Bringing Back Memories of John Rocker

Former sports agent Josh Luchs admits to Sports Illustrated that he paid college athletes. Photo Courtesy:

Sports Illustrated scored a major coup this week publishing the story of Josh Luchs, a former sports agent who admits to paying numerous College athletes over his 20 years representing players. According to SI, senior writer George Dohrman was working on a story about the agent business when he learned that Luchs was leaving the profession. Dohrman then proposed a first-person account of life as an agent.

Little did he know Luchs would feel compelled to air his dirty laundry, exposing over 20 years of his personal NCAA infractions.

This much is clear, as a journalist you have to be prepared for the unexpected.

It reminds me of another Sports Illustrated story, released just before Christmas in 1999, about a loud-mouthed Atlanta Braves pitcher named John Rocker. SI writer Jeff Pearlman unearthed a side of Rocker unknown to many, and it fell directly into his lap.

Pearlman was planning a profile piece on the brash young closer of the Atlanta Braves, but while travelling in Rocker’s pick-up truck along route 400 in Atlanta, Rocker threw a curveball.

The flame-throwing lefty didn’t end up talking much baseball, instead he went off.

Off about Asian drivers. About people with AIDS. About minorities. No one was spared.

When a journalist uncovers an unexpected gem, it is imperitive to have a holistic marketing strategy. Web, TV and Print all must be aligned so you get the story to the audience first and from every angle. Everyone needs to know this story is yours.

But that was not the case back in 1999.

I was an Associate Producer for CNN/Sports Illustrated, the 24 hours sports news network, at the time SI was preparing to unveil the truth about John Rocker. Notice the ‘Sports Illustrated’ in our name.

In 1999 our network had only been in existence for a little over 3 years and we were trying mightily to make ourselves known. A story like this, from our partner in print media, would have been phenomenal.

One little problem, the first time any of us heard about the story was while watching ESPN. Merry Christmas.

The details of the hate-filled Rocker diatribe aired on Sportscenter even before Sports Illustrated published their edition containing the article. Of course, they gave Sports Illustrated credit for the story, but ESPN brought it to the audience first and to many that meant ESPN deserved the credit.

Talk about a punch to the gut.

In 1999 corporate synergies weren’t quite as strong and policy at Sports Illustrated was to do a general press release in advance of every issue. Someone at ESPN read the press release, someone at CNN/SI didn’t. We wrongfully assumed we’d get a heads up about any big story. People were blamed, voices were raised and moral was crushed.

CNN/SI went on to release some incredible investigative reports, and truly was the best experience of my Television career. But the day John Rocker opened his big mouth was foreshadowing for the day CNN/SI would close it’s doors.

In todays new media world, where bloggers and twitterers push stories without concern for credible sources, it is more vital than ever to be thorough and have a complete marketing strategy ready to execute.

You never know when the next great story will fall in your lap.

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Article by Brian Clapp

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