It's been said that character can be discerned by what section of the morning paper one turns to first. Some start with the front page, others with editorials, while the low-brow crowd settles in the "library" with Mutt and Jeff in hand.
News is great--Angola, Jimmy Carter, Tongsun Park and all that--and I appreciate the elegance of Doonesbury, but for me the day begins with the sports page. It's my morning fix; I can't start without it.
When I was a kid, one of my biggest thrills--ranking close to when I first "made out" in a choir loft in sixth grade--was the first time I got my name in the Los Angeles Times sports page. Me on the same page as Jerry West. Heaven. It was a box score for a 7th grade basketball tournament typed in the microscopic print developed especially for insurance policies. But who cared; I was young and had sharp eyes and anyway there it was, "Baggott, 3."
From that first taste of fame I was hooked, I had to have "ink." On into high school the peculiar malady stuck with me. The morning after every game I would pick up the paper and scan the sports pages for the recap of our game--and for my name. After the season I would re-enact each game from the written record provided by our friendly sportswriter.
Well, things were great until late in my senior football season, when we tanked a game we should have easily won. Our sportswriter turned out to be not so friendly; he thrashed us soundly in his story the next day. Feeling betrayed, we cursed our fair-weather friend. As George Allen said to the Washington sports press, "sometimes I wonder if you guys are really for us." To hell with objectivity. My eyes were opened that day.
Here at Harvard there seems to be an adversary relationship between the sports press and athletic teams. When The Crimson buried the football squad in an early grave following its loss to Brown this year, many of the gridiron veterans were incensed. For athletes, seasons are measured not by championships but by something quite unquantifiable--a sense of accomplishment. As a member of the team I was not ready to pack in the season. But we all read the story; we were all hooked.
When the hockey team copped the Beanpot, rave reviews followed, ice fever was rampant. But following the loss to Cornell two days later, a Crimson headline read, "Forget Monday's Beanpot." Why forget such a memorable triumph? How could the pucksters help but feel betrayed? But no doubt they read the story.
Perhaps this adversary relationship between sportswriters and jocks is inevitable; these two beasts will never (oh well, rarely) mate. Sportswriters, despite all their in-talk and promo are news reporters; objectivity must be retained, or they lose all credibility and simply become a shill for the team. Writers, regardless of their loyalties, have a responsibility to report the truth.
For athletes, however, there can be no objectivity. To achieve success they have committed themselves to the task. The observer from the stands can only just begin to experience the emotional involvement of the players. Blood, sweat and tears have been shed in honest effort and who is anyone to criticize. To athletes it seems only too easy for the reporter to sit at a typewriter and blast a given failure. There is more to a season than the won-loss column.
Despite this seemingly inherent conflict, though, the relationship remains stable. Only in the most extreme environments and situations, like the battle between Oklahoma University's football team and The Oklahoma City Times over a recruiting investigation, does it break down.
A peculiar symbiotic relationship exists between sports teams and the press. Of course, there would be no sportswriters if there were no sports to cover, and newspapers depend on the sports reader for steady circulation. The teams strive for as much publicity as possible, hoping to increase prestige as well as the take at the gate. And, one has to admit, there is something gratifying about seeing one's name in print.
The formula for maintaining a healthy relationship is simple. Writers criticize if they must but avoid the "cheap shot" (it's hard to define the term but we all know one when we see it), while the athletes take the bad with the good.
Besides, if you write about yourself, how can you go wrong?
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