While the sports world watches closely this week to see if the Los Angeles Dodgers will recreate the magic that last brought the franchise a world championship in 1988, the Fowler School of Law on Monday hosted a talk by Molly Knight, sports journalist and best-selling author of The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse.
“We are pleased to welcome such an engaging guest as part of this year’s lineup of distinguished speakers,” Fowler School of Law Dean Matt Parlow said. “Molly’s expertise is impressive. She brings a broad context of the state of the sports industry and the current issues surrounding it.” Knight’s presentation is the latest in a series of sports industry insiders who have visited the Fowler School of Law this year, including Major League Soccer founder Alan Rothenberg and Los Angeles Dodgers President and CEO Stan Kasten.
Knight described her extraordinary path to sports journalism and her work during the eight seasons she served as a baseball writer for ESPN The Magazine. Her unconventional route to becoming a writer began as a biology student at Stanford University. After college, she moved to New York City where she worked as a bartender and waited tables to make ends meet while she forged her way as a freelance writer in a competitive market. She started out writing for a now defunct indie rock magazine, making $5 for each music review she submitted. In hindsight, Knight recalled that interviewing up-and-coming musicians, such as members of Arcade Fire after an early gig at a grocery store, prepared her for her future work with athletes. She later began picking up freelance work as a sports writer, ultimately landing a contract with ESPN The Magazine. On her route from biology major to full-time sport writer, she told the students, “You don’t have to know what you want to do – it’ll come to you. It’s never too late, unless you make it too late.”
In 2014, she moved to Los Angeles to begin writing her bestselling book, which details how the Dodgers were re-made from top to bottom, moving out of bankruptcy in 2012 with the most expensive sale in sports history. Knight shared anecdotes from her research in writing her book, including her work with star pitcher Clayton Kershaw. In describing the strength of his character, she recounted how she happened to be interviewing him in his home when he received confirmation of his $215 million contract renewal. When the news broke – and his cell phone begin buzzing incessantly with messages – Knight said that he insisted on honoring his commitment for the interview, proceeding to answer her questions as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
On how she has watched basketball star Magic Johnson handle his role as a co-owner of the Dodgers, Knight said, “He has an instinct that you can’t teach to people. I think one of the reasons that he’s been so successful at what he does, and he’s been successful in everything, is that he surrounds himself with good people who know what he doesn’t.”
Knight fielded questions from the audience, ranging from the future of sports broadcasting to her interactions with other sports superstars. The most important – and revealing – question may have come from a student who asked about her reaction to the recent allegations of widespread sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. Knight related her own experience as a female sports journalist, explaining that she had been shooed out of locker rooms – assumed to be a girlfriend or masseuse – and sometimes had athletes dismiss her attempts for an interview altogether. She regrets having to tell “young female reporters that you have to have a thick skin to be in there,” she said. “You’ve got to be able to handle cat calls or comments or jokes.” She also recounted the aggressive efforts ESPN has taken to address the problem over the past decade, including sexual harassment awareness training for its broadcasters and staff.
When asked about the future of networks such as ESPN in light of the news about recent layoffs, she pointed to the growing number of “cord cutters” – those who choose to end their subscriptions to cable television and opt for other options such as Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime. She compared the issues facing broadcast sports to the trends that have decimated the journalism industry, pointing in part to the Internet and changes in technology, and predicted drastic changes ahead for the cable industry.
As the event concluded, Knight ended with her World Series forecast: “Dodgers in six!”