Ode to John Paul I or Why I Won't Be Working at ESPN
Remember Pope John Paul I? His stint as pontiff lasted less than one month.
Remember my gig at ESPN.com? That lasted about one week.
Why? I will not be working with ESPN at the WSOP this summer due to creative differences. We have since parted ways.
It's still my life long goal to write from them someday. It just won't happen right now. I do not blame anyone that handles the poker section at ESPN. I was their number one choice from the start and as far as they knew... the position was mine and they gave me the go ahead to mention it on my blogs. Feldman even left a comment on the Tao last week expressing, "Glad to have you aboard."
That all changed after a conference call on Tuesday afternoon. A suit in the upper brass (and non-poker person) had an issue with my philosophy of covering poker. The WSOP is not figure skating. It's cut-throat poker in Las Vegas, held in one of the most dangerous cities in the world where crystal meth abuse runs rampant, gangbangers frequently blow each other away, female players offer anal sex for tournament buy-ins, and poker players get robbed in the parking lot of the Rio by gunpoint. Heck, just this past weekend, a pro named William Gustafik was brutally stabbed to death by his wife... in Las Vegas.
That's just the beginning. If you dig deeper, it gets worse.
Phrases like the Hooker Bar or POB (penis on back) is the type of stuff that scares suits in boardrooms. The masses want to hear about those exact things while the mainstream media ignores the deviant side of poker. Anyone who has spent any time on the tour knows that it's a tough life, with too much travel, serious sleep deprivation, casinos taking out too much juice in poorly structured tournaments, while several of your favorite pros seem to be always broke. We're not supposed to talk about how the final tables at the WPT are virtually a crap shoot with their escalated blind structures. We're supposed to stay mum about the deals to chop up prize money that are being made or who has what percentages of who at the final table. That's the reality of tournament poker. And most of the time, you really don't know is backing who.
There's cheating and drug abuse in poker, but you knew all about that already. Half the room at the Rio was flying high on something last year and it wasn't Red Bull, which they ran out of after a few weeks. There are hookers flocking to tournaments and hanging around looking for an easy mark. Even one pro got robbed of his bracelet by two ladies of the night. That seediness hasn't changed in years. Winners piss away their prize winnings faster than they cash their checks. Some players get so burnt out on the grueling lifestyle that they are never heard of ever again. Players fool around on their spouses. Players fuck each other over on shady business deals. Players hustle each other at other forms of gambling whether it's action on the golf course, outrageous prop bets, or straight up at the tables.
And I'm not limiting that aberrant behavior to just poker or professional sports. If poker is a microcosm for real life... those same issues are happening in your neighborhoods and at your workplace. The world is an imperfect place and we're all prone to the immoral side of the road. Throw in a slew of degenerate gamblers, good old fashioned American greed, plus the darkside of Las Vegas and you have a glimpse into the nefarious side of humanity.
The more money that gets involved in poker and the more fame and publicity that the players get helps foster an even harsher scene, where there's more at stake than just the chips on the table. You just have to walk down the halls at the Rio last year to see the most prestigious tournament in all of poker whored out to corporations who in turn hired scantily clad part-time call girls and jacked up strippers to hawk their goods.
Of course there are very few places you will read about those aspects of poker. I was hoping to make a difference this year. I wanted to equally highlight the most spectacular aspects of poker (of which there are many that I'm overlooking in this post) along with the utter lows. As readers and poker players, you deserve to be told the truth about what goes down at the series. And I wanted to be the guy to give you the straight dope.
You know what? I'm still going to do that. It just won't be at ESPN. It will be here at the Tao of Poker, where I don't have an editor hanging deadlines over me. I don't have any suits reminding me about ethics, morality, appeasing advertisers, and towing the company line. There's only one person for me to answer to and that's... me.
Besides, I attract substantially more traffic on the Tao of Poker than at any place I could write for. It's better that I post all my best material here rather than selling it off to someone else and letting them benefit from my spill over traffic that I busted my ass for four years to cultivate and retain.
When I broke the good news last week, the biggest piece of advice that I got from friends and bloggers was, "Be yourself." Even Byron mentioned to me on Sunday, "Please keep your own style."
In a perfect world, I'd be able to do just that and write for ESPN. Right now, that's not going to happen. Perhaps in the future, the climate might change. I hope so.
And please, don't weep for me. This minor disappointment is nothing compare to the kids who got whacked down at Virginia Tech. Weep for their families.
And there's no need to trash anyone at ESPN. They made a mistake and they'll have to live with that decision. I'll be fine. This new development opened up the chance for me to write with complete creative freedom and it also gives me an opportunity to work with some people that I respect and admire. Stay tuned for that announcement shortly.
Again thanks to everyone for their support before and now. The more I think about not altering my writing style and changing my voice... the more it makes sense. Maybe I wasn't cut out writing for The Man. I've always been better off doing things my way. After all, that's what got me here in the first place. Rest assured, you'll get your poker fix this summer... by coming back to the Tao of Poker everyday.
Side note... I will be appearing on Hold'em Radio as a guest on Amy Calistri and Lou Krieger's radio show. That airs from 9pm ET to 10pm ET this Thursday. You can stream it live. I'm sure they will want to discuss this latest situation. Tune in on Thursday to hear my guest spot.
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