By Dave Appiott
Peter King first began working for Sports Illustrated the same year George Bush was inaugurated as U.S. President. No not W., the first George Bush. The Browns, Bills and Vikings were in the NFL playoffs, and there was a football team that called Los Angeles home. The World Wide Web wasn’t even a thought, and Motorola released the first pocket size cell phone that had a battery life of 75 minutes and a price of $2,995. What a bargain right?
King joined SI as a staff writer in 1989 after spending nearly a decade as an award-winning newspaper journalist at the Cincinnati Enquirer and Newsday. Since then King has won several awards throughout his distinguished career, including two Associated Press Sports Editors Awards for excellence in sports journalism.
He was named National Sportswriter of the Year in 2010, 2012, and 2013 as chosen by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, and was the recipient of an Eddie Award from FOLIO Magazine for Best Online Column or Blog. King was also the 2009 recipient of the McCann Award—given to Professional Football Writers of America members who have provided long and distinguished service to the profession—and is on the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s board of selectors.
King has written six books, the most recent of which, Monday Morning Quarterback: A Fully Caffeinated Guide to Everything You Need to Know About the NFL, was released in October 2009. Prior to that King authored Inside the Helmet: A Player’s-Eye View of Pro Football, which examines the inner lives and jobs of some of the NFL’s biggest names; and Football: A History of the Professional Game, which profiles the teams, players and events of the NFL’s first 75 years.
Peter King is one of the most authoritative and respected football writers in America. He has covered the league for nearly three decades, most of it as the lead NFL writer for Sports Illustrated and SI.com. His weekly Monday Morning Quarterback column on SI.com attracts millions of readers and helps shape the NFL dialogue throughout the year.
On Nov. 3, King headlined the third-annual Temple Sports Journalism Summit in Philadelphia. I had a chance to sit down and speak with King about the newspaper industry, his early years in the business, who should make it in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the advice he has for aspiring sports journalists.
Appiott: You started your career as a sportswriter for the Cincinnati Enquirer. What do you think is the future of the newspaper industry?
King: Bleak. The Cincinnati Enquirer is having massive changes right now so that the printed product is not going to be very important anymore. The vast majority is going to be online and web related. It’s why when I talk to kids these days, I tell them, “Don’t fall in love with the newspaper business because it’s not going to love you back.” But I think there will always be a place for newsgathering, what difference does it really make if you gather your news and you write it down on a piece of paper or if you tell somebody the news verbally? If you’re a reporter you should be a reporter and just be concerned with the dissemination of the news, not how the news is disseminated.
Appiott: Most newspapers are still in the process of making that transition to the internet, but some news organizations are strictly web-based. Twenty years from now will there still be a physical newspaper available?
King: I kind of hope there will be, but I have my doubts. I don’t know why one will really be necessary if you can open up your tablet, smartphone or computer and read it on a screen. I’ve read newspapers my whole life and I’m 57 years old, there’s a certain comfort to holding the New York Times in your hand. But, I won’t cry if there isn’t one, and if you have to read it on a computer then so be it.
Appiott: Who were some of your early influences as an inspiring sportswriter?
King: When I was very young I grew up in Connecticut and my father would bring home newspapers on the weekend. When I was in high school Peter Gammons was just getting started at the Boston Globe and I read him a lot and I just was amazed at his energy and his knowledge and his sources. I liked Will McDonough, who was a football writer for the Boston Globe for a long time, who I later knew professionally and personally. And then I was just like any kid growing up in the 70s, I was very heavily influenced by Watergate and the coverage in the Washington Post.
Appiott: Did you always want to be a football writer, or were there any there sports you were interested in covering?
King: When I went to college I never covered sports at all. So, I thought that I would just write news of some sort. It was not my dream to be a sportswriter, but the first permanent job offer I got out of college was at the Cincinnati Enquirer writing sports. So once I started I was really enthused about it and that’s how I got going in it.
Appiott: For many people attending this event, it is their dream to become a professional sportswriter. In today’s society with countless sports blogs and so many voices on the Internet, what advice do you give to people trying to get in to the business?
King: I think it’s really important that you write. The communication aspect of this job, it has to be clean and literate. You’ve got to be able to be understood. I think that it’s important that people learn how to craft sentences and learn how to do it quickly. Whatever aspect of the communications business you want to get in to, whether it’s television, radio or print, you should write every day. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re going to be published, you need to write so that you can practice.
Appiott: Just as a football player needs to practice playing football every day, a journalist needs to practice their craft every day. So, on to football. What was your early motivation behind the Monday Morning Quarterback?
King: In 1997 Sports Illustrated was starting a website and we were merging to do the website with CNN; it was going to be called CNNSI. When we started the project, they were looking for people on the staff to write for it. They asked me if every Sunday after I finish my notes column for the magazine if I would be willing to take whatever I have left over and write an opinioned-laced column about what just happened in the NFL over the weekend. Add some personality to it, write about my own life if I want to, but whatever I wanted to do they would take it. So I was the first Sports Illustrated writer to be a columnist at the CNNSI. Part of the reason was, my former boss who was the football editor at Sports Illustrated became the boss of the entire website. So, I wanted to do him a favor and help him out a bit, and it just grew. I started writing about my kids, I wrote about my dog and I wrote about other sports. I just tried to have a little personality with it.
Appiott: Does it surprise you that so many people are interested in your personal life?
King: It’s interesting, because I haven’t written about my daughters in 12 years. My second daughter graduated from high school in 2003, and when they went to college I said, “OK, you’re off limits now.” So, I haven’t written about them in over a decade but people still ask me about writing about my kids. I did it for the first five or six years, so I haven’t written about it twice as long as I did write about it. I think the majority of people realize that part of the thing you try to do to create a popular column is to try to personalize yourself. You’re not covering the Supreme Court, you’re writing about games. Not only are you writing about games, you’re writing about the personalities in games. If I go to dinner with Aaron Rodgers, I’m going to write about that a little bit. I just have tried to make it a little more personal than the stuff I would do in Sports Illustrated.
Appiott: Just as people still associate the Monday Morning Quarterback as you writing about your daughters, you have become more associated with the column than perhaps anything else you’ve done. Did you initially believe the column would become so popular?
King: I had absolutely no idea, I didn’t even know what the Internet was when it started, so that’s a great lesson to people. This business is rapidly changing so I always tell people, “Don’t be afraid to try new things.” That’s what this is a product of. I tried something new, it worked, and here we are.
Appiott: You have had so much success with the Monday Morning Quarterback, Inside the NFL won three Emmys during your tenure, and you have been named National Sportswriter of the Year by the NSSA (National Sportscasters and Sportswriters) three of the past four years. Personally, what is your greatest accomplishment as a sportswriter?
King: Something that I’m really proud of is that at the age of 31 I was the youngest person ever named senior writer at Sports Illustrated. I never pictured myself in a million years writing for Sports Illustrated, and having been there one year and being promoted like that was a thrill for me. Over the years doing the job, I consider myself really fortunate that I don’t consider it work and I’m fortunate that I get to do something that I love every day.
Appiott: In addition to the many accomplishments you’ve earned throughout your career, you have also been a member of the Board of Selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame since 1992. Is there a specific player whom you believe should be in Canton, but hasn’t been inducted yet?
King: I really want Mick Tingelhoff to get in to the Hall of Fame. He’s an old center for the Vikings, he played for 16 years. Imagine you’re a center and you start every preseason, regular season, and postseason game for your team for 16 years and you never miss a snap. He was a great player, too; I’d like to see him make it. I don’t get really passionate about this because my feeling is, I’m one person out of 46 and I try my hardest if I feel someone really deserves to be in, and I make my best arguments that I can. But if 80 percent of the people in that room don’t agree with me, it’s OK. But I think America has really gone overboard with the intense feelings for things like the Hall of Fame. I get a lot of e-mails that are not real friendly.
King headlined the 2014 Temple Sports Journalism Summit. His keynote address was part of an all-day event geared toward students in the Philadelphia area interested in sports and media. The collaboration of the Temple University School of Media and Communication and Associated Press Sports Editors is in its third annual year.
– Dave Appiott is a senior journalism student at Temple University. When he isn’t working, he spends his time as a husband to his beautiful wife Tajana, a father to his 1-year-old daughter, Layla, and hanging out with his dog; a Hound/Australian Shepherd mix named Buddy. He still finds time to watch every Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and Sixers game; just don’t remind his wife. Dave is also a contributor to The Philly Phans, an online news site that dedicates itself in breaking news and analysis of Philadelphia sports. He can be reached at DAppiott@gmail.com