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SI in Your Ear: Meet the Host of Our New Flagship Podcast

With ‘Sports Illustrated Weekly,’ every Wednesday, host John Gonzalez turns up the frequency of SI’s exceptional storytelling, now in audio form.

The first issue of Sports Illustrated hit newsstands on Aug. 12, 1954. Its cover featured a photo of future Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews at the plate, mid-swing, against the mesmerizing backdrop of a packed Milwaukee County Stadium.

That inaugural edition of the magazine was the flashpoint that sparked decades of rich reporting and exceptional storytelling—the very things that have come to define SI. Today, almost 70 years later, we hope to continue that tradition as we launch Sports Illustrated Weekly, our new flagship podcast. As your host, each Wednesday I’ll guide you through a range of interviews, in-the-field reporting, features and analysis from some of the best storytellers in the world of sports—just as the magazine faithfully took me on a regularly scheduled journey when I first started reading it, years ago.

As a kid, the best day of my week was always the day SI arrived in our mailbox. I didn’t just read the magazine; I’d spend days savoring the deeply reported stories and breathtaking photos. That neurotic teenage version of myself consumed it with a methodical approach. Mine was a monklike dedication to studying the gospel of SI. I’d start with the front of the book—where, alas, my friends and I never made the cut for “Faces in the Crowd”—then I’d work my way through the rest of the magazine, always saving for last whatever story I figured might be the best. When I was done, I’d deposit the issue with all the others that came before it, forming a bedroom archive of hundreds of magazines that rose unsteadily in several stacks, from floor to windowsill. Then I’d wait impatiently for the next edition to arrive.

For as long as I can remember thinking about any kind of job, this type of storytelling is all I’ve wanted to do. SI has a long history of exceptional journalism, and its roster of writers over the years has been an outrageous assembly of talent. That legacy is a big reason I wanted to work here—and why I’m so excited to call on SI’s extensive stable of writers and reporters for Sports Illustrated Weekly.

For our premiere episode, I’m honored to be joined by senior writers Howard Beck and L. Jon Wertheim, and former All-Pro offensive lineman Joe Thomas. Beck is one of the top basketball writers in the business. I’m lucky enough to have attended several NBA Finals in his company, including the 2019 series where we watched the Raptors celebrate their first championship, on the Warriors’ home floor. That night seemed to signal the end for Golden State as a high-level contender. But in our first segment Beck helps answer a question that has puzzled and captivated basketball fans in equal measure this season: How have the Warriors managed to resurrect their championship hopes so quickly, when it looked like their dynasty was dead?

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Our second story has one legend examining another. Wertheim is one of the best and most prolific scribes to have his byline in SI, and he recently interviewed Tom Brady, our 2021 Sportsman of the Year. This marks the second time Brady has won the award; the first came 16 years earlier. And yet, somehow, the QB remains a master of his craft, despite being well beyond the usual NFL retirement age. What unfolds is a conversation about staying on top of a profession at age 44, about how much longer Brady can remain there and about how he became one of the most polarizing athletes of his or any generation.

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Finally, we’re thrilled to welcome Thomas. The former Browns offensive tackle was a six-time All-Pro, and he played the most consecutive snaps in NFL history. But before he was a future Hall of Famer, and before he became an analyst for the NFL Network, he was a hyper-talented lineman at Wisconsin who, like a lot of college linemen, was fairly free to walk his own campus without many people bugging him for selfies or autographs—or even noticing him at all. Thomas joins the podcast to answer a question that we plan to ask more athletes on future episodes: What was it like the first time he was in SI? I’ve found that a lot of players, like me, have a certain reverence and nostalgia for the magazine, and this simple question leads to some interesting reflection and introspection. (Long before he went to Wisconsin, back when the NFL was something he only dreamed about, Thomas also used to look for his name in “Faces in the Crowd”. He never made the cut, either.) For so many athletes, their SI debut was a thrill that signified something special was happening in their careers. Instead of the familiar Where are they now? conceit, we’ll explore Who were they then?

I’ve been lucky in my professional life. I’ve been a daily newspaper columnist in my hometown of Philadelphia. I’ve hosted radio and TV shows. I’ve done countless podcasts and written endless magazine stories. All of which I’m proud of. (O.K., most of which I’m proud of; when you use words for a living, sometimes you want a few back.) But this particular project, for this particular media outlet, is especially exciting. It’s the continuation of a life-long love affair with SI. That feeling I had flipping through the magazine as a kid, marveling at the storytelling, is what we aim to deliver to you each Wednesday with Sports Illustrated Weekly. We hope you enjoy listening as much as we enjoy creating it.

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