If there could ever be a badass of the print media industry, it would be LA Times columnist T.J. Simers.
Simers was the first of four speakers I heard yesterday at the convention in LA. The best way I can explain this guy is saying he’s like [Buffalo News columnist] Jerry Sullivan on steroids.
Let’s get one thing clear: Simers is a jerk. His advice, “Don’t be a jerk, [just] be right,” is a good tip and I’m tempted to say maybe he should follow it a little more, but if he didn’t go through his antics, I’m sure he wouldn’t get all of the stories he does.
And he does get stories. Lots of them. Stories that no one else gets, and that is because Simers does things differently than other reporters. He swears at people. He blatantly calls them out in harsh terms, anyone from players to coaches to general managers and owners. (Anyone, that is, except for college athletes and rookies, who don’t have the “life experience” to be worth his time.)
Simers doesn’t follow the rules that clubs/schools impose on reporters. Limiting his access only drives him to push harder. Restricted stairways or hallways? Nothing is off-limits to T.J. At Lakers’ press conferences, he intentionally stands off to the side of Phil Jackson, apart from the media. That way, Jackson has to turn to face him directly, which Simers claims gets him more specified answers. After the conference, he walks with Jackson down the hallway to the locker room while the other media members file out.
Simers bragged about calling out Lane Kiffin in the first 15 seconds of his first press conference with USC and is proud that he once told Kobe Bryant to go f— himself.
He gives people nicknames in his columns and refers to them as such on the first reference in subsequent pieces. No one is safe from his names, not even his family. One of his daughters became “The daughter who can’t get a date,” and he finds her dates through his column on occasion.
Sometimes Simers writes pieces through the perspective of his son-in-law, who he nicknamed “The grocery bagger.” I’m not sure how his daughter feels about that, but it is one of the many interesting things he does that works for him in his writing.
Simers believes that people enjoy reading about the human element of things (and rightfully so). So when he covers events he openly admits to not caring about, he may write his piece through the eyes of the average person.
When he crafts his columns, Simers has a few (of his own) rules that he follows. He won’t talk to collegiate players or rookies, but also doesn’t go near the proverbial last man off the bench, or even the opposing team. People only want to read about “their” guys, he said. They want to know about Kobe Bryant and Manny Ramirez, the stars and coaches.
Simers had other good points for writers. All the way up, these guys who made it to the pros (or college) have been the best players around. When they get to this level and fail, it may be for the first time. “We’re the first ones who tell athletes they are no good,” he said.
And when you are around athletes frequently, you are going to develop some kind of relationship with them. They are often interesting relationships.
“It’s weird dynamics,” Simers said, clearly speaking from experience, “but those are weird people sometimes.”
Athletes often refuse to talk to him. But the next day, he makes sure to go right back to those athletes. (I feel like fewer people would refuse to talk to him if he phrased his initial questions differently, such as telling new players, “So I hear you suck.” But that’s T.J. for you.)
Simers always asks SIDs for assistance with interviews, but when they fail him, he takes matters into his own hands. When he doesn’t get the answers he wants/needs, he has no problem waiting outside a coach’s car in the parking lot or arriving on campus at 6 a.m. to wait for him. Once, when Jim McMahon lost his first game with the Chargers in 1989 and hid in the training room, Simers went out back and pushed a golf cart in front of the back door so McMahon would have to come out the front, where Simers vowed to wait him out.
I think I’ve shared enough for you to draw your own conclusions about Simers. But when it comes down to it, Simers is after the human aspect of sports. Athletes, coaches and front-office personnel have cool jobs and plenty of money, but they are still human. People are always going to read if there are personalities in sports.
All of the robot “stenographers” at press conferences who write down every word drive him crazy. Especially the ones who write their articles that way.
“Don’t be a reporter,” Simers said. “Be human.”