By Joshua Jonah Fischman
In 2004, I was a 15-year-old sports freak searching for an excuse to stay up all night. When ESPN decided to simulcast Mike and Mike in the Morning that year, I found it. Since I was living on the west coast, I was able to tune into Mike & Mike live at 3 a.m. local time on ESPNews and often stayed awake through the entire four-hour show, as alert as if it were airing from 3 -7 p.m.
I always identified closely with Greenberg as a neurotic, funny, Jewish sports fan, who did not have a realistic chance at playing professional sports, but all the while was obsessed with the history and statistics behind sport.
Fourteen years later, on a chilly Saturday morning in Evanston, I had the opportunity to meet the man, the myth, the Medill legend, Mike Greenberg. My professor, Melissa Isaacson, who is immensely talented and has enjoyed a storied career herself, spoke with Greenberg in front of a packed house of Medill students in Northwestern’s MFC Forum. The event was sponsored by the Medill chapter of the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM), an organization of which I am proud to be a member.
During the conversation, Greenberg was genuine, frank, inspirational, and often humorous as hell. Before the talk began, he even joked about the bet he and Golic made when Notre Dame and Northwestern football last played in 2014. The teams played again Saturday night, this time with no bet made between the former co-hosts … at least nothing that could break the internet.
Here are some of the irresistibly quotable Greenberg’s best thoughts of the morning.
On women’s slow but steady rise in sports media and society:
“Although we would like change to occur from hour to hour, it often happens from generation to generation.”
On the most important attribute a journalist can possess:
“There is one quality that all really good journalists share, and that is being a good listener. The single most important quality, the most [underrated] quality, the most under appreciated quality of a good interview is to listen.”
On the correlation between enthusiasm and success:
“Enthusiasm is the one thread of commonality amongst all successful people through the history of human civilization. The person who is too cool is not the person you wanna be. Let your friends make fun of you for being too into something.”
On the pain and pleasure of writing:
“I do not consider writing to be relaxing at all. I consider it painstaking. There may be some people for whom it comes easily, but I find it excruciatingly hard, but incredibly rewarding. …The days my books come out are more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done in broadcasting.”
On the meaningfulness of Greenberg’s life’s work:
“I came to realize there is some meaning in what we do. I’m not curing cancer and I’m not clearing up the rubble after a catastrophe, but there is some benefit that is being derived from [my work] by people other than myself. Whether I’ve deluded myself to believe that or it’s the truth … I have never questioned that again.”
On his daily schedule and being a father:
“I love how busy people perceive me to be. I hope that never changes. I have a job that ends at 10 in the morning, you guys. Since 2000, I’ve taken 15 shots off my handicap, I’ve written five books, and I was the dad who was at pickup literally every single day up until my kids no longer wanted me to be.”
Greenberg also spoke about the rise of the athlete-activist. He expressed great admiration for LeBron James and other professional athletes for speaking their minds about critical, controversial social issues, but feels that players should not be expected to be advocates. Michael Jordan, for instance, Greenberg said, simply did not talk about these matters, because he ostensibly did not have strong opinions about them.
The sportscaster, who was enshrined in the Medill Hall of Achievement upon his last visit to Medill in 2016, emphasized that he and all other successful people have benefited from luck. Without luck, he said, the door that he subsequently kicked down would not have even been ajar.
As for self-doubt, Greenberg said one needs to shut off the constant voice in your head telling you, ‘I suck.’ I would be not be surprised if no one left the MFC Forum Saturday feeling as if they sucked. I, for one, left on a Greenberg high, inspired and energized ahead of another busy week as a student-journalist at Medill.
Photo via Hannah Gebresilassie