The most impressive thing about climbing Mt. Whitney wasn’t that I climbed Mt. Whitney. It was that, 15 minutes after arriving back at our hotel in Lone Pine, swollen and sore, I hopped on the phone and interviewed Shaun White. Then Tricia and I drove four hours home to my apartment in Santa Monica, unpacked, re-packed, went to sleep and woke up the next morning in time to be at skateboard vert practice at the Nokia Theater in downtown LA at 10 a.m.
Usually, the X Games, and the lead-up to it, is the biggest mountain I climb each summer. This summer, it was the thing I did after climbing a mountain. But man, did I have a good story when people I hadn’t seen in a while asked me about my summer. “What have you been doing lately?” “Did I see on Facebook that you girls climbed Mount Whitney?” Yep! Yesterday!
This year, I was back as part of the dotcom staff, which I loved. I wrote daily features that got great front-page play on ESPN.com and previewed the next day’s top story. If you want to check them out, there was a Preview Piece, a story on Shaun White’s Summer Skating, a piece on what it means to Race Rally on a Shoestring Budget or Be The Only Racer in Speed & Style, and finally, an Event Wrap-Up.
LOOK CLOSELY. THAT BLUR IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PHOTO IS NATE ADAMS, MID-FLIP …
After the X Games, I headed to Huntington Beach to be part of a panel at the annual Group Y Action Sports Conference. My panel included Brian Johnston, the marketing director for the UFC (formerly of Burton snowboards), and Tim McFerran, president of the Maloof Money Cup. Our topic: action sports vs. mainstream sports. It’s a subject folks ask me about a lot, since few people spend as much time straddling both worlds as I do, and it’s a topic I like talking about. I think I have an interesting perspective.
Last weekend, while I was in Cleveland for my cousin Lauren’s high school graduation, my parents, sister and cousin Donny went to an auction. I was back at my cousin Jen and her husband Chris’s house (parents of Lauren, You might remember them from the Fan Issue) listening to LeBron jokes. My favorite: “Did you hear LeBron’s teaming up with Charlie Daniels?” my Uncle Lee, a die-hard Cavs (and Browns) fan, asked me. I told him that, no, I had not heard this. “Yeah, he’s going to play second-fiddle for him, too,” he said. If I were LeBron, I’d steer clear of the general Cleveland area for quite some time, and specifically the Roenigk and May homes in Hudson. The wound is still open.
Anyway, at the auction, my cousin bid on, and won, a copy of the first issue of Sports Illustrated, from 1954. It was fun to look through the pages and see what a different magazine it was back then. But what was even cooler was to see how different the sports landscape was back then. Today, when we talk about how sports is changing and try and predict what sports will be popular in the next few decades, I see a shift away from team sports and toward a lot of the sports I cover. No, I don’t believe snowboarding will boast the kind of ratings football or NASCAR brings. But I believe the participation numbers for sports like skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding will encroach on Little League, Pop Warner and soccer. And I believe that, 10 years from now, we will watch shows like SportsCenter and see highlights from the X Games and the U.S. Open of Surf in the same segment as clips from NFL training camps and a double-header at Yankee Stadium. I don’t think the sports world will become homogenized, nor do I think showing skateboarding on SportsCenter will detract from what makes action sports (or extreme sports or adventure sports) attractive to the kind of creative, free-thinking, open-minded, me-first kids they now attract. I just think, at their roots, sports are sports and people are becoming more and more well-rounded in the sports they play and the sports they are interested in knowing about. And that will only continue.
But that opinion is always a tough sell, even though much of it is based in statistics and fact. It’s hard for people to break away from thinking that the most popular sports today have always been the most popular sports and will continue to stay that way.
That’s why this issue of SI was so cool. In it was a story called “The Golden Age is Now.” The subhed said this: “For world-wide interest, for widespread participation, for shattered records, for thrilling triumphs of the human spirit, this is the greatest sports era in history.” Then, on the fourth page of the story, was a photo chart detailing the leading spectator and participatory sports of that year. (See below.) Sure, 56 years sounds like a long time. But is it? If the sports world can change this much in half a century, just think what it will be like 20 or 30 years down the road. Who knows? Maybe, one day, the X Games will be as big as softball was in 1954.