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Posted at 3:51 PM ET, 11/19/2010

Michael Wilbon calls leaving The Post "traumatic"

By Dan Steinberg

I was writing about Braden Holtby's eccentricities Thursday when the news broke that Michael Wilbon was leaving The Post and becoming full-time at ESPN. I didn't write anything then, and I still haven't figured out what to say about all this, so I'll hold off, except to note that I think there are only 13 people who were writing for The Post's sports section when I started here and are still writing full-time for The Post's sports section today.

Rather than come up with an original thought about What This Means for the future of our Sports section, I'll just go ahead and include the audio from Wilbon's Friday appearance on Mike Wise's radio show. Wilbon said in his appearance that he'll be writing a farewell column within the next few weeks, but it's sort of emblematic that the first place I heard his own views on the matter was on another Post Sports columnist's radio show.

"It was a pretty traumatic day for me on Wednesday, I guess, to tell Don Graham," Wilbon said. "Look, I'm 52 years old and I worked at the Washington Post for 31-and-a-half years. People can do the math. It's a greater part of my identity than anything else in my life, and that's including my wife and child, because they're relatively new to the scene."

Indeed, Wilbon's first Post byline appears to have come in June of 1979, about three years after I was born. His lede:

When the race began, slightly past 8 a.m. it was impossible to distinguish Terry Baker from any of the other 3,450 runners competing in the Washington stop of the Schlitz Light National Running Series at West Potomac Park yesterday.

But 30 minutes and 15 seconds later, Baker distinguished himself by crossing the finish line 16 seconds ahead of his closest competitor and 30 minutes in front of the last stragglers in the 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) race.

Trust me, that's about 50 times better than my first lede, which was about a basketball game between Calverton and the Lab School for the Southern Maryland Extra. I just re-read it. What a stinker.

(By the way, John Feinstein addressed the WaPo/ESPN question this very week, in a different context, but still. This is from his blog, concerning Rick Reilly:

If you are a fan of his, that's just fine. But seriously to the couple of you who think I'd like his job--are you serious? I had more chances to go to work for ESPN than I've had chances to over-eat. The Washington Post vs. ESPN? Are you kidding me? As for my books, well, I'm okay with how they've done and been received through the years. I'm currently working on my 28th book so I guess a few people have bought them. As one person wrote: 'Let's see, 'Caddy For Life,' vs. 'Who's Your Caddy?'--which would you rather have on your resume?'

The Washington Post vs. ESPN. Are you kidding me, Wilbon?)

Anyhow, aside from saying that ESPN made him an offer he couldn't refuse ("Are you kidding me?"), Wilbon talked a bit about his reasons for leaving:

"You know, you get older, and I can't do as much as I used to do," he said. "I was thinking about this the other day. I was in Chicago for the weekend, basically for board meetings and the Northwestern football game, and John Wall played in Chicago against Derrick Rose. Now, there is no way, if I was in Chicago, I would have missed any Bulls game, but certainly not the first meeting between those two guys. Not in 30 years of being a Washington Post reporter and columnist.

"But I didn't go the other night. Because I can't do everything. I'd gone to a football game that day, I'd gone to a basketball game a couple nights earlier. Can't do it all any more. And you know what? When you're the columnist in that position, you should want to do it all, still. I have no doubt that the sports column is in damn good hands with the people that are doing it, including [Wise]. So that, I have no misgivings about. But it was pretty traumatic for me to leave."

I might write more about this some other day. If you're curious, the longest-tenured Sports writers, from some very cursory archive searches, appear to be Tom Boswell (1969), Steve Goff (1985), Mark Maske (1987), Gene Wang (1994) and Josh Barr (1995). John Feinstein and Leonard Shapiro are now contributors, and Sally Jenkins left and came back.

By Dan Steinberg  | November 19, 2010; 3:51 PM ET
Categories:  Media  
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Wilbon should take Boswell with him. If I do the math right, Boswell's been around for 41 years now. He used to be good, but his expiration date hit about ten years ago. The Post is finally getting rid of its other over-the-hill Tom (Shales). Boswell should be next to go.

Posted by: FeelWood | November 19, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

"Trust me, that's about 50 times better than my first lede, which was about a basketball game between Calverton and the Lab School for the Southern Maryland Extra. I just re-read it. What a stinker."

Lol, as a Calverton alum I can only imagine just how RIVETING that first story must have been.

Posted by: abrozena | November 19, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

In my opinion, Wilbon is an obnoxious, race-baiting jerk and is way overrated as a columnist. He's the textbook definition of "blowhard.". And the plain fact is that he's been coasting on the Post's payroll for years now. In fact, it was demeaning to a once great newspaper to watch how it fought to hang on to Kornheiser and Wilbon well after it became obvious that neither had any real interest left in being a writer.

Posted by: poguesmahone | November 19, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Goodbye. Most people are know are not a fan of Wilbon. He belongs at ESPN.

Posted by: dpkennedy | November 19, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Whoa, whoa, whoa. I think you're burying the lede Steinz. There was a Schlitz Light National Running Series?

Posted by: DCU_1996 | November 19, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Good riddance to that racist Wilbon. I have not read a word he's written in months. You need to get a grip Steinbeg

Posted by: NDIrish2 | November 19, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

I will miss him terribly. I greatly enjoyed reading his articles and columns. I also had a chance to talk to him once at the Legg Mason tournament, before he became nationally known. Even though he was eating his lunch, he was still nice enough to take the time to talk to me about pretty much anything under the sun, even though he very easily (and understandably) could have asked me to leave him alone while he was eating.

I will truly miss reading him on a regular basis.

Posted by: tgoren71 | November 19, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

So the Post will finally be rid of Kornheiser and Wilbon, who have been phoning it in and completely disinterested in Washington sports for at least a decade.

Maybe they can spend some of that money to hire some writers with passion, creativity, and style. You know, writers like Kornheiser and Wilbon used to be.

Posted by: bryc3 | November 19, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

To put Wilbon's departure in perspective: Wilbon was once a very good columnist who I looked forward to reading after every Redskins game and other major sporting events, and 10 years ago he was probably the most important opinionmaker in D.C. sports. But anyone who tells you Wilbon's departure is a big loss for the Post either doesn't read the Post sports section regularly or doesn't care about D.C. sports.

In recent years since his PTI and ESPN fame--and especially since he stopped being a regular Monday morning Redskins columnist a few years ago--Wilbon has become almost completely detached from D.C. sports. He's written more columns about the Miami Heat in the last two months than he's written on the Caps and Nats combined the last two years. And every column he writes that isn't about the NBA is basically mailed in.

Even more troubling, in his columns and especially his chats, he's seemed to show a disrespect to D.C. sports fans, from his gratuitous, often lacking in fact, shots at Ovechkin to his attacks on Redskins fans for basically caring too much about the Redskins.

And the worst part is he doesn't even seem to read his own paper--or even his own columns. When he wrote earlier this year that Ovechkin "cannot" win a championship, he got asked about it in his chat and claimed he'd never written such a thing (this despite the fact that Steinberg had done a whole post on it). The most recent example of how out of touch he is was just this week, when someone asked in his chat about Colin Cowherd's comments regarding John Wall and his response was: "I hope you are accurately quoting Colin, and fairly summarizing his positions." This, of course, after Steinberg had written extensively about Cowherd's comments on this site, and a number of other writers had also slammed them in the sports world.

If a D.C. sports columnist can't even bother to read his own newspaper for news about the local sports teams he's supposed to be writing about, it's time for him to go work for ESPN full time.

Posted by: TheFingerman | November 19, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

I just saw Boswell's preview column on the Post's upcoming season. He thinks the Post will go about .500, but if things break just the right way they could make the playoffs and surprise a few people.

Posted by: bryc3 | November 19, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

It's good news!- later Chicago-Mike! hehehe, I usually only watch espn when the Terps happen to be on that network.

Posted by: Hattrik | November 19, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

TheFingerman hit the nail on the head.

Posted by: rademaar | November 19, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Both Kornheiser and Wilbon are has beens who don't give a rat's behind about the Post or Washington sports, for that matter. Yet Steinberg seems to view them as gods and he waits with baited breath to post their words of wisdom on his blog. Sorry Stein, very few care about them any more.

Posted by: poguesmahone | November 19, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

I don't always agree with him, but I like Wilbon and his writing. I grew up on his columns and will miss seeing his take on things in the Post.

Posted by: PrinceBuster21 | November 19, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

You know, I understand who folks like Wilbon and Kornheiser used to be luminaries in the Washington sports community, but pretty everything folks here have written about them going national and abandoning this town's teams is spot-on. For all teh time Wilbon spent in DC, he never seemed to care much for the local teams, and lately, he seemed more content to muck-rake (Ovechkin out of control, anyone) than pay attention to what was going on around him.

I really have to wonder if Wise's and Stein's waxing rhapsodic about these departures isn't really a reflection of their feelings about heavy-hitters leaving the moribund and slowly dying newspaper industry. Don't worry, Dan; at least the Bog is well-positioned to thrive in today's new media environment.

Posted by: jburksva | November 19, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Good riddance. Wilbon will fit right in at ESPN where acting like an authority on sports you know little about is expected. All he needs to do is run a "What's wrong with the " story and he'll be an official ESPN expert.

Posted by: calhokie | November 19, 2010 8:19 PM | Report abuse

The FINGERMAN said it all...

Posted by: relishfilms | November 19, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

Well, it really isn't right to "dance on somebody's grave" so I will offer these careful remarks about the departure of Wilbon.

Wilbon simply got caught up in the same boat that his good buddy Khornball did. Wilbon started out living his dream, being a newspaper guy. He got asked to be on TV and now he's become a TV guy. Whether it is right or wrong is not a question I am going to touch mostly because I don't think it is relevant but I will say and that Wilbon deserves credit for trying to live in both worlds (print and TV) for as long as he could.

His buddy Khornball completely gave up on his life's dream of being a newspaper guy and had to be officially forced out of the Post. Wilbon seems to have made this decision to become a full-time TV guy on his own which is all anybody can ever ask for, to leave on your own terms.

Congrats to him for that.

Posted by: CapsNut | November 20, 2010 12:35 AM | Report abuse

Wilbon's been mailing it in for a while now at WaPo. Might as well have been writing columnettes.

The only real question is if he'll change the tune and say he was fired in a year.

Posted by: WorstSeat | November 20, 2010 1:04 AM | Report abuse

As others said, TheFingerman sums it up nicely.

I find it ironic that Wilbon is such a brutal critic of local DC sports, especially the Redskins. He used to be a very good writer and his assessments were not always pleasant to hear as a fan but generally pretty accurate. For years now they have evolved into a frustrating body of work that did nothing but upset his former fan base.

Just like the Redskins.

Posted by: dalison | November 20, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

Wilbon and Tony K. were great newspaper guys for a long time (and that fact shouldn't be forgotten) but both hung on to the WaPo for far too long.

Fingerman and CapsNut are both 100% correct; there's nothing wrong with wanting to be a TV guy, but don't disrespect the medium of newspapers (a medium that they both made mighty contributions to over the years) by hanging around and trying to keep a foot in each camp.

I suspect that the TV job is easier and better paid (as well as providing fame) but both Tony and Mike realise that it's seen as a more frivolous, less credible medium (which it is) and they don't want to give up the kudos of writing for the WaPo which, despite the criticism it gets on here, is an internationally recognised institution.

Maybe Mike has a nagging doubt that he, by moving to TV, would be letting down a respected tutor / mentor from Northwestern? Or his younger, more idealised self? Just a guess on my part.

Sadly, television affected both writers' work for (IMO) the worse. In Michael Wilbon's case, his columns became "button-pushing" opinion pieces, designed to manipulate outrage, rather than the thoughtful writing he displayed for many years.

Hey, it works on PTI and that's where the money is... Ironically, his TV and radio shock tactics have a lot in common with media (ahem...) "personalities" that Michael Wilbon would definitely not "Rush" to align with.

He still had talent, his column about his heart problems was excellent and a reminder of what a great newspaper columnist he's been for a long time.

Thanks for the work and the memories Michael.


Posted by: stevebeagrie | November 20, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

ESPN probably hired Wilbon because he is just a softer spoken Stephen A Smith...

Which means that he will be out of a job at the end of the NBA season as ESPN moves on to baseball in the summer of 2011.

Or maybe Wilbon will be forced to become s NASCAR reporter - either way he is done.

Posted by: ered1 | November 21, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Hey Wilbon. Don't let the door hit ya on your ass on the way out!

There once was a time where I valued your opinion. That time, my friends, has long passed. Your bias toward anything and everything Chicago and your creepy man-love for Michael Jordan slowly turned my stomach. And I, like amny others, will NEVER forgive your callous remarks about Sean Taylor so close after his death. That was the worst kind of irresponsible yellow journalism I have ever seen from a mainstream publication like the WaPo.

In case you forgot: “I wasn't surprised in the least when I heard the news Monday morning that Sean Taylor had been shot in his home by an intruder. Would it stun me if Taylor was specifically targeted? Not one bit.” – Michael Wilbon, Washington Post

Thank God a real journalist in the national spot light put you in your place. Thank you forever James Brown.

"But are those reasons enough for some to be so insensitive, so quick and I think so inaccurate in stereotyping Sean Taylor as a bad apple, or that the end he met with was not a surprise? A group of burglars break into HIS HOUSE and surprise to find him there and end his life? Now by all accounts as we've heard from all those who actually knew him well, Taylor did an awful lot of maturing over the last year and a half. For those who have been mature for a lot longer than that, exercising restraint in passing such callous and harmful judgment would seem to be in order..." – James Brown, CBS Sports

Posted by: Rocky420 | November 22, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Good riddance!

Posted by: Parlett316 | November 22, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Dan -- I think you need to start a new count -- how many different ways posters can call Wilbon a racist. Good God, people. Enough. We get it -- you don't like him professionally or personally. GTFOI.

Posted by: ljo211 | November 22, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: kiley1 | November 22, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: kiley1 | November 22, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse


What are you talking about? Other than the commenter who calls Wilbon racist, and the other commenter who says he's a race-baiter (that's two) none of the other critics of Wilbon commenting here (about 20) base their criticism on race. We just think he's not a very good columnist anymore and goes out of his way to bash D.C. teams and fans without many facts to back up his bashing. It's fine if you disagree with that assessment--I'm just mystified as to what race has to do with it.

Posted by: TheFingerman | November 22, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

I'm always surprised by the knee-jerk "Wilbon is racist" reactions to the very mention of his name; as if racism ended with the passage of the 13th Amendment. Talking about racial issues doesn;t make someone a racist. This country needs to have an extended dialogue about the continuing racism in society and Wilbon isn't willing to pretend it doesn't exist in sports. The double standards and discrimination are alive and well. If he is making people uncomfortable then he is doing his job. Stop pretending that sports and society are color blind. Yeah, we need a Larry Michael for balanced and insightful commentary.

Posted by: Natmeister | November 23, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

First of all I'm totally "SHOCKED"! But I understand. ESPN has deffinetly taken to raid good sports journalist from the printed press. I don't blame Wilbon for one minute. When your in your 50's you kind of lose your enthusiasm for running around. (No matter the activity :) Anyway Good luck!

And for all of you GOOBERS who don't know good home grown journislist when you see it(even though he's from Chitown). You don't have to like everything he writes, or even a agree. Butthat's what made him good.

Posted by: bigd57 | November 23, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Yes, we'll miss his columns but both Michael and Tony K. know the newspaper business in general (and WaPo in particular) ain't what they used to be. Everyone should be so lucky to have 31 years at a legendary newspaper before segueing full-time to a new and lucrative career on the nation's leading sports television franchise.

Posted by: YourHostJeromeAniton | November 25, 2010 12:53 AM | Report abuse

A great loss for Chicago. Good riddance, Wilby...

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | November 25, 2010 9:19 PM | Report abuse

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