5 Questions with...Sun-Times' Mark Brown

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5 Questions with...Sun-Times' Mark Brown

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of Communications
CSNChicago.com Contributor

December 16, 2009

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with a new weekly feature entitled 5 Questions with...

Every Wednesday exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeka man who has tackled everything from political and corporate corruption to personal stories of hopehes a local news columnist extraordinaire whos pulse on the heartbeat of our fine city is second to noneyou can read his acclaimed column four times a week in the Chicago Sun-Timeshere are 5 Questions withMARK BROWN!

BIO: Mark Brown is a local news columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times who writes about everything from political corruption to family life. Roger Ebert once called him the best local columnist since Mike Royko, and Chicago Magazine recognized Brown in its Best of Chicago. That was a few years ago now, which is why Brown says he subscribes to the Satchel Paige philosophy: Dont look back, something might be gaining on you.

Regular readers of Browns column know hes got a soft spot for the citys homeless people, Johnnies Beef in Elmwood Park and pepper-and-egg sandwiches from anybody that makes a good one. They also know that, while they may disagree with his liberal views, he comes by them honestly. He is in particular an advocate of common sense, especially in government, where it is so often in short supply. On occasion, Brown even writes columns in which he talks to his dog, Gilbert, a Spaniel of uncertain parentage. That wouldnt be so unusual except that Gilbert talks back. Some readers swear Gilbert makes more sense than Brown. Brown refuses comment.

Brown grew up in central Illinois, graduated from Northern Illinois University in 1977 and then attended the Public Affairs Reporting program at University of Illinois-Springfield, then known as Sangamon State, where he was a Sun-Times intern. Brown worked four years at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, IA, before joining the Sun-Times full-time in 1982.

At the Sun-Times, Brown worked mainly as a general assignment reporter specializing politics and government, which led him into investigative reporting. In September 2000, Brown began writing his column, which currently appears Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday. One of his strengths is that he has experience covering not only Chicago City Hall, but also Cook County government and the Illinois Statehouse.

Brown, a third-string high school basketball player, grew up obsessed with St. Louis Cardinals baseball, Chicago Bears football and Bradley basketball. Only Bradley has moved down on his radar, replaced by the Bulls.

Most Sunday mornings in the spring and fall, Brown can be found playing soccer in an adult recreation league in Oak Park. He took up the sport four years ago when one of his sons quit playing. At age 54, Brown admits he is too old to be learning a new sport and trying to keep up with guys 20 and 30 years younger, but he says its a lot of fun trying.

Brown is married to Hanke Gratteau, a former Chicago Tribune managing editor now working in the not-for-profit world. Their twin boys, Harry and Spencer, are seniors at Oak Park-River Forest High School.

1) CSNChicago.com: Mark, as you well know, Chicago holds the great distinction of not only being one of the worlds great cities, but its very likely the greatest sports city globally as well. In your opinion, what differentiates Chicago sports fans and the passion that we possess for our teams that separates us from the rest of the pack?

Brown: What differentiates Chicago sports fans from the others, unfortunately, is that the fans here have the greatest record for remaining loyal despite the futility of our teams. Obviously, the Cubs inability to bring home a championship surpasses all others. But with the exception of the Bulls, we havent had a truly dominant organization over an extended period of time--and even with the Bulls, everything has been a struggle before and after Michael Jordan. The Bears have won two just championships in my lifetime and the White Sox one, and, memorable as they were, thats a long time between drinks. For fans to stay loyal under those circumstances, they have to develop a real passion for the sport.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, regular readers of my column know Im first and foremost a St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan reared in central Illinois--where loyalties are split between Chicago and St. Louis. Even mine are split. I would list my rooting allegiances in order: Cardinals baseball, Bears, Bulls, White Sox, Blackhawks, NIU football, Illinois basketball and then throw a net over DePaul and Bradley basketball and Illinois and Northwestern football.

2) CSNChicago.com: Lets shift to city politics for this one. If you had to give Mayor Daley a year-end performance review for 2009, what grade would you give him and, a quick follow-up question, do you think he has enough gas left in the tank to run for a seventh term in 2011?

Brown: I dont like giving grades. Im not the teacher. But if youre going to force my hand, Id have to give Mayor Daley a D- for 2009. It was a disastrous year all the way around for the mayor. You start with the parking meter debacle. The city was in such a hurry to get its hands on the revenue from leasing out the parking meters that it jacked up the rates without thinking through the consequences and before theyd installed the new pay boxes. It became sort of a last straw for people who have been kicked around by the economy and other tax increases. Then there was the Olympic debacle. Even if youre like me and dont fault him for going after the Olympics, the failure to win the bid was undeniably a major embarrassment for the mayor. Then you top it off with a city budget that blows nearly all the money from the parking meter lease in one year to avoid facing the full effect of the citys long-term financial problems, and youve got the worst year of Daleys political career. Why not an F? Because hes hanging in there.

Does Daley have enough gas in the tank to keep going? I believe he does. I know there was a lot of speculation after we lost the Olympics that hed hang it up at the end of this term. That sort of talk just makes him more determined. While I no longer operate under the assumption that he is mayor for life, I still believe the job is his until somebody comes along who can take it away from him, and Im not sure Ive met that person yet--at least none who would be willing to risk everything by challenging him. The problem isnt so much the gas left in Daleys tank but the gas left in the citys tank. The needle is in the red zone. City finances are hurting every which way, and unless the economy turns around dramatically, there is no easy solution. What the mayor loves most is making things happen--moving the city ahead, as he puts it--but that takes resources. During most of his tenure, the mayor was riding the crest of a hot economy. Its no fun to be in his place when youre just trying to keep the city out of hock. We also cant overlook the wild card in the Mayors decision: the health of his wife, Maggie. As she continues her battle with cancer, you dont know how he might be affected.

3) CSNChicago.com: In addition to it being a loss for Mayor Daley, losing the 2016 Summer Olympics bid definitely was an ego crush to all of us. We never really had a shot to land them, did we?

Brown: Looking back on it, we apparently deluded ourselves into believing we were a strong candidate for the Olympics when the clear favorite must have been Brazil all along. I always thought the argument to give South America its first Olympics was the single strongest reason any candidate city was advancing, but I got swallowed up in the hubris of thinking the IOC would want to bring the Summer Games back to the U.S., if only to get its hands on our money. You would have thought with all the money the Chicago 2016 committee was spending that they would have bought the right consultants and advisers to warn them what was coming. Given the personalities involved in Chicago, its certainly possible they did get that advice and forged ahead anyway. Mayor Daley is hard to budge once hes made up his mind.

While I believed all along that the Olympics would have been good for Chicago, Im kind of glad to have it behind us. The debate was getting nastier and nastier. This way we can all just assume we were right--and watch the Olympics on television.

4) CSNChicago.com: From a pure news journalism standpoint, does it concern you that the media world thrives and focuses on sensationalistic stories such as the latest Tiger Woods sex scandal or do you think the media industry just looks at these types of stories as an opportunity to gain additional readers, viewers, listeners, etc.?

Brown: From a journalistic standpoint, sure, I hate these stories. But I also realize this is part of the information the public wants--or should I say the information a part of the public wants. In todays communications world, the gatekeeper function that the newspapers used to exercise--determining what news is fit to print--has been eroded beyond recognition because theres always somebody out there on-line who will put the story in play first. To remain competitive, everybody feels like they have to jump in the mud with the rest. I have to admit Im interested myself, not in the details of whether he slept with this woman or that one, but in what its going to do to him. The whole Tiger business breaks my heart because he is far and away the most fascinating athlete competing in a post-Michael Jordan world--not just in terms of his physical ability, but because of his incredible psychological edge and will to win.

Now hes been taken off the stage indefinitely, and we all lose when that happens. Theres nothing in sports more entertaining to me than watching Tiger in the hunt for a major championship on Sunday. But I think we have to remember that Tiger isnt in this situation because hes the best golfer in the world. He gets this attention because he used his golfing success to market his persona to the world to help companies sell their products. And now the world sees yet again that the persona is partly false, that the heros feet are made of clay, and those advertisers know they cant put him out there right now.

5) CSNChicago.com: Your award-winning columns have been a must read for years and no doubt spark water coolers debates from Joliet to Waukegan to around the world via the internet. Generally, how long does it take you to write a typical page 6 column and do you have a process on deciding what topics the masses will most enjoy reading?

Brown: Almost everything I do is done in day, start to finish. Thats not ideal, but its the reality of producing four columns a week by myself. There is no trusty assistant working behind the scenes, just me. The hardest part of my job is picking what Im going to write about. By comparison, the actual writing is easy. I have total freedom to write what I want, which puts the responsibility squarely on me to keep it interesting. Ill spend much of the day agonizing over possible topics, and then hopefully choose one in time to complete the reporting.

Im usually in the office by 9:30 a.m. and dont start writing until 5 p.m. Typically it takes me about three hours to actually write the column, and Ill finish by 8. When Im in a groove, I have ideas lined up in advance. Like a streaky baseball hitter, I often lose that groove. I would prefer to write off the news of the day or do anything that gets my butt out of the office and into the real world. But that doesnt always work. In trying to pick a subject, my first test in deciding whether it would interest somebody else is whether it interests me. I have to decide if Ive got something to say on that subject, or can offer some special insight, information or perspective that I dont think youd get anywhere else. Sometimes, Im just looking for a subject to entertain or amuse, anything to keep the reader coming back for more.

BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: Anything you want to promote or share with CSNChicago.com readers? Please share it with us

Brown: Over the years Ive written a lot of columns about the Southwest Chicago PADS homeless shelter, which operates in the area around Marquette Park. I know theyre really struggling in this economy, and Id like to put in a good word for them. All the not-for-profits are hurting right now, but I always believe I ought to speak up for the folks at the very bottom of the totem pole, where a few dollars really can make the difference in a persons survival.

SW Chicago PADS is what they call a warming shelter. There are no beds, but every night during the winter they provide free meals, a shower and a change of clothes to those in need. They also have staff on hand during the day dedicated to helping solve the sorts of problems that can lead to homelessness. If youre looking for a worthwhile place to direct a holiday donation, you cant go wrong with these folks. Heres their contact info: Southwest Chicago PADS, 3121 W 71st Street, Chicago, IL 60629. Telephone: 773-737-7070. Website: www.swchicagopads.org.

Brown LINKS:

Chicago Sun-TimesMark Brown page

E-mail Mark Brown

Rutgers unveils new football uniforms

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Rutgers unveils new football uniforms

Rutgers has updated its look a bit, and that means some new uniforms for the football team.

As part of updating the brand identity and establishing a consistent look across all sports the Rutgers football team got some new duds.

Check em out.

It's certainly a time for new starts at Rutgers, with a new football coach in Chris Ash, a new men's basketball coach in Steve Pikiell and a new athletics director in Patrick Hobbs. Makes sense that a new look would follow.

From the school's release:

Over the past 18 months, Rutgers and Nike collaborated on the brand evolution program that honors the transformative and hardworking nature of its teams and personnel. Rutgers and Nike worked with student-athletes, coaches, administrators and alumni to pay tribute to key attributes of the institution.

As part of the updated brand identity, all 24 Rutgers teams will showcase consistent colors, logos, lettering and numerals over the course of the next few seasons. The football uniforms offer a very traditional look, with visibly larger numbers, chainmail pattern and new helmets. Women’s basketball, women’s soccer and men’s basketball also support traditional looks, and add both the chainmail and secondary mark as well.

The Block R (spirit mark) is the emblem for strong, emotive support given by students, alumni and all those associated with Rutgers. The Block R suggests pride and affinity and will continue to serve as the primary logo for Rutgers University athletics.

Over 5.5 million Chicago market TV households tuned in for 45 live pro games in April on CSN

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Over 5.5 million Chicago market TV households tuned in for 45 live pro games in April on CSN

 

#1 Highest-Rated “Cable” Network in Primetime in April for Households & ALL Key Adult, Male & Female Demos

Chicago, IL (May 4, 2016) – Fueled by the highest-rated pro game telecast in network history (Blackhawks at St. Louis/Game 7 – 19.07 Chicago market household rating), an amazing start to the 2016 MLB season featuring the top team in the American League (White Sox) and the top team in the National League (Cubs), along with a massive month-long marketing blitz, which included a media signage takeover throughout the Metra Ogilvie Transportation Center in downtown Chicago, Comcast SportsNet’s #WhatAnApril proved to be one of the network’s busiest and best-performing months to date.  Note the following April 2016 highlights for Comcast SportsNet Chicago:

  • Comcast SportsNet was the #1-highest rated “cable” television network in the Chicago market during primetime (7:00-10:00 PM CT) for every major TV ratings category including Households (HH) & all key Adult, Male, and Female demo categories (see below chart as it pertains to Adults 25-54). 

  • Comcast SportsNet was also #1 “overall” in primetime (which includes all broadcast TV stations) in the demo categories of Men 18-34, Men 18-49, and Men 25-54 (NOTE: Comcast SportsNet was #2 overall in Adults 18-34 and #3 overall in Adults 18-49 & Adults 25-54).
  • Over 5.5 MILLION Chicago market TV households tuned in to 45 live professional game telecasts from April 1 – May 1 (Blackhawks: three regular season/five playoffs; Bulls: three regular season; Cubs: 14 regular season; White Sox: 17 regular season; and Fire: three regular season). 
  • Comcast SportsNet also attracted an additional 3.7 million Chicago market TV homes tuning in for all editions of Pregame Live and Postgame Live, along with the network’s locally-produced, live sports news, talk, and Original Content programming, which includes SportsNet Central and SportsTalk Live.  (Source for all ratings information is provided by Nielsen Media Research)
  • Comcast SportsNet’s live streaming of its Chicago Bulls game telecasts experienced significant year-to-year traffic growth as over 10.9 MILLION total minutes were consumed by fans in the network’s second season of live streaming coverage on CSNChicago.com and via the NBC Sports Live Extra app (an increase of 30% compared to the 2014-15 season).  (Source for all digital traffic information is provided by Adobe Reports & Analytics)

NBA Playoffs observations: Officiating, Draymond Green, LeBron James

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NBA Playoffs observations: Officiating, Draymond Green, LeBron James

The officiating has overshadowed some bad basketball and some really great finishes to start the second round of the playoffs.

I’ve never seen a finish like the last 13 seconds of Game 2 with San Antonio and Oklahoma City, where there were so many violations and missed calls, the league almost issued an apology for it.

Manu Ginobili embellished the contact from Dion Waiters on the start of the wild finish, but there shouldn’t have been contact in the first place. His reputation could’ve hurt him...

Or it was truly possible the official wasn’t looking at Waiters’ upper body, only counting off the five-seconds.

I talked to numerous officials in the aftermath, with each in agreement they’d never seen a play like that before, from start to finish.

We as viewers have the benefit of replay. The officials don’t have that luxury in the moment, and therefore it makes us as the public more skeptical about what we see compared to what they call.

By and large, though, the NBA refs do a pretty good job of catching calls, while also understanding nobody wants a whistle-fest for 48 minutes of basketball.

And we say we want the refs to swallow their whistle and not to decide the games, well, they did that in the finish of San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

After all that controversy, it’s hard to remember the Spurs beat the brakes off the Thunder in Game 1...remember?

Russell Westbrook catches a lot of flak that should be aimed in the direction of his coach, teammates and front office. Yes, that includes Kevin Durant.

But I’m not sure you can truly “win” with Westbrook, given his style of play doesn’t lend itself to late-game execution because he can’t slow down.

But being frenetic is what makes him special, right?

Who cares if Draymond Green is a superstar or not, he certainly is extremely valuable to Golden State, which maximizes everything he does so well. Green doesn’t make other players better in the traditional sense, but he enhances what you do well, which is just as important.

Winning Game 2 should buy the MVP, Stephen Curry, an extra few days of recovery before pushing him back to action over the weekend.

Nights like Game 2 between the Warriors and Trailblazers make me rethink my voting on Defensive Player of the Year.

My ballot was Kawhi Leonard, Green, and Atlanta’s Paul Milsap.

But speaking of Atlanta, I can’t see them challenging the Cavs for anything beyond a game in this series.

It looks like the Cavs realize that, too. And it should be a sweep. Why? The Hawks just don’t have enough. On the floor or the sideline.

With Kyle Korver’s struggles, one should know the easiest thing in the NBA to find is perimeter shooting, and no team should be married to it in the form of one player or another (Hint, hint, Chicago Bulls management) 

During the season, I talked to a personnel man in Los Angeles, who said the Cavaliers wouldn’t win a title unless LeBron James took a step back from doing everything and allowing others to flourish.

By “others”, he meant Kyrie Irving and made the comparison about Dwyane Wade deferring to James starting in 2012, which lead to the Miami Heat winning two titles.

More on Wade in a moment.

Would James’ ego and game work without being a high-volume, high-usage player, especially ceding a spot in the hierarchy to the likes of Irving? That’s the most interesting development that will come out of the Hawks-Cavs second-round series.

Moving back to Wade. Whenever you think he’s done, he pulls another rabbit out of his hat—and the Heat look poised for a meeting with the Cavs in the conference finals.

If there’s a team to truly challenge Cleveland, Miami’s length on defense and shot blocking could be an interesting antidote to Cleveland’s high pick and rolls.

Not only with Wade but Goran Dragic and Joe Johnson, the Heat has three supreme shot creators down the stretch of games, who can facilitate, get to the rim and make free throws.

That makes them beyond dangerous. 

Not as dangerous as Chris Bosh seems to be to his own health. He desperately wants to play, but the Heat won’t give him clearance.

Think about how rare that is, a team that desperately wants to win, but will not put a player in danger to do it. Sounds simple and humane, but think how many franchises in all facets of sports would try to take every precaution but letting a player make his own decision about playing.

I commend Bosh for wanting to play so badly, he’s going to the union so he can risk his life, potentially.

Think about how that sounds.

With his health situation sprouting in two straight years, one wonders if Bosh should even think about playing beyond this playoff run.

That said, the Heat almost gave one away to the Raptors, a team nobody believes in for good reason.

A team led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry seems like it has a very low shelf life—the second round.

Speaking of Lowry, it’s past time to call him a playoff underachiever. He’s played over 30 playoff games and isn’t shooting 40 percent for his career.

That desperation triple that sent game 1 into overtime was three of his seven points.

That desperation triple shouldn’t have counted considering he stepped out of bounds before picking up his dribble.

The officials will get another round of derision after the NBA releases its two-minute report Wednesday.

One wonders how bad the Bulls feel watching the Raptors, a team they’ve dominated the past two years, being in the second round while they’re at home.

Lowry’s probably still shooting in the bowels of the Air Canada Centre after hours.

And it probably won’t help.