John Banks, ESPN.com’s senior deputy editor for NFL, oversees ESPN’s digital media coverage of the gridiron for a living, but it’s fields of a different sort that are his passion away from the job.
He’s a Civil War buff.
In 2011, Front Row profiled Banks and his interests in this period of American history. Now, two years later, he has written a new book entitled Connecticut Yankees at Antietam. Released earlier this month, the book tells the stories of some of the more than 200 soldiers from the state of Connecticut who died in the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, the single bloodiest day of the Civil War.
In the interview below, Banks discusses the book project and how he managed to get the work done with such a demanding schedule. He also talks about the expanded NFL Nation network of 32 team sites — launching Wednesday — which is a big part of his editorial responsibilities.
When did you decide to write the book and why?
I have always wanted to someday a.) write a book b.) run a marathon and c.) jump out of an airplane, preferably with a parachute. Now that “A” is done, I can think about tackling “B.” I am not so sure about “C.”
How long have you been working on this project?
Off and on for about a year. My Civil War blog (www.john-banks.blogspot.com), which I started four years ago, includes stories that are told in greater depth in the book. The blog served as a pretty good outline for the book. In my first job out of college, I was sports editor for a small newspaper in West Virginia, near the Antietam battlefield, which is in Sharpsburg, Md. So I have had a longtime interest in the battle and the people who fought there. When we moved to Connecticut in 2006, my interest grew because so many soldiers from Connecticut fought and died there. In fact, the stories of two soldiers from Bristol, Conn. [home to ESPN’s corporate headquarters] who were killed at Antietam are included in the book. Many of the stories I was able to research quite easily at the Connecticut Historical Society, the Connecticut State Library in Hartford and elsewhere in the state. It’s a small state, so the travel to gather information was pretty easy.
What did the research and travel entail?
After the Super Bowl, I headed to Antietam and to the National Archives to dig through musty pension records and documents that probably hadn’t seen the light of day in, oh, forever. After the NFL draft, I took another week off, driving to Antietam and to Washington, D.C. to do more research.
How difficult is it balancing your day job and this kind of passion project?
A little trickiness involved there. But I am pretty organized, and I don’t sleep a lot, so I found an hour here and hour there, especially on Saturdays.
As an editor, how did you handle someone else editing your work?
As they say in the biz, “Everyone needs an editor.” No sweat.
What advice would give someone who sets out to write a book?
If you’re really passionate about doing it, make it happen. Life’s too short to leave something undone. Be organized. Find a quiet time to write, and don’t expect to make a lot of money. If I make enough to buy a ham sandwich, I’ll be very pleased.
Is there another book in your future?
I have a couple cool ideas for another Civil War book, but my major focus now, of course, is launching the NFL Nation network. It’s an awesome project.
Speaking of that, what can fans expect from NFL Nation and ESPN.com’s coverage this season?
Blanket coverage by the best team of editors, reporters and columnists in the business. If it happens in the NFL, we’ll be all over it. We’re adding great people to an already terrific team. I can’t wait until the NFL Nation network is up and running full blast.