Author Archives:

Melissa Isaacson

Making Sense of Michael Jackson

If you are famous in America, you are what your obit says you are. Usually, it’s boiled down to some silly line you uttered in a commercial, your divorces or other legal problems. If you’re lucky, your accomplishments are great enough to make the lead paragraph.

I’m glad I’m not writing Michael Jackson’s obit.

I can’t think of a more conflicting legacy than that of Michael Jackson’s.

I flash back almost immediately to the memory of watching the Brady Bunch and Partridge Family in the late 60s and 70s like most every other white kid in this country, and then being absolutely knocked silly by the talents of Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five.

John Callaway

I just wish I could talk to him one more time.

No, that’s not right.

I wish I could talk to him 100 more times, listen to his stories, hear him sing, ask him for some more advice, soak up more knowledge, laugh at his wonderful self-deprecating humor.

I wish I had known John Callaway when I first broke into the business so I had more years to benefit from our friendship. But I know I couldn’t miss him any more than I do today.

Trash-talking Jackie Joyner-Kersee

They don’t teach you about softball questions in journalism school. It’s just one of those things you pick up, like how to push “record” on your tape recorder. You want to ask an athlete about an 0-for-April slump, you start by lobbing in a few about his charitable foundation.

Of course, this technique is also older than hot type and any athlete with the sophistication of a little leaguer sees right through it immediately, which is why I dispensed with any softball small talk today when I interviewed Jackie Joyner-Kersee for an story, and launched right into the day my high school basketball team pasted hers in the 1979 state title game.

The Tower

I went back to the Tribune Tower Sunday morning, for the first time since being axed.

I had been invited to be a guest of Rick Kogan’s on his weekly WGN radio show, “Sunday Papers” and he asked me to come to the studio, which is inside the Tower.

My husband Rick came with me because it was Father’s Day and what man doesn’t want to wake up at 6 a.m. on the Sunday of Father’s Day and drive his wife downtown?

My Dad, the omelet maker

I think of many things on Father’s Day.

I think of omelets because my dad was great at making them. If my mother ever asked him to, say, bake a potato, I’m sure he would have panicked. But he made beautiful omelets. Fluffy and perfect with whatever you could dream of to go inside, providing we had it in the refrigerator.

My dad was big on breakfast. All of us would sit queasy and silent on dark winter mornings, waiting for the obscenely early school bus while he ladled heaping bowls of steaming cream of wheat before us, pretending he didn’t hear the gagging sounds that followed and insisting we eat.

Happy Father’s Day, love your wife

I recently made the point in this space that among my many talents, commemorating special occasions with thoughtful prose on greeting cards is not one of them.

Ironic, I know, especially because as a child, I thought that working for Hallmark would be a wonderful way to make a living since my mother always cried whenever she read my cards to her. Now, however, I know that mothers can cry over any number of things their children do, including scratching themselves in the school play.

One Man’s Opinion, One Reporter’s Problem with it

White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko is a soft-spoken, thoughtful man. So much so, that when he makes a point as he did on Wednesday in the cramped quarters of the visitors clubhouse at Wrigley Field, you can almost miss it if you’re not paying close enough attention.

It was the kind of statement generally accompanied by a pointed finger or a raised voice. But when Konerko brought it up before the White Sox defeated the Cubs in the first game of their rain-shortened series, he did it in his typical quiet fashion. But his words packed quite a punch.

Shame on Sosa, Shame on us

They never banked on getting caught.  

Never thought we’d all learn to spot the bad guys among the real ballplayers. That we would not see athletes who had become stronger but men who looked like teenaged acne sufferers, freaks with block heads and raging tempers and bloated statistics that did not make sense.

They thought that we were stupid and they were smart and that they would never get caught, as all cheaters do.

And now, what? We’re taking polls to see who will still vote Sammy Sosa into the Hall of Fame?

Cuddly Lou

If there is one thing that unites the modern-day sports fan, it is the belief that modern-day coaches and managers aren’t tough enough on modern-day athletes.

Fans just love when gruff old guys with paunches or even gruff middle-aged guys with six-packs — but preferably all former hard-nosed players themselves — put the shoe to a player’s hind end, rip them in the press and really get after the lazy, overpaid good-for-nothings.

That is, unless, that particular tactic does not result directly in a world championship, preferably within 30 days.

You Want Pressure? I’ll Give You Pressure

Pressure, some genius coach or manager once said, comes from within.

So brilliant was this proclamation, that every other coach and manager alive picked up on it, unimaginative athletes followed and a cliché was born.

Clearly, none of the geniuses had the kind of day I had Sunday.

This is pressure, my friends.

Pressure is navigating O’Hare with your 13-year-old daughter, who you are about to release into the jaws of air travel, a world now so sinister that signs warning of flying with Swine Flu assault the senses and a simple clearing of your throat is grounds for arrest. When you no longer travel often, as I once did, you forget all the savvy traveler shortcuts.

See No Evil, Write No Evil

I almost didn’t write about Derrick Rose tonight.

I don’t have to, after all. No editor is asking me to do it. No one is paying me to do it. I’d rather not do it. And here’s why.

I don’t know Derrick Rose.

What I do know, I like. I had to chase the 20-year-old Chicago Bulls rookie guard for over a month to interview him for an in-depth feature story this past winter for the Tribune, but I never blamed him for the runaround.  There were always plans he did not know about and demands he seemingly could not control, and he always seemed sincerely sorry each time the interview would get postponed at the last minute.

Ah, Home Again

Excuse me if I drift off occasionally. I [po[a



Sorry. You go away for seven weeks and the first day back is exhausting. Even if the first day back only lasts for about two hours.  And I don’t even know if “back” is the right word. But I am going to start writing for, I did venture into the White Sox clubhouse today with an actual working credential and I did experience once again the singular wonder of listening to Sox manager Ozzie Guillen up close and in person.

I never realized how much I missed that.

The Next Bryce Harper

Yes, I am still browsing through the same issue of Sports Illustrated.  Sorry, but it has to wait until my People Magazine is completely consumed first and that can easily take a good 10, 12 minutes.

So I’m reading and I laugh — that sarcastic, self-righteous laugh — because I see a story about a 16-year-old baseball player from Las Vegas.

I am not laughing that self-righteous laugh because Sports Illustrated and Tom Verducci, a gifted writer l once worked with for one day on the staff of Today newspaper, chose to write the story on the fabulously gifted Bryce Harper.

The Gods Probably Never Heard of Coffee Chocolate Chunk

Great story in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated about college football players who discover after their playing careers are over, that they are seriously overweight.

Most people would go right to the cover story on the Stanley Cup. Or the NBA Finals. Or even the feature on the 16-year-old baseball player they’re calling “Baseball’s LeBron” (more on that tomorrow). Me, I go right to the story about the fat kids.

I’m not being insensitive calling them “fat kids.” As one of them, Jeff Kendall, a 300-pound-plus lineman from the University of Oregon, said in the article: “All of a sudden you go from being a fat kid living the dream to, well, just fat.”

The Naked Men Question

Why do I get the feeling that if I jumped in front of a speeding train to rescue a group of orphans, at the press conference awarding me my medal for bravery, someone would ask me how it felt spending my career around naked men in lockerrooms?

Everyone wants to know about the naked men.

For a while, I thought maybe it had finally become a non-issue. I would speak to school groups and the kids had moved onto more mature topics like, “How much money do you make?”

Class of 2009

Whenever possible and especially when the occasion is a truly special one like it was today, I will not hesitate to embarrass our children.

I believe it keeps them humble, builds their character and is a great source of amusement for my husband and I.

It’s nothing major, mind you. This morning, all it really consisted of was marching our 13-year-old daughter Amanda out in front of the house and making her pose for pictures. When you’re 13, it doesn’t take much.

My intention was to duplicate the photo we took of her and her father on the first day of kindergarten, today, on her last day of eighth grade.

Teacher Appreciation Day

You have to love children.

That’s what my mother-in-law, who spent her entire career as a teacher and school administrator, tells me about the profession.  

I love children. Or my own, at least. But I question whether I have the aptitude to teach — and by aptitude, I mean the self-control necessary not to be mean to other people’s kids.

As another academic year comes to a close, it is once again time for me to marvel at the extraordinary people teachers are.

Letters Home

I wrote a letter today.

Actually put pen to stationery, addressed the envelope, stuck a stamp on it and mailed it. And I was struck by the fact that I could not remember the last time I had done such a thing.

Oh sure, I send out birthday and sympathy cards, thank-you notes. But this was a real letter to a friend, and I did it because strangely, it didn’t seem right to e-mail, not personal enough.

It made me think about some of the letters I have sent and been sent in my life. It made me go hunting for my daughter Amanda’s letters from her first and only attempt at overnight camp.

No Comment, No Problem

Once, when I was covering the Chicago Bulls, Scottie Pippen decided to boycott the media.

It took several weeks for anybody to notice.

It wasn’t that Scottie didn’t speak to us before that. He did. But we recognized those who were especially quotable and those, like Scottie, who were somewhat deficient.

I bring this up because much has been made by what two NBA players have not said over the last few days.

LeBron James has drawn much criticism after he walked off the court without congratulating his opponents following his Cleveland team’s loss to Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night. He was taken to task further for not speaking to reporters after the game.

We Live, We Learn, We Drive 58 miles to our Kid’s Soccer Game

By Sunday, they sit in weary clumps, their well-worn bag chairs lined up alongside still another battlefield as they exchange tales of their latest mission — of surviving the elements, of travelling great distances, of late-night  sessions with the washing machine.

Five games in one day, seven in two, they tell you, and you suspect some embellishment taking place. But you’ve been around this particular block far too long not to know it’s mostly true.  For us, mere amateurs with just one child athlete in the family, there were just three games in 20 hours – one soccer game sandwiched by two baseball.  

My Boys and My Blessings

My new friend Tom e-mailed me the link to a newspaper column the other day, thinking I would enjoy it.

I did not.

The column was by a sportswriter for the Seattle Times, a very good writer named Jerry Brewer, who wrote about going back to his hometown to be inducted into his high school’s hall of fame. But really, it was not about that so much as it was about the writer counting his blessings for being paid for doing what he loves to do – write about sports.

Co-ed Softball, Fat Guys and other Lies

“You’re still playing softball?” my daughter asked incredulously tonight as I hunted for my crusty cleats, as if somehow being too old, too slow and, well, bad would suddenly stop me from playing in our co-ed softball league this year.

I mean, why should this year be any different?

Playing for our Red Star Tavern team isn’t about being the best or making every play or, in my case tonight, any play. It’s about the camaraderie, the joy of competition and the drama of seeing how many of us are going to end up in the emergency room each week.

Baseball Players are Big Babies

When Lou Piniella was a player for the New York Yankees, he once flung his batting helmet in the dugout in anger and grazed the head of his manager Bob Lemon.

 “But that was a ricochet,” said Piniella’s Yankees’ teammate Fred Stanley, defending his buddy.  “It bounced off two things first. It was not an all-out assault.”

Just the same, Lemon started wearing a helmet in the dugout after that, just in case.

My Dream Job and Men of Religious Persuasion

The dream job.

More than once over the last few weeks, I have been told that I had that. And I’m not always sure how to take it.

I suggested to a female sportswriter friend that it seemed like it was maybe sexist. As in, “You should be grateful for having a job so seemingly great, being a woman and all.” I asked her if she thought male sportswriters were told the same thing.

Star Trek and Spock’s haircut

Being out of work gives you time to reflect, to ponder, to –as former Bulls coach Phil Jackson once said of himself — think deep thoughts, such as why Mr. Spock got such a raw deal with the bad haircut.I was outnumbered this weekend on a trip to the movies and so I found myself at Star Trek.  A boy movie. And a geek movie, at the risk of offending all geeks who might possibly stumble across my blog on their way to a Trekkie website or convention or something. As someone who is neither a stereotypical female moviegoer nor a stereotypical female, for that matter — i.e., I include Diner, Caddyshack, Dirty Harry, Scarface, Goodfellas, Stripes, Cool Hand Luke, The Longest Yard, and pretty much every other prison movie among my favorites – I was not pre-disposed to disliking this movie.And I did like it, on some level, which I will share in a moment. I would promise that I won’t ruin the plot of Star Trek, but frankly, I am not capable as I don’t really know what happened except there were more explosions at the end and more beaming up of people, and Spock still had his bad Vulcan haircut.I do not in any way want to suggest that I, nor any other woman, lacks the intellectual capacity to understand a typical guy movie such as this one.  This one was easy compared to others of its ilk. Star Wars? My daughter Amanda and I somehow thought we could stomach that one with her father and brother. But we bolted out of the theater about 10 minutes in, and ended up sitting through the final hour of a movie in which we did not recognize a single actor, couldn’t tell you the title or the plot line. But it was infinitely more enjoyable because – and this I do remember – it a) had humans in it and b) took place within a time period of 10 billion years from today.In the interest of societal and cultural significance, I believe it is important to delve into why men and women differ so dramatically when it comes to movies. Perhaps I should disqualify myself because as I previously disclosed, I am not your typical woman. Also, as I perused a list of “top 10 chick flicks,” according to “O” Magazine, I found myself instantly annoyed with the clichéd “chick flick,” expression and I discovered that I couldn’t stand most of the movies on the list.I mean, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The English Patient, and four others made before 1947? I was bored just reading the list. Where was Pretty Woman, Terms of Endearment, When Harry Met Sally . . ., Steel Magnolias, Dirty Dancing,  A League of Their Own, Titanic?But once again, I digress.I think about why a man – and for the sake of a specific example, my husband Rick – could not sit through, say, Terms of Endearment, without audibly groaning,  but he could and has, sat through Legally Blonde. Many times.And why did I literally sprint out of Star Wars but I sort of liked Star Trek?Could it possibly be because my husband has a not-so-secret crush on Reese Witherspoon (after once catching him pausing just a little too long while flipping past Legally Blonde 2, it wasn’t that hard to figure out) and I thought the guy who played “Captain Kirk” in Star Trek resembled a young Brad Pitt?I have no real aversion to explosions or your typical movie gore. I mean, Scarface is so bloody, it becomes humorous. Maybe I like it because I resent being pigeonholed or left out in the same way I resented not being allowed to play Little League as a child. But in the same way my husband watches the end of Titanic and yells angrily — each and every time — for Leonardo DiCaprio to grab the piece of wood that Kate Winslet is using as a floation device while I weep over the tragedy of it all; I watched Star Trek and all I could think of was why Spock’s mother, being human and everything, allowed him to have that haircut.In the end, we accept our differences, embrace them.Men focus on the superficial. Women have feelings.And we both like to look at the beautiful.There, that was easy.

Page 3 of 4« First...234