The first sports writer I dubbed as my favorite was Lang Whitaker — and he still stands as my favorite today. As a High Schooler, I sent an email to SLAM Magazine’s “Trash Talk” (Letter to the Editor) section. I didn’t expect to get a response, I figured they’d be too busy. But to my surprise within a few days I had a return message in my inbox.
In my letter I asked if they had any tips on how to be a better writer. The reply I got was short but sweet:
“Thanks for the letter. the one bit of advice I’d give you is to keep practicing! NBA players practice basketball for hours every day, and I felt like writers should, too. Keep at it!”
And it came straight from the executive editor: Lang Whitaker. So naturally I liked him a lot from then on. I started following him on social media and reading his articles, and keeping up on his career path. The guy skyrocketed. He was writing for GQ and Sports Illustrated and he’s now a blogger for NBA.com.
A couple years ago he published a book called, “In the Time of Bobby Cox: The Atlanta Braves, Their Manager, My Couch, Two Decades, and Me.” Recently I finished reading it and I connected with every word. His passions align with my own, and I dream of following in the footsteps of his career. To have this book full of advice was almost too overwhelming, I chewed on the 230-pages for a couple months. I highlighted and marked up some of the pages.
The entire book resonated with me, but if I talked about everything, this would turn into an unreadable mash of words. Instead, I’ll mention two parts that I found most applicable to my current life as a Pepperdine junior trying to jam my foot in the door of a sports media company to etch a viable potential future career path.
The first is Lang’s second chapter: “FAITH: How Greg Norton Is Like Playing on a Terrible Basketball Team.” I’ll admit I initially strongly connected with it because it’s about basketball. I’ve played basketball all my life, and I know loads more about dribbling than pitching. However, that’s beside the point. The basic idea of the chapter was to compare Lang’s high school basketball coach’s trust in him to Bobby Cox’s trust in his players. Both demonstrated that putting faith in a person will instill confidence in them, and when that faith is given at the right moment, it can help a person perform at a level that they may have once seen as unattainable.
It brought me back to a quote I’ve held in my head for about seven years now that I actually read in an article by Lang: “People need to know how much you care before they care how much you know.” Instead of trying to constantly overpower people and show off your skills, why not give someone else a shot to show you theirs? “Whether or not he actually prevails in the moment is out of your hands, but at least he can’t say you didn’t give him every chance to make it big” (51).
Lang writes that Bobby Cox “understands the power of faith and what it means to have someone believe fully in you,” and that as a result he gives people the benefit of the doubt. I can only pray that there’s someone out there who will allow me the opportunity to prove myself.
The second section I’ll mention is the fourth chapter: “CONSISTENCY: How Chipper Jones Is Like Going to College.” This chapter compares Lang’s personal writing development to the unrelenting consistency of Chipper Jones on the Red Sox. When talking about his writing, Lang actually writes part of a paragraph not much different to what he emailed me years ago:
“It’s like hitting or pitching or any other skill. You can talk about writing, you can read about writing, but you have to write to get better at it. I wrote seven days a week, for a couple hours a day, and this is something I try to adhere to today. If you want to improve at anything, you have to practice.”
And prior to that he says, “I was realizing that I didn’t so much want to write as I needed to write; it fulfilled some sort of gap in my soul”— I wanted to shout, “I feel you, Lang! I feel you!” He closes off the chapter by saying the following, and about how Chipper Jones and Bobby Cox and him share this in common. I’ll end with it:
“Think about how many mornings you just wake up and think, ‘This again?’ But you do it, you just do it, over and over again, trying to get better at it each time … And that’s what I will continue to do.”