Bob Kravitz: On His Forty Years As An Award-Winning Sports Journalist
We are proud to feature one of the most influential sports journalists in modern history, Bob Kravitz. Kravitz, a Carmel resident, is an award-winning columnist who currently writes for The Athletic—a prominent sports website that provides national and local coverage in 47 North American cities as well as the United Kingdom.
Kravitz has worked for several prominent local and national publications throughout his career. He has covered sports as a columnist and feature writer for 36 years and is a graduate of Indiana University.
We sat down with Kravitz and reflected over his career and some of the more notable stories and people he has covered—including the infamous “Deflategate” story that Kravitz broke and tweeted that set the NFL world on fire. Kravitz also shared his thoughts on the evolution of sports writers/columnists as it relates to today’s social media-driven news industry.
When Electric Typewriters Were All the Rage
Kravitz’s fascination for newsprint began as a child growing up in New York and was supported by his parents—especially his father.
“I was one of those weird kids who pretty much knew what he wanted to do from the time that I can remember being able to read,” Kravitz shared. “My father used to take the Long Island Railroad from Long Island into Manhattan every day, and he’d pick up all of the New York papers for me. I always found something magical about newspapers. I remember for one of my birthdays, my folks got me an electric typewriter, and I just started writing. I wrote about sports, short stories and poetry. Believe it or not, I have a soft side.”
There was a brief period where Kravitz considered studying law but said that he got over that quickly because journalism is “way too much fun.”
“I pursued [journalism] like crazy,” Kravitz said. “My parents were very supportive, and so I went to a university that had a good journalism school, and that school was Indiana University. I worked for the school newspaper and got internships at ‘real’ newspapers while I was at IU. And I just kept moving on.”
After graduating from IU, Kravitz went on to write for several highly respected and credible newspaper outlets including The Boston Globe, Rocky Mountain News and Sports Illustrated before coming to Indiana, where he wrote for the Indianapolis Star and WTHR before joining staff at The Athletic.
Covering One of Indiana’s Most Polarizing Coaches
One of the most notable sports figures that Kravitz covered—while in college and post-graduation—was IU Basketball head coach Bob Knight. When asked about what that relationship was like, Kravitz replied, “It started out warm and fuzzy when we met. I was pretty steadfast about him giving me the same access he gave to Bob Hammel with the Bloomington paper. We got along pretty well for a while, and then I wrote something that he didn’t like, and he went crazy on me and had me banned from the locker room for the rest of the year and wouldn’t answer my questions. So, I’d say that [our relationship] ran hot and it ran cold. But I learned from Knight that you have to be prepared for these confrontational situations every now and again, and you can’t back down. You have to make your point, and if you don’t get access, then you don’t get access, but that’s life on the beat. You have to write what you think is right. I think [Knight] looked at the college newspapers as kids who were going to do his bidding for him, and I wasn’t going to do that.”
Covering the Olympics
Ironically, Kravitz was on his way to Sydney, Australia, to cover the 2000 Olympics when he got the breaking news bulletin that Bob Knight had been released from IU.
“I was at The Star and had a seven-hour flyover in LA the night Bob Knight got fired,” Kravitz recalled. “I was at the LA Marriott—at the sports bar—watching some football, and I had my laptop with me. There was a [news] crawl stating Bob Knight was let go by Indiana. And I was like, ‘Oh shoot, now I have to write.”
Kravitz took the next couple of hours to write his column on Knight’s termination before heading out to Sydney, where he had one of many memorable Olympic experiences as sportswriter.
“It was too much fun if you want to know the truth,” Kravitz shared. “I got a lot of good stuff [content], and I saw some great stuff. We got out and saw Sydney, which is an extraordinary city. It was a great experience. I’ve covered 13 or 14 Olympic Games, and they were all unique and wonderful. I used to love going to the Olympics, but I’m too old for that now.”
Breaking “Deflategate” … Was It Worth It?
As one reflects back on the breaking news that the NFL had launched an investigation into whether or not the New England Patriots had deflated game balls, Kravitz will be hailed a hero or a heretic for being the first to drop that news, depending on which side of the scandal you’re on.
“It was absolutely worth it,” Kravitzsaid, unabashed. “I think we [journalists] go into journalism at some level to break big stories. I was a little bit lucky in the way that I got [the story], but somebody felt that I could be entrusted with reporting it accurately and they reached out to me. Then I reached out to other people to get it confirmed.”
Even today, seven years later, Kravitz still gets some flak for his now famous tweet simply stating that “A league source tells me the NFL is investigating the possibility the Patriots deflated footballs Sunday night. More to come.”
“I’m glad I did it,” Kravitz said. “I get these Patriots fans telling me that I totally got it wrong, and all I wrote was that the NFL was investigating the Patriots. I didn’t start the investigation. I just made it known to the general public. Yes, I wrote some things afterwards that I wish I could take back, but hey, you live and you learn. And sometimes you don’t learn.”
The Current Evolution of Sports Journalism
As the journalism industry continues to evolve in the era of social media and the highly publicized politicization of sports in general, Kravitz shared some of his thoughts as he’s experienced the industry’s transformation throughout his 40-plus-year career.
“I think we’ve gotten away from being tough,” Kravitz said. “When I came up [in this industry], we were still living in the Woodward and Bernstein mentality. Not a ‘gotcha’ mentality. We tried to speak truth to power, and that sometimes meant being critical of ownership or whoever. I do think that there’s been a general softening of the sports discourse. There’s not a lot of tough general sports columnists. And everybody’s an expert in a particular area—becoming insiders on baseball, basketball, football, hockey, etc.—but there aren’t a lot of generalists left to be critical when the time is right.”
On the subject of how sports have become even more politicized in the current era, Kravitz stated, “I think the media reflects the society at large. We’ve become a much more politicized society. Neither side will talk with each other. They might talk at each other, and I think that has made its way—to some degree—in sports. With the increasing politicization of sports, we’ve been forced to take a stand one way or the other. It’s a weird dynamic in sports and in this country right now.”
On Becoming an Expert in Sports Writing
A fun fact that many may not know about Kravitz is that he was an avid hockey player until just a few years ago when he had to retire his goaltender jersey due to health issues. He played in high school in Chicago, won a state tournament and played club hockey and men’s hockey leagues in Indiana.
Though he’s never played professional football, basketball or other sports that he’s covered throughout his career, Kravitz knows how to write about people, and that, according to Kravitz, is the key to being a solid sportswriter.
When asked how he addresses people questioning his ability to effectively cover a sport that he’s never played, Kravitz replied, “Do you have to run for Congress in order to cover politics? I don’t think so. Do you have to be dead to write an obituary? One guy came up to me and said, ‘You’ve probably never worn a jock strap.’ And I said, ‘Actually, I’m wearing one right now. First of all, I’ve worn a lot of jock straps—I was a goaltender, for God’s sake. Look, my feeling has always been, they play the music and we write the lyrics. Who the hell else is going to do it? It’s not like former athletes are lining up for newspaper jobs.”
Janelle Morrison: Was there a player and/or coach that you particularly enjoyed interviewing?
Bob Kravitz: A few names that pop to mind: Peyton Manning, who was always terrific and insightful. Patrick Roy, the Hall of Fame goalie with whom I had a good relationship. Anthony Gonzalez, the former Colt who became a congressman. David Harrison, the former Pacer who dealt with a lot of personal issues during his career. I found them all fascinating and forthcoming in their own ways.
JM: Which decade has been your favorite to cover with regards to sports?
Kravitz: I probably enjoy the 1990s in Denver the most. I covered every Olympics during that period and was fortunate to cover a Stanley Cup title run in 1996 and Super Bowl titles in 1998 and 1999 with the Broncos. I also had hair back then.
JM: What have you covered and written about that made you feel most proud about your work?
Kravitz: I’m not particularly good at looking back at my work, but I was proud of the fact I was the only journalist in Indianapolis who understood that Jim Irsay was not going to bring back Manning after the 2011 season. Everybody assumed he was coming back, but through my reporting, I knew the Colts were looking to Andrew Luck as the successor. Caught a lot of grief for it, but I was right.
JM: On the flip side, what was the most teachable moment for you in your career?
Kravitz: There were plenty of them, but when I was a 20-year-old intern, I referenced a passage in an LA Times story that turned out to be dead wrong. I should have double-checked and confirmed the veracity of the report. I paid for that misfire.
JM: Who haven’t you interviewed [from any category] that you wish you had or would like to if given the opportunity?
Kravitz: I’ve always wanted to sit down and have a beer with Tiger Woods. He’s such a unique figure in the history of sports. I’d like to know what makes him tick—or used to make him tick when he was the most dominant athlete on earth.