If I ran The Mag
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article appears in the June 18 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
I'm a huge fan of The Magazine. I read every issue, cover to cover. But I'd make some changes as the boss. And -- go figure -- the editor in chief, Gary Hoenig, even agreed with a few of them.
ML: Let's talk covers. One day, it'll be my son, Cole. But I also like Andy Roddick. I've even written headlines for both covers.
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GH: I like Roddick. I wish he won more. That French Open was a disaster. Why do you like him?
ML: I'm a big fan. And he's my friend.
GH: Put one friend on the cover and all your friends will be asking for covers. Then you're in trouble.
ML: I'd also like to do a group cover -- a quarterback with his linemen.
GH: That's a great idea. But you need a photo people can respond to quickly. You don't have the time or space to explain to them what you're doing. But done the right way, it could be cool.
ML: Without linemen like Orlando Pace, quarterbacks wouldn't be anything. I'd do the entire issue on players who don't get recognized enough, guys who live in the shadows. Jordan had Pippen.
GH: I like that idea -- forgotten guys. It would fit well into a package we're doing later this year. We're finding the powerful people in sports no one knows about. Like the scout in Florida every high school player knows will make their careers. In the end, he's more important than pro scouts, because he finds kids before anyone else. I think you understand this magazine, Matt.
ML: Yeah, I like the mix of pop culture and sports. I love The Hook-Up. I'd hook myself up with Gisele. I'm a little jealous of Tom Brady.
GH: If she's willing, consider it done.
ML: My favorite article recently was the John Amaechi piece. That was excellent. I appreciate and respect people who are open. That's hard, especially being an athlete. Why aren't there more in-depth articles written by athletes?
GH: We try, but a lot of athletes aren't interested. Or maybe we're stuck up and want to hear our own voices more than the voices of the athletes. I admire you for responding this way to the Amaechi piece. Not a lot of people in sports responded that way. Not all of our readers responded that way.
ML: I like stories that cover important topics. When steroids first started, I think that was important. Guys were big, and getting bigger, and you guys couldn't ignore it. But now there's too much.
GH: It's a fine line. You try to tell people the truth and also get to the good stuff, which is why people care so much about sports. The best thing to say is we try not to be judgmental. Our coverage has been more to tell people what is going on and why it's going on. But yes, I think it's tiresome, and there is fatigue.
ML: If baseball players wrote about whether Barry Bonds is worthy of his home runs, then I'd read it.
GH: I'd publish that in a minute. But it's hard to get people to talk. They're scared. They don't want to lose their fellow athletes' respect, and they don't want to lose their jobs. They don't want to betray what's going on inside the locker rooms. Needless to say, if you can get this for us, we'd publish it.
ML: I would love to write articles about subjects like this. You know, give my opinion. But I'd stick to football.
GH: You've been a leader your whole life, which would make you a good editor. I think this also makes you confident that there's little you can do to lose your sense of leadership in the locker room. You think, If I speak the truth, why would anyone resent me? I'm just telling the truth. I'm not trying to hurt anyone. I'd welcome pieces from you, but I would also warn you it's not always that easy.
ML: I would like to see more pictures of what athletes are doing, like in People. Show athletes hanging out with each other, eating lunch, out on a date. I know I sound like a hypocrite, because I've said I'm against all this stuff. It gets exaggerated -- Look at Matt with this girl, that girl -- and it hurt me. But I'm a sucker for that stuff. It's what makes magazines fun. Show readers that we're normal. Hey, they pump their own gas!
GH: This is tricky. We follow athletes off the field more than any other publication. But there needs to be a mix. If this were a sports paparazzi magazine, we'd lose the people who want to think of you as an idol. They don't want to see what Matt Leinart looks like at 6 a.m. after a night on the town. They want to see you as a heroic figure. But if you pump your own gas, that's cool.
ML: How about this feature -- Down-to-Earth or Diva? Let people see what we're really like. Who's a nice guy, and who's a jerk? What we're like outside of sports. Pull back the curtain.
GH: I'm starting to figure you out as an editor. You could do one amazing issue of ESPN The Magazine. And then you'd never get anybody to talk to you again. Your career would be over.
ML: But you only gave me the job for one issue.
GH: Mission accomplished!