Inspired by a teacher in a journalism class at the University of Michigan, former college athlete Jeffri Chadiha got his big break writing for the Ann Arbor News, before taking a high-profile job at the San Francisco Examiner, where he worked full-time covering the Oakland Raiders. After turning down a job at the New York Times he moved to Sports Illustrated as a staff writer in 2000 and joined what has the reputation of being the most influential sportswriting team in the United States. Chadiha has remained at the forefront of the organization's Web presence and has been a major contributor to SI.com, writing features and reports about football: its athletes, its politics, and its controversy.
Jeffri Chadiha was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on November 20, 1970; he has a twin brother, Jon, and a younger brother, Kizza. His father, Jonathan, is a dentist and his mother, Letha, is a professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan. Chadiha attended Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard High School and after graduating in 1988 went to the University of Wyoming on a full football scholarship, playing in the defensive back position but often finding himself unable to play because of knee injuries. After a series of operations Chadiha realized that a career in football was out of the question. He transferred to the University of Michigan in 1990, and he graduated from there with a bachelor's degree in communications in 1993.
Chadiha's studies at the University of Michigan started him thinking seriously about a career in journalism. He took writing classes and found inspiration from Don Kubit, his mentor in a class on sportswriting, and from a graduate level class on magazine writing. Chadiha told getthatgig.com that a career in journalism appealed to him partly because "I figured, at the least, I could keep the same hours I had as a student." He landed a job as a part-time reporter at the Ann Arbor News covering high school sports and in 1993, after graduation, he joined the News full-time as a police reporter. He told Contemporary Black Biography(CBB) that although the police beat was tough, it was there that he learned how to talk to people, to listen to them, and how to be sympathetic as an interviewer. In particular, he felt that the experience of interviewing the relatives of victims of shootings drove home his responsibility as a journalist to respect privacy while writing a story.
At the News, Chadiha covered police reports for a year before switching to sports, which he covered until 1996. Even then he wasn't completely settled on a career in sportswriting, and he prepared himself to go to law school. It was only a few days before his final test for law school that he was invited to go to San Francisco to work as a sportswriter for the San Francisco Examiner. Uncertain about what to do Chadiha made an unusual deal with himself. Chadiha's roommate had organized a party for that night, and Chadiha told CBB that he used the party to help him decide which career path to follow. He decided that if he was back home before 4 a.m. he would take the take the test and go to law school; after 4 a.m. and he would go to San Francisco. He arrived home at 6 a.m., and he spent the next two years at the Examiner covering the Oakland Raiders full-time, followed by two years covering the San Francisco 49ers.
His years at the Examiner brought Chadiha attention within his field. Covering the Raiders was a reporting job nobody liked; they were a "dysfunctional" team and hostile to the press. But Chadiha made a name for himself writing about the team's trials and tribulations on and off the field. After a while he came to the attention of several major newspapers: the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times both expressed interest in hiring him—the Times even made an offer, which Chadiha turned down. In January 2000 he was invited to submit material to Sports Illustrated, one of the most influential sports magazines. Chadiha's memory of the job offer from Sports Illustrated remained vivid: he was on vacation in Puerto Rico and collected the message out in the street on the only phone in the village.
Sports Illustrated offered Chadiha a challenge. He told CBB that even after holding down a job at the Examiner and receiving offers from the New York Times, he felt the need to "be more than what I was," when joining Sports Illustrated in April 2000. Chadiha was keenly aware that he was joining one of the largest sports media organizations in the world, and he worked hard to raise his game. Chadiha focused on improving not only the quality of his writing, but also his efforts to get the job done. He told CBB that sports fans often think that watching football games for a living must be a dream job, but in fact, he said "the games are the least enjoyable part … it's the people." Chadiha honed his skills at interviewing and worked to connect with the people who bring the games to life.
Chadiha looked past play-by-plays and player biographies to offer readers more: he opened debate about the political side of sports journalism. In 2004 he sparked controversy with comments about a pre-game skit on ABC's Desperate Housewives-themed intro to its Monday Night Football show. In the segment, black football star Terrell Owens embraced Nicolette Sheridan, star of the Desperate Housewives TV show. Chadiha commented in an article for SI.com: "What the segment did do, however, was make me wonder if America was ready to see a naked, blonde, white woman with her arms wrapped around an outspoken, controversial, highly paid black man. From what I can tell from everybody's reaction, the country definitely wasn't." Chadiha told CBB he received hundreds of emails about the article on both sides of the debate. The example serves as testament to Chadiha's willingness to take risks, a great strength of his reporting skills.
Chadiha's position among sportswriters is an influential one. Much of his work for Sports Illustrated appears on the SI.com Web site, which in February 2006 was ranked number 133 among most visited Web sites worldwide. Chadiha welcomed his open line of communication with his on-line audience. When asked by CBB he was laid back about having to compete with amateur journalists and bloggers on-line, arguing that if it encouraged people to write it couldn't be a bad thing.
It's the writing that thrills Chadiha. What gets him out of bed in the morning, he told CBB, is doing what he loves doing: "trying to reach people and myself." In addition to his continued work with Sports Illustrated, Chadiha shared with CBB that he intends to write books.
At a Glance …
Born Jeffri Wade Chadiha on November 20, 1970, 'in Ann Arbor, Michigan; partner, Whitney Stephens. Education: University of Wyoming 1988–90; University of Michigan, BA communication, 1993.
Career: Ann Arbor News, police reporter, 1993–94; sportswriter, 1994–96; San Francisco Examiner, sports-writer, 1996–2000; Sports Illustrated, reporter, 2000–.
Addresses: Office—c/o Sports Illustrated, 135 West 50th Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10020-1339.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, October 28, 1998.
"Jeffri Chadiha: Inside the NFL: It's Really About Race," SI.com, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2004/writers/jeffri_chadiha/11/18/chadiha.to/ (February 21, 2006).
"Jeffri Chadiha, 30, Works for Sports Illustrated Magazine. He Has a COOL JOB as Staff Writer," www.getthatgig.com, http://www.getthatgig.com/sports/careers/c_staffwriter_sportsillust.html (February 21, 2006).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Jeffri Chadiha on February 10, 2006, and by email correspondence.
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