Seven years ago I went on a pudding strike in the United States Virgin Islands. I was 25 and the purpose of the pudding strike was to draw attention to the injustice of DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket not being available in the U.S.V.I. At that time you were only able to watch whatever national games the local CBS and Fox affiliates carried. Rarely, if ever, did that telecast feature my hometown Tennessee Titans.For reasons that escaped understanding, DirecTV would not sell their satellite service in the islands. With the help of friends, some of whom will still be assisting with this site seven years later, we created www.nflpuddingstrike.com. We've since let the site go down but you can read an interview about the pudding strike with me here -- and reaped a whirlwind of free media coverage. I wrote a daily pudding diary where I opined about...eating pudding every day. And, trust me, if you can write about pudding every day for fifty days, creating Internet content is never going to be much of an issue for you.
Millions of people read, watched, or kept tabs on the pudding strike. Thousands of strangers emailed in support.
I was interviewed on Good Morning America, ESPN, CNN, and on countless local radio and television stations about the pudding strike. Ultimately, after fifty days of pudding eating, we triumphed, a bootlegged DirecTV satellite arrived in St. Thomas via Puerto Rico and we were able to watch the games of our choice on the island. It was a victory...of sorts. My eyes had been opened to the power of the Internet, but now I had to return to the practice of law. This meant that I opened old civil lawsuits, looked at filing dates, sighed, and thought about how much more fun I'd been having when the previous memos had been filed, often years before by lawyers who no longer worked at our firm. Occasionally I remember being overcome by bouts of terror, is this really what I'm going to spend the rest of my life doing, arguing over whether or not it's excusable neglect that February 29th -- yep, a leap day -- happened to fall in the middle of a filing deadline?
So in late 2004 we started a new site that would have daily columns, hopefully humorous in nature, about anything going on in the world, -- www.deadlyhippos.com. The site, presently defunct but still archived, was popular from launch because we had completely original content and some amazing writers. Sports was just a small part of what we covered. We all had a great time, wrote a book, Man the Book, that became a bestseller in England -- seriously-- and eventually, as my columns grew in popularity and developed an audience, I found my way to the SPiN section of CBS Sports thanks to Mark Swanson, who I'll be eternally grateful to at CBS.
For the next year I wrote three columns a week while working full-time as a lawyer. What was I paid by the multi-billion dollar CBS corporation for my content?
Not. One. Dollar.
For an entire year.
After a year I received a raise, $100 a week. That broke down to $33 a column. In legal terms, the pay on every column was equal to 10 minutes of my billable hour time. Bill a half hour, or spend hours cranking out three columns a week?
After three years of full-time online writing, I'd made $5,000.
But I loved what I was doing. Even though I was completely under the radar. During that second year of my CBS column, we moved back home from the Virgin Islands so my wife could go to grad school at Vanderbilt. Shortly thereafter Vanderbilt was playing UT in basketball and I asked CBS, the network that was airing the game, for a game credential. They declined. "We get in trouble if we have too many people credentialed," they said.
It's a painful cliche when sportswriters criticize upstarts for writing from their couch. What other options do most have?
By the third year, I'd developed a large and growing audience thanks to you guys word-of-mouth and email forwards. (Occasionally I'd be the recepient of an email forward with a link for an article I'd written. That's when I knew the column was popping on the Internets and circulating well). I went on the Dixieland Delight Tour, a pretty risky undertaking considering I was also enrolled in Vanderbilt's full-time MFA program in creative writing -- studying under Tony Earley who may be the most underrated Southern fiction writer in America not named Ron Rash -- practicing law with a flexible schedule thanks to one of the advertisers on this site, Counsel on Call -- the only place in America you can practice the law and still have the time to pursue a dream that doesn't involve the law -- and writing full-time with the CBS column.
What's more, the sports market finally took note of the audience I'd developed. Yahoo Sports flew me out to meet with their entire editorial team, and CBS gave me a substantial raise to stay on so that I could finally make a living off writing. Dixieland sold well in stores, I went and trained for the 2008 NFL Draft combine for six months -- a story I'm convinced is still an amazing one -- but New York publishers passed on that book, and I'm not making this up, "because no one really cares about the NFL Draft."
Writing sports books, in particular, is a lot like being an athlete in the draft. If you want to be highly drafted, you better look like someone else who has already been a success. In my case, no NFL draft book had ever sold any copies and so that meant there wasn't a market for NFL draft books. Some people look at this differently, see a market that hasn't been filled and think, "Damn, this would make a great book." I'm one of those people. But most publishers are risk averse. I wrote the book anyway and eventually we'll release it on Kindle.
I also signed a contract to write the book that would become On Rocky Top.
A year later, Deadspin offered me more money to leave, and so I left CBS after three years writing there to hop on board with Deadspin.
"I like SEC football and basketball, apostrophes in names that don’t require apostrophes, making it rain, lawyers who claim to love the law, Civil War history, golf, college sports in general, drinking to excess, spumoni ice cream, Christian Okoye on Tecmo Super Bowl, amateur pornography (the love of the game factor), wiffle ball, pink dolphins, beards getting it done (BGID) and giving out my beaver pelt trader of the week award.
I do not like fat girls from Florida with bingo wings, people from Long Island, ‘Bama Bangs, Georgetown University, the major league baseball regular season, goatees, the NFC East, billable hours, old white men who claim that writing about sports is hard, or Jim Rome."
But Deadspin didn't go very well.
I was brought in to write about college sports because Deadspin didn't cover college sports very well. A.J Daulerio and I were the two finalists to replace Will Leitch as managing editor, and we didn't mesh on the site. A.J.'s a good guy, but I'd developed a good and loyal audience and wanted to bring them to Deadspin writing the same way I always had. But I didn't have the creative flexibility I thought I'd have and all too often I felt like I was searching for other people's content to add a few paragraphs of jokes to.
My goal wasn't to comment on other people's content, it was to create my own.
To his credit, A.J. has turned Deadspin into a fount of original content now and he has a staff of writers that has the luxury of time. Back then it was AJ, me, and Rick Chandler. And being an editor at Deadspin was kind of like riding a tiger, you just grabbed a hold of the fur and hoped at the end of the day you were still hanging on. Throw in the fact that I had a new baby, the On Rocky Top book deal to write and all the travel associated with that job, and I don't know what I was thinking anyway.
So at the end of 2008, I left Deadspin to finish On Rocky Top and leap out into the great unknown.
By the spring of 2009, I signed on with FanHouse.com, which I loved, and was back to doing all original content. A year later, I was one of their national columnists and I was also on the radio for three hours every day in Nashville on 104.5 the Zone with our 3 Hour Lunch show, which has sense become one of the highest rated shows in the country. Everything was going perfectly, I loved the new radio gig and I loved my column.
Come January of 2011, I turned off my phone for an hour and turned it back on to find out that FanHouse had sold all of our site traffic to Sporting News. For the next several months I talked to all the major sites out there, but in the back of my mind I always had the idea that now was the time to go out on my own and try to create something new. After seven years of writing online at three diferent major sites, I knew how the game worked, I knew what drove site traffic, and I knew how to create original content.
But was I willing to take the risk again? Had I gotten fat and lazy writing for major sites that paid me pretty well and didn't require me to be immersed in all the business details? Now I've got two kids, was I really willing to step off into the unknown when I had multiple sites offering me six figures to keep doing what I'd already been doing?
That's when I put my faith in you guys.
Everywhere I've gone you guys have found me. (Incidentally, I'm expecting that song to be on the next NKOTB soundtrack). And now I'm eventually going to have a full cast of characters to write alongside me. How could I turn away from the challenge and the excitement? The leap of faith into mid-air with no safety net.
I couldn't. For better or worse, I've always been fearless.
That's why I can promise you this, at outkickthecoverage.com we will be smarter, faster, and more entertaining than any of the major sports sites on the Internet. We'll also be 10 billion % funnier. And we're going to break news, lots of news. Why? Because we're independent and don't have existing television contracts with anyone. And because you guys are going to tip us off.
But most importantly, we're going to have fun. Trust me, I've been there where you are now, pretending to work while seeking out twenty minutes of solace amidst an unbearable day. Staring at the computer screen thinking, "How the fuck did it get to the point where I make a living arguing about whether a leap day is foreseeable?"
Stroll around the site and you'll see the framework of what we'll be doing, fun pieces, intelligent columns, contests -- go ahead and submit a photo of yourself if you think you've outkicked your coverage more than any guy in the country -- and more. We'll continue to evolve rapidly, with SEC speed. Will we make mistakes? Of course. Will we have stupid ideas? Definitely. But eventually we're going to hit on all cylinders, and, like Herschel Walker seeing a hole, burst into the open field with jet fuel propelling us to the goal line. Ultimately we'll have a site that's a meritocracy, if you're a good writer I hope we'll find a way to feature you, and I hope that you'll be able to find a way to also make a living doing what you love to do.
How did I get here, seven years after I sat down in a law firm and thought, in a panic -- am I really going to be doing this until I retire? -- for the launch of a site that I hope you'll come back to day after day? It's really pretty simple.