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Beat Writer Blues

Sure, it sounds glamorous.  Covering the Celtics for the Boston Herald, hobnobbing with the likes of Mike Gorman and Gary Washburn, is the stuff of journalism school fantasy.

Steve Bulpett

But Steve Bulpett, who has had the beat since 1985, is here to tell you that it exacts a physical and emotional toll.  Physical, from long hours, irregular sleep and exercise, and poor diet.  Emotional, from the adrenaline high of the season and the inevitable and spooky decompression after it ends.

The toll on a writer’s personal life is another subject altogether.  Bulpett, 54,  says he has been “close to the alter a few times – three arrests, no convictions” in this candid interview. And though he does not disclose his favorite haunts on Boston’s North Shore, sources say he can be found at Red Rock Bistro in Swampscott on weekends.

An Interview with Steve Bulpett

Steve Bulpett: Interviewed on December 5, 2011

Position: NBA writer/columnist, Boston Herald

Steve Bulpett

Born: 1957, Lynn, MA

Education: University of  Dayton, 1979, B.A.

Career: Beavercreek (Ohio) Daily News 1979-81; Burlington (MA) News 1981-82; Salem (MA) Evening News 1982-85; United Press International 1985; Boston Herald 1985-present.

Personal: Single. “Close to the altar a few times  – three arrests, no convictions – but surely maturity will kick in soon and I’ll complete the trip.”

Favorite restaurant (home):  “Too hard to narrow it to one.  And I’d piss off too many friends in the business if I did.”

Favorite restaurant (away): Presently in the NBA: Billy Coerper’s Five-O’Clock Club, Milwaukee. “The name has changed and it’s gone a bit upscale, but it retains much of the charm of an old-time corner bar restaurant.” Honorable mention: Rendezvous Barbecue in Memphis; Gibson’s in Chicago; In-n-Out Burger out west “the one on Lincoln Blvd. and Sepulveda is so close to an LAX runway that I once lost a french fry in the vortex of a Korean Air Lines 747.”

Akoy Agau: Lost and Found

Sports journalism at the high school and community level often is about more than the sport.  I was reminded of this in reporting a story about Akoy Agau, star center for Omaha Central High School, who fled his native Sudan as a little boy.

Akoy Agau

The story was supposed to be about how students of Agau’s era understood the 1960s, as depicted in my book, “The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central: High School Basketball at the ’68 Racial Divide”.

But my reporting took me in a different direction, toward Central’s “persistently lowest-achieving” status under state and federal No Child Left Behind standards, and the tangle of politics behind it.

Here’s the story for the Oxford African-American Studies Center.

Eric Raskin's Struggle

I was prepared to dislike Eric Raskin.  After all, he wrote an oral history  for Grantland about the 1987 mega-fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler and somehow managed to ignore the only book solely about the fight.  Which happens to be my book, “Sorcery at Caesars: Sugar Ray’s Marvelous Fight”.

So I sent a note and a copy of ‘Sorcery’ to Raskin.  He returned an e-mail with an apology and an explanation that he had never heard about my book.  Not a surprise – most haven’t – I’m still waiting for it to catch fire among the two billion people in China, the Indian sub-continent, and Omaha.  Even I forget about it – which is not to say it’s forgettable.   It just missed the zeitgeist that seems to be tethered to Bill Simmons – the guy who tabbed Raskin for Grantland.  You might say Simmons has a monopoly – Occupy Grantland! – on the zeitgeist. Until it moves on – which is a funny thing about zeitgeist.

A New Voice

We all agree, more or less, that sports talk radio is a shtick.  The hosts emote –  a deeply-felt rant! – and now and then throw out a new idea or turn of logic.  The best thing about sports talk radio is that it provides an instant retrospective and catharsis.  The worst thing – and this is epidemic – is that the hosts endlessly talk about themselves.  They think of themselves as “personalities”.  If I were a station manager I would write one phrase into the contracts of on-air talent:  “It’s not about you!”

That’s why this E:60 story  – “Radio Dreams” – about a 10-year-old talk radio host is so refreshing.  Jamie Convey has cerebral palsy.  His once-a-week Internet show is his therapy – it helps him forget his disability.   His show is not about him – it’s about transcending his limitations – about a world beyond cerebral palsy.  Our able-bodied hosts should take a cue, and get over their self-absorbtion.

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