By Aaron Leibel
From the beginning, the chemistry between sports journalists Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon was terrific.
George Solomon ought to know. As head of The Washington Post’s sports department, he hired them both. Kornheiser and Wilbon have been hosts of ESPN’s top-rated, daily sports talk show, “Pardon the Interruption,” for more than 20 years.
“They yakked, hollered and yelled at each other” from their adjacent workplaces in The Post, Solomon, 82, said in an interview.
“Next to their offices was the Book World department. The editor asked me, ‘Can you get these guys to tone it down a little?’ I said, ‘They won’t do it.’ So Book World moved.
“Then, Outlook [the Sunday Post opinion section] moved in. After about two months, the Outlook editor asked, ‘Is there any way you can tone those guys down? They make too much noise, and we can’t get our work done.’ I said, ‘They won’t do it.’ So they moved.
“Finally, the investigative reporters moved in, and they were as loud as Kornheiser and Wilbon, so there were no complaints.”
A resident of Rockville, Solomon was inducted into the Washington Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.
In addition to his work at The Post, Solomon was ombudsman for ESPN and professor of the practice and founding director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism before his retirement in 2020.
As a kid, Solomon was a big sports fan. He credits his father’s love of newspapers — there always were copies of various papers in their house — for sparking his love for journalism.
He graduated from the University of Florida School of Journalism in 1963 and made it to the District in 1970 as a sports writer and columnist for the Washington Daily News. Two years later, that paper folded, and he joined The Post.
During his 28 years as assistant managing editor for sports at that paper, he got to know the big names in the field in the Washington area. And he served as a lightning rod for complaints about Post coverage by local college and professional coaches and managers who were no less protective of their players and programs — and their own reputations — then were the most aggressive, politically sensitive politicians.
Among his favorites was legendary Washington football coach Joe Gibbs who led the NFL team to three Super Bowl titles. “He was a terrific person,” Solomon noted, “but was very quick to let me know if he was unhappy about a story or the direction of a project we were working on.”
Maryland Terrapin basketball coach Lefty Driesell had a “fiery temper” and often called very early in the morning to complain about stories he thought were unfair.
Then, there are John Thompson of Georgetown University and Gary Williams of Maryland, twinned because they coached the respective basketball teams to the only national championship in their schools’ history.
Williams was “a highly successful and intense” basketball coach, Solomon noted. “You always knew where he stood and, if he didn’t like something, he’d let you know. But he never held a grudge.”
Likewise, Thompson was “a man of great character, but he was not bashful in expressing his opinion about stories in The Post. He would be angry when a story didn’t go his way.”Solomon understood that listening to complaints was an important part of his job. “I learned to give people an audience when they were unhappy,” he said.
Asked what he regretted most about his time at The Post, Solomon mentions not doing more stories on concussions in the NFL and more articles in the late 1990s and early 2000s on performance-enhancing drugs used by baseball players.
“We covered women’s sports and the advent of Title IX [it banned discrimination in federally funded programs on the basis of sex], but probably could have done better,” he says.
A friend of Abe Pollin, former owner of the NBA Bullets/Wizards and the National Hockey League’s Washington Capitals, Solomon said he was sorry that Pollin had died in 2009 before seeing another NBA championship — the lone title was in 1978 — and the Capitals’ Stanley Cup title in 2018.
One of his greatest pleasures at the paper was working with iconic sports writer Shirley Povich, first being mentored by Povich and then becoming a colleague and friend while he was editor until 1998 when the longtime Post sports columnist died.
He has two other connections with Povich — the press box at Shirley Povich Field in Rockville is named in his honor and “All Those Mornings,” the 2005 anthology of Povich’s work that he helped to edit.
“He was a great writer and even a better person,” said Solomon.