Most of my high school friends got their first jobs at McDonald’s or Sears. One of my brothers did landscaping and the other installed car stereos. I was lucky. I got to work in the sports department of my hometown newspaper, The Journal News, in Nyack, N.Y.
My first impression upon arrival in the sports department was that Neil Simon nailed it when he created Oscar Madison in “The Odd Couple.” A bigger bunch of slobs I’d never met. I can still smell the place—all sweat, cigar smoke, and news ink.
As a part-time, $3.35-an-hour guy, I didn’t have my own desk. I was supposed to take any empty seat I could find. I wasn’t there for the accoutrements, though. I wasn’t even there for the sports. I was a fan, but not one of those crazy kids that memorized the backs of baseball cards. I was there because it was a newspaper, and I wanted to be a writer. I knew it already, at age 16, and the sports section seemed like the perfect place to start.
For a would-be writer with no idea how to write, sports are a great gift. Every game is a drama. Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. The characters, generally, are young and ambitious. Sometimes they’re smart and funny. Sometimes they’re arrogant and idiotic. Either way, you don’t have to make anything up. It’s all there.
I started reading Red Smith in The New York Times. I bought a paperback copy of Frank Deford’s collection of magazine stories, “The World’s Tallest Midget,” which still sits an arm’s length from my chair as I type these words. I liked Smith and Deford because they seemed to be writers with wide knowledge of the world. They seemed like sophisticated men who could have been covering the Supreme Court but chose to apply their wisdom instead to baseball, basketball, and boxing.
After my stint with The Journal News, I never again worked as a full-time sportswriter. I wanted to be taken seriously, and sportswriting didn’t seem the best way to do it. The title of Deford’s book comes from the idea, as he put it, that “any good sportswriter is usually dismissed as the world’s tallest midget.” At a mere 5-foot-7, I already had enough issues.
But sports kept pulling me back. After years spent committing serious journalism, I wrote a book about Lou Gehrig, and then another about Jackie Robinson. I submitted a couple of essays and had them published in sports anthologies, and I started a sports column for Chicago magazine. And then….
It was summer of 2011: Sol Lieberman and I were hanging out at the Duke of Perth on Clark Street, talking sports, talking newspapers, and wishing that Chicago had a great sports website. It wouldn’t be that hard, we said. You’d want to do four things:
- Find great writers, film makers, and artists of all stripes, and turn them loose.
- Find creative ways to make money.
- Don’t waste time covering games and writing the same stories you can get everywhere else. Be smart. Be funny. Be different.
- Use ChicagoSide to bring fans together so we can share our love of sports.
There might have been a fifth idea at the time. But, hey, beer giveth and beer taketh away. The next morning, Sol emailed me to say he wanted to quit his job and do this. My response was: Um, really?
So here we are. Ten months later, ChicagoSide is live, bringing you stories five days a week. We’ve signed up more than 50 writers, including some old-school veterans from the Trib, Sun-Times, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal; best-selling authors who like to dabble from time to time in sports; and a bunch of young up-and-comers. They’re exploding with good ideas, and they’re not afraid to take chances. Hunter Hillenmeyer, the former linebacker for the Bears, will write from time to time. Paul Shirley, who played three seasons in the NBA, including one for the Bulls, will produce a monthly column on the after-life of a professional athlete. My old boss Richard Babcock from Chicago magazine is going to write whatever he wants, just so I can mess with his copy the way he messed with mine. Sometimes we’ll weigh in on the big story of the day, but just as often we’ll surprise you.
We’ve built a beautiful site that makes it easy for you to find and enjoy our work. We’ve added an “Editor’s Picks” section to help you find the best stories available on other websites, and we have a nifty scoreboard that’ll give you all the scores, stats and standings you want.
What’s with the name, you ask? You got your North Side, you got your South Side…but it’s all ChicagoSide. Plus, we thought it looked cool on T-shirts.
I’d like to tell you that we’re going to be the biggest thing to hit this city’s sports scene since The Fridge. The truth is, I don’t know what to expect. A lot of people have worked hard to put this site together, though, and we’re proud of it.
As you get to know ChicagoSide, keep in mind that it will change. We’re still adding writers. Soon, we’ll be adding podcasts and a mobile platform. We’re launching a partnership with TimeOut Chicago so you can read at least one of our stories every week on good, old-fashioned paper—which you can ball up and throw in the trash if it makes you angry, or pin on your bulletin board if it makes you smile.
We’re also working on a calendar of events so you can meet us and get to us know better. For starters, I hope you’ll join us for the ChicagoSide Launch Party at 7 p.m. on April 9 at the Haymarket Pub & Brewery.
Tell me I look taller than 5-7, and I’ll buy you a beer.
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JONATHAN EIG is editor-in-chief and co-founder of ChicagoSide. Follow him on Twitter @jonathaneig.