by Remy Hogan
photography by Eric Rangel
The stench of sweat. The roar of a crowd chanting in anticipation. The piercing sound of a bell signaling the beginning of a round. This was a typical Saturday night for Lance Pugmire, former sports writer for the Los Angeles Times, now senior boxing writer for The Athletic, an online subscription sports service.
Lance, from a young age, knew that he was destined to become a writer. He won a highly competitive spelling bee in elementary school and says the experience sealed the deal for him. “What was clear to me was that I would not be an athlete, but I love sports and writing,” says Lance, who teaches journalism as a senior adjunct at the University of La Verne.
He graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a bachelor of arts in communications and emphasis in journalism. While at Fullerton, Lance worked for the prestigious Titan newspaper. It was the “camaraderie on the staff and the opportunity to learn to question authority” that eventually led him to fall in love with journalism. “We are raised to fall in line and not question authority, but our duty as journalists is to ask questions. We should not be above asking tough questions.”
After graduation, he worked with the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin from 1995 until 1999. “You always want to push yourself, and I’m very competitive as a journalist,” he says with a smile. He applied to pick up stories from a satellite version of the Los Angeles Times that covered minor league baseball. Eventually, that earned Lance the opportunity to write a story about a football student who played for Northwestern and collapsed and died from an illegal National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) drill that was mandated by the coach. The player had also been drinking an energy drink that contained ephedra, an herb that has medicinal properties and has since been banned for safety concerns in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration. The drill combined with the energy drink caused the football player to die.
That story put Lance on the map with the LA Times. He was first asked to write investigative stories and “take out stories” or stories of the day. At this time, layoffs were becoming prevalent in the news industry, and Lance strived to be connected to a beat so that he could secure his job. Starting in 2003 until 2006, he worked investigations and hard news. “When you work in news, you get this news bug instilled inside you, and you know you have a responsibility to update your readers.”
Lance held a strong desire to report on sports news, and his big break came with the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case. He covered that case and its many updates. Around this time, the LA Times was the first to begin regular coverage of the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC). He was assigned to cover UFC fights and boxing, and continued reporting on UFC fighting for more than a decade. “Everyday is a new adventure and an opportunity to top your last story by considering mistakes along the way,” he says.
Lance got used to the lightning fast deadlines and the ringside chaos that Saturday nights brought him. “I worked like a dog for several years on the fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in May 2015.” The highly anticipated and very polarizing fight in question took too long to happen, says Lance. “I’ll always remember when they were both standing in their corners bouncing on their feet, and in that moment I felt, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’ The fact that it actually came to reality was wild.” Lance was ringside for that fight, which turned out to be the richest one day sporting event in United States history, leveling in at a whopping $600 million.
Being in the arena was always high stress for Lance because of the energy coursing through the crowd and the fighters, but also because of his tight deadlines. Oftentimes, he had only minutes or seconds to explain to the best of his ability how the fight went. On Saturday nights at the LA Times, he had two deadlines: one at 9:30 p.m. about the fight to get the story started, and then the final deadline at 10:30 p.m. Usually the first deadline took place while the fight was still happening or just as it was ending, so the pressure of the deadline took precedence over cheering with the rest of the crowd. “It breaks some people,” Lance says. “I got on my knees and said a quick prayer before each fight to let me be at my wisest and most aware.”
His fight stories were typically written in five to 10 minutes at a total of 600 or 700 words, and he usually wrote another story with all the next steps for Monday right after Saturday night fights. Lance averaged a dozen published stories in a week for the LA Times, both in paper and online. He also updated his own blog called “Fight Corner” every Tuesday around noon.
For Lance, his job is his life. But so are his children. “I always coach my kids in sports. I love being there for them,” he says. A father of three, Lance has coached his eldest daughter in softball and his youngest son in soccer, basketball, and Little League Baseball. He laughs as he reminisces, “Early on in my career covering high school sports, I learned a few key things: first, parents are the worst to have at games.” He remembers the drama he had to endure during the three years he served on the board for his youngest son’s Little League team. A huge scandal had broken out among the parents, and Lance had to threaten to kick the parents out, or else their children wouldn’t be allowed to play. The excitement of that experience made Lance take a step back from coaching. “I want to be there for my kids without being a tyrant,” he laughs.
Now, he focuses on spending quality time with his children. His favorite activity is to watch football games. Having season tickets to watch the LA Chargers makes him happy because “it’s 10 days out of the year where I know I get to be with my kids.” He still supports his youngest son’s athletic ventures and makes it a point to attend his games as often as possible. One of his fondest memories was at his son’s most recent championship baseball game. “He won his championship game, spotted me in the crowd and gave me a huge hug. Seeing his joy and happiness was the highlight of the year for me.”
In his professional life, Lance never forgets what, or rather, who keeps him going. “Family is my inspiration to work and succeed because I’m able to care for them.” When the opportunity to uproot his career and cover boxing at The Athletic came to him, it was his oldest son who encouraged him most. In an article Lance published in The Athletic, he is quoted as saying “Certainly, the question, ‘What writer leaves the LA Times?’ came to mind, but my 18-year-old subscriber son told me to jump at the opportunity.” And so he did. And he wondered why he had waited so long. Now the senior boxing writer at The Athletic, Lance only has to write two or three in-depth stories a week. Because he no longer covers UFC matches as often, he is able to travel less and spend quality time with his children more often. He also has the opportunity to spend more time on his stories, averaging about 2,000 to 3,000 words because the online format allows for more space. “I’m enjoying that because I can write the stories with the length and attention they deserve, and I have the freedom to write in my own voice.”
“If I had to do it all over again, I would push myself more than I did and not be as patient as I was,” Lance says about his nearly two decades at the LA Times. “It’s our job to question authority out in the field, but it’s a different story when it comes to questioning the authority of our bosses.” He found himself struggling to stick up for himself and to ask for what he knew he deserved. So when The Athletic offered him a higher salary, it came down to whether the LA Times would match the offer. “The LA Times had a decision to make regarding my pay knowing what I was going to be paid, and they couldn’t get there. I just always thought that they would consider the years and dedication.”
But Lance is happy with his new direction. When The Athletic went looking for writers to assign to beats, they searched for only the best. “Knowing that they went out and got the best writers possible, and the fact that they started with me was like, ‘Wow, my hard work is being recognized,’” he says with pride. “I’ll miss all my friendships at the LA Times, but it was just time to move on.” A loyal reader who followed Lance from the LA Times to The Athletic commented on his first online story, stating, “Boxing belongs at The Athletic, and you belong here with it, Lance. Looking forward to more.” His readers, including his son, have pushed him to pursue the stories about which he is passionate. His relentlessly ethical search for the humanity and the truth in his stories is just one of the many reasons he enjoys great journalism success. He tells his son, a University of San Diego freshman, that journalism requires one to be completely committed to the cause and fully devoted to telling the truth. Truth telling is a big part of Lance’s life philosophy, and a big reason that he teaches part time at the University of La Verne. “I have real world experience, and I want students to know how to handle situations. I want to pass on stories where I made mistakes so students can learn from them and be armed going into the real world.” He guest spoke at La Verne 15 years into his career and decided he wanted to help students learn more about the journalism field. He now teaches Journalism 100 and media ethics classes at La Verne. “I will never portray myself as ‘holier than thou,’ and I will never say that I’m a perfect person. Recognizing our flaws and working through them is how you work through ethics. We should not be defined by our mistakes, and that is the resounding point I communicate to my students.”
Lance Pugmire has found his calling as a journalist and as a professor. When his two worlds collide, Lance likes to remind his students of this important philosophy: “You’ve to be grounded. Life is supposed to be fun. We are allowed to slip sometimes and learn from our mistakes.”