City Paper is not for tourists
Mike Wise should write a reverse advice column. He’ll throw his problems out there, and readers will respond with support and counsel. He got a good start to this new career with Saturday’s article confessing to, well, some sort of personal sexual derring do. Bad derring do!
In this space yesterday, I sorta blasted Wise for the piece, minus the “sorta.” But, being a good guy — him, not me — Wise talked to me anyway last night about the kiss-and-kiss-and-kiss-and-tell-and-tell-and-tell column.
He says he wrote it because he’s tried to craft an identity at the Washington Post as the “heart on your sleeve” columnist. That path led him to “follow around’ the mother of Baylor basketball player Carlton Dotson as she dealt with her son murdering his friend and teammate, and to coax hired goon Donald Brashear to open up about the brutal childhood that led him to throw fists for a living. And to, well, confess to some sort of personal sexual derring do in a column.
“That’s who I always want to be,” Wise says of being a heart-on-your-sleeve writer. “Sometimes it would cost me logic in my columns, sometimes friends, but that was going to be me.”
So when he couldn’t come up with anything to write about Tiger Woods’ sexual derring do, he just kept looking at his sleeve.
(AFTER THE JUMP: Did Wise get any dates out of his column? George Michael and Ric Flair go live? George Michael’s feuds with John Riggins? And Frank Herzog? And everybody?)
“When an opportunity like Tiger comes up to write about,” he says, “and I’m struggling inside about why I haven’t come up with a funny column or a thoughtful column, and I’m national columnist, well, I start thinking: What am I doing? Why is the post paying me if all I’m doing is going to Redskins games and saying if Jim Zorn is a fruit loop or not?”
The response has been shocking, Wise says.
“I figured I’d get a couple nice emails and couple people would go off on my and then the caravan would pass and that would be it,” he says. “But I’ve never gotten more personal emails for a column ever, even for coming out against the Redskins nickname. On the comments section, I get people with keyboard courage who don’t put their names and say things like,’Don’t ever compare yourself to anybody!’ But people who wrote to me personally at my Post email account were like 95 percent supportive, just unbelievably supportive.”
Wise says some of the support was a little too graphic.
“People say, ‘Bravo, you’ve allowed me to confront some things about myself!’ and those are great, but then I got a lot of intensely personal emails about how they threw their family away or their marriage away or a guy who said his wife needed to be validated by men all the time. These are strangers. Obviously, I put myself out there and so I’m flattered by it, I guess, but it blew me away.”
He hasn’t gotten any proposals from women yet, Wise said. He didn’t sound unhappy about that.
He’d write the column all over again.
Also yesterday, I mulled the sellout portions of George Michael’s legacy. But I ran out of digital column inches before following through on my plan to say nice things about Michael for doing more for pro wrestling around here than anybody since Vince McMahon. To make up, here is Michael interviewing Ric Flair during his WRC newscast hours before a 1992 show at the Capital Centre.
No other sportscaster in America would have put the Nature Boy or any other wrestler on the air in character, live or not.
Last night I came across “The Unexpected George Michael: The Sportscaster Who Invented Himself, and His Past & Furious Pursuit of Success,” an amazing Washington Post profile of George Michael that ran in October 1986. What a story!
The piece, which clocks in at 5368 words, was written by Stephanie Mansfield for the Style section. It goes deep into Michael’s disavowing of his own childhood, spent in St. Louis with the name George Gimpel.
It reminded me that there really were two Michaels during his long run at WRC: There was the bitter, paranoid Michael who always felt inadequate compared to rival Glenn Brenner over at Channel 9, and the less uptight entertainer Michael who got comfortable with himself and dominated DC sportscasting after Brenner’s death. (Michael gave an amazing live, on-air tribute when Brenner died, in which he cried along with the whole city — even President George Bush issued a memorial statement.)
The bitter, paranoid Michael was in charge when Mansfield’s piece came out. He squabbled with everybody.
Here’s a passage that goes over a feud Michael was having at the time with John Riggins:
Bring up the name John Riggins and George Michael’s face clouds over. His relationship with the former Redskins star, he says, was “one of the least enjoyable aspects” of his time in Washington. Riggins never liked him, he says, because of his friendship with Joe Theismann.
In fact, the two had an argument not long ago at Chadwick’s, witnessed by Riggins’ attorney and a local television director. Riggins wanted to know why Michael was the only sportscaster who didn’t interview him the night he was released from the Redskins. Michael says he couldn’t find him. Riggins called Michael a liar, then told the sportscaster to “put on his worm shoes and get out of here.”
Michael describes the confrontation in detail, saying “it was fairly hot.” Another witness says the story is exaggerated. “John embarrassed him,” Riggins’ attorney Douglas Woloshin says. “He wasn’t in control of the situation.”
For the record, the lawyer says, “John never mentioned he doesn’t like George because of Joe Theismann. He just doesn’t like George.”
And George also didn’t mind trashing Frank Herzog, the Redskins play-by-play announcer and, at the time, the Channel 7 sportscaster:
And don’t seat Frank Herzog next to Michael at the next rubber chicken dinner. “I’d tell him to go to hell,” Michael says. “I have no use for him.”
Four years ago in New Orleans, he says, WRC weekend sports anchor Scott Clark was ejected from a Georgetown University NCAA basketball game for not having the proper credentials. According to Michael, it was Frank Herzog who blew the whistle. (Herzog denies it.)
“He had him thrown in jail!” Michael booms dramatically. “One day, Frank Herzog and I will meet, somewhere privately where no one will ever know about it. I will carry that grudge for life.”
NCAA rules stipulate that credentials to cover the Final Four are given only to members of the press who cover those teams from the beginning of the tournament. Clark, who is leaving the station next month amid rumors of professional friction between himself and Michael, now admits “we were in the wrong on a technicality” when he tried to use another station’s credentials. “I didn’t go to jail,” Clark says.
“That was a such a petty thing,” Herzog says, unaware of any feud. Michael, he says, has always been “very cordial.” “Besides, that was four years ago.”
Says Michael, “Things like that I don’t forget.”
The story is also a reminder of when sportscasters had real clout in this town, and when newspapers thought it was OK to put the time and effort into stories that could hit you like a train.
The Michael profile does that. Sadly, it is only available through the Washington Post archives. If you have access, use it to retrieve Mansfield’s work. Thank me later.
The second EagleBank Bowl kicks off today at RFK Stadium at 4:30 p.m. My sense is this year’s game got far less advance coverage than last year’s, and not just because Navy was in the 2008 Bowl. I’m far more intrigued about how many people show up today, and how EagleBank will spend my TARP money this year, than by whether Temple or UCLA wins.
(Full disclosure: I freelance music reviews for the Washington Post.)
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