With this issue, Executive Editor Jeremiah Tax retires from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED after almost 26 years as one of our most valued writers and editors. Jerry was a freelance contributor during SI's first months, joined the staff as a writer in 1955, became a senior editor in 1961, assistant managing editor in 1970 and executive editor, our second-highest editorial post, in 1979.
How easy it is to sum up a man's career in one paragraph—and how impossible. To talk of the stories Tax wrote for us, the ones he edited, the writers he helped, the friends he made, the editorial and personnel problems he handled, as well as the difficulties he anticipated and solved before they became problems—well, there simply isn't room.
Jerry had been a successful journalist for two decades before we got him. Born in Massachusetts, he grew up in Brooklyn, where he graduated from high school at the precocious age of 16, and went on to the University of Maryland. A fine chess player and a devotee of classical music (his wife and three daughters are all accomplished musicians), he was a sports buff, too, and when he began writing for us and applying his analytical mind to such subjects as basketball and harness racing, the results were exceptional. As Pete Newell, the 1960 Olympic basketball coach, said, "Before Jerry Tax came on the scene in the 1950s, college basketball was mostly a local concern. But after Jerry and SI began putting out stories and scouting reports on teams all over the country, people in California became interested in how West Virginia was doing, and vice versa." The college game became truly national.
Pro basketball, too, was still in its infancy when Tax began writing about it. He covered Wilt Chamberlain's college and pro debuts and turned in a sensitive and significant story about Bill Russell during his first full season with the Boston Celtics, which led to an enduring friendship between Tax and Russell. His coverage of harness racing brought a burgeoning sport to national attention on a regular basis for the first time (a development that moved admiring owner-breeders to name colts "Meadow Tax" and "Jeremiah Hanover").
February 2, 1981
Not that everyone applauded his sometimes caustic stories. After he criticized both Adolph Rupp, the University of Kentucky's basketball coach, and a local "delicacy" called the Hot Brown sandwich (the epicurean Tax claimed the Hot Brown tasted like hot glue), Jerry was rather gleefully hanged in effigy on the Kentucky campus.
But not around here. Tax became a writer editors liked, an editor writers liked, a man everyone liked. A stern conservative in matters of grammar and language, he nonetheless welcomed and helped foster the offbeat, idiosyncratic styles of such writers as Frank Deford and Curry Kirkpatrick. While he has been known to mutter, "Editors never have any fun," working with talented young reporters filled him with delight.
It's almost impossible to imagine SPORTS ILLUSTRATED without Jeremiah Tax, and I'm pleased to note that he'll be coming into the office once a week to act as an editorial consultant. That's good, because it means I can say, in all sincerity, "So long, Jerry. See you around."