Nearly 30 years ago, Leslie Tidball was scanning the classifieds when she spotted an intriguing ad: A weekly sports paper, Inside the Seahawks, was looking for a new editor. Tidball, then in her early 30s, had just moved to Seattle after a reporting stint in Idaho. She called the number in the listing, then drove to a nondescript office in Kirkland, where she met with the paper's publisher, a young, broad-shouldered man named Kenny who was wearing a "beautiful suit and glasses," she recalls. As he asked Leslie questions about her experience, it slowly dawned on her that she recognized him.
"I was thinking to myself 'Is that the Kenny Easley?'" she says.
Decades before Derek Jeter started The Players' Tribune, Easley, one of the greatest safeties in NFL history, was publishing a newspaper in Seattle -- while he was still playing for the Seahawks. The defensive star, a three-time All-Pro safety nicknamed The Enforcer for his punishing style of play, launched Inside the Seahawks in 1986, before his sixth season in the NFL. Although the newspaper lasted only a couple of years, it accrued a cult following, eventually drawing some 20,000 subscribers around the country, according to former staffers.
Tidball, who was hired in 1987, says Easley frequently dropped by the office to discuss everything from staff issues to the Seahawks' defensive strategy. "He was there every week," she says. "You'd get story ideas from him."
Easley, now 57, says he first dreamed up Inside the Seahawks in 1981, when a retired player named Norm Evans interviewed him for his newsletter, The Seahawk Report. The young safety was impressed, and he began to wonder whether he, too, could publish his own paper. "I thought I could put a different slant on it," he says. A few years later, he decided to pursue the idea, so he asked the Seahawks to give him their mailing list. "I told them I was going to be one of the owners -- I didn't tell them I was gonna be publisher and actually work there," he says, laughing.
Easley's first hire was an editor named Linda Dean. Over the next few months, she says, they worked side by side, securing office space in Kirkland near the Seahawks' practice facility (which made it easier for Easley to swing by after workouts), assembling a small staff of reporters and salespeople, and planning the first batch of newspapers. Each issue contained about 30 pages; an early copy featured an in-depth interview with defensive end Jacob Green, a detailed recap of the Seahawks' 23-17 win over Kansas City that week, and sections on football history, sports medicine and equipment, among other things. There was even a review of John Madden's "One Knee Equals Two Feet" ("This isn't a book. It's a monologue.")
Dean knew Inside the Seahawks couldn't compete with the big dailies on analysis, so the paper specialized in player profiles and interviews, as well as human interest stories. An issue from the summer of 1987 focused entirely on fashion. On the cover, quarterback Dave Krieg and free safety Eugene Robinson swan on a boat in flashy yachting gear; Steve Largent is pictured inside wearing a pair of Swatches on one wrist, his collar popped. Linda Nothstein, who sold ads for the paper, says the players were eager to score free aviator glasses and mock turtlenecks. "[Running back] Curt Warner was pretty into it," she says. "He loved dressing up."
After a year, Easley says, the paper was breaking even, but increased printing costs forced him to scale back. By the time Tidball became editor, just a handful of employees remained. Every Sunday, a reporter would transmit a game recap back to the office, where the staff would paste the pages together with rubber cement. The next morning, someone would drive to the printing plant. It was a shoestring operation, Nothstein says. "People would ask for the circulation department, and we'd say it was on another floor," she says. "In other words, there wasn't one."
The staff photographer, Rod Mar, was a college student whose experience consisted largely of shooting for the University of Washington's school paper. Easley secured a spot for him in the Seahawks' traveling press corps. "The fact that someone was giving me a plane ticket to go to Lambeau and Three Rivers Stadium and these places I had only seen on TV to take photos, it was crazy," Mar says.
Easley, who speaks fondly about meeting deadlines and moving "copy," says running a paper gave him a deeper appreciation for the press. "I'd come home from practice, dead tired, in bed, and I'd get a phone call from Leslie at 8 or 9 p.m. She was still at the office working," he says.
His staffers remember a stern but fair boss. "He was definitely intense," says David Takami, a former Inside the Seahawks assistant editor. "He was a perfectionist. ... I imagine that's why he was such a great player."
"He was intimidating and scary," Mar says.
"Imagine having Kenny Easley stare at you in a sales meeting," Nothstein adds.
Inside the Seahawks was an aberration beyond the fact that an active NFL player ran the paper. In the '80s, women were mostly absent from the reporting pool; Easley says he remembers seeing just one female beat writer during his career. Yet he picked a woman to start his paper, then replaced her with another woman when the first one left. Hiring Dean was "definitely unusual in the business," Easley admits. But he believed she was the best person for the job. "When it came to the Seahawks, she was an encyclopedia," he says. "She knew her stuff. She knew the players. And more importantly, she knew how to get the information she needed."
Although Dean says she enjoyed her boss' unwavering support -- and by proxy, respect from the players, who feared and admired Easley -- she still encountered some backlash. After a few male readers wrote nasty letters that mentioned her gender, she changed her byline to L. Dean. When Tidball took over, she sent Mar, the photographer, into the locker room to gather quotes. "I recognized that it would be difficult for Kenny if I crossed certain lines," she says.
Easley occasionally stepped in to broker interviews with the players, but he was wary, he says, of alienating the team. "There were things I saw in the locker room that I could've easily taken back to the magazine and written about, but there was no way I would jeopardize things with my teammates," he says. Although he mostly shied from criticizing the Seahawks organization, the paper did publish stories about the 1987 players strike -- Easley was a players representative -- and other league issues. Eventually, he started writing his own column, one that touched on subjects ranging from the distress he felt during roster cuts ("it is not a system of loyalty") to the adversity that rookies face at training camp: "But like a cool breeze that sweeps across Lake Washington on a brisk autumn day, all hope is wiped away as veterans come into camp and you find that the NFL is more than brute strength and brawn."
After two years at the helm of the paper, Easley had grown tired of moonlighting as a publisher. Other players held outside jobs, but only in the summer. "I was the only nutcase that would try to run a business during the season," he says. He sold Inside the Seahawks in 1988, not long before he was traded to the Phoenix Cardinals (the deal was scuttled when the team discovered he had a serious kidney disease that forced his retirement). Soon after, the publication folded.
Mar, the college student, parlayed his work at Inside the Seahawks into an internship at The Seattle Times, where he would go on to work for 20 years. He recently became the Seahawks' team photographer. At the Super Bowl this year, he ran into Easley, who served as the team's honorary captain. "Kenny Easley was my first boss," Mar says. "The circle came around."