Saturday, July 19, 2008

12 Reasons Why.....Tom Sorenson's Column Is NOT Just Another Sports Read

Ladies and gentlemen(and the rest of you as well), today's interview is with a columnist who I respect immensely not just because he agreed to do this but because his columns are my biggest reason for reading the Charlotte Observer(no offense to David Poole or any other columnists, you do great work as well). He has worked for the Observer now for 25 years and has his own blog, "Tom Talks" which you can find a link to in my link area to the left of this page. I have heard him on the radio and I think his opinions are often unique and give a great perspective of the sports world, as you will see by reading this interview. Please help me welcome to the blog, Mr. Tom Sorenson.

12 Reasons Why........Tom Sorenson's Column Is NOT Just Another Sports Read

1. Some who read this blog may not read the Charlotte Observer or so how about letting them get to know who you are and maybe some background on why you chose this field?
I wanted to play Major League Baseball but peaked when I made the all-star team in sixth grade. And I wouldn't have started at shortstop in the game if the league's best player had not been on vacation. I also liked to write, and I liked newspapers. My dad was an editor at the Minneapolis Tribune. I worked there when I was at the University of Minnesota. Desks in the newsroom were messy, deadlines were intense and editors would take their page proofs across the street to the bar and, over a beer, edit. It didn't feel like a real job. It's not. I majored in journalism and when I finished wanted a job more than I wanted to be in sports. I covered school boards and country commissioners and covered cops and crime and wrote features, first for the St. Cloud Times and then the Minneapolis Tribune. I came south in 1981 and have been in sports since. There's nothing else I can imagine doing. I can't cook, I can't dance, i can't fix things. There's nothing else I can do.

2. Where did you go to college and how and where did you get your start in sports journalism?
Minnesota. Minneapolis was a good paper and I was lucky to get a job there when I was 25. But I didn't want to spend my life in one city. Growing up cold is like growing up poor. You don't know. When I got older, I knew. I'd see people on the beach in the fall or spring and say, "Hey, you can do that?" wanted not to have to warm up my car every time I wanted to go somewhere. I wanted not to spend 15 minutes putting my kids in snowsuits and another 15 getting them out. I wanted new. The South felt like an adventure. When Charlotte offered me a job, I jumped.

3. What advice would you give someone considering going down that same path and maybe a few hints on stuff to help them succeed?
Read. Read writers you admire, writers at newspapers and magazines, writers of fiction and non-fiction. What makes them good? Is it the words they use, the cadence and style, or is it the stories they tell?
Write. The best writing most people do is in email because they aren't trying to show off their vocabulary. They say what there is to say. You want to improve your jump shot, you take jump shots. You want to improve your writing, you write. My columns are most effective when I know what I want to say. It's like having a map instead of guessing which road to take, and often guessing wrong. There are a lot of publications in the Charlotte area that can use stories. When you apply for a job, editors look at clips -- the stories you've written. Those stories indicate what you can and can't do.

4. So what is a day in the life of Tom Sorensen like? Could you walk us through a busy day at work and maybe some examples of what goes into your columns before we read the final copy either online or in the Observer.
I try to start the day with an idea. If I'm trying for an interview, I'll call or email. Once I have the idea, I try to hit the gym. Theoretically, while I'm doing what I do there, the column idea will shake out, become more firm. But every day is different. Some days I get on the phone and call and call and call. Thursday morning I came back from vacation, and probably called 10 people, most of whom I knew I wouldn't get. Nobody called back Thursday. But on Friday, the least likely of the sources called and we set up an interview. Might as well try. There also is no next best thing to being there, so I try to see sources over lunch or coffee or a drink. For awhile, my best Panther sources were players I ran into in the neighborhood. They see that I'm human, I see that they are. Alas, most of them have been cut or have retired.

5.You have also done sports talk radio in the past and occasionally still do some co-hosting on WFNZ radio in Charlotte. What is your opinion of sports talk radio and which do you enjoy doing more?
I'd rather write than talk.
I listen to sports talk radio in bursts, when I'm driving. I like the give and take. I know people, athletes and writers, who become irate when they're ripped on the air. We're supposed to be ripped. If I agreed with everything I heard, I'd stop listening. If readers agreed with everything I wrote, I'd give them a drug test. It's kind of cool to hear your name whether the context is positive or negative. All publicity is good. If you're going to let it get to you, turn it off.

6. I know you cover boxing and pro wrestling occasionally as well as more "mainstream" sports. What is your favorite sport and your favorite memory of something you actually covered? I personally loved the Ric Flair retirement perspective myself.
Ric is a friend. I grew up in southwest Minneapolis. He grew up in an affluent suburb not far away. My goal is to, one time, buy him a drink. He always buys. I got to the bartender first once and he wouldn't take my money. I insisted. He said, insist all you want. He said something about a Figure-Four. And yes, the hold is so lethal it has to be capitalized. The cool thing about wrestlers is they never say no comment.
I loved going to Madison Square Garden and covering the Calvin Brock-Wladimir Klitschko fight. To be in Manhattan, covering big time boxing -- the heavyweight title is time -- was a thrill. I like the Super Bowl and NCAA tournament, But everybody does. Boxing was mine. There's a Charlotte bantamweight named Kelvin Seabrooks, a former champion who fought like a 5-6 John Wayne. I loved writing about him.
I went to the Olympics in Sidney and covered volleyball at a topless beach. The network put up a wall so the sunbathers wouldn't appear on camera. Oddly, most of the reporters left the press box and stood facing the beach.I didn't mind that. I liked some of the new sports to which I was introduced such as fencing.
I loved the Hornets first playoff run against the Boston Celtics.
I loved being at the starting line of the Indianapolis 500.
I loved covering Davidson-Wisconsin and Davidson-Kansas in the NCAA basketball tournament last season.
And I loved spending time with Muhammad Ali in Charlotte a few years ago. I was asked if I wanted his autograph. Unlike the others, I hadn't paid thousands of dollars to be there, so I respectfully declined. I was asked if I wanted to ask him one question. I had no time to prepare it. I asked, "What is the secret of life?" Ali bend down and whispered in my ear, "Believe in God." I wanted to ask, "Yeah, but what else?"

7. You follow the Carolina Panthers closely as well so what is your opinion of the 2008 season for them and what are your expectations/predictions?
I think they have a chance to be really good. They appear to have a running game and an offensive line. But Jake has to be Jake again; he's 33 and coming off major surgery. And Julius Peppers has to reappear. If Jake and Julius are OK, they'll be one of the top eight teams in football.

8. Your editor hands you a free pass to the sporting event of your choice, where are you going and why?
I've never been to the Kentucky Derby. That would be tempting.
I'd love to go someplace utterly alien, to another part of the world, to cover a sport that's huge there but unknown here. Maybe it would involve goats.
But if there was a big boxing match, I probably would end up there.

9.What do you consider your favorite source for sports news besides the Observer of course? If ESPN called and asked you if you would consider filling in a spot on "Around The Horn" sometime, do you jump at the chance or is it just not your style? What is your overall opinions of 24 sports coverage like ESPN or even news coverage in general like CNN?
Around the Horn is unwatchable. I know one of the panelists pretty well, and he's modest. But it's too loud. It's like a sports bar but the smoke is generated by the guests. I'm not big on volume for the sake of volume.
I've done Outside the Lines once and turned it down twice. I've done interviews with ESPN a variety of times on a variety of subjects. The older you get, however, the more you guard your time. Each year I do less.
I read USA Today and check the websites at ESPN and Sports Illustrated and occasionally CBS sportsline. I like the Fox Sports site. But all-sports-all-the-time would beat me down. I need fresh air. I'd rather play than watch.
I allocate 10 hours a week to answering email from readers. I never check message boards. I read columns by writers I know and respect. And then I put on my running shoes or get on my mountain bike or head out with my dogs and I'm free.

10. Was there anything else you considered for a career or that you would like to try one day? Any novels in your future?
I'm writing one now. Stayed at the Super Bowl an extra day in February to work on it. Figured the desert would inspire me. And it rained. It was freezing. Got to chapter 41 and hit an impasse. There was a structural flaw. It was like a building with a crack in the foundation. So went back to the start and it took me three weeks to fix it. I'd say, all right, I'm going to run three miles and by the time I finish I'll know what to do. When that failed, I'd say, , all right, I'll go to the bar and sit outside and drink two glasses of wine and by the time I finish I'll know what to do. I was wrong. But I finally got it, or feel as if I did. I'm working my way back. I'm on chapter 9. It's essential that I finish. I either need to do it or accept that I can't.

11. I know you as a guy who is not afraid to express your view with anyone on anything when debating sports but how would you like someone to think of you and describe you?
I'd like to be known as a good guy, good husband and father, but I have to earn that. I mean, I open the door for people that can't help my career, always use my turn signal, never park in a handicapped spot or along the yellow curb and never block the left lane on the freeway. So that's a start, right? I once was much more cynical. I think life is a tremendous opportunity, and if I don't take advantage it's nobody's fault but mine. Also, I don't ever want to think that I'm a big deal because the job confers attention. If I ever thought the job made me special, my career would be a waste.

12. Your Free Space-So Tom, this is your chance to vent, pitch something or just whatever you want, what do you want to leave the readers with but please remember to keep it clean?
I think if you park in a handicapped parking space or along the curb in front of Harris-Teeter or Starbucks or any other place, it's not your fault. It's your mom or your dad's. One of them gave you a tremendous sense of entitlement. They shouldn't have.
I think some people are so lazy they shouldn't be allowed to leave the house.
I think some fans get too carried away with spectator sports. They show up at the arena or stadium full of venom and hate and throw things at the athletes or start fights with fans that favor the other team. They need to stay home, too.
Many of us have lost perspective. If the performance of your team is the biggest thing you have going, you need to start over.
I love the passion people have. But you ought to see the email I get. There are fans that wake up in the morning looking for a reason to be angry. Glad I can be there for them.
I love sports. But if I have a choice between watching somebody play a game or playing a game, I put my running shoes on and I'm gone. We weren't put on the planet to watch.

Thank you again for your time Tom and I hope people enjoy reading this as I find it both helpful to those interested in writing like me as well as a great view on how we should view sports. From a personal persepective, I contacted Tom a couple years ago telling him how much I loved writing and sports and wished I had realized it younger and could do what he did. He didn't just thank me and blow me off, he encouraged me to write and write often and not give up. Between him and Tim Green, the former Orange and current best selling author, I decided to try my best with what I had and at least try and if nothing else, I learned that I am still doing something I enjoy whether I become successful at it or not. Tim encouraged me to pursue publishers while Tom's advice is the same as you see above, just keep writing. Hope you all have a great weekend with your family and friends and see you next time on "12 Reasons Why........".

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