Pipe Dream editor Orla McCaffrey sat down with ESPN commentator and former Pipe Dream sports editor Tony Kornheiser, ‘70, for an exclusive interview. Kornheiser was awarded the Doctor of Letters honorary degree at the Binghamton University Graduate School Commencement ceremony Friday afternoon at the Events Center. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Pipe Dream: It’s the summer of 1966. How did you end up at Harpur College?
Tony Kornheiser: It was really very simple: Harpur College was the best of the state schools, by all reckoning, and we were in a financial position where I could have gone one year to some other school and then the money was going to run out, so I was accepted here and was happy to go here.
PD: Were you around when the Colonial News changed its name to Pipe Dream in 1970?
TK: I think I’m gone by that point. When I was here, it was called the Colonial News. It became Pipe Dream, I want to say, in ‘69 or ‘70. We printed maybe twice a week and we printed four-, six- or eight-page papers, and eight was really a lot. I don’t think anybody paid much attention to us, to be honest with you. We had no journalism classes — there were none. People said to me all the time “Well, you must have taken journalism in college,” and I said “No, we didn’t have it. We didn’t have it.”
PD: Yesterday was Bar Crawl. Were there any similar traditions when you were here?
TK: There was no alcohol on campus when I was here — until my senior year, when something called the Rathskeller opened in what was then the Student Center. The only tradition we had was something called the “Stepping on the Coat” ceremony that was invented by Larry Kressel, ‘66, in the mid-1960s. In February, everyone took off their clothes and caught pneumonia, because then it went down to 20 degrees the next day. That was our one thing. There were no fraternities — we had some social clubs. During that period of time, students were sort of anti-all of the things that they do now. Your entire student life surrounded what you were going to protest that day.
PD: Do you have any advice for students who attend schools like BU, that don’t have journalism or communications programs, who want to pursue journalism or sports journalism?
TK: Well, I would say “Look at me.” It’s certainly not impossible. I mean, I was able to do that. The advice is sort of always the same: If you really want to do something, go to that place, find the smartest person in the room and attach yourself to them. If you’re good and that person notices, you’ll sort of go up the ladder together. There’s nothing more than that. All you really have to do is get the first job ― somewhere ― and then are you behind? Yeah. It’s a 100-yard race and you’re starting 30 yards behind, but if you’re good, you’ll actually be able to catch up and pass.
PD: As you’ve said the name of your alma mater to people, from Harpur College to SUNY Binghamton to Binghamton University, over the years, have you recognized any increase in name recognition?
TK: I can’t say I have. It’s always been a New York state school, so where I live in Washington, D.C., nobody knows about it. But Mike [Wilbon, ESPN commentator] always comes back from Northwestern [University] and says “You know, you’ve got Binghamton people there. You’ve got Binghamton people in graduate school at Medill [School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications]. You’ve got Binghamton people at Kellogg [School of Management].” My guess is that the undergraduate education that you get here is highly regarded enough that if you want to go to grad school, Binghamton is a credential that’s worthwhile.
PD: What’s your opinion of the Binghamton Mets’ name change to the “Rumble Ponies?”
TK: Who? Is that their new name? Aren’t the minor leagues filled with team names like that? Do you not like that?
PD: Personally, I would have rather had the “Stud Muffins,” but “Rumble Ponies” has received quite a bit of criticism.
TK: I don’t know how that name is germane to this area, but I don’t have any problem with it. I would think that the Rumble Ponies’ shirts sell very well ― better than Mets’ shirts.
PD: You wrote a Washington Post column in 1999 criticizing BU’s decision to change the name of its athletic teams from the Colonials to the Bearcats.
TK: Even Rumble Ponies is better than Bearcats, okay? That’s [the University of] Cincinnati’s name — that’s somebody else’s name. The school paid a consulting firm a lot of money and they came up with Cincinnati’s name.
PD: What did you think of the recent layoffs of on-air talents at ESPN?
TK: I think everyone at ESPN feels bad for everyone who lost their jobs. The lack of enthusiastic growth in cable television — I assume it has something to do with that. I hope everyone gets a job somewhere and I echo the statements of everyone at ESPN.
[Wilbon and I] are sort of isolated from that. We’re in Washington, D.C.; we’re not in Bristol, Connecticut. I knew a couple of people, but only tangentially, so I don’t have that same immediacy that other people do. But you see the names and you go “That’s bad” because I think they were all good contributors.
PD: What was it like to play golf with former President Barack Obama?
TK: It was great — it was lots of fun. He’s a trash talker. I don’t talk about specifics because you’d never get invited again. I certainly understand, with a job like that, why golf is great. If you have four hours a week when you can be outside and slap it around a bit, you might like to do that. I think [President] Donald Trump plays all the time, but doesn’t say he plays.
PD: Do you think you’re going to get an invitation to play with him?
TK: No, no. I’ve played with him in my life, long before he had anything to do with politics ― when he was just The Donald ― about eight or nine years ago. [Former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst] Ron Jaworski and I brought our sons with us to play his course in Bedminster, New Jersey. All of a sudden, [Trump] showed up on like the second hole and he said “Do you mind if I play with you?” and I went “No! Sure, play.” He was very, very entertaining but there was nothing about politics. Jaws and I couldn’t look back and say we saw this coming.