BALCO Breakup - Chron Reporter Jumps to ESPN, Sourcing Gets Awkward

Now that the Chronicle's celebrated BALCO investigative reporting team of Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada has split up, inquiring minds may be forgiven for wondering who gets custody of the sources.

The answer: They're working it out amicably.

"I'm sure there will be times when it may be slightly complicated or even a little awkward, but it won't be a problem between us," says Fainaru-Wada, who bolted the Chron for ESPN earlier this month. His move comes as part of the cable empire's push to beef up its investigative sports journalism by dipping into the ranks of print reporters. It also recently hired longtime Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly to do commentaries.

Fainaru-Wada's move to TV puts an end to a reporting dream team that won a coveted George Polk Award while helping to out home-run king Barry Bonds, Yankees slugger Jason Giambi, and track stars Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery, among others. As thanks, the duo faced the prospect of jail time for refusing to divulge the source of grand jury testimony (that is, until a Colorado attorney came forward to confess the leaks), and endured a barrage of hate mail from rabid baseball fans.

"When people send you e-mails expressing the hope not only that you're sent to prison, but that you're raped there, you know you've struck a nerve," says Fainaru-Wada, who will continue to work from San Francisco.

"We've gone through a lot together," Williams says. "We're great friends and we're going to miss working with each other a great deal."

The duo's odyssey began in September 2003, after Fainaru-Wada — who had just come over to the news desk after asking to be reassigned from sports — was asked to check out a raid at an obscure vitamin company near San Francisco International Airport. No one even knew if it was worth a story. He discovered that a slew of athletes were connected to the vitamin outfit, Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO; that the feds had also raided the home of its owner, Victor Conte; and that a subpoena had been issued for Bonds. Fainaru-Wada and Williams paired up that October.

Fainaru-Wada's Chronicle colleagues threw him a farewell bash on Nov. 8. Two days later, the feds announced Bonds' indictment for obstruction of justice and lying to a grand jury about his use of steroids. Although Fainaru-Wada wasn't slated to start his new gig until Nov. 26, ESPN immediately pressed him into service.

"They called, and said, 'So, are you ready to work?' And so here I went again."

 
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