Q&A with author and sports writer Jeff Pearlman

Sports writing isn’t just box scores and league standings. Jeff Pearlman knows the story behind the numbers is what makes things interesting. He’s a New York Times best-selling author of seven books and is a regular contributor to a variety of publications, including Bleacher Report, CNN.com and Sports Illustrated.

Last week, my son Austin wrote a guest blog post for Book Club Mom — a review of Pearlman’s latest book, Gunslinger (view here), which is a biography on famous NFL quarterback Brett Favre. Austin connected with Jeff on Twitter, then Jeff connected with me, and a couple days later, he graciously accepted our interview request.

Knowing Austin would ask the best questions, I turned the interview over to him.


When and why did you first get interested in writing about sports?

So I started writing about sports when I was a junior at Mahopac High School in Putnam County, N.Y. We had a monthly student newspaper, The Chieftain, and I was really excited to try this journalism thing. My first-ever byline was atop a story about the boys and girls cross country teams. And seeing my name in print was an enormous thrill. I was hooked. The next year I was the sports editor, and then I went to the University of Delaware and joined The Review, the college paper. I’ve been all in ever since.

How early into the process for Gunslinger did you realize that Brett Favre wouldn’t speak for the book? How, if at all, do you think the book would’ve been different if he did decide to talk?

Well, I kept hoping and hoping and hoping. I had a bunch of interviews with him arranged, then they’d inevitably fall through. With about seven months until deadline I realized it was never going to happen. Such is life. How is the book different? In good ways and bad ways. Good—it’d have been more inclusive, and it’s certainly easier to grasp someone’s thoughts when he directly explains them. Bad—involvement usually involves some concessions. “I’ll talk, but …” And that’s usually bad for the honesty of a biography.

You interviewed hundreds of people for this book — did you have a favorite interview? If so, why?

Well, Brett’s mother, Bonita, was amazing, and she’s someone I now consider something of a friend. She was honest, clear, smart, unsparing. People have asked many times, “Wait, why did Brett’s mother talk to you when Brett didn’t?” And the answer, plainly, is that I showed up and asked. She’s a very blunt person, and if you ask a question, you almost always get an answer.

Fans regularly wrestle with whether to forgive athletes for crimes/immoralities, especially if they play for their favorite team. Is there anything Favre could’ve done that would’ve lost respect from the fans, or did the city of Green Bay essentially not care what he did off the field?

Well, not much. If he’d raped someone, killed someone—crimes of those level, sure. Armed robbery might have been a tough image recovery. Robbing an orphanage. Stabbing Santa. But, overall, they’re a forgiving people of their icons. It’s what you do on the field that matters most in Green Bay.

In your writing career, have you ever found it difficult to write negative things about people?

I hate it, almost every single time. I don’t enjoy writing about substance abuse problems, about out-of-wedlock children, about infidelity, etc. That’s no fun for me. But in this business, we have a shitty choice to make. We can write true biographies, and that means unvarnished explorations of the lives of famous and historic figures. Or we can push out feel-good puff pieces. Well, I hate puff.

But here’s the thing: Walter Payton had an out-of-wedlock son. He lived a few miles away, but refused to have anything to do with him. I learned that while reporting “Sweetness,” and it made me want to vomit. I don’t like diminishing icons. I don’t like stuff like that. But how do you write Payton’s life story and leave out something so important? You can’t.

What’s it like now writing about the USFL for your next book, especially coinciding with Donald Trump being President of the United States?

Well, I feel like I have a very detailed understanding of Trump and the way he operates. I’m also sick of hearing about him. He was on my mind (for the USFL) long before the election, and now he won’t go away. Every … day … it’s … something … awful. So while I love the USFL and loved this project, I would take zero sales in exchange for his banishment to the outer moons of Saturn.


Thank you Jeff Pearlman for taking time out of your writing schedule for this interview!

For more information about Jeff and his best-selling books, visit jeffpearlman.com.

You can learn more about Austin Vitelli at austinvitelli.com.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Books about football – updated!

Image: Pixabay

Since football season is once again upon us, I thought it would be fun to look at some interesting football books. Certainly not a comprehensive list, the books below tell about a couple famous quarterbacks, a legendary high school team and offer two good middle school fiction reads.


Believe It: My Journey of Success, Failure, and Overcoming the Odds by Nick Foles: a first-person account of the journey that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles experienced in the 2017 season, which culminated in the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory. After entering the season as the backup, he was thrust into the starting role after the starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, tore his ACL. Foles embraced his faith in God and overcame countless odds to achieve the greatest feat in an NFL season—winning a championship.


Football for a Buck by Jeff Pearlman:  This book highlights the rise and fall of the United States Football League (USFL), which lasted for three seasons in the 1980s. It dives into the incredible highs that the league experienced, such as enticing the talents of Steve Young, Jim Kelly and Reggie White to play in the league. But it also goes into detail on the laundry list of reasons why the league failed so quickly, as well as its ties to current US President, Donald Trump, who was one of the league’s team owners.


Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger:  Excellent account of the Permian Panthers high school football team in Odessa, Texas, the “winningest team in Texas history.” Bissinger chronicles the 1988 season and tells the story of the small town that revolves around Friday night games and elevates its players to hero status. If you like to know the real story behind ultra-competitive high school football programs, check out the book and the movie. And for those who like the relationship drama behind any story, the television series is a good choice.


Gunslinger by Jeff Pearlman:  Excellent biography of Brett Favre, one of the most famous NFL quarterbacks to play the game. Favre’s career lasted nearly two decades, playing for the Green Bay Packers and later, the New York Jets and Packers’ rivals, the Minnesota Vikings. Pearlman provides an in-depth look at the ups and downs of Favre’s career and the complex character behind the football legend.


Million Dollar Throw by Mike Lupica:  Great young adult book. A story of 13-year-old Nate, star quarterback for his 8th grade football team. Nate gets a chance to win a million dollars if he throws a thirty-yard pass through a target during half-time at a New England Patriots game. The companion story is about Nate and his best friend Abby who are struggling with health and family issues. Nate’s parents are under financial stress and Abby is losing her eyesight due to a rare condition. These pressures affect Nate’s performance on the football field and, what seemed like a fun contest suddenly becomes too much.


QB1 by Mike Lupica:  a feel-good read geared towards the middle school or early high school reader. Two Texas quarterback brothers, four years apart and sons to a famous quarterback whose NFL career was cut short, Wyatt and Jake Cullen have different challenges. Wyatt is a freshman quarterback for the Texas Longhorns and is living his father’s dream. Younger brother Jake has lived in Wyatt’s shadow for as long as he can remember. The story begins when Jake enters ninth grade as the third-string quarterback, for a coach and team that are still celebrating big brother Wyatt’s leadership the season before.


Sweetness by Jeff Pearlmana post by Austin Vitelli about the life of NFL legend Walter Payton. He wrote it after reading Sweetness by Jeff Pearlman, a biography about Payton. If you’re not a football fan, you may not know the name, but Walter Payton is the namesake of the annual NFL Man of the Year award.

Vitelli writes, “One thing I struggled with throughout the book was weighing the good and bad in Payton’s life. Payton was likely one of the nicest and most genuinely caring NFL players ever. But he also made lots of questionable decisions that seemingly get left out in many people’s stories of him.”


Through My Eyes by Tim Tebow:  Interesting memoir about Tim Tebow’s high school, college and professional football careers. Written during a period of Tebow mania, this book has few surprises, but fills in the details about the famous quarterback’s early life and explains his personal religious beliefs and message. Not all professional athletes want to be viewed as role models, but they are in the public eye anyway and stories about the bad role models make headlines regularly. Tim Tebow wants to be out there in a positive way. He wants to be noticed and, besides sending his religious message, his biggest goal, a kid himself, is to reach out to kids. If you can take the rest of it, then he’s your man.


Check out a comprehensive Amazon list of football books here.

Click here for an Amazon list of children’s football books.

What football books can you add to this list?

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