By Cole Weinstein
Images courtesy of Sam Farmer
When Sam Farmer graduated from La Canada High School in 1984 he thought he was going to make a name for himself as a doctor, pursuing a career in science like his father. While Farmer is indeed one of the most distinguished alumni in the history of La Canada High School it is not as a doctor. Instead, Sam Farmer, is one of the top sports writers in America and the lead NFL writer for the Los Angeles Times. Winner of the 2015 California Sports writer of the year, he has covered just about every sport at one point in his rich journalistic career.
Born in Wisconsin, Farmer frequently moved as a child because of his father's job at IBM, a company that was commonly referred to as “I’ve been moved”. In 1980, his family moved to Pasadena after his father took a job at Xerox.
In a recent interview with The Spartan, Farmer recalled that while attending La Canada High School from 1980 to 1984, he dabbled in some sports as an athlete, playing a little bit of basketball and a little bit of football, but that wasn’t going anywhere. “I did like to write and I loved sports,” Farmer recalled. “I was passionate about sports. I thought about it all the time. I thought about football. I was a big Redskins fan growing up and when the Raiders won the Super Bowl in 1984 and beat the Redskins, I was so devastated I didn’t go to school the next day.”
Farmer also talked about his love for basketball and especially the “Showtime Lakers”. Many of his sports idols were members of those great Lakers teams. Superstars like Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper, along with Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, with whom Farmer now has a close relationship, were his idols.
Back in the day, Farmer and his friends used to sneak into Lakers games at The Forum and even into Super Bowl XVII, at the Rose Bowl, when the Redskins beat the Dolphins. “That was our big thing, sneaking into stuff. We snuck into everything. We snuck into movies, but we always had to do it in a dramatic way,” Farmer remembered. “We used to go to Mann’s Chinese Theatre and we would find an emergency exit way up high and then climbed across the scaffolding and then down behind and underneath the screen. It wasn’t just find an open door, it was find the dramatic way in.”
While Farmer doesn’t’ sneak into sporting events anymore, he believes that his actions as a high schooler resemble his journalistic approach. “In a sense, you need to have that same sort of spirit as a journalist because you have to figure out problems,” Farmer noted. “How do I get to this person? It’s problem solving, which I think is kinda cool. It's like detective work. It's not just writing about sports. To be a good journalist, I think you have to be bold and put yourself in position to meet people. I wouldn’t call myself an extrovert in a social setting, where I’d just go across the room to meet that person. But, when I am in a work setting and I’m wearing my reporter hat I do that. It forces you out, pushing the envelope of your comfort zone. It's just in the name of getting the story.”
While Farmer enjoyed writing comedic and satirical pieces for the Iliad, the name of the LCHS school newspaper at the time, he entered Occidental College with the intention of becoming a doctor. It wasn’t until his sophomore year that he finally admitted to himself that being a doctor wasn’t the right career for him.
Shortly after, his friend Gary Klein, a former minor league pitcher and the current Rams/USC writer for the LA Times, set him up with a freelance gig at the newspaper. Farmer never looked back. Although he knew next to nothing about sports journalism, he eventually made a name for himself by writing “Spotlight” features. These were stories on the “ironies in life” such as a six year old black belt or 90 year old swimmer.
Over the next few years, Farmer spent a semester studying journalism in Washington, D.C. and interned at the George Michael Sports Machine. After spending some time as a desk assistant, Farmer was offered a job in Seattle, Washington, at the Bellevue Journal American. During his years in Washington state, he also wrote the book Bitter Roses: An Inside Look at the Washington Huskies’ Turbulent Year.
When the Raiders moved from Los Angeles back to Oakland, Farmer took the job as the beat writer for the San Jose Mercury News. He provided in depth coverage of Oakland's new team for the next five seasons. In 2000, he returned to the LA Times, covering UCLA basketball for one season and the NFL ever since.
In that decade and a half with the Times, Farmer has taken on some of the most unique assignments in sports journalism. He has climbed Mt. Rainier and met soldiers fresh off the battlefield with two different NFL commissioners. He has spent weekends watching games beside fathers of star NFL quarterbacks. He traveled with NFL officiating crews to see the game from their perspective. He has flown in the Goodyear Blimp, spent a week at the Seahawks’ training facility shadowing coach Pete Carroll and spent hours listening to the stories from the great John Wooden towards the end of his life. Sam Farmer has lived a journalist's dream.
“I recommend it, it’s a good job,” said Farmer as he thought about the career he almost didn’t have. “You have good days and bad days. It’s like anything, you make a mistake or you get beat on a story or you to deal with a guy who’s a jerk. But, on balance, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”
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