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Scout’s honor: The Mag provides unique profile of “Moneyballer” DePodesta

April is National Donate Life Month; Fleming’s Palmer profile honored

Last fall, David Fleming received the Dr. James S. Wolf Courage Award at the Donate Life America Blue & Green Awards Dinner in New Orleans.

Fleming was cited for his ESPN The Magazine story entitled “Carson Palmer’s lasting connection,” which examined the Arizona Cardinals quarterback’s comeback from 2005 ACL surgery and his reliance on donor tissue to save his knee. April is National Donate Life Month.

“The Wolf Award was a great honor,” Fleming said. “But, looking back, the best thing to come out of this experience was probably how, inspired by Carson Palmer and all the amazing people I met through Donate Life and AlloSource — donor families, recipients, doctors and so many others who form the chain of a thousand miracles that make organ and tissue donation possible — I stepped up and signed up to join the 121 million other Americans who are registered donors. My hope is other people are similarly inspired by Julie De Rossi [whose Achilles tendon helped rebuild Palmer’s knee] and Carson Palmer’s story and do the same. Because that’s what National Donate Life Month and the Wolf Award are truly all about.”

In ESPN The Magazine’s “NFL Draft Issue,” currently on newsstands, senior writer David Fleming profiles Paul DePodesta – a former Major League Baseball executive transitioning to pro football – in a unique fashion.

The article entitled, “I thought he was a genius until he agreed to work for the Browns,” adopts the tone of an NFL scouting report. DePodesta rose to prominence as the baseball scout who used analytics to help build the Oakland Athletics – as detailed in the book and film “Moneyball” – and New York Mets into championship contenders.

He recently joined the Cleveland Browns as Chief Strategy Officer. Can his analytics mastery turn the franchise into a winner? Fleming examines that prospect and more in his profile of DePodesta, written in scouts’ lingo. Fleming explains the approach to Front Row.

How did the concept for this story come about?
Over cold pancakes. In March, we had an NFL Writers Summit in Bristol and at breakfast I mentioned to my editor Cristina Daglas [senior editor] that I was thinking of writing the story in “scout-speak.” Without hesitation, she told me to give it a try. I’ve pitched some bizarre stories and used some unique storytelling methods over the years — my favorite is a 2003 profile of Dewayne White told in the voice of his dead father — and what makes The Mag great is that willingness to try new things and take risks.

How familiar were you with DePodesta before working on this piece?
I had read and seen “Moneyball” but that was it. A few years ago, I spent a week with the analytics department of the [NFL’s Jacksonville] Jaguars and ever since then I’ve been intrigued by advanced data in football. Not just as a different way to interpret and cover the game but all that it says about football culture that the NFL is so reluctant to embrace it.

How does this story differ from other NFL-related features you’ve worked on over the years?
Well, this was the first story I’ve ever worked on where the editor, Paul Kix [senior editor], asked me to try and make the writing more rigid. What really stands out with this story is the company it keeps. Cristina and Neely Lohmann [senior deputy editor] produced one of the best NFL Draft Issues we’ve ever done. In scout-speak, the work by [writers] Kevin Van Valkenburg, Tim Keown, Seth Wickersham and so many others is “truly beyond elite.”

For more on The Mag’s NFL Draft issue, visit ESPN MediaZone.

In this video, ESPN NFL Draft and college football analyst Todd McShay provides a scouting report on Paul DePodesta. If the video does not play on your device, click here.

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