In keeping this blog, I’ve reached out to a few high-profile sports media people for interviews, because what better way to learn about the industry than from the pros? Somehow, I’ve been pretty successful in getting responses, thanks to my mastery of the perfectly crafted, groveling email (shoutout to Mina Kimes and Melissa Ludtke). My luck has continued, because I can now add Shea Serrano to that list. 🙌
Serrano is the author of The New York Times best-selling book The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed and currently writes for The Ringer. Although I’m most familiar with Serrano’s sportswriting, he also covers pop culture topics like music and movies. His pieces are varied, including everything from lists (like this one, of the seven versions of Will Smith and this one on dunk celebrations in the NBA) to visual elements and video clips (see: NBA Character Examinations and The NBA Guide to Shooting Your Shot).
He’s known for his strong Twitter presence and an overall funny, conversational writing style (even evident in his response when I emailed asking if he’d do the Q&A…)
Continuing with my recent theme of diversity in sports media, I thought Serrano—a Mexican-American writer who is fairly vocal about social issues—would be an interesting interview subject for this blog.
Thanks to Shea for answering my questions and continuing to help out the little people (and if you’re not already following him on Twitter, do it. Now.)
Why do you think it’s important for news organizations to hire more diverse voices (like more females or more racial diversity)?
Because it makes for a rounder, more compelling, more thorough working environment. Stories just come out better when you’ve got that sort of influence there. Also, it helps to keep things balanced (or, at least, more balanced than they’d be otherwise). That’s important.
You’ve obviously written about subjects other than just sports, so do you consider yourself a traditional sportswriter, or do you prefer to keep that title more open to include topics in pop culture/politics/music/etc?
It doesn’t matter to me what people call me or my job title. If someone asks what I do for a living, I just tell them that I’m a writer and an author. That seems to cover all things. If they ask for specific things, then I tell them I write about sports and music and movies and whatnot. People don’t press too much beyond that. But yeah, it doesn’t make a difference to me what I get listed as.
On that note, how would you describe your writing style? And how has the Ringer allowed you to express and embrace that style?
I try to make my writing as conversational as possible. If you can do that –if you can take a thing and turn it into a conversation– then things work out okay (at least with respect to the things I’m trying to write about). As far as The Ringer, I really like working there because they’ do exactly what you mentioned: they allow you to express your style and they embrace your style. The editors are very good at taking a thing you’ve written, cleaning it up, and making it sound like an even better version of yourself. That’s important in a workplace, I think. I remember one of the very first conversations I had with Bill Simmons –and I hope I’m not betraying his trust here by telling this– but I remember that conversation very vividly. He pulled me to the side and said something like, “I don’t want you to worry about anything else except for writing things. We’ll take care of everything else. Your job is to just write, take chances, be creative, be bold. Just write. That’s all we want you to do.” And, I mean, you’re talking about I’m fresh in the writing game and here’s Bill Simmons, one of the most prominent and successful writers working today, and he’s putting that trust and that confidence in you? Come on. What else do you need?
How has Twitter and social media helped advance your career and make sort of a brand for yourself?
Ha. I think more than anything else it just helps you to connect to a bunch of people and to spread your message to those people and build things with those people. I’ve been fortunate in that the following I’ve built up on Twitter feels less like a following and more like just a bunch of my homies. I know that sounds corny and silly, but that’s just what it is.
How do you react to people who tell athletes or sportswriters to “stick to sports” after they make social/political commentary?
I think that’s obviously dumb. That’s like if I’m at a party and I’m talking to a dentist and he’s like, “I think Hillary…” and I’m like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Stick to molars, bro.”
Do you think sportswriters have a responsibility to comment on issues outside of sports?
I don’t know. Probably. I definitely think I should speak on issues outside of sports (or music or movies or whatever), but that’s just because that’s how I feel, you know what I’m saying? I know for certain that I feel like if you have any sort of platform you should use it to advocate for things that are good and just and right. I think it’s selfish and cowardly to not do that.
A question I’m sure you hear a lot of – would you ever consider podcasting?
I would consider it, sure. It’s just that all the podcasts at The Ringer are handled by Tate Frazier, who hates me immensely. We got into a big argument my first week there and ever since then he’s made it impossible for me to have my own podcast. I said, “Tate, we have to get past this. Is there anything I can do to get my own podcast?” He said, and I will never forget this, he said, “Yes. You have to eat an entire trampoline.” I said, “What the fuck?” He said, “The whole thing.” And that was that. We haven’t spoken since. That was six months ago.
Who are some of the sportswriters/broadcasters that you read/watch the most?
I only read everyone at The Ringer and nobody else anywhere. Not a single other person.