What Ed Snider taught me about writing nonfiction

Flyers

In 1966, Ed Snider, the billionaire entrepreneur who died recently at 83, co-founded the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team. He also developed and acquired 10 additional businesses, including SMG, an early sports-arena management company; WIP, an early all-sports radio station; and SpectaGuard, a security company. Oh, yes, and the Spectrum, the late, great indoor sporting arena in South Philly.

Snider bundled his companies into an entity called Spectacor, which occupied a mansion on the south side of Rittenhouse Square. It was there that I met Snider, whom I was to profile in Spectacor’s employee newsletter.

Snider’s office, the top level in his elevator-free building, was as impressive as his business empire. His reputation was even greater: He was a towering figure in the world of sports, well known for the emotional support he gave to his players, the presidents of his companies and his friends and colleagues in the city and country.

I was literally and figuratively breathless when I arrived at the fourth floor. But Snider put me at ease, and he spoke with ease. Across the world’s largest wooden desk, he talked about his love for his family and players. He interspersed comments and memories with gestures to photos of his favorite people. And he chatted at length about the wonder of having a child and a grandchild of the same age, a feat he accomplished by marrying multiple times.

The lesson he taught was that, if I just kept quiet and allowed his mind to wander, I’d get a good story. I knew that already, but he, or at least his behavior, reminded me. I didn’t interrupt with questions from my prepared list. Sometimes I smiled or laughed or said, “Oh!” – an inducement for him to keep on keepin’ on. And he did.

Well, the story wrote itself, as they say. It was easy to punctuate his musings, to turn phrases into sentences, to insert paragraph marks. Before deadline, I submitted the profile to the p.r. man who hired me. He loved the article.

I wish that were the end of the story. But when Ed Snider, later honored for his charity work by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association, read the piece, he had second thoughts. According to the p.r. man, Snider regretted opening up as much as he did. He didn’t take back any of the details, all of which I cited accurately. He merely dismissed the entire article, which never saw publication.

RIP, Ed Snider: You taught me to keep still when I interview, even if the result did not thrill you.