Tom Friend and the Fridge

So earlier today my pal Mike Lewis steered me toward Tom Friend’s fantastic ESPN.com profile of William (The Refrigerator) Perry and his battles with alcoholism and, well, life.

Trust me—read this. It’s dazzling. And heartbreaking.

I don’t think I’ve ever met Tom, but I’m a big fan of his writing and his work. I also think he’s the perfect example of what’s right at ESPN.com—and, on the flip side, what’s wrong.

Friend is terrific, as are a whole bunch of the site’s scribes. Howard Bryant is as good as they come. Amy Nelson can bring it. So can David Fleming, my old SI colleague. But for some reason, ESPN.com puts a ton of money into its scribes and far too little into its editors. Wait—lemme elaborate. I’m sure the editors at the site are good and qualified and strong. But what drives me crazy is the high number of ESPN.com features (not columns) where the writers insist on placing themselves in the midst of the pieces.

I get it. I get the temptation. I’ve certainly fallen for the temptation. But, come day’s end, it’s a device I dislike; often lazily done and often transparently arrogant. Whenever I read such pieces, I think, “Bud, you’re not the story. Your journey is not the story. You might think it’s the story, and your editors might lack the guts/knowledge to tell you otherwise—but it’s not. It just isn’t.”

I’ve been reading Friend for a long time. He clearly knows how to weave a narrative without feeling the need to use “I” or “me” or “Tom.” That’s one of the reasons he’s great, and one of the reasons he has a follower for life.

6 thoughts on “Tom Friend and the Fridge”

  1. Hi Jeff-

    I read it yesterday, and I had mixed feelings. Yes, the Fridge story is sad, but something about it struck me as , if not exploitational, then at least overreaching in some of the details of his current life to paint a picture. Yes, the man be overweight, alcoholic, fat, and at times, incontinent. Well, okay, but so are a fair percentage of football fans…that’s not my point, but it is worth noting. It is that I think he framed this information in a way that is just a little cruel and, more importantly, serving the writer’s purpose. So to say that he didn’t insert himself into the story, he definitely put emphasis on how he feels about seeing a fat man with a drinking problem.

    William Perry has problems, but this felt a little to me like the way writers scrambled to bury Chris Farley before he died. Yes, Farley had problems, but there was something more than just reporting going on.

    On second thought, it was exploitation. Not enough that the writer should be condemned, but I don’t think he should be celebrated for it either.

    I am certain that there are aspects to William “Refridgerator” Perry that are not pathetic.

    The writer did insert himself into the story by choosing to paint only the saddest side of him. Perry deserved a little more dignity no matter what the writer’s impression.

    Example: Perry follows for a plate of cookies though he shouldn’t. Come on.

Leave a Reply