Winter has held on to Chicago like your big brother's headlock. The weather finally breaks on a Tuesday, the morning I sit down to talk to ESPN columnist and on-air personality Scoop Jackson. I meet Scoop at Valois, a historic diner in the diverse Hyde Park neighborhood here in Chicago. Scoop is sporting his trademark black rim glasses in sporty hip hop gear. After scarfing down french toast, eggs, and turkey sausage, Scoop and I discuss a wide range of topics, from his background, his experience at ESPN, race and the business of sports, and his thougts on athletes using Twitter undermining collective bargaining agreements. Part I of the interview is here.
I love old school hip hop. We're going to operate this interview like freestyle.
Do your thing. I'm always looking for creativity.
You're from Chicago and you rep Chicago. Tell me where you grew up in Chicago and what neighborhood, high school and all of that good stuff.
I'm from South Shore. I actually was born on 47th and Ellis. I moved from 47th and Ellis when I was 5 years old. Never lived outside of South Shore. Lived all over South Shore. I'm a South Shore guy. I went to high school at Luther South on 87th and Kedzie. Don't ask how I got way out there.
And from there I went to Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana. After two years I had to leave, a money situation. Came back here, worked a couple of jobs, got money together, went back, did that hustle, and graduated. I've always had a job. I've been working since I was 14. My first job was at McDonald's on 79th and Yates. Even through college I kept some sort of job. During the summers, I did payroll for the City of Chicago, the Mayor's Office. Every summer I came home I had a job. When I left school, I was working 3 jobs to get my money situation right.
Hey Mon! What was your major?
I double majored. I started off in Political Science because I wanted to study law. Being from Chicago I wanted to study politics. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer because my uncle (Kermit Coleman) was a lawyer. In Poly Sci, once you get past the politics and you start to study pre-law (and you know this more than anybody), the constant study of cases.... (looks sideways.)
You weren't feeling that.
At 19-years old!???? Nah. When I came back after my sophomore year I started studying Communications. I was always a media junkie, fan, you know. At the time it was called Mass Communications. Which was broadcast, print, radio, all that. When I graduated, the job in payroll I was doing every summer for the City was offered to me full-time. But I still wasn't doing anything in communications.
So I saved my money and went to Howard University for graduate school. See my mother would not let me go to Howard before because she went to Howard. She said, "I'll be damned if I give them that school any more of my money!". When I could pay for it myself, it was my decision. So I went there, did the Master's Program, graduated, came back here, and started grindin'.
How was the experience in Howard and what were some of the things you did there to prepare you for now?
When it came time for grad school that interest for communications just continued. Howard had a program where you studied Human Communications. They had Mass Communications. But I was more interested in learning the theoretical side of how we communicate as people. Being at Howard University their world view of things was amazing. You're dealing with verbal and nonverbal communications, you're dealing with different languages, messages that lend itself it to advertising and its impact on us as consumers. It was more expansive than just Mass Comm.
Learning and going through that program basically made me, in life activities and in my career, look at the way people communicate in a totally different way. Looking at messages through the media. Mass communications teaches you about the market and how people operate inside of the information we take in. Human communications teaches you about how those messages are often received and the meaning behind it. You find real subliminal stuff. That has prepared me to view media and human beings in a different way. And also made me come to conclusions on how to present messages in my craft.
A lot of people cannot view their education in such an expansive way. You say you were always interested in media?
I was always interested in magazines, current events. I wasn't a nerdy kid. I was a kid that was always interested in...
Everybody always say "they weren't the nerdy kid" by the way.
Nah, nah. See, lemme explain: My mother, she made us stay up on current events. She would put (dinner) in front of us and just out the blue say "What happened today with the president?" If we didn't know we couldn't eat. She said "Y'all better find out." Back then there wasn't no internet. My brother and I'd be running next door trying to get a paper and askin' people, "What happened to the President?" In 7th grade, I would get in trouble in class on purpose so I could sit outside the principal's office and read the newspaper. The (Chicago)Tribune.
So that's what I mean by saying I wasn't a nerdy kid. I was always driven by current events. My father was a newspaper reporter. He was one of the few black ones in the city. He and my mom separated when I was in 2nd grade and he moved to Denver. He was in the newspaper business. So I kind of from a distance looked at his ability to report and it was something I never wanted to do. I looked at reporters as vultures. But, it gave me an appreciation of research and gathering information. I always had that in me.
So by the time I got to high school I had a thirst for current events, and had that understanding or that appreciation for gathering information. I bumped into a guy named Brad Samuels our first day there and we became partners. He is an amazing artist. And as we took art classes (I was pretty good at art, so that was my hobby on the side - that's how we connected) and as we went through high school and became best friends we were always like, "You know what? We're going to start a magazine." That our whole thing. With my thirst for information gathering and not being a reporter, and his art and looking at everything from visual standpoint and we understood growing up reading Rolling Stones, Billboard, Right On, and Sport Illustrated, we understood how magazines were doing the same thing as newspapers just specializing it.
So it was like, "How could we gather our interests from high school and consolidate into something?" I'll write it you'll draw it. That was our thing. That is what manifested itself into something into where I could build a career. Me and my man back in high school always saying we were going to have on our own thing. Mainly the because of the entrepreneurial aspect of my career has been built on those days on finding ways to express our creativity where we thought could be relevant.
During this time a childhood friend with family Scoop recognizes comes to greet Scoop and they exchange pounds and hugs.
Was that fam?
We were neighbors growing up. We lived in a complex on 70th and South Shore Drive, and he lived next door. We stayed in 9A they stayed in 9B.
What did you and Brad Samuels start?
Brad went to Columbia, here, while I went to Xavier. When I got out of grad school at Howard, I started to do freelance projects. In doing the freelance thing I got tired of seeing my work skipped around and not getting paid. I thought "I could do this for myself." So that's when I came back to Brad, like "We always talked about doing our own magazine, we got to do this right now." We started a magazine called "The Agenda." It started as a one page newsletter that I began putting in black-owned businesses in the City of Chicago.
After doing that for a couple of years, I kept getting feedback from all the businesses saying, "Look man, if you expand more than one page we'll advertise." That's because the minute I was putting' it in people's stores, it was getting snatched up. There seemed to be a demand for it. And I didn't limit it to Chicago. I was in a book store in D.C., in a bookstore in Denver (where my father lived), in a bookstore in Atlanta, and in both Spike Lee joints. in Brooklyn and LA. It was basically my words and Brad's drawings. I'd find some other writers and he'd find some other graphics and lay it out. It was a small, independent magazine and it was ours.
We were trying to be the black Village Voice. It made its mark. Vibe or Rap Pages called it "the most dangerous magazine in America." Then other things started to take over and Slam came around, totally opposite of that.
Tell me more about Slam magazine and how that came about.
The publisher of the magazine kept hearing my name popping up. He was like. "Let me see if this cat knows anything about sports, basketball." Coming from Chicago... I'm like, "Yeah." I just never had been given the opportunity to write about sports and basketball because you know Sporting News and Sports Illustrated at the time were it. And honestly, they weren't checkin' for a brother like me.
Slam was a perfect fit. When he called, I was like, "Cool, let's go." So when Slam happened, about four years into it, I was able to help create XXL magazine. While doing Slam I could still do The Agenda with Brad. But when we created doing XXL, I had to stop doing The Agenda and all of the other mags I was writing for: Vibe, Source, (because I helped start Source Sports with them). All that had to cease because XXL was a whole project in and of itself.
So you were doing freelance writing, you started the Agenda, and while you writing for the Agenda, you started Source Sports.
DL (Dave) Cummings, who started Source Sports, always said to me, "I'm going to take you away from Slam." And I was always like, "Good luck." But I was the one who basically started writing for him at the Source so he could create that spectrum for sports with his intent of trying to take me away.
Funny, it did come full circle. He actually did get me away from Slam. He was the one that got me over to ESPN. After he left the Source, he became the deputy editor for ESPN: The Magazine. It took him like 5 years but he got me. He was like "I told you I'd get you away from Slam." Not too many people know that.
Tell me more about XXL.
We started XXL after being with Slam, like I said, for about 4 years. The creative director of XXL, Don Morris, was a hip hop head and wanted to get into something else. His vision and both of us (although Don was white) being tired of seeing men's magazines doing nothing but celebrating white women, felt there was something missing in the industry. We're looking at FHM, and Maxim, and Arena out in London, and we're looking at this like "You know what? Come on man, we need something for us."
That's when Don, Tony Gervino and I while in Orlando came up the concept for XXL. We were basically trying to come up with an urban men's magazine. Something that nailed it but it had to be centered on hip hop. We walked the concept into the president of the company and his basic point to us was, "You made me so much money with Slam whatever you want to do, I'll do it. Just come up with a name." It was that simple. It is rare you can do that, walk into the president of a major company -- Harris Publications been around for 40 something years with 70 magazines on their roster -- and pitch an idea and they say just go make it happen. Don came up with the name XXL and we took it from there and built the staff. That was going on at the same time as Slam.
So you were with Slam and XXL for a total of 11 years, and then how did that transition..was ESPN the next thing after that?
They came to me. ESPN came to me on 4 different occasions before I agreed to go over there to them. Nothing against them, but to me, what they were bringing to the table wasn't worth leaving what I had. When they launched the magazine, a couple of the editors came by my house during the NBA Finals when the Bulls were playing Utah in I think '97 to talk to me about coming over to the magazine.
Basically I just asked them, if I wanted to write that I felt Latrell Sprewell was right for choking his coach P.J. Carlisimo could I do that? And they were like no, and I'm like "we're done." Because it wasn't about the money for me, it was about the freedom and being able to express that. Why would I be responsible for taking that away from myself? A lot of times people don't understand that, they really don't - especially black folks. Too often people they can dangle money in front of us and the first thing we do is jump. And I've never been that dude, never have.
And to answer your original question about my degree and the role it plays now: It gives me a position of strength and the opportunity to say no. It's similar to Spike Lee. In principle, I look at my situation the same way. I don't have to sign that deal with the major movie houses. I'm not trying to be Steven Spielberg or Steven Soderberg. I'm not trying to go out and make big movies like that. I'm cool right here with my little 40 acres and a mule, make a movie a year, struggling for funding, but I got relevance.
Check back on Wednesday for Part II of interview with Scoop Jackson, where he talks more about on-air talent negotiations, Twitter and collective bargaining agreements, and the legal hurdles of creating a book for Nike.
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