Breakdowns

The Friday Five: Jim Trotter

Jim Trotter has been covering the NFL for some of the nation’s biggest media outlets for decades. Trotter, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s selection committee, has covered the league for Sports Illustrated, ESPN and now NFL Network and NFL.com.

We caught up with Trotter for this week’s Friday Five…

  1. Who is your biggest mentor?

I don’t have specific mentors, per se. I lean heavily on the lessons I learned at Howard University, where professors Sam Yette and Dr. Lee Thornton, who have since passed away, were demanding yet nurturing. They prepared us well for the real world, for which I am eternally grateful.

  1. What is your biggest pet peeve?

My biggest pet peeve in the business is the overuse of the word “great.” Everything and everyone can’t be great. It’s okay to call something good, or really good. But great? People should pause before using that word as it relates to sports.

  1. What is your favorite book?

My favorite book is The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. Bet you didn’t expect that. The reality is, if you’re going to be a good writer, you need to learn the fundamentals of good writing. The Elements of Style provides that, helping school you on construction, brevity, word choice and so many other things. I will go back and read it “just because” even today.

  1. If you could have dinner with any three people in history, who would they be?

In a broader sense, they’re all historical figures who had tremendous impact on disadvantaged groups — but it’s really for blacks and for women’s groups. Number one, they’re all badasses. They’re all individuals who took no shit from no one. They’re all individuals who were willing to stand up on principle and put that over profit — in some cases, over their own well-being.

The reason I would want to sit down with Ralph Wiley is that he is who I wanted to be when I was growing up and wanted to become a sportswriter. We didn’t see — and I know young people today can’t imagine this — but there was no internet, no plethora of media outlets. When you looked for a national sportswriter who happened to be black, he was one of the few that I could see out in the little corner of my world in California.

He represented a role model for me. I think the common thread for all these people is the courage they had to speak truth to power. He was unapologetic in his blackness. Whereas you had a profession that was largely white, who did not come from the same life experience he had — culturally in particular — whereas they would see a situation one way, he could present it in another way. It was fascinating for me to see someone who looked like me and could speak to the experiences that I had, and who would say, “No, that’s not what this is,” and “No, think about it this way as opposed to the way you’re presenting it.” He was just so talented as a writer, as a businessperson, as a historian, all of those things. For me he is truly one of the giants in the business.

Malcolm X, his journey is just incredible. I don’t think the broader population really understands the metamorphosis he went through as an adult. Where he was perceived as anti-semitic, hating all whites, all these stereotypes and generalizations people made of him. And, to the end of his life where he came to realize that people should be judged based on who they are and how they treat others. And, not every white man is the devil, those sorts of things. To look at a guy where he started in Detroit, the stuff he went through, going through the legal system fighting the Nation of Islam, the split with Elijah Muhammad and where he ended up at the end of his life. It would just be a fascinating discussion.

For Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she’s just the ultimate badass. She fought to make this world a better place not just for women but for all. And having watched documentaries on her, I just think it would be a fascinating conversation. I’m not sure it even would be a conversation — I’d just be sitting there listening as she spoke! And that’s with all of them.

  1. What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t take everything personally.

Check out all of our Friday Five features — including Troy Aikman, Adam Schefter, Andrea Kremer and more — in the Friday Five archive.

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