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This week SPORTS ILLUSTRATED publishes the first installment of a three-part series on the pervasive influence of money on professional sports, a project that has proved to be, in some ways, the most ambitious in SI's 24-year history. Part I, Money: The Monster Threatening Sports (page 28), is by far the longest single article the magazine has ever run, and the entire series, we feel, is one of the most enlightening and important to appear in our pages.
The research for the project began more than six months ago with extensive queries sent out by Senior Editor Peter Carry to SI correspondents across the U.S. As the raw information was rolling in, Senior Writer Ray Kennedy, who had been assigned to write the series, was crisscrossing the country interviewing team owners. Each time he returned from the road to his Manhattan apartment he found new stacks of data awaiting him.
"It was like the time they delivered a big block of granite to Michelangelo," says Kennedy. "He walked around this enormous slab, feeling the granite with his hands. Finally he turned to someone and said, 'There's an angel hiding in there.' " His project, Kennedy felt, was in many ways like Michelangelo's, "though I don't know if what we found was an angel."
Indeed, he says, at times it was more like exorcizing a devil. "Preparing this story was like doing your income tax a hundred days in a row. I was an English major. What do I know about amortizing my equity? I had to keep looking a lot of those words up."
Kennedy carted home armloads of books on economic theory, "half of which at first I didn't understand. The challenge for me was to take the so-called 'boring science'—economics—and make it interesting. My first rule of thumb was that if I couldn't understand it, neither could the reader."
Writing the money series raised hob with Kennedy's tennis game. "It was one of those things that you can't walk away from, even for a day, or the whole thread slips away from you," he says. Subsisting on diet cola and take-out food from a neighborhood Latin-American restaurant, Kennedy dropped 12 pounds, and virtually out of sight.
"I was doing these multimillion-dollar calculations," he says, "and meanwhile my own checks were bouncing all over town. I'd gotten so wrapped up in the story I had neglected to take care of my own finances."
Writer-Reporter Nancy Williamson, who assisted Kennedy on the series, interviewed most of the millionaire sports stars for the second installment and more than 50 fans for the third part. The superstars, many of whom Williamson spoke to in their off-seasons, were hard to track down and leery of talking about money, but the fans were a delight. Armed with a roving press pass, Williamson roamed arenas and ball parks, interviewing spectators, who were astonishingly cooperative. What's more, a number of kids wanted Nancy's autograph.