He wrote an article about Mr. Rogers that was so impressive it was turned into a feature film. And he’s still going — even now, Mr. Rogers' journalist friend Tom Junod is reflecting on his friendship with the nicest man in the world and how it changed everything. Because Mr. Rogers didn’t just serve as an interview subject for Junod. He became a dear friend, and Junod’s life was profoundly impacted by Rogers in the few years they knew each other.
Junod is currently a senior writer at ESPN, where he’s written about his relationship with his father and sports, a relationship that “unleashed Steph Curry's greatness,” and sexual misconduct claims that upended the Auburn softball team. Ostensibly, he’s following the journalistic advice Mr. Rogers gave him, which included “point out injustice when you have to” and “point out beauty when you can.”
When he met Mr. Rogers, he was married, but had no children. He and his wife, Janet, were trying to have a child, and Mr. Rogers helped give them “the courage to finally begin the process of adopting our daughter,” Junod wrote in a recent article for The Atlantic. His daughter, Nia, is now 16, and he told Atlanta magazine that they still parent using the philosophy of “What would Fred Rogers do?”
Junod is doing a fair amount of press for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, speaking out about his life, the film, and the differences between the two. Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, a fictionalized version of Junod, and Tom Hanks stars as Mr. Rogers himself. Junod has tweeted out several of the stories and interviews he’s been a part of, and, in The Atlantic, written one of his own, too.
Faith in God was a big part of both Junod’s initial and new article, and while he’s never outright about what he believes, Junod often alludes to the way that Rogers affected him in that way, too. In The Atlantic article, he tells a story of a woman named Theresa who came up to him fairly recently and asked him what he was going to do with the moment that Mr. Rogers had given to him.
“I keep telling myself that I don’t know how to answer Theresa’s question, that I don’t know what to do next, because Fred never asked anything of me,” Junod wrote. “But of course he did. I have read his old emails, and I can see that he was very clear about what he wanted from me and everybody else. He never stooped to proselytizing. But he lived a life of prayer, and he wanted us — he wanted me — to pray.”