Spending an hour with Adam Schefter could be considered an exercise in interruptions. Except ESPN’s most high-profile news breaker is also an impressive multi-tasker.
“I’m listening,” Schefter says while he checks his phone during a pause in the middle of a recent sitdown interview with him, his 9-year-old daughter, Dylan, and The Post.
“Welcome to my daughter’s and my world.”
For a guy who treats Twitter as his battleground, Schefter said he’s learned to let his guard down over his nearly 30-year career on the NFL beat, including the past nine at ESPN. That became evident when he began working part-time on his latest project outside the NFL sphere, a memoir hitting bookshelves Tuesday that shares the most personal details of Schefter’s life to date. The story centers on Joe Maio, the man who was married to Schefter’s wife, Sharri, before he perished in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Towers, leaving behind a 2-year-old son, Devon.
Over a number of interviews for “The Man I Never Met,” Schefter missed the opportunity to break four or five major NFL stories, said Sports Illustrated senior writer and Schefter’s collaborator on the memoir, Michael Rosenberg. One of them, he recalled, was former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis announcing his retirement July 18.
“He knows [which stories he missed],” Rosenberg said. “We were joking, he was like, ‘I’m never talking to you again.’”
The reporter in Schefter came out in a different way during the planning and writing stages of the book. He envisioned it as a more in-depth version of the seven-minute video feature ESPN did on Maio for the 15th anniversary of 9/11, offering a window into Joe and Sharri’s life before and after the tragedy, not Schefter’s before and after Sharri.
Rosenberg felt Schefter’s personal trials before he met Sharri — his first marriage in the 1990s that ended after just 15 months, his therapy sessions as the failed relationships built up and his “low point” when he checked into a New York hospital with stomach pains — were the hook the story needed.
“I kept telling Michael over and over and over, ‘The less of me and the more of Joe, the better off we’ll all be,’” Schefter said. “And Michael kept saying, ‘I want more of you.’ That was the tug of war.”
The resolution came in the form of Schefter’s lifelong journal, which he gave to Rosenberg and told him to use as he wished. Rosenberg said he would often find details in the pages that Schefter didn’t remember himself, including a thought Schefter jotted down as he looked out at the World Trade Center from his airplane window the weekend he planned to propose to Sharri.
It reads: “Joe, I’m going to be looking out for your family.”
“I sent [the plane entry] to him and he was like, ‘Oh my god,’” Rosenberg said. “It sounds like something you would kind of make up now just to work into a book, but that was what he thought at the time.”
“I am not exaggerating that every single meal the guy has eaten for the last 25 years is documented,” Rosenberg said of the journal.
The result was the unearthing of a deeply private side to Schefter and his family not even some of his closest friends had known before reading “The Man I Never Met.” NFL insider Chris Mortensen has become one of Schefter’s confidants since Schefter joined ESPN from NFL Network in 2009. Yet Mortensen thinks of Schefter as the disciplined colleague and loving father, never having delved into his past with him before.
“I would see Adam at the NFL owners’ meetings and sometimes I’d see him in the gym and he would get on the treadmill and attack the treadmill with such a ferocity, I used to walk away saying, something is wrong with that guy,” Mortensen said, laughing while recalling the image.
“Adam’s personal story caught me off guard a little bit. I never would’ve envisioned him as somebody who felt that much isolation and heartbreak over not having what he considered a companion.”
What makes it difficult for people to understand who Schefter is, behind the guy in a suit and tie rattling off NFL reports on TV or Twitter posts, is that “I” isn’t part of his professional vocabulary. At a time when the argument of whether athletes and the media should “stick to sports” is boiling over, the 51-year-old Schefter tries his best to stay out of the fray. He will not betray any hint of his political and social views.
Schefter said he is leaning toward not reporting on the NFL’s changing national anthem policy, for example — and said ESPN wants to avoid discussion on the hotbed issue — because some fans are turned off by it.
“I just don’t think that people care, that’s not why they’re following my Twitter feed,” he said. “I don’t think people have an idea of my political leanings one or another. They don’t know who I voted for one way or another.
“I recognize the highly politicized, super-charged society we live in. I understand how contentious it is and how strong people’s opinions are, and I respect that. But I’m not a part of that. It’s not my world — even though it is my world.”
Schefter explained life for him is no longer about looking too far ahead. He’s achieved his dreams as a professional and a family man. At this very moment, he’s worrying about the book doing well; Devon finding happiness in his freshman year at Michigan, Schefter’s alma mater; and, of course, NFL news breaking while he’s sitting through “Frozen” on Broadway with Dylan on this particular Wednesday afternoon.
“I hope that nothing happens at the theater and nothing big goes down. That’s always a concern of mine,” he said. “But if it does, you deal with it, you adjust.”
So it goes for a man with more than seven million Twitter followers, and the three people most dear to him, counting on his every move.
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