Charlie Pierce And Bill Littlefield: 20 Years On The Air

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Charlie Pierce joined Bill on stage for the final conversation of Only A Game's 20th anniversary live show. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Charlie Pierce joined Bill on stage for the final conversation of Only A Game's 20th anniversary live show. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Typically, analyst Charlie Pierce joins Bill Littlefield to discuss the sports news from the past week. For Only A Game’s 20th anniversary live show, though, Charlie and Bill discussed the sports news of the past 10 months.

BL: Were you surprised at Robert Kraft’s being able to quote instantly and without even thinking about it the statistic of how many people watched as various general managers tried to figure out who would be the best player to draft?

[sidebar title="Top Journalists Weigh In" width="330" align="right"]At Only A Game's 20th Anniversary Live Show, sports journalists Bob Ryan, Andrea Kremer and Will Leitch discussed football, the concussion crisis and the evolution of sports over the past 20 years.[/sidebar]CP: No, because all the people in the NFL at Mr. Kraft’s level all have microchips implanted in the back of their necks, and they’re all connected to a central mainframe — except for [Dallas Cowboys owner] Jerry Jones, who took the red pill and is now outside the Matrix.

BL: Michael Sam: 249th overall pick in the NFL draft — first openly gay college football player drafted. Originally he was projected to go, perhaps, in the third or fourth round. Does the fact that he went in the 7th and final round say anything about the readiness of the NFL to actually welcome a gay player, or did that have nothing to do with it?

CP: I think it probably says a little. I think mostly he slid in the draft because people slide in the draft. I think there probably were teams who didn’t want to take a chance on having what they consider to be some sort of distraction at their training camp and all this other stuff. I’m sure there was an element of homophobia, certainly in certain quarters, but I think in general he slid in the draft because he slid in the draft.

BL: This year has seen a new commissioner in the NBA. And in his first three months on the job Adam Silver has talked about raising the minimum age for players, he’s considered ways to radically revamp the NBA draft, and he’s banned Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life. Is it safe to say that Mr. Silver is not precisely like his predecessor as commissioner?

CP: Well, I think he’s certainly off to a fast start, and I think the one subtext of banning Donald Sterling is that he is essentially making up for a 30-year mistake on the part of the previous commissioners – including David Stern, who’ve known all along what Donald Sterling was all about and let him run the franchise into the ground, among other things – now corrected that.

The real test of Silver’s power is if he can finagle the franchise away from the Sterling family. Ripping the franchise away from somebody based on this, they’re going to be riding every ride at Deposition-Land for a long time.

BL: I knew I could get him to say that. I knew I could get him to say that. I should mention that within the last 10 months the Red Sox won the World Series. But in the 21st century that’s hardly news, is it?

CP: It’s interesting. For this World Series, I have given the Red Sox a complete pass for this season. I’m just going to enjoy the sunshine because last year was so damn much fun – leave aside the fact that the team picture looks like something that should’ve been in Ken Burn’s Civil War documentary.

BL: Well, coming from you …

CP: Exactly, I was very impressed by the lads.

BL: Tiger Woods hasn’t won a major over the last 10 months. In fact, he hasn’t won a major since 2008. Does that alone explain the decline in the popularity of golf?

[sidebar title="Bill Littlefield's Thank You To Listeners" width="330" align="right"]At Only A Game's 20th Anniversary Live Show, Bill offered a special thank you to fans and the OAG staff.[/sidebar]CP: It explains a great deal about the decline in television ratings for golf. I think golf is pretty much as popular as it ever was, I just think it’s not as popular on TV as it used to be, because you don’t have this gigantic figure anymore.

BL: Will there be another gigantic figure anytime soon?

CP: Well, I didn’t think there was gonna be another Nicklaus and [there turned out to be] Tiger Woods, so I never say never. What was the great line from Red Smith’s career? Late in his life when he said, someday there will be another DiMaggio. And, of course, we respond always, “There already was: his name was Willie Mays.” Someone will come along. Someone always comes along.

BL: Before I let you go, I want to ask you the same question that members of our panel [of sports writers] discussed.

CP: I agree with everything Andrea Kremer said.

BL: Probably won’t be a short-answer question, although I might be wrong. Let’s talk about some of the significant developments on the sports landscape since Only A Game first aired back in July of 1993. What kind of pops to mind in that context?

CP: Well, right off the top, women’s sports and the ability of women’s sports to translate into the mass media. The women’s World Cup team back in the day — hockey now. That’s a tremendous development compared to where we were in 1993.

It’s very strange because I just wrote a column about this for Grantland today: the rise of social media and its effect on everything about sports, including how we watch them and the way they’re covered. If you look at the Los Angeles Clippers-Oklahoma City Thunder series, it’s being conducted in one way almost entirely within social media: Kevin Durant is Mr. Unreliable and the next day he gives an amazing speech when he wins the MVP award. He’s a YouTube star and now everybody adores him. Donald Sterling’s surreptitiously recorded mumblings to his inamorata wind up on the internet within a day and become the story of the year.

BL: Has the huge increase in salaries over the past couple of decades for pro athletes changed the way you interact with pro athletes when you have to speak with them?

CP: Yes, because you don’t get to interact with them very much anymore. I tell this story often: When I did the profile of Tiger Woods for GQ in 1997 before he won his first Masters, the woman who was our celebrity wrangler at GQ ... and her job, because she used to work as a publicist in Hollywood, was to wrangle celebrities for the cover of GQ. She told me that dealing with Tiger Woods and his people was the hardest and most miserable experience she’s ever had, and that [includes] everyone in Hollywood. That’s when I knew the landscape had changed a little bit.

This segment aired on May 17, 2014.


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