Nobody helped my career more as a professional journalist than the guy I'll tell you about
The face turning colors in a flash. The lectures, oh, the lectures involving a little of this and lot of that, with his voice reaching high decibels. The red marks (not good, by the way) decorating your latest story inside one of those large manila envelopes left in your mailbox.
Oh, and there were the pats on the back -- you know, only on occasion -- that made those Jim Schottelkotte Things worthwhile as a journalist during the glory days of both the Cincinnati Enquirer and traditional newspapers.
Those "things" are gone.
After several years of failing health, Schottelkotte died this week in his native Cincinnati at 88. He spent 45 years at his hometown paper advancing from copy boy to metro reporter to sports reporter to sports editor and then to second-in-command of the Enquirer as managing editor (That's when I met him), and he remained the consummate old-school journalist through it all.
More impressive, Schottelkotte was the person most responsible for my rapid rise as a professional sports journalist that has spanned 40 years of covering a slew of Super Bowls, World Series games, several Olympics, major golf tournaments, Final Fours, huge prize fights, college football bowl games and everything in between while winning national, state and local awards.
For one, Schottelkotte hired me as a sports intern at the Enquirer in 1977 during the summer after my junior year at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, located 35 miles north of Cincinnati. He later gave me a full-time job a few weeks BEFORE I graduated in May 1978.
I was the first black intern in the history of the Enquirer, which has been around since 1840, and I was the first black sportswriter ever at the paper. In fact, I was only the second full-time black reporter of any kind for the Enquirer, and that means I was Jackie Robinson to Schottelkotte's Branch Rickey.
As soon as I came aboard the Enquirer, Schottelkotte joined sports editor Jim Montgomery to make me one of the backup writers on the Big Red Machine, the greatest baseball team of all time, with Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and all of the rest. I later did everything else for the Enquirer from writing about high school sports and the Cincinnati Bengals to covering Xavier basketball and Indiana University football and basketball between more pieces on the Cincinnati Reds.
Remember the television character called Lou Grant, played by Ed Asner? He was the hard-driving news director on The Mary Tyler Moore show of the early 1970s. That same character got his own TV show named "Lou Grant," when he became the editor of a newspaper.
Schottlekotte was Lou Grant before Lou Grant. In fact, before the debut of the "Lou Grant" show during the late 1970s, several of its cast members visited the Enquirer when I was there to get an idea how big-time newspapers worked. Courtesy of Schottelkotte, they couldn't have picked a better place.
Those Schottelkotte years set the foundation for my career that went from the Enquirer in March 1980 to the San Francisco Examiner for five years, and then to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 25 years and then to my current stint as a national sports columnist on the Internet and national sports commentator for MSNBC, CNN, ESPN and the NFL Network. I also do a segment every Sunday night in Atlanta on the highest-rated local television station in the country.
Thanks, Jim. Like all young journalists under his tutelage, I have so many Schottlelkotte stories, but this one sums up everything. It involves a drag race. I was sent to cover it for the Enquirer, and even though it was my first time doing such a thing, I thought I did well.
The next day, I had one of those large manila envelopes in my mailbox.
No red marks on my story, though. There was just a hand-written note from Schottelkotte. As soon as I arrived, he wanted to see me in his office.
I'm thinking I'm heading to one of those rare pat-on-the-back sessions with Schottelkotte, especially since I passed the test writing my first drag-racing story, and a newspaper clipping of the story wasn't in one of those manila envelopes filled with red marks.
So Schottelkotte, always in a white shirt and dark tie without a suit coat, swung around in his chair and asked me to describe what happened at the drag race.
I talked about the race in detail.
"What else happened?"
I mentioned that I did interviews, and then I said I found what I thought was a great angle, devised an appropriate lead and wrote the story.
"WHAT ELSE HAPPENED?"
Uh, uh . . .
Well, I packed up my computer, and then I went to the parking lot to get in my car.
"SO WHAT ELSE HAPPENED? WAS THAT IT WHEN YOU GOT TO THE PARKING LOT?
"WAS THAT IT?"
Oh, I saw smoke in the distance.
With that statement, Schottelkotte rose from his seat, then he said as his voice and his face alternated between shades of rage, "Didn't you think to go see what was going on over there? You saw smoke because there was a massive fire, and there were injuries. That was a HUGE news story, and you missed it."
Then Schottelkotte sat down, and he swung back around to his computer.
After I picked my heart off the floor, I got up to leave, and Schottlekotte swung back around in his chair. This time, he said in a soft tone, "Remember. You're NOT a sports reporter. You're a reporter. Don't ever forget that."
Just like I won't forget Jim Schottelkotte.