Volume 6, Number 4, 1997

In his own words

Being named one of America's top 10 sports columnists by the Associated Press sports editors certainly has its rewards. Steve Kelley, AS '72, counts legendary sports figures and writers among his colleagues and friends.

But, there is a down side.

"I was roughed up in a bathroom in Seattle by four guys one night," says Kelley. "They were University of Washington football fans. I had written something they didn't agree with, and they made a point of letting me know about it."

Kelley repaired appliances for Sears and worked briefly for a couple of small newspapers after graduating with a degree in history. Then, in 1973, he came across a poem by William Stafford, Lake Chelan, about a bucolic lake in north-central Washington. Kelley also noted that Seattle had just built the Kingdome, a professional sports facility, and he figured local newspapers might need a few sports writers.

So, he packed up his MG and drove to Chelan.

After a few months working in the apple orchards there, Kelley found a reporter's position with a paper in Centralia, Wash. He covered town meetings, wrote obituaries and handled all the regular assignments a rookie reporter is given. After stints with a couple of other smaller newspapers, Kelley landed a position with the The Oregonian in Portland in 1976, where he covered the National Basketball Association's Portland Trail Blazers.

He next accepted a position at the Seattle Times, with the understanding that he would be a sports columnist after a year.

"In a lot of ways, it was the job I always wanted," says Kelley, who also earned the top 10 designation in 1988. "I've always had an opinion on sports matters, whether legitimate or not. Like most jobs, you get the bad and the good, but I wake up every day wanting to go to work and looking for the next challenge."

After more than two decades of chronicling the sports world, Kelley says much has changed, and not always for the better.

"Today, there can be a contentious relationship between a columnist and an athlete," says Kelley. "The players are making so much money that they're much more isolated than they used to be, and a lot of them believe they're immune from criticism. When you go into the clubhouse before or after games, some guys will make snide comments or sit in the corner and fume and, occasionally, you get the one who goes ballistic.

"But, there are the exceptions. A few years back, I wrote my column as an open letter to Ken Griffey (of baseball's Seattle Mariners), telling him he needed to work harder to become the superstar he had the potential to be. He called me the next day and we spoke for two and a half hours about baseball and life. It was a very moving conversation."

Kelley counts coverage of five Olympics as some of his most fulfilling assignments. He says he is grateful for the recent Associated Press award bestowed upon him for his body of work, but has no aspirations of giving up his column for other endeavors-although he has been working on a novel about an NBA player.

"I still get a kick out of having a story in the paper," he says. "I can do without the politics and the money issues. They can get depressing. But, I still love the games.

"It's a challenge every day to come up with a good column and not write in the same voice, which is a trap that's easy to fall into. I try to vary my columns from being funny to being a reporter to a feature writer to cracking the whip on somebody."

-Terry Conway