With his legal woes behind him, Mariotti was finally able to tell his side of the story in his new digital book, The System. Staying true to his reputation as a brash voice that shoots from the hip, the columnist-turned-author challenges the claims made by Alison W. (his ex-girlfriend) and accuses the Los Angeles Police Department and district attorney’s office of mishandling his case.
Mediabistro.com spoke exclusively with Mariotti about his experiences with the legal system in a post-O.J. Los Angeles and what's in store for his sports career.
When I'm hearing they allowed her to become a staff photographer in essence for the LAPD, I started to wonder if this how it works for everybody? Not everybody is fortunate enough to write a book about it or has the money to defend themselves with pretty good lawyers. If this happened to some guy that didn't have a lot of money or couldn't afford lawyers, how many people like this are in jail? This book has been out for a week. I figured by now I would hear from the DA's office... nobody. Nobody is going to say a word. They know that these flawed things happen all the time in cases. I'm just calling them out. I accepted my lumps and my plea bargains, and I'm going to have to do my community service. But I want people to know what happens in these cases.
|"Just don't assume. That's what I learned. Don't assume; let it play out until the end and check the facts."|
When you knew Alison W. was unstable, why exactly did you stick around in the relationship for as long you did?
Because she started to threaten me in hotel rooms -- I can't win that. I'm a public figure. I was worried about ESPN. ESPN has a zero-tolerance policy. If I picked up the phone and called an executive, they don't want to hear that I have a problem with a woman. What they're going to say is call your agent, leave us alone and stay out of the headlines. And I understand that. They're a big company that's owned by Disney with an image to protect. There were enough good times to stay in it. But when it started extending to her being abusive to me in hotels that were under my name, I can't win that. The guy is always going to lose that. She started threatening to call employers -- call AOL, call ESPN. For what? I'm trying to treat you well. You have problems. Go get help for your drinking. She didn't want to hear me preaching about her drinking problems and prescription pills.
And so it was hard to say bye because I was worried what the after effect would be. And you saw what happened -- a third-party witness sees us arguing on a street and I get arrested. Next thing you know, she's lying to the police that night about what happened. It became a stream of lies because she saw the chance to get some money off of me. I think the whole idea behind her stalking was to try to create a felony situation where she could come after me in a civil case. I think this book is going to make it very hard for her to go after me in a civil suit.
As a columnist, you're tougher than most when it comes to athletes getting in trouble with the law. Do you now have a better understanding of what athletes have to deal with off the field?
Yeah. While I'm not going to say Michael Vick shouldn't have gone to jail or Plaxico Burress shouldn't have gone to jail, or maybe Ben Roethlisberger, although he didn't go to jail -- I don't know what happened in that case -- but I will always think twice now about anything, not just athletes. I see these stories in the L.A. Times and I go, "OK. Did this really happen?" The L.A. Times had a story about a month ago about someone in Orange County, a guy whose ex-girlfriend I believe was trying to frame him, and he ended up being innocent. It happens a lot. Just don't assume. That's what I learned. Don't assume; let it play out until the end and check the facts. I don't think enough people check the facts about cases. There was such a glee among people that don’t like me, sports fans, whatever, that said, "He's guilty!" Well, do you know what happened? Now, I'm giving them what happened and hopefully they give me the courtesy of reading it.
Considering you never returned to ESPN's Around the Horn following your initial arrest, were you surprised [sports writer] Howard Bryant was welcomed back to ESPN with open arms following his arrest?
I read it at first and I kept reading it. And I understand Howard and his wife didn't want to take it to court. That's a little different than my case where this woman wanted my money, so she decided to cooperate and then lied through her teeth. That said, ESPN immediately took me off the air. They didn't immediately do anything with Howard Bryant. Matthew Barnaby is another case that I'm watching closely. He still works there and he pleaded no contest to something pretty serious. Got a lot of hours [of community service] and he's still working there. I'll be completely honest with you: is that because he at the time, and still might be, dating a very prominent woman ... one of their rising stars at ESPN? If so, there's a double standard. I would hate to think that's what happened.
I'm not going to sue ESPN. I think highly of my time there. I wrote highly of my time there in the book. They were great to me. I think some people there shot first and didn't want to ask questions at all, much less later. They just rode whatever AOL was doing. Well, as I wrote in the book, I don't think my situation there had anything to do with my case. They were just looking for a way to get out of a big contract because they were about to dump the sports operation. It was just a bad set of dominoes falling for me. It all broke badly for me. That's life. I can deal with it. I think there were a lot of lies told by the media throughout that. I hope I cleared the air and people understand my side of it, but these days, man, the truth doesn’t seem to matter. It's the perception of what people want to believe.
|"ESPN is getting kind of boring. They aren't pushing the envelope anymore."|
What are your thoughts on the blogosphere?
Talented people, but I wish they would redirect sometimes. To me, a lot of these guys have gone after ESPN people just because they know it will get them hits. I was once an immature guy writing a column and maybe not knowing what I was doing, but I don't write that I have 80 percent authority that Albert Pujols is on steroids. I write this in the book, but if Ben Bradlee had been told by Woodward and Bernstein that we're 80 percent sure that [Richard] Nixon is doing this, Ben Bradlee would have taken them off the story. That's what bothers me. They’re reckless.
If bosses aren't going to fire you if you get something wrong, then you have nothing to be fearful of and your product isn't going to be as credible as it should be. I want everyone to be as credible as possible, including the blogs. If the blogs were more credible, then I guess what I would tell them is I would not only read them religiously, but I would probably go work for them. That's all I want; I want these things to be good so that maybe one day I and some friends of mine can go work for them because newspapers are all going out of business.
Why did you choose to write an eBook over going with a traditional publisher?
I went to New York at the end of last year and talked to big publishers about my book, and they were interested. Here's what I was told by them: One, there's usually a 12-15 month lag time. And I'm thinking, "Guys, this book could change several times; I'm still in the middle of a case." Two, this is a sensitive topic. Three, one place told me, "If so and so were still here, she would have run this thing tomorrow." Well, where is she? "Well, we're conservative now." I think the comparison was, "Should we do a book on Al Roker or you?" Do them both. What does one have to do with the other? They said, "Well, you're both media personalities." No, I'm a hard-hitting sports journalist and Al Roker is Mr. Weatherman. No, I don't think there's a similarity. They were interested, and they said there were a lot of people that would like to run with this.
In the early part of this year, I started reading about Amazon and did some checking into it. Then I read that people were selling one million books on these things. Then I saw J.K. Rowling was going to do her own. Then I read about accomplished authors selling their books for 99 cents on there. I had a couple editors of mine, two of my close friends who came out here, and we edited for a week. I took my own [cover] picture; I hired my own formatter; I wrote my own book. It only cost me about $500 dollars to get that book out. So why go through a publisher that's going to take 50 percent of your money and an agent that's going to take another 20 percent. I see 70 percent of the profits on this and Amazon gets 30. Pretty good deal to me.
Have you resumed talks with FoxSports.com once again about a possible job?
I don't think it's done. Understandably, they want me out of the headlines. I don't blame them -- I want to be out of headlines. I think they know, other than one woman, I have a clean life. I think they understand the situation. I'm intrigued by Fox because, honestly, and I don't say this because I don't work at ESPN anymore, but ESPN is getting kind of boring. They aren't pushing the envelope anymore. It's all kind of ex-jocks. It's all predictable. It's not must-watch TV anymore. It's because the management there is comfortable because they make zillions of dollars. They shifted it into neutral. This is an opportunity for Fox Sports, the new NBC initiative with Versus, you start creating competition there. They can go out and hire people who are interesting and not just kind of there. [Bill] Simmons is the one guy -- he's a pain in the ass for them but I love him for it -- but he's pushing the envelope there. I think these operations can go out and do the same. I don't know if they can topple ESPN -- that's a pretty monolithic place -- but they can challenge and give them competition for the first time in a very long time.
What advice would you give to a rising sports reporter on making the transition from private citizen to public figure?
Good frickin' luck. You have no idea. Come and see me and we will have a 10-hour chat. You have no idea what's about to hit you. Be as cool as you can and always surround yourself with good people. If you're big, pictures are going to be taken. Be comfortable with what you're doing. I'm drinking a beer with you right now. I'm fine. I don't think we are doing anything wrong, but somebody could make an issue of it. Be prepared for a firestorm. Live your life.
I would also tell someone don't run and hide in a cave. That's not fair to you. Protect your loved ones and don't do anything that would endanger or embarrass them. Unfortunately, I've gotten into that, and I'm sorry. I had no idea. And, remember, I started the show in 2002. Blogs were just starting; cameras on phones were just starting; I'm in the eye of that storm. Our show was also sort of for younger people. Younger people might go, "There's Mariotti at a bar. Let's wait until he's talking close to that woman," and click. Maybe it's my daughter. Maybe it's a friend from work. They don't know. It's a dirty world out there.
For more of Mariotti's thoughts on the case and his next career move, read Part II of this interview on FishbowlLA.
Marcus Vanderberg is co-editor of FishbowlLA.
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This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of WebMediaBrands Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of WebMediaBrands Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.