Longtime Journalist, Commentator Dick Schaap Dies at 67
By MIKE PENNER
Times Staff Writer
December 21 2001
Dick Schaap, journalist and commentator who mastered every medium from
newspapers to books to television, as well as the delicate art of interviewing
some of the most difficult personalities in sports, has died. He was 67.
Schaap died Friday at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, of post-operative
complications following hip replacement surgery performed Sept. 19. Schaap
developed a respiratory infection after the procedure and never recovered.
During a media career spanning 45 years, Schaap wrote for Newsweek and the New
York Herald Tribune, edited Sport magazine, served as a correspondent and
talk-show host for ABC and ESPN and authored 34 books on subjects ranging from
Robert Kennedy to Billy Crystal to superstar athletes such Joe Namath, Joe
Montana, Mickey Mantle and Bo Jackson.
His work for ESPN earned him three sports Emmy awards and features for ABC's
"20/20" and "World News Tonight" garnered three more Emmys.
Among those Emmys for "20/20" was one Schapp was awarded in 1984 for a
dramatic interview with comedian Sid Caesar who reounted his recovery from
addictions to alcohol and drugs.
Schapp was widely respected by colleagues and interview subjects as a journalist
with an even hand, unafraid to ask a tough question but unwilling to embarrass
Consequently, he gained the confidence, and sometimes the friendship, of some of
the most media-shy figures in the world of sports and popular culture.
"I only have two friends in the media," Jackson, the notoriously
reticent star running back with the Los Angeles Raiders and outfielder with the
Kansas City Royals, once said. "Dick Schaap is one of them. And I can't
remember the other one."
ESPN President George Bodenheimer said Friday that Schaap's journalistic
achievements "were exceeded only by his compassion and respect for fellow
human beings. He lived each day to the fullest and, during the course of an
amazing life, encountered almost every major figure that impacted our culture
over the last 40 years."
A Brooklyn native, Schaap played goalie for the Cornell University's lacrosse
team, boasting in his 2001 autobiography that he "stopped" future NFL
Hall of Famer Jim Brown in a match against Syracuse-- saving three of seven
shots by Brown.
After graduating from Cornell in 1955, Schaap attended the Columbia Graduate
School of Journalism on a Grantland Rice Memorial Fellowship. He began his
career in journalism with Newsweek in 1959. There, as the magazine's sports
editor, he began a relationship with Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay,
that would last more than four decades.
In an early encounter, just after the Olympics in 1960, Schaap escorted the
young boxer around New York City. The two happened on a black man preaching on a
soap box to a small crowd.
As Schaap wrote about the incident, the man "was advocating something that
sounds remarkably mild today-- his message, as I recall, was simply buy black,
black goods from black merchants-- but Cassius seemed stunned. He couldn't
believe that a black man would stand up in public and argue against white
America. 'How can he talked like that?' Cassius said. 'Ain't he gonna get in
In 1964, Schaap moved to the Herald Tribune, where he first worked as a city
editor and later a columnist alongside Jimmy Breslin and Tom Wolfe.
"His basic sentences were terrific," said Breslin. "Today's
writers use 40-50 words in a sentence, but Schaap would get the point across in
maybe 10. His pieces were short and remarkable. He never bored."
Wolfe said Schaap brought "his personality to his writing. Not every writer
has a voice, but he did."
In 1973, he became editor of Sport magazine, causing waves at the Super Bowl by
assigning two NFL players, Fred Dryer and Lance Rentzel, to "cover"
the game, which had become too grandiose and self-important in Schaap's eyes.
Dryer and Rentzel dressed like old-time news reporters, press cards stuck inside
the brims of their felt hats, and peppered coaches with cliche questions that
enlivened the proceedings and annoyed league officials.
Schaap branched into television in the 1970s, working as a correspondent for
"NBC Nightly News" and the "Today" show before moving over
to ABC and ESPN.
For the last 13 years, he served as host of ESPN's weekly sportswriter
round-table debate, "The Sports Reporters," proving himself to be a
deft and patient referee for a rotating panel of sportswriters.
"The hardest thing about doing 'The Sports Reporters' show is you're really
surrounded by three very high-octane individuals," said Joe Valerio, the
show's executive producer. "You need a breath of fresh air, you need a calm
voice in there. And yet the person still has to be able to make their points
very quickly and then do very smart and witty transitions to move it along. Dick
was masterful at that."
That reputation factored into a controversial 2000 interview between Schaap's
son, Jeremy, who also works for ESPN, and basketball coach Bob Knight shortly
after Knight's dismissal from Indiana University. It was a contentious
interview, with Knight dodging questions and the younger Schaap working hard to
keep the discussion on topic.
Trying to intimidate his questioner, Knight told Schaap, "You have a long
way to go to be like your dad, and you should remember that."
The elder Schaap was insulted by Knight's comments, according to Valerio.
"Dick was very hurt by that," Valerio said. "He said that Bob
Knight owed him an apology."
His 34 books included his 2001 autobiography, "Flashing Before My
Among his books were four collaborations with Jerry Kramer, a former offensive
lineman for the Green Bay Packers. "Instant Replay," the first of the
four books, was a insider's account of the life on the Packers in the Vince
Lombardi days. It became a wildly popular best-seller when it was published in
Schaap is survived by wife Trish, son Jeremy and five other children.