Peter King has been one of the most prolific and respected NFL writers for decades. His weekly Football Morning in America column on NBCSports.com is appointment reading for all football fans and insiders.
We were scheduled to talk with King last Friday, just a few hours after news broke about the Miami Dolphins’ blockbuster draft deals with the 49ers and Eagles. Naturally, King was busy working the phones to get the details – but he was still kind enough to take our call…
1. Who is your biggest mentor?
I think it’s my mother, Phyllis King. When I was in fifth grade, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a reporter. I hoped it would be a sports reporter, but I really wanted to do it. And so me and a buddy of mine had this little neighborhood newspaper — that’s taking a lot of liberties with it. We wrote stories about what was going on in our neighborhood, and that was Enfield, Connecticut. And my mother would type it up on her typewriter. She’d use carbon paper — we wouldn’t make a lot of copies but we’d make enough to give it out to people in the neighborhood.
She had a very busy life. She raised four kids. She had various jobs. But that was really, really important to her – that she nourished the interests of her youngest child. And she was a big reader. She really encouraged me to read. Reading is at the base of being a journalist. So I would really have to say that without my mom, there is no way I’d be where I am today.
2. What’s your top pet peeve?
I think probably my biggest pet peeve is this new culture in sports media of being an expert. You get hired to do a job and you do the best that you can at that job. You try to be a reporter and report responsibly, which the vast majority of people in the business do. I’m just not crazy about people who … set themselves up as experts, who are seen as experts. The bottom line is, if we all knew what was coming, we’d all be geniuses. The fact is, it’s okay sometimes to say, “I don’t know.” It’s okay sometimes to say, “I really don’t know who’s going to win this game,” or “I don’t know who the Jets are taking at No. 2.” It’s okay, you can say that. I just think we have evolved into a space in our business where there are an awful lot of people who are experts, who are just people like I am. I know a little bit more than a lot of people, but I don’t know a lot more than a lot of people. Sometimes it’s okay to just sit back and say, “I don’t know.” And I wish in our business people would do that sometimes.
3. What’s your favorite book?
I don’t think I have one favorite book in history. I’ve read a lot of books in my life and I enjoy reading. Ask me today what my favorite book is and I’m probably going to name one that I’ve read recently. I think the one that really occurs to me that has stood out recently is Know My Name by Chanel Miller. It’s about the Stanford rape case. This woman, I think she was 22 at the time, she was sexually assaulted at a campus party at Stanford University by an athlete. And it is a story that encompasses incredible reporting about herself and her story on the most dramatic night of her life. And it’s also a story about how, I just don’t think we know enough in this country – especially, I don’t think men know enough – about sexual assault. And this is basically a play-by-play of a sexual assault and what happened to very nearly ruin a person’s life. A very bright woman whose life was nearly irreparably harmed by this and will affect her probably every day for the rest of her life. I really am a big fan of books that take you places where you would never go, and really illuminate what that particular world is like. I just was really impacted by this book.
4. If you could have dinner with any three people in history, who would they be?
I want to invite my late father, because I think… first of all, I really want to tell him some stories about what he’s missed in the 34 years since he has been on this planet. I want to tell him all about his family and his great-grandchildren, because he’s got some of those. My dad died in 1987, and he just missed so much about my life that I really wanted to share with him. He’s the biggest sports fan in the world, and he would have really gotten a kick out of what happened to me. So we’d have a lot to talk about.
As far as two others… I’m really interested in some characters not only from sports history but from world history. I’d really be interested in having Babe Ruth at that table. What a gigantic personality. I find him to be an extremely curious character in the history of the world, and I’d just like to know what he was like. And I think the other one – I’m certainly not the most political person, but probably JFK. I just oftentimes wonder what the world would be like if he wasn’t assassinated.
5. If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your teen self?
The biggest advice would be to be as curious as you can for the rest of your life. I believe that being curious is essentially what we as reporters have to be if we’re going to continue to succeed. I remember back when I was young, in high school and college, I really loved everything about reporting and writing and I thought it was just so much fun. I used to sometimes have conversations with people along the way when we would talk about the business. And I would always say, I just think the most important factor is this drive to be curious. I knew that as a very young person who was interested in being a reporter. But I probably didn’t know that it really means everything. It does.
If today I don’t wake up, and as the day goes on, with these trades that have just happened, if I’m not driven to pick up the phone and call six people about those trades, then it’s just time to go. I knew that it was an important characteristic that you needed to have. I didn’t know it was the overriding characteristic that you needed to have. Because all things flow from curiosity.
Check out all of our Friday Five features — including Troy Aikman, Andrea Kremer and more — in the Friday Five archive.