bart Simpson being handed keys to the corporate bathroom. Someone suggested I print Zuckerberg-like business cards — “I’m Sports Director, Bitch” — but a wiser idea is putting together smart, gritty, daily sports coverage that brings high energy, intelligent debate, responsible news-gathering, and an element often forgotten in these scandal-dominated times — fun! — to the Bay Area.

My mission statement as a columnist, and as an editor by extension, is fierce independence. We will be big on topicality, immediacy, and perspective. On my watch, we will not drive traffic with trash, and we will not buckle to sports owners, athletes, industry cronyism, or social-media creeps. I’ll repeat what I’ve placed on the front page of this site: “It’s vital to have independent voices who aren’t stifled by institutional filters (while) recognizing that sports has taken complex and unprecedented turns and why the need for robust, serious commentary and investigative reporting is stronger than ever. Sports should be covered by commentators who are editorially and financially detached from the big mechanism, respectful that the fan also is a consumer who invests his passions, his mind, his time and his wallet.”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

We will cover media, including ESPN, when necessary for our readers. We will be fair, but we won’t tolerate amateurs and arrogance — such as, ESPN’s sneaky habit of taking credit for stories first broken by other outlets. I cast a critical eye at the media behemoth long before I worked there, wasn’t allowed to when I did work there for eight years, and will continue to do so now, understanding the network’s powerful, all-encompassing place in sports and how it impacts fans.

It has been fun getting away from this psycho media swirl and discovering new peeps in California and elsewhere, while appreciating relationships with friends in and out of the business. Healthy and jacked, I’m ready to put out a cool sports section in a wonderful part of the world. The Chronicle reporter asked me if I understood the “political atmosphere in San Francisco.” All I know about the atmosphere is that the Warriors have an easier path to the NBA Finals by avoiding Kevin Durant in the first round, the Giants already are down Hunter Pence in a dreaded odd-numbered year, and the 49ers are looking dumb and doomed.

Recently, I spoke to a media class at Northwestern University. Most questions were about how to find a job in today’s tight market. I told the students to practice their writing, video, and audio crafts every day, on their own websites and blogs, and that if they can withstand rejection and pain, the business remains very satisfying and worthwhile. I said I’ve had good reasons to try other life options, but that I’d decided to accept a terrific job in a spectacular city after a few challenging moments.

Sometimes, you just have to step around some pee to appreciate the $6 ice cream cone.

Why I Left Chicago

Jay Mariotti Chicago_Sun_TimesTruth be known, I did not leave Chicago after a rollicking 17-year column-writing career because I was fired, rolled into Lake Michigan by one of Jerry Reinsdorf’s henchmen or left to burn in a french fryer at Ditka’s restaurant. I departed on my own terms while handing back almost $1 million in guaranteed contractual money. I resigned because the newspaper for which I worked, the Sun-Times, was a corrupt little insane asylum that had no vision of a digital future and had become a microfarce of its former pugnacious self.

My resignation brought more timely symbolism to the decline of newspapers, and I was featured in a segment on the HBO series, “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” In 2008, the editors awarded me with yet another three-year contract, but I signed it only with a caveat: The Sun-Times would pledge to launch a competitive website, starting with my venture to the Summer Olympics in Beijing. I could laugh off the paper’s relentless in-house dissension, which was encouraged by editors who didn’t mind when staffers wanted to threaten each other in the newsroom or even in public places. As the city’s most visible sportswriter, I was oddly the target of several of these attempted skirmishes, playing peacemaker when an aging colleague, former football player Rick Telander, would hazily challenge me to fights in press boxes or a troubled city-side columnist, Neil Steinberg, would wander into the sports department and try to provoke me each morning when I was preparing for my ESPN television appearances. The atmosphere was toxic. This was the very definition of a dying newspaper, and I realized it one winter’s night when I went to my health club and ran into Telander, who promptly alerted some sophomoric website that I was in the sauna. I also realized it when two top editors, the long-departed John Barron and Don Hayner, encouraged me to wear a White Sox cap in my column logo during their World Series run; when I declined, it was said I was a bad employee.

I wanted to move on — every month brought a controversy beyond my control, initiated by some moron who wasn’t worth my time — but the money was too good. One of my daughters was in college, another was on the way. My agent talked me into staying, but sure enough, in China, it became obvious early in the Games that my Michael Phelps columns wouldn’t be posted for hours after his historic victories. One day, while walking the Great Wall, I had one of those life epiphanies: Get the hell out of that newspaper before you drop dead. A year earlier, I’d suffered a minor heart attack while traveling to a meaningless Notre Dame bowl game in New Orleans. I did not want to keel over on the job — and certainly not while working with those people at that place.

On the plane home from Asia, I crafted a polite resignation letter to the publisher. The rival Tribune got wind, called me, and I confirmed it. The Trib ran the story across the top of its business section, and it was accurate. All of which infuriated the Sun-Times, which responded a day later with a pack of published lies that tried to claim I’d been forced out. Yeah, right, give me a three-year contract one month, force me out the next month. Even the late, great Roger Ebert, who I think I talked to once in my time there, was coaxed to write an open letter in which he called me “a rat.’’ In fact, Roger wanted the same digital advances I did, but after I’d told the rival paper that I didn’t feel comfortable going down with such a directionless and dirty ship, Ebert was pressured to defend the place.

That week, I met at the Park Hyatt hotel with two top editors at the Tribune and was advised by the editor-in-chief, Gerould Kern, to sue the Sun-Times. The Trib was too sleepy to hire me, and weeks later, I signed on as AOL’s lead sports columnist, part of a web initative of more than 80 sportswriting hires. By 2010, that site was doomed when AOL cut a content deal with Arianna Huffington. I was given an ample financial settlement. The Sun-Times stumbled through a series of owners who tolerated more red ink and massive circulation declines. It struggles to survive today, barely afloat with a modest local presence and no national impact.

“Do you ever regret leaving the Chicago Sun-Times?’’ syndicated talk host Dino Costa asked me recently.

“Nope,’’ I said. “I’d be dead. I either would have collapsed or someone would have executed me.’’

I’d made a lot of enemies by simply telling the truth in a passionate, sometimes psychotic sports town. But that isn’t why I left, contrary to the lingering myth. You don’t dream of working in a town like Chicago, only to discover through time that the stench of in-house corruption overwhelmed the sweet smell of ink on newsprint. When my publishers and editors weren’t ending up in jail or cutting deals with the tyrannical Reinsdorf, who wanted my hide for years, they were undercutting our ability to compete by not cultivating a strong digital base.

Last time I was in town, I looked for a copy of the Sun-Times. I saw a box on a Sunday afternoon in the River North district. The paper displayed inside the box was from the previous Thursday.

The GQ Retraction

In its September 2014 edition, GQ magazine all but accused me of extortion in an absurdly false report — claiming I used a camera-phone video of an ESPN executive to coerce the network into giving me assignments. It is a lie that would be laughable if not so damaging and such a reckless disregard of the truth. The author of the GQ story, from the trashy Deadspin site, never bothered to contact me or my representatives about this allegation and apparently didn’t bother to check a Deadspin story about the matter that never connected me to a camera-phone video.

So, we contacted GQ.

And quickly, GQ issued a correction/editor’s note that was placed in a revised story in the magazine’s online edition.

I’ve long been disgusted about false, fabricated and poorly reported/researched stories by irresponsible media outlets concerning me, my media career and a fallacious 2010 legal case. Even after its retraction, GQ still didn’t have the ESPN story anywhere close to its accurate form; I also saw untruths about my legal case and career. But at least GQ linked to my original and accurate column about the ESPN executive, which I wrote in July 2014 only to correct Deadspin’s typically erroneous interpretation of events that took place in January 2012. In the ongoing media climate of rampant sloppiness, I’ll accept this correction as incremental progress. Our next call was to the Chicago Tribune, which picked up on the GQ falsehood without bothering to verify accuracy; the Tribune also corrected the story under legal pressure, And then we contacted something called Yardbarker, which had me pleading guilty to three felonies, which is grossly untrue and would have prompted plenty of jail time; the least bit of reporting homework would have shown that the allegations were dismissed and expunged per a judge’s recommendation in Superior Court in Los Angeles, meaning I was not convicted.

Below is the column I wrote about the ESPN executive, John Walsh, which was necessitated only by Deadspin’s shoddy reporting on a stale story. I had no interest in making the Walsh story public until Deadspin obtained a tape of Walsh via another party. I loathe these sort of stories, but I wasn’t going to allow a scummy site to mischaracterize me as it has done so often to so many.

 

The Hypocrisy Of ESPN, The Sleaze Of Deadspin

By Jay Mariotti

July 1, 2014

Let me first note that I’m amused to be part of this story. It’s about everything wrong in media today — corporate hypocrisy, smartphone gotcha-ism, vindictive motives — and it involves me only as a detached restaurant bystander who happened to be meeting with an independent producer interested in a TV project. I haven’t regarded this as a public domain story since the evening it happened, almost 2 1/2 years ago, and I’m still not sure anyone cares beyond a few tittering mopes in a twisted media industry.

But a notoriously sleazy website found out about it, contacted me last month and claimed to have a videotape. And as a reporter who doesn’t accept silence from the people I contact, I chose to address some of the questions as an observer because the reporter did provide proof that he had a tape of the episode, which involves a prominent ESPN executive. Plus, I needed to make certain the site maintained accuracy from my standpoint and didn’t misrepresent me, knowing that the site — Deadspin — has lied about me repeatedly, and rather psychotically, in its reckless mission to smear anybody who ever worked for/appeared on ESPN, as I did for eight years on the “Around The Horn’’ debate fest.

A reporter new to Deadspin’s ESPN beat — Dave McKenna, best known for his incremental takedown of Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder — e-mailed me on June 4. The story centers on John Walsh, who has been the most important creative influence at ESPN for almost three decades, responsible for everything from the SportsCenter franchise to the “30 For 30’’ documentary series to the Bill Simmons fanboy craze to the Grantland site. In January 2012, Walsh teetered into the bar area at The Blvd, a restaurant off the lobby of the upscale Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, and made a complete ass of himself and an utter mockery of his company — Disney Co., purveyor of childhood dreams — in full view of a highly entertained crowd of witnesses. He bothered a number of women customers at the bar by approaching them, positioning himself beside them or behind them, and offering them his business card. He would sit alone for a while, slouched over the bar in a dejected pose. This went on for 90 minutes, at least. While diners and drinkers were stopping everything and taking video of this remarkable ongoing scene through their phones, Walsh teetered to another table, handed his card to yet another woman and gave her his room number upstairs: Room 618.

How do I know all of this? I was sitting at that very table. While it was interesting Walsh didn’t recognize me — I’d appeared on ESPN about 1,700 times as a daily panelist on “Around The Horn,’’ an occasional co-host on “Pardon The Interruption’’ and an analyst for SportsCenter and other network programs — I must say he probably wouldn’t have recognized Barack Obama and Vlad Putin, either. Or Stuart Scott, Chris Berman and Linda Cohn. Or anyone else. I was at the restaurant for a meeting with a Hollywood producer, who was exploring whether I wanted to join another former ESPN commentator — who also was at the table and also wasn’t recognized by Walsh, despite his thousands of ESPN appearances — as co-hosts of a sports-related pilot. The idea sounded silly, but then, so was “Around The Horn.’’ I listened, but as the producer talked, we were continually distracted by Walsh, who struck me on this early evening as some combination of Foster Brooks, Bad Santa and Joe Walsh, who, far as I know, is not related to John Walsh. To make sure he didn’t have an illness or something else that might have caused him to act erratically, I checked a September 2012 video on him on YouTube. He was vibrant and clear as could be in that video, speaking to students at the University of Missouri.

I have alluded to this story, though never naming Walsh until Deadspin identified him in its story this week, because I think ESPN executives are guilty of a double standard. Shouldn’t an ESPN executive be held to the same behavioral policies — protecting the company’s good name in the public eye — as every other employee? The company has been rapid-quick to discipline numerous on-air personalities through the years, and I’d just been through a legal case — the first and only case in my life — in which the company immediately pulled me off the air and never contacted me for an explanation. I would have told ESPN, as I’ve said often in interviews since then and written extensively in my book, that I’d been wrongly accused of domestic abuse and other fabricated nonsense by a person who was gunning — unsuccessfully — for a big payoff from me. Though I’d been told by some industry people to go forward with the Walsh story, I’m not a person who operates that way, and I didn’t think it was newsworthy beyond the media world. Also, it might have looked like sour grapes after my ESPN departure. Also, by naming him, it might have seemed I had something personal against the man, which I did not and do not. I only referred to it, in passing, because of the symbolism involved — a selective conduct policy at a major American corporation. On my content site, I mentioned it in a column about potential favoritism by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the DUI-and-pills case of Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who helped pay Goodell’s last reported annual salary of $44.2 million.

A day after the Beverly Hills episode, I e-mailed ESPN president John Skipper and his fellow ESPN executive, Laurie Orlando, and informed them what had happened in the hotel bar. Quickly, Skipper replied and asked to talk. I had no interest in going public with the story, I assured him, but I did scold him about double standards and corporate hypocrisy. He thanked me for my “constructive’’ approach.

That was that.

Months later, my agent was making job calls on my behalf and set up appointments at many shops, Bristol included. I refused to leverage the Walsh story into a job, as many scumbags in this profession would have threatened to do, and I visited ESPN, Fox Sports, USA Today and others. Yeah, I wanted to resume a productive sportswriting career, but it had to be at a place that allowed me editorial freedom — the biggest of many problems today in major sports media. Months after that, Skipper invited me to dinner at Nobu in Malibu, where he asked me to spend four weeks in Charlotte and deliver the definitive Michael Jordan At 50 piece — until I started making contact with Jordan’s people the next day and realized the estimable Wright Thompson already was working on the definitive Michael Jordan At 50 piece. Eventually, I did a lengthy interview with Kobe Bryant, wrote a long Bryant piece for ESPN.com, read thousands of accompanying comments on the piece and was paid a nice chunk of money. Then I was told to scram.

One and done.

You can draw your own conclusion on what that was all about.

A payoff for not going public with the story?

I had no intention of mentioning the story again until McKenna e-mailed me with this news: He had obtained a videotape of Walsh that evening, and in the audio, you can hear me talking to others at a table that, throughout the evening, included as many as seven people — including two agents. For the record, I did not and would not videotape Walsh, and the people who accompanied me to the restaurant did not videotape Walsh. I don’t know who videotaped Walsh and who may have given it or sold it to Deadspin, but the scene definitely happened. And as a journalist who demands answers, even if the story might be stale and inconsequential at this point and really kind of beneath me, I provided answers by e-mail to make sure my position was accurately characterized.

Here’s how I answered McKenna’s questions:

McKenna: “What was your immediate reaction and (the other former ESPN analyst’s) reaction when John Walsh came into the same bar?’’

My answer: “This is mostly a sad story, and I’m answering your questions 2 1/2 years later only because you’ve contacted me and said you’re publishing a well-reported story and accompanying video. I want to accurately represent why I was there and why it bothered me. Of course, I was stunned, amazed, then pissed off. There I am, trying to have a business meeting with a TV producer and others at an upscale hotel restaurant, and here is this bumbling spectacle in front of us … a high-profile ESPN executive. I thought of corporate hypocrisy and double standards — how I’d just gone through a legal case in which (1) I’d been wrongly accused by a troubled person who was trying to extract money from me; and (2) ESPN immediately dropped me without once contacting me to ask my side of the story, despite my eight years there as a daily TV panelist encompassing more than 1,600 programs. The company had summoned all employees for a conference call in 2010, emphasizing a zero-tolerance, perfection-in-public behavior policy. Yet a top executive, someone involved in writing the policy, doesn’t live by that same policy? I have no grudge against ESPN. But I do have a problem with double standards in the business world, which is why I’m watching the Roger Goodell/Jim Irsay situation with particular interest.’’

McKenna: “I’m told he approached the table and didn’t recognize you or (the other former ESPN analyst). Given the long careers you both had at ESPN, what was that lack of recognition like? Anything else about his behavior stand out?’’

My answer: “If Chris Berman, Stuart Scott and Tony Kornheiser had been at the table, he wouldn’t have recognized them. If Barack Obama and Vlad Putin had been at the table, he wouldn’t have recognized them. People stopped everything and were taping the scene on phones at various tables in the restaurant and adjoining bar. Never seen anything quite like it.’’

McKenna: “You wrote about an incident in Beverly Hills in a column about double standards regarding the NFL’s handling of the Jimmy Irsay situation. Why didn’t you name Walsh?’’

My answer: “I’m not sure too many people outside the media world know who he is. And by naming him, it may have seemed I had something personal against him, and I don’t. It’s the symbolism involved — a selective conduct policy at a major American company.’’

McKenna: “Did ESPN have any reaction to your writing about that situation?’’

My answer: “John Skipper called and was upset. I’d e-mailed Skipper the day after this happened — in January 2012 — and told him I had no interest in harming the man or publicizing his name, but I also said I can’t believe ESPN allows top executives to behave like this in public when the company expects high character from everyone else in the place. Laurie Orlando (another ESPN executive) looked me in the eye in Bristol one day and said, “You almost have to be a perfect person to work at ESPN.’’ There are no perfect people at ESPN or anywhere else, but when they have that attitude about employees, the executives had better live by the same rules.’’

McKenna: “Your Irsay column linked the incident in Beverly Hills and you getting an assignment from ESPN. Why did it take over a year for your story (an ESPN-assigned story published on ESPN.com in April 2013) to hit the streets?’’

My answer: “Long story. I was ready to resume work after a self-mandated year of fun and relaxation in L.A., and my agent had been checking out possibilities. ESPN was on his list, and later that year, I was asked to visit Bristol — via the agent — for a series of individual meetings with (Laurie) Orlando, (Mo) Davenport, (Chad) Millman and (Patrick) Stiegman. ESPN insisted the meetings were “substantive.’’ Months later, Skipper asked me to meet him in Malibu for dinner. There, he tells me to call the travel department and set up a month-long trip to Charlotte, where I would profile Michael Jordan. I start organizing the trip the next day when Jordan’s public-relations person contacts me, says Jordan is interested in cooperating but also says, “Do you know Wright Thompson is here working on a piece for ESPN?’’ Quickly, I contacted Thompson, whose work always is exceptional, and apologized for the mixup. I thought that was strange. Days later, I was assigned a piece by ESPN.com on the Buss family, except Jerry Buss had just passed away and the timing wasn’t right for the siblings and others to talk. Kobe Bryant happened to give me a lengthy interview, and after much internal consternation (and a complete rewrite that Skipper ordered to be restored to my original form), my Kobe piece ran. But amid all of that, the ESPN public-relations people planted a bogus story with SI.com, something about employees in Bristol protesting that I might be returning to ESPN, and that any story I’d do for the website was a one-and-done. Skipper never had said any of that to me, so that was a bait-and-switch. In retrospect, I think Skipper was playing me so I wouldn’t go public with this story, which I never had any intention of doing in the first place — and wouldn’t be discussing now until (McKenna) contacted me and said (he) had a video. I don’t really want to be at the current ESPN anyway. I enjoy being the fiercely independent, Internet-streamed talk host who was picked up by PodcastOne and writes columns about what I want on my site. I also get to discuss delicate ESPN issues now, something you can’t do when you work at ESPN.’’

McKenna: “Do you think you or other ESPN employees lower on the food chain than Walsh would get away with behaving in public as Walsh did that night?’’

My answer: “No one at ESPN would get away with it, with the possible exception of Bill Simmons, who seems to get away with everything because Skipper lets him.’’

McKenna: “When you think about the Walsh/Beverly Hills situation and its aftermath, what are your thoughts. Is there any moral to this tale?’’

My answer: “Moral to the story: Next time you have a meeting with a TV producer, do it at In-N-Out Burger. In general, ESPN does a magnificent job of covering sports, but I’m concerned the place is getting too big and has almost a governmental feel to it, with journalism there about to be blown out by the company’s massively lucrative partnerships with sports leagues.’’

Later, when McKenna asked if I was pressured by ESPN after my vague earlier references to the hotel scene, I e-mailed this answer: “When I launched my radio show and content site last August and briefly mentioned this scene in a written piece referencing double standards — without identifying a name or other particulars — Skipper called me and warned me from a legal perspective. If anyone should be suing, I should be suing ESPN — for being selective in who it chooses to oust and retain in matters of the law, for not once contacting me to hear my side of a tragically inaccurate and recklessly misreported story filled with lies, and for allowing its buffoonish top executive to distract an important business meeting at an upscale hotel. This was a case of a major company needing to look inward at a serious problem and choosing to cover it up and smooth it over. If I am Bob Iger, I’m calling these two people on the carpet, but then, Mr. Iger is too busy trying to be the next baseball commissioner. This was a corporate farce on so many levels.’’

Excuse me while I spend three days in the shower. How did I get sucked into this mud pit?

Many months ago, I received a pissy e-mail from a Tommy Craggs, who identified himself as the top editor at Deadspin. Out of nowhere, he excoriated me for not acknowledging the fine work produced recently by his site and cited a few recent awards. I don’t read the site, but I’m told the content is a little more professional and a little less sophomoric these days. In fairness, I recently gave the site a try. The first piece I saw was an absurd torching of the esteemed Boston columnist, Dan Shaughnessy, who achieved more on his first day in sports writing than his childish critic will achieve in his lifetime. Craggs, I’m told, has held a lengthy grudge against Walsh after he was rejected for a job in the ESPN empire. So nothing has changed.

ESPN is hypocritical. Deadspin is scummy. I think we already knew both truths, but when you’re pressed as a journalist to point out both flaws in one remarkable swoop, you do it for the greater good of a profession, or what is left of it.