In amassing research for his story on the troubles at Long Beach State (page 86), Associate Editor Ray Kennedy found himself in a sports netherworld that few people ever see, a seamy land of character assassination, shifting facts and conveniently uncertain memories. His odyssey began last February and continued for nearly eight weeks as he traveled from Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant section to Southern California housing developments, talking with more than 200 people along the way.
"It was like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle," Kennedy says, "and there was a problem finding all the pieces, let alone making them fit together. I made probably 500 phone calls, and most of the calls were not interviews as much as they were efforts to set up appointments for interviews. In a complex, messy story like this, you can't get down to nitty-gritty details unless you can talk to people face to face. And even then it might take an hour of conversation to find one piece of the puzzle."
Tedious and painstaking as the Long Beach assignment was, it was just one more singular achievement in Kennedy's journalistic career. There are few kinds of stories that he has not covered in his 15 years of reporting. His career began at Chicago's famous City News Bureau, the newspaper hotbed that inspired the classic melodrama The Front Page. There, Kennedy chased fire, murder and corruption with such latter-day press celebrities as Mike Royko, the Chicago Daily Sews columnist, and Pulitzer Prizewinner Seymour Hersh. Later he did a stint as nightclub correspondent for Hugh Hefner's ill-fated Show Business Illustrated. As a correspondent for TIME, first in Chicago and then in Boston, he covered events as varied as the sinking of the atomic submarine Thresher and Barbra Streisand's smash-hit performance on Broadway in Funny Girl. After he was made contributing editor at TIME he produced 25 cover stories, his subjects including pianist Arthur Rubinstein, ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev and TV comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin. Eventually he became TIME'S sports editor and he did major pieces on Lee Trevino, Bobby Fischer and the first Ali-Frazier fight before joining SPORTS ILLUSTRATED last fall.
Kennedy has never been far from sport in his personal life. In Cincinnati, where he grew up, he was a high jumper, a switch-hitting catcher in American Legion baseball and a starting guard on his high school basketball team. At Notre Dame (class of 1955) he was the halftime announcer at Irish football games.
Now 40, married and the father of nine children, Kennedy's sports interests are still varied, although he has come to favor what he calls "the small games." He is a good chess player, tournament caliber at table tennis and uncanny at shooting baskets. He is a heavy stickball hitter, claims to be undefeated at swimming underwater for distance and is a middling—his friends say maddening—chop-'n-cut tennis opponent. He is also a superb omelet chef, a sometime actor who has appeared on television in New York and, as his series on Long Beach State plainly shows, an adept man at assembling journalistic jigsaw puzzles.
KENNEDY: GOOD MAN WITH A PUZZLE