SNIDER: Remembering sportswriter Joe White

Rick Snider
August 11, 2019 - 10:08 pm
Remembering  Washington D.C. sportswriter Joe White, who died at the age of 56.

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Joe White was such a unique person whose quirkiness made him endearing.

He was a son of a Mayberry-like town who never fully grew into the modern age. He preferred riding his bike or taking public transportation, retired from journalism to own a health-food store and spent most of his final months hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Joe died on Saturday of a heart attack in Staunton, Va. where he retired in 2015 after covering Washington sports for the Associated Press for 20 years. He was a Damon Runyon-esque character who didn’t care that his clothes were nearly older than some players he covered, sweaters so ugly that players offered to take him shopping.

Joe didn’t care what others thought of him, but the truth was people loved Joe for his uniqueness. His funny, loud laugh at some of his own corny jokes. In a town where people love to attack others, Joe was a throw-back to saner times when people pulled together.

The Redskins press corps, like many other teams, is a band of brothers. Sometimes brothers fight, but there’s a closeness among those who spend so many hours and travel so many days covering a team. People become your close friends even if working for other news outlets. Oh, Joe and I always wanted to beat each other to a story, but it was never personal.

I first met Joe in 1995 as the Redskins opened training camp in Frostburg. He just transferred from London after many years there that left an accent. Indeed, his very young son Harry came to live with us in the dorms and watch the practices and sounded like Harry Potter. Turns out Joe was from North Carolina. It was just the first of many surprises.

Joe loved Frostburg. A small town is where he was from and where he would return when buying a health food store in Staunton. Joe grew up in his grandparent’s country store, so Cranberry’s was a return to his youth as well as his semi-retirement as its owner.

Joe loved sports writing and as an AP reporter covered every major pro and college team in town. His death resonates through every press box in town. He was a grinder who never complained about working seemingly every day and was a perfectionist over details. The only time I’d ever see Joe angry was whenever a team treated us poorly. It’s the job we’ve chosen, though, and it never broke Joe’s optimism.

Joe loved hiking. After several trips to Europe, he decided to walk the Appalachian Trail this year. Joe made it 1,400 miles before slipping on wet rocks and breaking his wrist. Just three miles into New York, Joe thought he was maybe six weeks from finishing. Instead, he was already thinking about returning in 2021 to finish.

I’d like to think the final months of Joe’s life were his happiest. He’d send photos from the trail of beauty we’ll never see from roads. Joe liked meeting new people on the trail each day, living simply in the outdoors. His friends were rooting for him to finish.

Joe is the fifth local sportswriter to die in the last 16 months. Bill Nack wrote the book on Secretariat and was the best writer I knew. Steve Guback was the best Redskins beat writer ever for The Washington Star. John McNamara was among those killed in the attack on the Capital Gazette in Annapolis loved local basketball. Rich Tandler loved covering the Redskins.

They were all great guys who are missed. Not to see Joe again is heartbreaking, but I’m sure he’s now backpacking across the universe.

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks

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