May 4, 2006

10 Questions with Per Ostman, Man of Mystery

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In the final installment of 10 Questions, Sun associate editor Carlos Maycotte turned the tables on Per Ostman.

1. So this is the end.

This is the end.

My only friend, the end.

Who are you, Jim Morrison?

Hell no. I’m still alive, aren’t I?

For now.

It’s more than can be said for you, old man.

I am the lizard king.

How old are you now?

[Indignant] I’m 24.

Twenty-four what? Decades?

[Still indignant] Years, dickhead.

Still, that’s a quarter of a century.

Thanks for reminding me.

Hey, you’ve had a good run. But we’re putting you out to pasture now.

Don’t you mean, “out to stud?”

“Out to stud?”

I’m going to sit back and sire champions.

Are there still any good mares out there? In your age bracket, don’t you have to take menopause into account?

Hey, the doors to the stable are always open.

Let’s pretend you never said that. How do you feel at the end of “Ten Questions?”

I loved it. I enjoyed doing all the interviews, and I got nothing but positive feedback from people. And, actually, that’s the best thing about it for me, that I never got anything negative about the column. Nothing from the athletes – they all loved it, from what I heard.

What about the media and P.R. people for Cornell Athletics?

Well, Jeremy Hartigan and I talked before I did the first interview with Kevin Boothe, because I felt it was a good idea to give him a heads up and make sure that he was OK with what I was doing. Jeremy’s a cool guy. He’s young enough to understand that just because the interviews got suggestive and silly didn’t mean they were bad for the Athletic Department. However, there were times when an athlete made comments he deemed inappropriate, like David McKee explaining his Valentine’s Day activities.

He never really went into them. It was all generalities.

Yeah, well, I think his point got across loud and clear, don’t you? But still, I heard that Jeremy had some issues, and, at the end of the day I can understand that. But he knows that my goal was never to embarrass Cornell –

You just did it to embarrass the athletes.

Exactly. And myself.

Which is perfectly OK.

Right, because I have no shame. And the athletes knew what they were getting into when they agreed to talk to me.

I’m guessing it was pretty exciting for people. It’s like, “Oh, I’m doing 10 Questions this week!”

I like to think that they reacted that way. People definitely read the articles. I think it was very popular with the athletes.

They must talk about it in the locker room.

Oh, I hope so. If people are talking about it, then I’ve definitely done my job. Especially if they’re talking about McKee’s girlfriend or something. If teammates are embarrassing the person that I interviewed, then I sleep better at night.

No problem taking down the Cornell goalie, huh?

It’s not like I was intimidated talking to these guys. I did pretty much the same thing to Moulson. I did this to everyone who had a girlfriend.

You asked Moulson which three people he’d like to have dinner with, and he said his girlfriend. That’s the most emasculating thing I’ve ever heard an athlete say.

That’s part of the reason why I did these interviews, why I enjoyed them so much – seeing the personal side of these athletes. We read about what they do and we watch them on the field, but I feel like I was able to show them as they really are. I wasn’t doing interviews, I was having conversations. So when we would talk about their girlfriends, they’d feel it necessary to say “I miss her,” or “I feel this way about her” or “I need to have dinner with her because I’m whipped.” And Matt Moulson is whipped. Great guy, but he’s completely whipped. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, except that there’s everything wrong with that.

You realize that we’re going to find you dead and impaled on a hockey stick tomorrow morning, right?

Look, they’re not that tall without their skates. Everyone forgets this.

2. So, where did you come up with this thing?

The story is two-fold. A couple of years ago, there was a feature on ESPN’s Page 2 called “10 Burning Questions,” where they’d interview a professional athlete. The questions would go off on all these tangents, which I thought was really good.

Were the interviews serious, or where they asking stuff like, “what kind of superpowers do you want the most?”

I actually ripped that question and the “who do you want to take to dinner” question directly from the ESPN stuff.

You ripped off ESPN? Aren’t you afraid of Stuart Scott berating you in a poetry slam or something?

Actually, that’s terrifying. But, I like to think that I did a much better job with “10 Questions” than anybody at ESPN ever did, because my version has survived and become one of the most popular features in The Sun. It didn’t last long on Page 2, mostly because they had a different writer do it every week, which destroyed any sort of continuity. Plus, I didn’t have to worry about oversight – because I basically got away with everything I wanted to. I had free reign, which is a perk that people don’t have in the real world, so I’m very thankful for that. I’m the Michael Corleone of The Sun.

No, you’re the Methuselah of The Sun. Go on.

So, a couple of years later, there was a guy named Cody Toppert on the basketball team. He was arrogant as hell, and funny as hell. He was my own personal Charles Barkley. If he ends up throwing a guy through a plate glass window someday, then he’ll complete the circle.

And balloons to 370 pounds.

Frankly, there’s still time. Anyway, I was out of feature story ideas one week toward the end of the season. Then it came to me – why not get Cody to say a bunch of ridiculous stuff, and print that? I remembered the ESPN column, and went from there.

What kinds of things did he say?

The best was, “I would give my left testicle for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.”

Just the left?

Apparently he was very attached to his right one. Needless to say, the interview turned out surprisingly well. The editors thought it was funny enough, so I started doing the interviews every week with different athletes. The rest is history.

3. So, what’s the process behind these things?

Well, the restraining order refers to the process as “stalking.” I call it “investigative reporting.”

How did you select your victims?

There is no truth to the rumor that all I did was thumb through the media guides looking for blondes. Several of the girls I interviewed were brunettes.

You didn’t target the hottest girls?

Look, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t select attractive girls to interview. OF COURSE I’m going to abuse my power and always pick the hot girls. I’m not an idiot.

But “pretty” wasn’t your only criteria, was it?

Of course not. They had to be good at their sport as well, both the guys and the girls. It was just a bonus if they were attractive.

No pine-riders?

Yeah. I wasn’t going to interview anyone who played left bench.

Didn’t you ever want to go for the outrageous person? The person who’ll say anything?

That’s the ideal interviewee, but I never specifically tried to get that person. Sometimes, it just worked out that way.

How did you prepare for the interviews?

To make the interviews any good, I’d have to know the athletes better than they knew themselves.

You make it sound like you’re a psychic.

Well, I needed to be able to anticipate answers so I could control the interview. Kind of like what I’m doing now.

That’s not a shot at me, is it?

You tell me.

You’ve done this for hundreds of years. I’m an opinion columnist. The only voices I need to listen to are the ones inside my head.

Yeah, no kidding. You opinion columnists are all completely insane.

Has being a former athlete helped you?

I think it helped quite a bit. I know how an athlete thinks. Of course, anybody that covers sports will knowenough of what goes on in an athlete’s mind to be able to get them to say the right thing, or to get the good quotes, because that’s what sportswriters do. But I think that as a former athlete, they gave me answers that they wouldn’t necessarily give anyone else.

They trusted you.

I think so. Because I’ve “been there.”

So you choose the person. Then how do you do the person?

If it’s their first time being interviewed, you want to start out slowly. I think it’s important for them to feel comfortable.

You coax them a little bit?

Yeah. And then I’d get to the harder questions.

And at the end, it all comes out.

If I do my job right, we both leave smiling.

Was it ever awkward in the morning?

Not for me.

Did you have to call them? Ask them if it came out right?

If you do your job correctly, you never have to ask.

Dr. Ruth should hire you.

Truly. Sexual innuendo was 90 percent of 10Qs.

Is that what you were trying to do with it?

Not necessarily. But, I think that reflects what college students a) think about all the time and b) find funny.

So, in the end, it’s just you flirting with girls and shooting the shit with guys?

That’s essentially what it was.

And getting girls to say “balls.”

Yeah. And the girls were really good sports about this most of the time. They played along nicely. Sometimes, I didn’t even have to walk them down the garden path. They’d just dive right into the innuendo.

Did anyone refuse to play along?

No. They enjoyed it. They understood that I wasn’t going to misrepresent them. We were just having fun.

You weren’t going to print anything out of context.

Of course not. And I’ve never printed something just for the sake of being sensational. It goes back to the trust we were talking about. They understand that this is fun, that people will laugh at this, and that we’re having a good time. I think that’s why it’s been successful.

4. What do you do when you get a dud of an interview?

If I’m doing my job right, then there’s not a problem. I’ll get them comfortable and get them to open up.

What if they’re too polite? Or too shy?

I’ve run into this a couple of times. You have to go with it. You have to be able to adapt. You have to make it an interesting interview, regardless of the athlete’s disposition.

So, you just make fun of them?

I think it’s looked like that on a couple of occasions. At a certain point, you have to browbeat them into submission.

Do they notice?

I think it sometimes looks more vicious in print that it sounds during the actual interview. But it’s never an adversarial conversation. We’re talking about Maggie Fava, right?

You kind of took the Barry Bonds route on her.

What? I covered her in flaxseed oil?

No, but you were destroying her! “Did I stutter?”

I don’t know why you guys didn’t like that interview. I think she had an interesting take on things. I mean, she’s one of best lacrosse goalies in the country, and we were talking about how she’s afraid of the ball and doesn’t like pain. I thought that was tremendous.

5. What was your favorite interview?

It would be hard to pick against the Bruce Hyde interview. Because he doesn’t care. He’s not going to give you the clichĂ© line of crap. He’ll tell you exactly what he’s feeling. And that’s what you want as a journalist, and ultimately, that’s what you want as a fan. We talked about an hour and a half, and we only ended up printing about 10 percent of it.

Was the rest inappropriate?

Some of it was. Hence all the missing scenes. But for a lot of it, we were just talking. We just didn’t have enough room to print it all.

Give me an example of stuff that was unprintable.

I don’t think it’s a huge secret. The first missing scene was the two of us talking about the sexual proclivities of a former Cornell athlete that he had carnal knowledge of.

He knew her, in the biblical sense.

Precisely. And I knew who this person was, and we talked about that for a while. I didn’t print it, because I didn’t think it was my place to air someone’s dirty laundry on hearsay.

Are you kidding? Of course that’s your place! What happened? Who were you guys talking about?

I don’t necessarily think that kind of thing is for public consumption. Is someone a demon in the sack? Are they insane? Maybe they are. But I’m not going to print it.

Why not? Are you some kind of pansy?

What do you want me to do, draw you a picture?

I don’t want a picture-

Well, actually you might. This particular girl is pretty hot. The fact is that I got a lot of positive feedback from Bruce’s interview because it was so honest. But there’s some stuff you just don’t print.

Not even you?

Not even me. And I get away with everything.

6. What do you think of your replacement, Paul Testa? He did his first interview last week.

Well, aside from a few basic grammatical and syntax errors and lacking a nominal command of the English language, I think he’ll be fine.

He’ll be fine?

What people need to understand is that he’s going to do 10Qs with a different voice. Hopefully, he’ll take it and make it his own. If he does that, he’ll be successful. If he tries to do the same kinds of things that I did, then he’ll fail, because he’s not being himself.

He’ll also get beat up. I don’t think he’s big enough to openly taunt hockey players.

I think he’ll be fine.

Any more advice for him?

Yeah, stop smoking. It’s terrible for you. You smell like Death. And you could probably stand to grow a few dozen inches.

He also can’t go in yelling at people right off the bat.

I actually like his aggressiveness. It shows he has balls. He has to be confident, or it’s going to be a disaster. I think it’ll be fun to see him interview a girl for the first time.

Has he talked to girls before?

That’s a good question. But I just want to ask all the athletes who end up being Paul’s victims to extend him the same courtesy that they did to me.

I feel like I just heard the principal tell the kids to be nice to the substitute teacher.

Yeah, he’s screwed.

7. Has there ever been an occasion where you couldn’t print something because the athlete asked you not to?

Acutally, that happened with David McKee. Originally, I asked him to guarantee a win in the upcoming Harvard game.

You wanted him to guarantee a win???

I don’t see why this is such a big deal.

Aren’t you a Red Sox fan? You of all people should know better.

See, that’s just ridiculous. David asked for the question to be taken out at the behest of his coach.

Any idea, Jinxy, on why that would be?

Neither Dave nor I “jinxed” anything. I asked him that question because I wanted the truth, I wanted to see if he was confident enough to put something like that in print. And he wasn’t saying it to be funny or to be cool; he was saying it because he believed that they would win. I like that confidence, and I believe that any athlete who doesn’t have that confidence has already lost.

Aren’t you jinxing the game?

What jinxing? There’s no such thing. Look what happened two years ago – the Red Sox won the World Series.

After 86 long years of losing.

Yeah, but it wasn’t because Babe Ruth jinxed them. They didn’t break a curse, they just proved that a stupid thing like a curse never existed in the first place. The athletes are in control of what happens. David’s comment didn’t even get printed! For you or anyone else to say something like, “the Cornell hockey team lost because McKee told the a guy that they would win,” is just patently absurd.

Did you consider printing it?

Absolutely. But when asked, I removed it from the interview immediately, not because I didn’t have the right to print it – it’s not as if I made up the quote – but because it was the right thing to do. If I had been a jerk about it, what happens the next time The Sun needs a quote from the hockey team?

Again, that person is found impaled on a hockey stick.

Exactly. If I get all self-righteous and whine about him being “on the record,” no athlete is ever going to trust me to do an interview again.

8. So what’s next for Per Ostman? Are you going down the sportswriter road?

I don’t think that’s really in the cards, not because I don’t think I’m good enough, but –

You love sports. You’re a good writer. Thus, sportswriter.

Well, if you think about it, when you’re a sportswriter, it’s tough to still be a fan. I don’t want to lose that. I want to avoid what happened to Peter Gammons. When the Red Sox won the Series, he had to be a non-biased journalist. How hard must that have been? I feel that part of him didn’t get to enjoy it as much as the rest of us did.

How about the Bill Simmons road? He basically writes about being a fan.

Bill Simmons is my man. But what you have to remember is that what Bill Simmons has done is incredibly hard to do. He was one of the pioneer sports bloggers, and he developed a cult following. Now, every Joe Sixpack has a freaking blog. So, to do what Simmons has done is downright impossible today. Now, if I was able to pitch 10Qs to ESPN The Magazine or SI and get paid to fly around the country asking professional athletes ridiculous questions like, “what city has the best groupies,” then that might be fun.

So, where does that leave you?

Good question. I’m sure there are some rich alums reading this. Anybody have an opening for a guy who can trick girls into saying “balls?” I’ll be a hit at the company Christmas party.

9. What are you going to miss most about doing “Ten Questions?”

You mean besides getting to flirt with hot girls every other week?

Can’t you do that without the interviews?

Yeah, but I feel less sleazy when I have some kind of legitimacy to fall back on. I think most of the girls I interviewed would kick my ass if I just walked up to them in a bar and said, “hey, can I ask you a question?”

Fair enough, but there has to be something else you’ll miss.

I’ve just really enjoyed showing Cornell who their athletes really are. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun talking shop with these guys, and I’m completely in their debt. So, Kevin, Natalie, Shannon, Dan, Tom, Bruce, Christy, Kelly, Matt, Ryan, Brittani, Matt, Ariel, Mike, David, Jessica, Mike, Chris, Maggie, Joe, Rocky, and Tyler – you guys rock.

What about us, you ungrateful bastard? What about The Sun? Won’t you miss us?

Just ex-Photo Editor Ali Pivoda and her luscious breasts. The rest of you can go to hell.

I can totally get behind that statement.

10. What’s the hottest women’s team at Cornell?

Well, according to the athletes, it’s overwhelmingly women’s track. And it’s really not even close. They ran away with it, no pun intended.

It’s hard to argue with that kind of dominance.

Yeah, congratulations to women’s track. I don’t have a trophy to hand out or anything, but if you guys want some deep-tissue massages, I think we can work something out.

That’s very big of you. Do you agree with the People’s Choice?

Actually, I have to go against the results of our little election. I think the hottest team is women’s soccer.

Really? Why? I mean, soccer is the most beautiful sport in the world, but is the Cornell team especially caliente?

Whatever that means, yes, they are. I know some of them, so I was at most of their home games. I’ve done the research. As a team, they have the ideal thrust-to-weight ratio.

What are they, rocket ships?

Have you seen their legs? For me, it’s all about solid core strength. They can sprint, they can go for endurance, they can even handle contact. It’s the total package.

I’m surprised you didn’t make a “balls to the face” joke.

It was too easy. Besides, I don’t want to get gang-tackled by them on Slope Day. [Ponders comment] On second thought, that might not be so bad.

Vaya con dios. For all the ladies out there, what was the hottest men’s team?

You’re not going to believe this, but if you count up the votes, it’s the squash team.

You’re kidding me! By how many votes?

They were the only team that got a second vote. Everybody else was tied with one.

That’s ridiculous! We have more legitimate elections in Mexico!

The people have spoken. It’s out of my hands. But if this results in Matt Serediak and Joe Boulukos fighting to the death in Trillium, then it’s all been worth it.

Who was the hottest athlete you interviewed?

As I’ve said before, all the girls I interviewed were hot. But I think the hottest was Jess Brookman.

Doesn’t she have a boyfriend?

Sure, and Mike’s one of the coolest guys I’ve met; I’m completely above-board here. Jess is really attractive, but not necessarily because she’s prettier than everyone else.

What the hell are you talking about?

It was more of a mental thing. We talked for about 20 minutes about what it feels like to dominate a race, to have that killer instinct and just go for it. She’s a racer, and she’s a champion. She’s a winner. That’s hot.

That’s what’s attractive to you?

There’s nothing more attractive than a gold medal.

Ten Questions with Per Ostman appeared just about every Thursday this year, proving that you can get away with absolutely anything at a college newspaper. Final insults, taunts, and threats can be sent to tenquestions@mac.com.

Archived article by Carlos Maycotte
Sun Associate Editor