Bye to Bobby Boswell
Even though I decided I resent Bobby Boswell for starting a blog that unveiled the hilarious off-the-field exploits of D.C. United, thereby completing undercutting my soccer coverage, I'm still sorry to see him go. He had what was easily the second-best athlete blog in D.C. and possibly the country, and his youthful adventures with Robin Rexroat and the Aggro-Crag will go down as the second-most important soccer story I've ever covered, after Nick Rimando's squirt gun adventures. Man I have a weird career.
Anyhow, here's a quick list I made of the five most bloggable D.C. United players when this blog began in Sept., 2006:
1. Alecko Eskandarian, 2. Bobby Boswell, 3. Nick Rimando, 4. Troy Perkins, 5. Ben Olsen
Eighty percent of them gone, vanished into the ether, or to Norway and Utah or whatever. If my name's Devon McTavish, I'm looking into good deals on moving vans.
Over the summer, I was supposed to write a profile of Bobby for a magazine that folded before anything got published. Here's how it was supposed to begin.
"I want to write a book," Bobby Boswell announces.
The rest of the story after the jump. Warning: it's long, and written in magazine-ese for a non-MLS audience. And this better get some comments from all you DCU old-timers who now spend all your time lapping up Goff's every word. A comment from Bobby's mom would just be an extra bonus.
The 2006 Major League Soccer defender of the year is sitting anonymously in Kenny's Smokehouse, a Capitol Hill hole-in-the-wall that specializes in barbequed meats and side dishes of butter accompanied by traces of vegetables. Boswell calls it "my joint." Lunch for two: $19.39.
"I want to write a best-selling book," he continues. "I haven't figured out how I'm going to do that yet, but if I get my book published I have, what is it, a one in 220 chance of it being a best seller? The hard part's getting it published, but for every 220 books published, one of 'em's a best seller. It's in a book I read: "Life: The odds and how to improve them."
The third-year pro is a few blocks away from the rowhouse he shares with a 37-year-old roommate. His favorite barbeque joint is about a mile and a half from RFK Stadium, where four-time MLS champion D.C. United plays its home games before an average of more than 18,000 fans.
The following day, Boswell--who entered MLS as an undrafted, unknown rookie on a paltry "developmental" salary--will be named to the U.S. Men's National Team roster for the Copa America tournament. In a few hours, he'll leave Washington for a road game in Salt Lake City, then on to national training camp in California, and then to Venezuela for a tournament featuring some of the Western Hemisphere's best-known athletes. In the meantime, he is asked why he wants to write a best-selling book, and he pauses to think.
"Because it's hard to do," he answers. "It's really like a self challenge, you know? Have you ever heard of self-actualization? Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs? It's a psychology thing. The top [level] is self-actualization; five percent reach that. Some say that doesn't actually exist, that you can never actually reach self-actualization, but that's like your ultimate goal. For me, self-actualization is doing all these crazy, great things."
Which explains much about the strange arc of Bobby Boswell's professional soccer career. For example, the personal Web site on which he blogs about his life, shares candid videos, gives away front-row tickets to deserving children and occasionally posts photographs of his teammates' calves. The charity party at which was painted like a tiger, earning a photograph in The Washington Post's gossip column. The column he authored for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in which he provided the "Top five reasons I tell girls they should date me." The t-shirts he wears to D.C. bars, which instead of soccer logos feature the slogan "Glorious Kazakhstan," in honor of Borat. The trips to rock shows and outdoor festivals with prominent local radio DJ's. The way he introduces himself to strangers: telling them that he's a psychic, or a helicopter pilot, or a male stripper, or someone who "works at RFK Stadium." Why not just tell the truth?
"Then the rest of the conversation is just about soccer, which I don't like to talk about when I'm out," he says. "I want to get away from it, you know? I don't really care to hear some guy's opinion on what he thinks of Lionel Messi and his recent performance, you know what I mean? I don't. Sorry, I don't."
"I'm not some hotshot, I'm not some superstar," he says later. I'm just a regular guy that you can come up to and have a conversation with about anything. I can relate to pretty much the average Joe on every level, and I still get to do some cool things in that process. I don't know, I feel like I do things that are not Clinton Portis cool, not Gilbert Arenas throwing a party where he hands out American Express cards as invitations, but I still get to do some really cool stuff. And I feel like I'm just a regular guy."
Of course, he nearly was "just a regular guy," working "just a regular job." Boswell was a triple major at Florida International: Business management, international business and psychology, the latter because "there were more girls in that that any other field." He thought he'd move to New York and get a job on Wall Street, "a big-shot job." He wasn't even invited to MLS's draft combine, which he blames on "the system," a selection process that often favors players from high-profile colleges.
But D.C. United gave him a workout, and then offered him a developmental contract in the spring of 2005, and by opening day he was the starting central back for the defending league champions. He was virtually a complete unknown in Washington, and he quickly established an unusual path. While many D.C. United players live in the suburbs, Boswell moved into the house of Dan Bernoske, a technology executive. And while many players spend their free time on video games and soccer clinics, those things seemed boring to Boswell. Plus, his Florida parking tags meant he couldn't park legally in his Capitol Hill neighborhood during daytime hours, so he had to find other ways to keep busy after practice.
So, for example, he became a regular on D.C. United's hospitals-and-schools charity circuit, showing up unannounced at other players' appearances and winning the club's Humanitarian of the Year award as a rookie. He also started 26 games, and began collecting a sizable following among fans, who appreciated his accomplishments on the field, his willingness to have a good time off of it, and his humble beginnings.
"I think that captured a lot of people's hearts, because he seemed like kind of a regular guy," says Rob Gillespie, one of the leaders of a D.C. United supporters group. "Just pull up a barstool, that kind of thing."
And gradually, some D.C. United fans began flocking to Boswell for another reason.
"He's hot," explains Adrienne Gregory, another long-time fan. "The chicks dig him."
All of which led to a 2006 campaign in which Boswell broke out, in a variety of ways. He started 30 games, made his first All-Star Game and was named the league's defender of the year. He made his first appearance with the U.S. National Team. And he began to build a unique brand in MLS: as a player willing to poke fun at himself and his teammates in a very public way.
That all started when his application to be one of Cosmopolitan's Most Eligible Bachelors was accepted. A hilarious online campaign ensued, complete with a video plea for votes, YouTube clips of video bloopers featuring whoopee cushion stunts, and so on. The team's public relations staff helped organize a voting campaign, and while league obligations kept Boswell from participating in the contest's finale, he was one of the leading vote-getters. The stunt helped launch him into a select group of players MLS officials turn to for their choicest marketing opportunities, and so he wound up in features like Sports Illustrated's Culture Grid and Men's Journal's summer sports issue. All the while, he became acquainted with D.C.'s nightlife--" social venues, let's call them," says teammate Ben Olsen--and he became friendly with players from the Washington Capitals and Washington Nationals. An undrafted unknown from Florida International was becoming something of an MLS star.
"I don't look at it in terms of 'Hmmm, let's market myself, what can I do?'" Boswell says. "All that stuff is fun and games, I get a big kick out of it, but it doesn't define me. Like when I talk to my agent he's like, 'Do you want to do some modeling?' I'm like, 'Dude, I'm a soccer player, not a model.'"
But Boswell clearly enjoys expressing himself, and so in the past offseason, he also decided to launch his own Web site, designed with the help of a local blogger and a D.C. United public relations staffer. A close friend organized a Web site launch party at a downtown club that drew 900 RSVP's and 350 guests. Another Web site party was scheduled for this summer, timed to overlap with English star David Beckham's visit to D.C.
And the Web site--which features a massive image of Boswell's head--has developed a small but loyal following, fans who enter his contests and e-mail him with questions. In the first three months, he averaged 65,000 page views. Boswell pays for the Web hosting and the t-shirt giveaways himself; he decides what to write and when. He's thought about soliciting sponsorship, but hasn't yet taken that step.
"It's about me writing what I want to write about, doing what I want to do, not having to answer to anybody. I didn't start it to make money; I started it to have fun," he says. "The reason I think people are making an issue of it is, the league is very professional. The guys in it, the older guys, they have this idea of professionalism. A lot of them coming from over in Europe, they're very serious, [they think] you're supposed to be that way. I'm more of a believer that the younger generation is more risky, more out there, not afraid to express themselves. I'm going to be myself. Like it or hate it, I don't care."
While some in the organization have wondered whether Boswell is spreading himself too thin, United investor Will Chang describes the site as a major step towards interactivity and Web branding, both for Boswell and the club.
"It's funny, it creates a personality, it personalizes our players," says Chang, who also has an ownership interest in the San Francisco Giants and helped grow BarryBonds.com. "That creates a more loyal fan base, a bigger fan base, and everybody's happy."
Boswell is happy, anyhow. He's a fan favorite in D.C., in part because of his willingness to cross the line that separates players from fans, for example, joining the supporters in the stands during a game he sat out.
"It took me at least 10 minutes to realize he was there; he's there in jeans and a t-shirt, right up there in the section, waving the flag," Gregory says. "They scored a goal, we threw beer, and he joked that he was going to go back and smell like beer. People standing around him didn't even know it was him. He just walked down, stood with us, had a good time and then he took off. He doesn't have any airs about him. It's not like he makes a jillion dollars, but he's among people that really admire him. We're big fans, he could act holier than thou and we wouldn't be shocked, but he doesn't. He hangs out, he talks."
Boswell recently turned down a potential three-hundred percent raise--"it's outrageous," he admits--"choosing instead to make about $30,000 in 2007 but leaving open the option of playing professionally in Europe. He did this because his vision is to play in a World Cup; "I have this vision of how things are supposed to be and they're going to be, and I'm trying to make that happen," he says.
But he also has other, non-soccer goals. He wants to visit all seven continents; he plans on a trip to Australia this year, which would be his sixth continent. He still dreams of becoming a Navy SEAL, although he acknowledges that window might be closing. There's that book thing; he already has the name picked out, and the best-seller hopes.
And while he insists that he is just doing things he likes to do and making sure he won't have any regrets, his friends don't have any doubt about where this story will end.
"If you look at Bobby's life as building brand awareness, BobbyBoswell.com is one of the smartest things he's ever done," says Bernoske, the older roommate, who has worked with Nextel on NASCAR marketing projects. "You can't plan it, but he will be with the right connector, he'll get photographed with the right person, he'll be at the right party, he'll do the right thing on the field. And someone's gonna grab that and it's going to be picked up by the mainstream media, and that's the tipping point he needs. He hasn't gotten there yet. He doesn't plan to be famous. He just sort of realizes it's going to happen on its own."
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