By Jeremy Rosenberg
During a recent weekday afternoon, sportswriter Arash Markazi was sitting on a bench on the concrete patio outside Heritage Hall.
Students walked, biked, and skated by. The Los Angeles sky was gray and as two rare days of rain had left Howard Jones Field soaked, the football team was practicing nearby at Katherine B. Loker Stadium. Coaches' high-pitched whistles pierced nearby conversations like dashes do a sentence, while the occasional blast of an air horn was more like a hard return.
Sitting on that bench, waiting to do post-practice interviews, Markazi (BA, Print Journalism '04), seemed like a man at home. And in a way, that's because the former Daily Trojan columnist and sports editor never entirely left.
"The first thing I covered," Markazi says, "was Pete Carroll's introductory press conference."
That event occurred in December, 2000. "Right there, behind those curtains," Markazi says. "That's where Pete Carroll announced he was coming to USC, that's where he announced he was leaving. That's where Matt Leinart announced he was coming back."
While Carroll and Leinart and so many others have come and gone, Markazi continues to visit campus as part of his job as a columnist for ESPN Los Angeles – the locally-focused website and feeder for the "worldwide leader" in sports and entertainment.
Previously, Markazi worked for Sports Illustrated, and he's freelanced for publications including Slam, King, Playboy, and the Associated Press. Markazi started his college career writing at Arizona State University, but transferred to USC in part to be back near home – he was born in Oklahoma City but arrived in L.A. when he was two years old. His family resides in Woodland Hills.
One family member in particular is on his mind when he works. "I always like to think I'm writing the story for my mom, who doesn't know anything about sports," Markazi says. "How do I make this interesting for her?" In keeping with that mantra, Markazi's columns and features are scant with stats and fantasy league noise. "I want to know about the person – what makes them tick," he says.
Clearly, what Markazi is doing is working. He's that rarest of breeds in sports journalism – a multi-platform poet, a words-first stylist equally adept at trading prerequisite barbs as a sports talk radio show guest as he is citing the words of Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho in an article about the soccer star Ronaldo.
When Markezi covers a dull boxing match between a has-been and a never-was, the columnist writes of the crowd derisively chanting, "beso!" – or, "kiss" – as the fighters continue to hug and clench. When Markezi attends a PAC-10 media day, he begins his dispatch by writing, "As coaches chomped away at their plates of chicken parmigiana…." And when Markazi visits the set of a television commercial featuring NBA players, he chronicles how the players are introducing each other to a then-year-old website called YouTube, and using the site to watch footage of a famous streetball dunker.
Markazi's style makes him an easy match for Twitter, where he has more than 7,000 followers at @ArashMarkazi. During a recent three-day stretch, topics of his tweets included Vanilla Ice, Diane Lane, Leonardo DiCaprio, playoff baseball, USC's place-kickers past and present, and going sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge.
Online and multimedia work was far from Markazi's mind when he was a student Trojan. In those 'pre-core' days, he limited his student media work to the student newspaper. In retrospect, Markazi says, that was a mistake. "I had no connection with ATVN or Trojan Vision, or KSCR," he says. "All those media outlets that I should have been a part of while I was here, I wasn't, because I didn't have to be and I was so focused on writing."
Markazi says that's no longer enough. "They want you to do a podcast, they want you to hop on the radio, they want you to do a TV hit. They want you to do everything," he says. And so, during the Lakers 2010-11 season, Markazi says he'll be part of a halftime show ESPN Los Angeles is webcasting on Facebook. And last July, he stood on the red carpet prior to the ESPYs – a sports award show – making like Billy Bush and asking athletes and actors questions as they walked towards the front door. That live show was also broadcast on Facebook.
Markazi, meanwhile, doesn't need a poke to recall the many Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism staff and faculty members who helped and mentored him. When visiting the school, for instance, he'll stop by and greet administrators Jabari Brown and Debra Ono – Markazi noting his friendship with the pair and his enduring gratitude for their helping him learn about scholarships, including a particularly prestigious one he received from the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation. Markazi also speaks reverentially about ASCJ's professors. "Annenberg," he says, "is, in my opinion, the greatest journalism school in the country because of the faculty."
When Markazi moved to New York City after graduating, he was able to make connections with higher-ups at Sports Illustrated and Time, Inc. thanks to introductions made by professors with national reputations and portfolios such as Norman Corwin, Stephen Randall, and the late Ed Guthman. "These legends in the field of journalism not only helped me be the writer I am today," Markazi says, "but in a way validated me as professional before I had even collected my first paycheck."
Markazi cites Guthman in particular as a significant influence. "That's one of the great things about USC – you get to work with a guy like that," Markazi says. "He was [as press sectetary] at the right hand of Robert Kennedy. He won a Pulitzer Prize. Even to this day when I go to find out facts about something, to really report about something, I remember what I learned in his class."
If doing his job right is a fitting tribute to the pros who taught him well, then Markazi's life story is a tribute to his own strength, plus a moving paen to his alma mater.
Twice, Markazi has been diagnosed with and treated for cancer. The non-Hodgkin's lymphoma he had at age 21 and again at 25 is now long gone.
Following the original diagnosis, Markazi was treated with chemotherapy and radiation. The second time, he received chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant. The latter demanded a thirty-day in-patient stay, and so Markazi left New York City and took a leave of absence from his S.I. job. "I made it a point to go to the USC hospital. They have a great facility," Markazi says, referring to the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The hospital keeps copies of the Daily Trojan, which helped Markazi reconnect even further with his school. Reading the DT also reminded him of how four years prior, when he was going to school as well as receiving radiation treatment, he would pick up a copy of that same paper, and proudly show it to nurses and doctors.
"I was like," Markazi says, "'Yep, I wrote this article.'"