One of many things I have great appreciation for when it comes to my mother is how many home cooked meals she made. Legit, essentially from scratch homecooked meals on a Tuesday night after a long day of either taking care of small children or going to work. She had incredible range as well. One night it could be Italian, the next German, the next Mexican and all of them would be great. Sometimes she’d even go Greek. That’s where spinach pie came from. This mixture of frozen spinach, eggs, cheese, onions and pie crust that surely comes from some old Greek nana emptying out her cupboard. I hate spinach pie.
No offense to anyone who makes really great spanakopita but that stuff is awful. I knew I hated it from the moment I tasted it. To this day, the mere idea of it turns my stomach. Problem was my parents really liked it so it became a regular in the monthly mom’s homemade dinner rotation. I was repeatedly subjected to this abomination of a dinner with only a strawberry muffin for reprieve (mom found a way to make homemade dinner with a homemade baked good side to go with it, I’ll never know how she did it). It’s one of those things my sisters (they hated spinach pie too) and I give our parents a hard time about now that we’re all grown up. Why did they consistently subject us to something they knew we would hate? My dad’s defense of the subject is sound, kid’s hate something they loved last week and vice versa, but I always, always, always hated spinach pie. Pops brought up another point he brings up often when we talk about parenting and the things we wish we could change: your kids don’t come with a manual. Oh sure there’s ton’s of content out there on how to raise kids, ways to be the best parent and so on, but there’s no manual for your kid and for you as a parent.
No matter how hard you try to prepare to be a parent you’re never prepared, it’s just one of those facts of life. You try to just do the very best you can, teach them the really important stuff and guide them through learning the rest. Problem is the really important stuff often times can be the hardest to talk about. It’s also the stuff you really want to get right. A little less than two years ago I wrote about losing my son James who was stillborn. That event prompted one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had with my oldest child. She was two and a half when it happened, the age where kids first really start to string together words into sentences. The conversations are mostly silly nonsense, but sometimes they surprise you. It’s a fun age. It took her some time to comprehend that the baby was gone, that James wasn’t ever going to come home but I think the sheer reality of the situation made that point hit home. It wasn’t long after that she became curious about the concept of death and anyone who has a kid knows at that age when they are curious about something (read: everything) they’re going to ask about it.
I remember one conversation vividly, because it was the moment I had to teach the hard lesson, but the really important one. We were talking about James and she asked “but baby James died?” That wasn’t anything new, she often sought reassurance in her understanding of that fact but what was unique was she followed up: “am I going to die?” I sat there, in that moment considering what I was going to tell my now three year old. I fell back on a concept I believe in whole heartedly: tell your kids the truth.
“Yes honey, everybody dies.”
“are you and momma going to die?”
“Yes honey, everybody, everything. All the people, the animals, the plants, everything. Everything and everybody dies.”
The idea didn’t take fully right then and there. I know because there have been many follow up conversations with her and with our other daughter who is almost five years old now about the topic. The answer is still always the same and over time the concept I think has sunk in. It’s not that I want my kids to have an overly morbid view of life or anything like that. It’s just simply that its the truth and there’s no escaping it, that fact I know for sure. Sometimes even I have a hard time accepting it though.
When I wrote about James I was actually saying goodbye to being a writer for Denver Stiffs. It was fully my intention to leave the site. It was my time to step away and everything was in great hands with Adam Mares, Ryan Blackburn and Brendan Vogt as the leaders. Yes Gordon Gross, Daniel Lewis and Ashley Douglas were stepping away like myself but Adam, Ryan and Brendan were the backbone of the site by that time anyways. It was just a natural progression of things...but then things changed. Adam, Brendan and our good friend Mike Olson got their great opportunity over DNVR and naturally had to take it, who wouldn’t? Suddenly it was Adam, Brendan, Ashley, Gordon, Dan, Mike and myself all leaving. I panicked in that moment, I didn’t want Denver Stiffs to die. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in Ryan, far from it (I like to think of myself as the campaign manager for Ryan Blackburn for Site Manager 2019) but holy cow was he going to need help and fast. So we rallied. Gordon, Dan and I came back to write for and with Ryan, and he filled the rest of the holes with our incredibly talented remaining staff and brought on some great new voices with fantastic abilities and ideas. Stiffs wasn’t going to die right then and there, there was no way.
It was a crazy season to take over a Denver Nuggets blog that’s for sure. I’ll always say, Ryan made it through that first year which means he’ll make it through anything. From the turnover at the site to start the season to the pandemic that paused it and bubble that ended it there was no manual for how to navigate managing a sports blog that year. There were also were behind the scenes things happening that I won’t go into but suffice to say they were very unique in their own right as well. It was by far the most peculiar season I experienced covering the Nuggets in the six years I’ve done this gig.
One of the unfortunate not behind the scenes but not related to the Denver Nuggets things that happened was the AB5 law passing in California. If you’re not familiar, California wrote legislation that stated a company could not consider someone an independent contractor unless they were performing work that was considered to be “outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.” That legislation had a profound impact on the Vox Media Corporation who owns SBNation, Denver Stiffs and a myriad of other team specific blogs, including teams based in California. Everyone who writes for Denver Stiffs is an independent contractor and that is true of virtually every SBNation team site there is, or at least it was until AB5 passed.
Let me rephrase the first sentence of the last paragraph. One of the unfortunate things that happened was Vox Media’s response to the AB5 law passing in California. The response was mass terminations of contracts for those living in and/or working for California team sites. Those of us who neither lived in California nor wrote for a California based SBNation team site and therefore not under the jurisdiction of AB5 meanwhile were left wondering if we were next. The information we had to go on was a post by the VP of Communities John Ness. One particular pair of sentences stuck out to me in that post.
In the early weeks and months of 2020, we will end our contracts with most contractors at California brands. This shift is part of a business and staffing strategy that we have been exploring over the past two years, but one that is also necessary in light of California’s new independent contractor law, which goes into effect January 1, 2020.
By their own words this wasn’t a one off, it was a strategy. California just pushed the timeline forward a bit. In the aftermath we were all reassured by the SBNation employees we work closest with that our contracts remained unchanged and that has remained true. Thus far it’s been business as usual.
I wonder sometimes if the pandemic actually saved our jobs. Vox was certainly impacted by it in the form of decreasing revenues and that resulted in the layoff of 72 Vox employees. I think about how if the pandemic hadn’t happened, had revenues stayed where they were at or in all likelihood increased would the business and staffing strategy Ness talked about moved into a second phase. Perhaps one that involved eliminating independent contractors for team sites outside of California. No one at Vox or SBNation has told us that is going to be the case at some point but...I wasn’t born yesterday either. However, when the pandemic happened and the revenues fell I can’t imagine the idea of scrapping the lowest paid revenue producers was an idea anyone would want to entertain. And so, thus far it’s been business as usual.
The tough part about being the lowest paid revenue producers in this business model is it’s not hard to beat their offer. I will give credit to SBNation for doing at least something to make the deal not so predatory. It is a fact that a few years ago they gave all of us a raise and, in terms of percentage, a significant one. The problem is a large percentage increase on a pittance is still a brutally low wage. Whether it was Nate Timmons going to BSN or Adam going to DNVR or now Ryan taking his podcasting talents to Mile High Sports (to be clear Ryan is still the Site Manager at Denver Stiffs). Talented people at Stiffs who want to make a career of this will always end up leaving because the offer they get to stay here will never be very good. It’s just a business fact. If you can make more money for someone else and still get to do what you love you go for it. If you get to do it without the fear of a corporation bringing the axe down on the whole thing at any moment then that’s even better.
For a while I romanticized this idea that I would just serve as Deputy Site Manager for over a decade. It stopped being about trying to make a career out of sports writing for me long ago. It’s a young man’s game, or more accurately a man without kids and mortgage’s game. It’s really hard to pay the unfortunate and predatory “dues” that come with trying to make it in sports journalism when you’re trying to provide for a family. To the guys and gals who did it I commend you but for me I figured out real quick this would always be the side gig, never the main one. I found comfort in the idea that I could sort of be the shepherd for the site though, helping one site manager to the next with the day to day and finding their next break while keeping Stiffs true to it’s culture which is what makes it such a great place to begin with.
This site is near and dear to my heart. It’s not about what’s next in my writing career, it’s about a blog about my favorite team that I found when no one was covering the Denver Nuggets despite them being in the playoffs every season. It’s about a group of friends with a common interest who come here to ride the ups and downs of every tidbit of Nuggets news and information. It’s about a place that provided an outlet for me when I was at the lowest point in my life. Denver Stiffs means everything to me when it comes to my love for basketball and watching the Nuggets. I’d do, and have done, anything to keep it going...but everything, everybody dies. This will too.
It won’t happen tomorrow, hopefully it won’t happen anytime soon and the group around Ryan will make sure of that for as long as they can, but it’s an inescapable truth. I can’t save it from that no matter how much I want to think I can in my head. It might be because of Vox’s new staffing strategy, or because all of our talented staff eventually move on to bigger and better things. Heck, for all I know one day Josh Kroenke may up and decide that the Mexico City Nuggets sounds like a really good idea. I don’t know what it is, but at some point Stiffs will be done and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I have to accept that.
When I thought I was done writing two seasons ago I did it for all the right reasons. The fun of the perks had diluted. The pay was still awful. The time commitment wasn’t justifiable with a young family and other much more enticing career opportunities that required extra attention. In two years none of that has changed. I came back to Stiffs because I felt an obligation to the site and because I wanted to help my friend.
If you’ll allow me to sidebar for a moment, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I’ve appreciated working with Ryan these past two seasons. I’ve never felt a greater sense of ownership in everything we do than when I’ve been working with him and for that I am eternally grateful. I want to be clear that it’s been an absolute joy to work with him and the rest of the staff these past two seasons. However, the obligation is fulfilled.
Stiffs is still in great hands, better than ever in fact and this group is going to do great things to take the blog to a whole new level. I’m thoroughly convinced of that. And, at some point, they will move on. And, at some point, DenverStiffs.com will be a dead url. I can’t save the site from that fact no matter how long I’m the deputy site manager. I don’t want to do this for a career and I don’t live close enough to Ball Arena to make the perks worth the drive. I’ve already replaced the lost income by refinancing my house (I wasn’t exaggerating about the awful pay part). It’s time. I’m going to take solace in the fact that I accomplished a dream of being a credentialed writer inside an NBA locker room, that I got to further and help define the mission of a website that means so much to me and that I get to do what few in this business do: walk away on my own terms. Thank you to everyone who has read my work or listened to our podcast. I did it for us and was happy to do it. Spinach pie is awful. The Lakers suck. Proud to be a CSU Ram. Jordan’s still the GOAT. Everybody dies.