June 4, 2015
ESPN commentators Jeremy (left) and the late Dick Schaap. (Photo by Steve Fenn/ABC)

ESPN commentators Jeremy (left) and the late Dick Schaap. (Photo by Steve Fenn/ABC)

It isn’t every day that Jeremy Schaap gets a call from Ethel Kennedy.

Mrs. Kennedy was on the line with the good news that ESPN had won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for Schaap’s “E:60” story on deplorable work conditions in Qatar in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. It was the first time the network received the prestigious honor.

Kennedy’s widow was extolling the virtues of the piece during their conversation when Schaap interrupted her.

“I said, ‘Mrs. Kennedy, I’ve got to tell you something. You knew my father,'” Schaap said.

Schaap’s father, Dick, wrote a biography, “R.F.K.”, that was published just months before Sen. Kennedy’s assassination in June, 1968. Upon hearing that piece of information, Mrs. Kennedy dropped the formal tone in her voice.

“Oh, I was hoping you were Dick’s son,” Kennedy said.

“That was very cool,” Jeremy said.

This is a good stretch for the Schaap family. While Dick, who died in 2001, would have been very proud of his son for winning the RFK Award, Jeremy has reason to boast about his father. Monday, Dick Schaap will be formally inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame in a ceremony in Salisbury, N.C.

The new Hall of Fame class also includes Lesley Visser, the long-time Boston Globe and CBS reporter. “To have a Schaap and Visser in the same class means they are very proud in Amsterdam,” Jeremy cracked.

The honor for Dick Schaap actually is way overdue. Arguably, there is nobody in the history of sports media who performed to such a high standard on more platforms than him.

Schaap was the editor of Sport Magazine and wrote 33 books, including Jerry Kramer’s “Instant Replay,” a ground-breaking diary of a year with the Green Bay Packers. On TV, he hosted ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters,” a forerunner for today’s modern studio shows, and reported on sports for ABC News.

“It’s easy for me to say because I’m biased,” Jeremy said. “But (New York Times sports columnist) Dave Anderson said it best. He said, ‘My father was the best of their generation at whatever he did.'”

The key to his father’s success, Jeremy said, was an unwavering curiosity and a “deep sense of humanity.” He also had an approach to writing that everyone should use.

“He always would rewrite as much as possible,” Jeremy said. “He felt rewriting was good writing. He worked very hard to find just the right words.”

Jeremy and his sister, Rosie, who writes a drink column for the New York Times, followed Dick into journalism. Dick, though, insisted on Jeremy getting a good Liberal Arts education at Cornell while picking up journalism experience working at the student newspaper.

“Being a good writer is making connections,” Jeremy said. “You make those connections based on what you know. If you don’t have some kind of grounding beyond sports, then you’re going around in circles.”

After graduating from Cornell in 1991, Jeremy eventually landed at ESPN. Among his duties was co-hosting a weekly radio show, “The Sporting Life,” with his father.

“We were on the phone several times a day,” said Schaap, who continues as the show’s host. “It was terrific.”

Jeremy, 45, clearly has many of the same traits as his father. He shares the curiosity for his subjects. “You have to be curious in other people’s stories,” he said. “You can’t fake curiosity.”

Also like his father, Jeremy’s “sense of humanity” has pushed him to the top of his profession at ESPN. His recent work for “E:60” has concentrated on human rights and social justice issues. The Qatar story detailed why immigrant workers are dying in Qatar in the name of a soccer tournament. It was a riveting piece of investigative reporting.

Schaap recently did an hour-long “E:60” special looking at the corruption during the tenure of FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Talk about timing. A few days later, top FIFA officials were arrested. Last Friday, he was on the air for 10 hours to discuss Blatter’s re-election.

“I never expected to do that,” Schaap said.

Schaap is grateful that ESPN has given him the resources to report on these impactful stories. He stressed they are a collaborative effort, which includes producer Beein Gim.

“It’s really been a dream come true,” Schaap said.

Schaap said the Kennedy Award “means a lot to us” because of the human rights aspect. It also gave him the opportunity to have Mrs. Kennedy tell a story that he had heard many times from his father.

It seems as if the Kennedys had a bunch of non-traditional animals in their house. When Dick interviewed Mrs. Kennedy for his book on her husband, a coatimundi, a raccoon-like animal, suddenly attacked and dugs its claws into her leg. Dick, showing quick reactions, came to Mrs. Kennedy’s rescue.

“It was quite a thrill to hear Mrs. Kennedy tell her version of the story and how closely it matched my father’s,” Jeremy said.


Recommended reading on sports journalism:

George Solomon, head of the Povich Center for Sports Journalism at Maryland, isn’t a big fan of automated game stories.

Richard Deitsch at SI.com interviews NBA writers about covering the Finals with LeBron James and Stephen Curry.

Recalling the career of Ron Bergman, the long-time beat writer for the Oakland A’s, who died last week.

Fox Sports is laying off writers at its regional sites, according to Awful Announcing.


Ed Sherman writes about sports media at shermanreport.com. Follow him @Sherman_Report

Correction: The name of Jeremy Schaap’s book is “Instant Replay” not “Instant Diary.”

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Sherman wrote for the Chicago Tribune for 27 years covering the 1985 Bears Super Bowl season, the White Sox, college football, golf and sports media.…
Ed Sherman

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