Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com and Chris Vannini of The Athletic will be named co-winners of the FWAA’s Beat Writer of the Year Award on Monday. The following is a profile of Dodd. For a profile of Vannini, CLICK HERE.
Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com: 2018 FWAA Co-Beat Writer of the Year
PERSONAL: Married. Wife Janet. Two children–Haley, 26, and Jack 22. Haley is a graduate of Missouri and is working in Los Angeles in social media. Jack is a senior in journalism at Kansas. Dennis has won three FWAA Best Writing Contest Awards. He is one of seven media members to cover all 16 BCS title games. Written two books, one on the history of Missouri basketball and the other on the formation of the Big 12. Calls wife Janet, “the absolute light of my life, guidance counselor, travel companion, cancer survivor and best friend.” One of his hobbies, NCAA Football on the PlayStation, was taken away from him by litigation; Jack took the Xbox to college. His passions are Happy Hour, hockey and Friday nights before Saturday games in college towns dining with media friends. “There’s no better fellowship,” he says.
MENTORS: The gang, Tom Shatel and Steve Richardson, early on. Richardson, Dodd says “mentored him when he came to Kanas City in 1981.” Shatel: “I wish I could be him as a writer and a father.” They can all still be seen in San Diego in somebody’s picture of that little joint by the sea. Dodd started going there 36 years ago; Shatel was along for the ride. Ivan Maisel, he calls his “literary and personal hero.” He also wants to thank Vahe Gregorian, David Jones, Todd Jones, Dick Weiss, Mark Blaudschun, Tony Barnhart, Chris Dufresne, Pat Forde and everyone who has pounded the key boards at midnight with him.
BEST STORIES: Most proud of two—one was on Dave Redding. Drove up to central Nebraska to see legendary strength coach Dave Redding. In a profession full of characters, rogues and heroes, he was all three. Red Man had been stricken with Parkinson’s. He lived in a house built on the banks on of the Platte River by himself and his dad. His only companions were a couple of dogs and a houseful of memories. He showed me his Super Bowl ring he earned with the Packers. His went in depth on two brothers who made it big in Hollywood before both dying of HIV. He kept asking me if I wanted a drink. It was 2 p.m. It was clear he was lonely. I had to decline because I had to drive back to Lincoln. “I’m really proud of honoring him by winning for that story.”
In 2001, I had the idea to drive out to Cottonwood Falls, Kansas to find the Knute Rockne Memorial. It was the 70th anniversary of the plane crash that killed Notre Dame’s legendary coach. Before the days of GPS or Siri, I drove 90 minutes to Emporia, got directions to Cottonwood Falls, and then got directions again to Bazaar, Kan. That’s the closest spot to the memorial which stands alone on a 1,500-acre plot of land in the Flint Hills. I met a gentle soul named Easter Heathman, who as a 13-year old in 1931, had seen the plane come out of the clouds and crash. He was one of the first persons upon the scene. He remembered seeing a body with the legs wrapped with bandages. Years later, he figured that must have been Rockne because the coach had phlebitis. Well, over the years Easter became a caretaker for the memorial, taking anyone who wanted to see it, up to the site. The land owner had given him a combination to unlock a gate.
BEST ADVICE: Came from Janet, of course: “Listen…listen to her, listen to your children, listen to your heart. Professionally, listen to your interview subjects. They are doing you a favor by talking to you. They have a story to tell. It’s up to you to communicate it clearly. Also read (your story) one more time before sending it. Several editors.”
THE BIGGEST CHANGE IN THE PROFESSION: The lack of intimacy. I don’t have to tell anyone here how hard it is now to connect with subjects. Open locker rooms are few and far between. Interviews are now “media availability”. A chat must fit into an available “window.” I believe schools sometimes are doing disservice to these kids. They come to college to grow as people and, sure, as athletes. For a lot of them this is going to be the time of their lives. I’ve said many times, on the college beat we’re there to write something positive 80-90 percent of the time. Don’t make it so hard. I mourn the loss of access. Often the story that gets told is not THE story.
On the positive side, the best biggest change is the influx of women into our profession. There still aren’t enough, but they keep coming. That’s a good thing. Thank you, Stef Loh for being our 2018 FWAA President. Thanks to all of you for your passion for sports and professionalism.
BEST INTERVIEW: Jeff Sims. He’s the coach at Garden City Community College. When I visited a couple of years ago, this was before Last Chance U. Sims grew up in St. Louis and had a dad who smoked marijuana in front of him. He waited outside a prison for a player who was completing 3 1/2 years for armed robbery. There’s a book here somewhere about the desperation at the junior college level — for the players to get there, get good, and get out. During my visit there, I sat across from a linebacker, Alex Figueroa, who’d been kicked out of Miami for sexual assault. His teammate had body-slammed a high school security guard and beaten up his girlfriend on camera in the hallway. These are kids Sims pursued to be on his team. I’m not making value judgments here. I’m just telling you how fascinating the interview was. Coach and players made no excuses about why they there in the southwest corner of Kansas — to get out as soon as possible.