On Tuesday, a handful of Yale students had the great opportunity to share Claire’s cupcakes with a legend in the world of sports journalism — the Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook.
For the better part of 10 years, the front page of ESPN.com has featured Easterbrook’s TMQ column every Tuesday morning during football season. The column is distinguished by Easterbrook’s unique writing style: a voice combining deep cynicism and dry humor, constant appeals to “the football Gods” and other karmic notions, absurd nicknames and unorthodox, often bizarre opinions.
The column provides an analytic recap of each weekend in the NFL football season as well as Easterbrook’s opinions on the latest political topics. In addition to his regular Tuesday column with ESPN, Easterbrook is a reporter, an author, a novelist, a publisher and an editor and does not restrict his interests to those simply within the sports world. Readers of his column over the past several years will recognize the growing role of politics in his articles, whether they’re relevant to the gridiron or not.
It was this outspoken-pundit version of the TMQ that greeted guests in the Trumbull Master’s House on Tuesday afternoon. I came with a friend who has known Easterbrook and his family all his life. He told me that the topic would probably be his most recent book, “Sonic Boom,” and that he didn’t think it was about sports. Despite this warning, I was still caught off guard when the TMQ opened his talk by discussing economic instability and stress levels.
While many of us expected the TMQ to be a total bro, Easterbrook is an unabashedly serious journalist and intellectual, and engages his subject matter rather than simply reporting it. At length, he expressed his outrage at the ongoing budget saga in Washington. He told us “the baby-boomers are spending [our] money” and implored the small group of students to take this issue seriously.
From there, he provided a potential explanation for our generation’s political apathy, citing the changes in journalism and printed material over the past century. As an increasingly white-collar society, he says, at the end of a workday spent staring at a computer screen, the last thing many people want to do is go home and pick up the newspaper.
This nostalgic tone is reflected in many of his football columns, where Easterbrook has established a reputation for espousing fundamentals. He is clearly a remnant of the old-school — his football gods “bestow victory upon the team with the least warmly dressed coach, the most sportsmanlike conduct, the most spirited play or the most scantily dressed cheerleaders.”
He brings this same twist of conservatism, superstition and humor to his political conversations. “Sonic Boom” offers the dual thesis that economic instability and uncertainty is only going to increase in the future, resulting in significantly higher economic-related stress around the world. But, he adds, that there’s really nothing we can do about it other than to learn to live in these new conditions.
When we finally had the chance to focus the discussion on pertinent sports topics during the Q&A, however, this cynicism faded, and Easterbrook revealed his passionate side.
I got the first question, and I asked him about the future of football given the increasing number and severity of concussions and the related brain injuries. He began to address my question, and quickly it devolved into a diatribe about unqualified coaching and corruption at the NCAA. Easterbrook made the important point that while concussions are attracting the most attention at the NFL level, there are millions more athletes playing at the college, high school and grade school level dealing with the same concerns. Therefore, he argues, the impetus is on state governments to require first aid training and coaching certification to all high school coaches.
He feels that too often today, preventable injuries and even deaths are not treated with any consequences for the coaches that effectively allow them to take place or treat them negligently. Coaches are not scrutinized for their failures, while they are overly praised for their success. “People respond to incentives, right?” he asked us.
Last week, I wrote about the NCAA and its failure to establish systematic accountability with respect to background checks and criminal records. In retrospect, after Easterbrook’s talk, this is hardly close to the top of the list of problems at the NCAA.
Easterbrook had many qualms with the current NCAA regime, but unsurprisingly given his political nature, his biggest gripe concerned the graduation rates of big sports programs such as the SEC football teams, and many of the squads in this year’s NCAA basketball tournament.
At the end of the conversation, I was left with a totally new impression of one of my favorite sportswriters. His emphasis on the fundamentals, common sense, health and safety, integrity — these are not staples of the bulk of ESPN columns, but they show why Gregg Easterbrook has become such an essential part of the sports journalism world and beyond.
Sam Goldsmith is a senior in Branford College.