Blake Griffin, Danica Patrick and Other Athletes on Why They Believe in Jeter's The Players' Tribune
Some 300 athletes have contributed to TPT, but basketball's Blake Griffin, racing's Danica Patrick and football's Andrew Hawkins have been more involved than most for reasons they shared with THR.
Derek Jeter's website The Players' Tribune has featured approximately 600 pieces from nearly 300 athletes since its launch in October 2014, two days after Jeter played his final game for the New York Yankees. Several dozen of these contributors have taken a particular interest in TPT and, in return, been given special titles as well as positions on the company's board. The Hollywood Reporter spoke with three who have been among TPT's biggest champions.
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Griffin, the star power forward for the Los Angeles Clippers — he was the No. 1 draft pick in 2009, Slam Dunk Contest champion and Rookie of the Year winner in 2011, and is a five-time All-Star — is proud to list the TPT titles "senior editor" and “board member” on his résumé, as well.
The 26-year-old was first informed about TPT — and introduced to Jeter — by the company's president, Jaymee Messler, with whom he has worked closely for years. “She’s put her heart and soul into this and she’s amazing at what she does," he says of the former chief marketing officer for Excel Sports Management. "She has so many connections and knows so many people in the sports world, so I think she’s really been huge for all of this.” As for Jeter, he gushes, "I couldn’t come up with a better person to headline something like this because of how genuine he is as a person. When you have somebody like that spearheading something like this, and they’re all about it for the right reasons, and there’s no hidden agenda, I think it just makes perfect sense and draws people in. He’s the perfect person to be doing something like this."
Griffin regards the service provided by TPT as invaluable: “It gives professional athletes a voice. Instead of going through someone else, instead of going through a writer to take the information you give him and then write something and put it out there, you actually get to tweak it and make changes and really get to voice your truth. It’s so unique in that way.” He adds, “We have the tools at The Players’ Tribune to help people articulate any idea they might have and come up with a creative way to share that idea beyond just writing a story. There are endless ways to relay your message, and I think that’s what’s cool — not everybody has that capability. Sure, anyone can sit down and write an article and push it out there, but this goes beyond that.”
Griffin has taken a hands-on role at TPT. “I’ve been pretty heavily involved since the beginning,” he says, “going into the offices, sitting in on some brainstorming sessions, contributing a few pieces and mainly just trying to come up with ideas that really keep it pushing and keep it moving. Whenever I see something that’s cool, I write it down and think of ways that the Tribune might be able to do something in the athlete world with that.” He emphasizes, “My main focus is obviously on playing basketball and improving in that area, but this is something I enjoy, and I think it’s awesome for fans as well as athletes. So I want to be as involved as I can and keep that relationship moving forward.”
His most recent TPT piece took readers behind the scenes of the controversial visit that he and several other Clippers made to try to convince their free-agent teammate DeAndre Jordan not to leave for the Dallas Mavericks. He reflects on the writing process, “It was fun for me, being the one who was inside there and knew what was going on, to be able to share with people the situation. It wasn’t what people thought.” He hopes that his piece opened the eyes of not only fans but also fellow athletes, as some fellow athletes' pieces have done for him: “There are so many features that I’ve read that I thought were super interesting — some were even a bit emotional. It’s cool to see inside the mind of other athletes in other sports.”
As far as TPT's future, he insists, “There’s really no limit. You could start doing documentary series — you could do an endless amount of things. The ceiling for this is very, very high.”
Like Griffin, Patrick, the trailblazing female race car driver, also was introduced to the concept of TPT and Jeter by people at the management company that they share in common, Excel. The 33-year-old reveals that the retired baseball star made an immediate impression on her: "The 'hello' when I first met him was so warm and like, 'I know you.' I feel that he is a kind person, he has good intentions with the The Players' Tribune and he seems really grateful for all the people involved."
She says she was instantly drawn to his idea of creating a way for athletes to control their own stories: "I think I've been treated well by the media, but every now and again there's an agenda to an article and what they want to say, and sometimes it isn't parallel to yours or doesn't do anything for what you're trying to say and do." She continues, "In this day and age of media, you have to be careful with what you say all the time, and it's cool to have a platform where you know you can speak freely and then be part of the editing afterward to make sure that the article comes out how you want it to and is saying what you want it to, because sometimes you're dealing with sensitive subjects and every word needs to be right."
Though Patrick has an immense following on social media — including 1.28 million Twitter followers — she regards the Tribune as a preferred way of interacting with sports fans. "I think that the platform that the Tribune has is just bigger," she says, adding, "It provides an opportunity for me to explore different sides of my personality and let that get out there, even when it doesn't really have anything to do with anything — it might just be something I'm interested in. And then, of course, there are some points in your career when something controversial happens and you need an outlet to be able to say — just how you want to say it — what happened, or clarify something, or apologize for something or say, 'You're wrong and this is what I believe.' And I think that's where the Tribune is a great avenue."
Her first written contribution to the site, composed in October 2014, was entitled "Relationship Status: Normal-ish," and, as she describes it, "It referred to me being different — with everything from my relationship [to fellow Sprint Cup Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.] to what I do for a living — and that being OK." It's the sort of piece that Patrick, who is now also a member of TPT's board and a "senior editor" at the site, imagines she'll want to contribute well into the future — "personality-driven things that let people get to know me a little bit better." As she puts it, "It's such an easy, controllable way to say what you want to say."
Nobody has had a more positive experience with TPT than Hawkins, the Cleveland Browns wide receiver whose emotionally candid two-part piece about his roller coaster of a journey to the NFL, which was published in March, generated some of the longest time-on-page numbers of any piece on the site and already has led to book and film offers for the 29-year-old.
"I'm a sports fan as much as I'm an athlete," Hawkins says, "so when Derek retired and announced the Tribune I just thought it was super-cool and knew it was something I wanted to be a part of, to kind of get my story out there." Hawkins doesn't have as high a profile of many of the athletes who have contributed to the site, but he has had as trying a journey as just about any of them. "I knew the things that I went through and I needed an avenue to get those things out," he says. "These are stories that I've been not only living through but keeping note of — even before The Players' Tribune, I had notes on the story because I knew the right opportunity would come to tell my story. Then I became interested in The Players' Tribune and I met one of the editors down at the Super Bowl and we talked about it and I thought it was the perfect opportunity."
He was blown away by the response that his piece engendered. "Immediately I began getting text messages and calls," he marvels, "and not just from friends and family — I was getting outsiders sending me private messages; I had GMs and personnel from other sports who tracked me down and wanted to tell me how great they thought the story was; my team, my GM and my friends also texted me. And at that point I realized that I had something. And it just kept going from there — I got calls about doing books, about wanting the rights to do a movie and documentaries, you name it. Even now [people talk to me about it], and it's been months since I released the story!"
Why didn't he share his story via a website or social media account? He explains, "Twitter is just 140 characters. Instagram is just a picture. You can write something up yourself and put it on a blog or website. But whatever story you're trying to tell, you want people to read it, and this [TPT] is a place where fans of sports can go — one centralized location — and get incredible stories from great athletes. I think that's the coolest thing in the world."
Because of Jeter, Hawkins was willing to give TPT a shot. ("I grew up a Derek Jeter fan. Everything he represents — the respect, the passion — that's kind of who I pattern my persona after.") And because of his experience with his first TPT piece, he has remained involved with the company. (A member of TPT's board, he was put in charge of the outlet's social media coverage of the ESPYs from backstage at the show — "I ran the Snapchat and did some Instagram and some interviews with people who won ESPYs or were going to present," he says proudly.)
Thinking about the future, Hawkins volunteers that he hopes other athletes will look at his experience with TPT and be inspired to share their own stories: "I think there's so many levels to this. And I think it's an opportunity not just for the athletes but for the fans, which I think is the most important part because the fans make us who we are. It's a new way for them to get information. It gives them stories that they're not gonna read about on ESPN."