After covering football at Sports Illustrated for 29 years, Peter King announced in May that he was leaving the venerated magazine to work full-time for NBC.
His final “Monday Morning Quarterback” column appeared on May 21, and because Sports Illustrated still uses the MMQB label for much of its NFL content, when King’s NBC column debuts on Monday it will carry the name “Football Morning in America.”
The column will feature some small additions and minor tweaks but will largely feel familiar to longtime readers, with King delving deep into the topics and characters that populate the nation’s most-watched sport. Still, King’s move does provide a mile-marker of sorts, further evidence of a rapidly-shifting landscape — certainly for his own distinguished career, but also for the sport of football and for sports media.
King, 61, discussed these topics and others with The Washington Post in advance of his NBC debut. This interview has been lightly edited for length.
Q: You’ve always taken a break from the column in the summer. Did this year’s feel different? Were you itching to start writing again?
King: Every Sunday, particularly, I’d think, “Would I be writing today?” or “What would I want to write today?” I am not a big fan of most of what is written in this six- or seven-week period, post-draft, where you go into minicamps, and a lot of times you’re just literally inventing stuff. It’s one of the reasons why I felt like this was a good time for me to go.
I just sort of dreaded how to fill the hole every year. Dreaded is probably too strong a word, but I just I really didn’t look forward to it, because I am not a big fan of this 52-week-a-year, 24-7 news cycle in the NFL. It simply doesn’t exist.
I’ve been on vacation in California and Seattle with my two daughters in the last week. And I didn’t think for five minutes, “Boy, I wish I could write something in the dead week of the Fourth of July.”
Q: You started the Monday Morning QB column 21 years ago. What should readers expect now that it’s moving to NBCSports.com?
King: I think a lot of the column will be similar to what I’ve done, particularly in the last three to five years. But I am going to add some new elements. There’s one thing that I’ve always really wanted to do. In my first column, it’s going to be with Ben McAdoo, the former coach of the Giants. Basically, it’s going to be called “What I’ve Learned.” In essence, this is going to be a section of the column that is going to be basically somebody in or near to football and a lesson that they’ve learned.
There’s two or three people on every team who have got some real wisdom to share, some stories to tell about the things they’ve learned.
Q: You’ve done TV work for NBC going back to 2006. NBC, obviously, is an NFL rights-holder and has a financial relationship with the league, unlike Sports Illustrated. Are you concerned your column will be impacted at all by this relationship or perhaps viewed differently by readers?
King: No, I’m not. Never one time in my discussions with NBC — not once — did they ever say, “Hey, listen, we may want to see your column on Sunday just to make sure we’re going to be okay with whatever you might write.”
Secondarily, I would say that in my contract I have editorial control over this column. So you’re going to read the same column that you read, for better or for worse, in terms of editorializing football and non-football opinions that I’ve always written.
But you know, it’s a good point. I am really sensitive about that. At Sports Illustrated, we never had any contractual ties to the NFL, and NBC obviously pays a rights fee to the NFL to show the game. So I get the question. But I could not have signed with NBC if they had said, “Hey, listen, we’re going to want you to lay off the NFL in times of controversy.”
Q: After your departure from SI was announced, you wrote: “The 24/7-ness of the job, though, has worn on me, as has some of the silly and invented stuff that populates the football media (e.g., 2019 mock drafts 360 days before the 2019 draft). The monster must be fed daily.” I know you’re still going to write and do TV and do radio — and you’re getting ready to do your annual tour of training camps. But do you anticipate slowing down a little?
King: It’s more the day-to-day stuff during the season. I’ll probably be more of an observer than I will be a chronicler during the season, and obviously the offseason. But you know my column on Monday, I think it’s going to be better than it’s been. That’s my goal.
I think what ended up getting to me was the fact that it was just never enough. You know, I’ll never forget I just finished a story couple of years ago — I spent a week with Carson Palmer and I did a week in the life of a quarterback and it was tremendously fun and rewarding and so incredibly educational. And I think I finished working on it few days after that week, and I wrote about 15,000 words. I think I finished writing on a Wednesday night, and I took a deep breath and then all I could think of was, okay, now I’ve got to write my mailbag column and now I’ve got to think of what I’m going to do on Sunday and I have this other project I’m working on.
The grind of it and the fact that the monster has to be fed all the time — that is really what is going to be better for me. Been there, done that, don’t want to do it anymore.
Q: If you entered the business today as a 23-, 24-year-old writer, do you think you’d enjoy it the same?
King: It’s so much more difficult today starting out than it was back then. I don’t envy people who are young and covering the NFL today at all. I feel so bad for a lot of these really eager people who are among the 1,243 credentialed media at the NFL scouting combine this year. How in the world, in such a swarm, can you differentiate yourself? How can you get to know all of the movers and shakers in a way where they will actually tell you things?
If all you want to do today is be a sportswriter, well, good luck. You might find a job somewhere, but it won’t be very lucrative, and I don’t know how long you’ll be in it. You better have some interest in podcasting, in being a 24-7 newshound, you better be good at social, you better have your toe in some other electronic media, whether it be radio, TV. You better be willing to have a little bit of a personality.
Q: I know you’re still rooting for Sports Illustrated, obviously, but do you worry for them, too?
King: Of course. I think everybody who loves SI worries for them. I don’t know who’s going to buy them. Whoever buys the — I don’t know what that means for the future of the magazine, of the website, of all the electronic stuff that they’re getting into now. So until I see what exactly is going to happen, of course I’m worried for them.
There’s such a huge need for Sports Illustrated. I don’t worry that it’s going away. I just don’t. I just worry — it’s the unknown. I just hope that they continue to do the great work that results in things like Jerry Richardson having to step down because of a scandal in Carolina.
Q: How much do you worry about the effects of concussions and CTE, and are you concerned for the future of the sport?
King: Absolutely. I think Greg Bishop’s story about [Washington State’s] Tyler Hilinski was really worrying. Here’s a backup quarterback in college football. When his autopsy was done at the Mayo Clinic, they found that he had evidence of CTE. There’s so much we don’t know yet about CTE, but the one thing we do know is that obviously it is evidence of abnormal brain function. We just don’t know for sure whether that led to whatever kind of mood he was dealing with. But, I mean, clearly it’s not a good sign.
Do I worry about football? Absolutely. To me, I think that we’re all irresponsible if we’re covering this game and we’re not writing about that aspect of the game.
There’s so much education now about football and the potential risks and dangers of it. And the NFL this year is basically saying that if you use your helmet in an aggressive fashion — if you lead with your head and use your head as a weapon — you’re going to get penalized and potentially you could be ejected from the game. Look, I sympathize with players who’ve been playing one way for their whole lives. But everything that I read and I heard at the NFL meetings this year, these people understand that football is on fire. And the fire department has been called and everybody better keep in mind that the game needs to change.
I’m not sure that it needs to change drastically, but it needs to change significantly. I also think that in some ways, if you’re a parent now and you have to make this decision, I think I would listen to Drew Brees. Drew Brees told me last year passionately that, you know, he has sons and they are not going to play tackle football until at least high school. So I don’t think tackle football in middle school is smart. And I’m not even sure tackle football in high school is all that smart. But I realize it’s not going away. I just think that the NFL has to be in the leadership position here, and it’s got to trickle down from them.
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