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Fan Central Mailbag: A Q&A about SportsCenter’s JaMarcus Russell feature

JeMarcus
JaMarcus Russell is profiled in the recent SportsCenter feature “Waking Up.”

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Welcome to another edition of the Fan Central Mailbag. Remember, if you have an ESPN-related question, follow us @ESPN_FanCentral and use #FanCentralMB to tweet your questions. Also, be sure to “like” our Fan Central Facebook page. You can also e-mail questions to [email protected]

Something a bit different with this installment of the mailbag, as we answer a viewer’s question with more of an in-depth approach to the inquiry. In two weeks, we’ll be back with a regular mailbag, so keep those questions coming.

Little disappointed to see a whole segment dedicated to JaMarcus Russell. How many chances does a guy need? – Matthew
Matthew’s comment is about the recent SportsCenter feature about Russell, the No. 1 pick of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. After going 25-4 as LSU’s starting quarterback, Russell played just three NFL seasons before he was out of the league. Now he’s trying to make a comeback.

For more on the “SC Featured” piece, we reached out to ESPN Features Unit producer, Kory Kozak, who worked on the story with reporter Tom Rinaldi.

For Matthew and other fans who might share similar opinions, why was this particular story one that needed to be told?
Fans just knew JaMarcus gained a ton of weight, got arrested for codeine possession and has been out of the league since. He lost his closest relative in the spring of 2009. He didn’t handle it well and the Raiders didn’t try to help because JaMarcus never let on he was struggling. Then he loses an uncle. He was young, not ready for the losses, and it ruined him. Now fans might better understand why JaMarcus failed and why now might be the time for him to succeed.

How did this story come together?
I’ve always been interested in athletes labeled as “busts.” People said JaMarcus was lazy, fell asleep in meetings, was a codeine addict and that he didn’t care. Watch him play at LSU, even his second season in Oakland, and you know he cared. Then in 2009, everything suddenly fell apart. There was an untold story there and it bothered me.

What was it like spending time with JaMarcus?
JaMarcus is a huge man, just enormous, but he has a great sense of humor and he loves to laugh. When I interviewed him, we had been around each other for weeks. He really opened up about his life and what he had been through. When I do a story on someone, all I ask is that they are completely honest with me. JaMarcus held up his end of the deal.

What do you look for when you set out to do a feature?
Fans want to know the real stories of athletes, and it doesn’t always have to be about LeBron or Peyton or Jeter. They like stories that inspire them, to maybe motivate them to stay on the treadmill for an extra mile. We try to do that by telling stories in an honest, comprehensive manner, which allows fans to come to their own conclusions. If fans want to support JaMarcus’s comeback efforts, that’s great. If they still dislike him, that’s great, too, but now they know the whole story.

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