Friday, May 06, 2005

Barbarians At The Gate

Well, it may well be that aspiring journalistic piranhas will in the future turn their attention away from politics and go into sports. After all, lately it has been the sports journalists who have enjoyed the greatest successes destroying icons and mounting the heads of their victims on their trophy walls. Political journalists’ triumphs have been few and far between.
Lately, bloggers have had more success bagging journalists than journalists have enjoyed in their pursuit of politicians.
Since 1974, when Washington Post reporter Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein managed to drive a sitting president from office, journalism schools have churned out uncountable hordes of scheming barbarians with dreams of making their place in history by tearing down someone of accomplishment.
These vipers were not satisfied with writing the first draft of history. They wanted to create that history, while writing themselves into the plot. Journalism devolved into a blood sport.
But, when one compares the number of politicians brought low by journalists in the last 30 years, and compare that to the swarms of reporters looking for fame, it’s clear that most have suffered decades of frustration equivalent to attending a senior prom every night.
Sports reporters, on the other hand, have taken far more prizes hunting small game on the athletic fields. Rarely does a year pass when some prominent figure in sports is not driven from his pedestal by some otherwise inconsequential ankle biter who staggered out of college with a C+ grade point average and a journalism degree.
Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder was forced from his television analyst’s job for speculating on the genetic origins of black athletic superiority. Sports journalism tasted blood, and liked it.
Years later, former Los Angeles Dodgers’ general manager Al Campanis remarked to ABC’s Ted Koppel that the reason that there were so few blacks in baseball management positions was that blacks, “lacked the necessities” for the jobs. He claimed that he meant that few had gained the needed experience, but once blood is in the water, the sports journalism community will be satisfied with nothing less than red meat. Nothing short of Campanis’s head on a stake would do.
The modern sports media saw to it that Al Campinis’ legacy will not be that he was the man most responsible for bringing Jackie Robinson into the game. His legacy will be that he chose words that allowed the sports savages to caricaturize him as a closet Klansman.
You can fill in the blanks from then until now. To be prominent and accomplished is be a target.
There’s a new head on the trophy wall, former University of Oklahoma baseball coach Larry Cochell. Cochell uttered what were meant to be off the record complimentary remarks to ESPN reporters about Joe Dunigan, a black freshman baseball player on his team. He used language he had probably heard black players on his team use.
ESPN then tattled to the university administration, clearly trying to create a story. Within days, Cochell’s career was in ruins.
Largely overlooked was the fact that Dunigan, along with other current and former African-American players, defended their coach.
Without passing judgment on coach Cochrell’s remarks, the troublesome part of this story was that ESPN created the news. As the retired editor of this page once remarked, that’s like a place kicker kicking the field goal, then running up to the broadcast booth to give expert commentary on his own efforts.
It’s not just that ESPN makes itself the story. It applies its version of justice unevenly. A few years ago, ESPN directed both barrels at former Atlanta relief pitcher John Rocker for oafish remarks he made to a Sports Illustrated reporter, which he believed were off the record. Rocker was driven from the majors and his career has foundered ever since.
But, shortly afterward, when basketball star Allan Iverson of the Philadelphia 76er’s recorded a rap CD with far more offensive language, the judges, juries and executioners at ESPN and Sports Illustrated sniffed disapproval, but did not release the hounds.
Recently, Seattle Supersonics coach Nate McMillan reacted to a rival coach’s complaint that the Sonics were too rough by saying, "We don't play playoff basketball in skirts."
Either their blood thirst was slaked, or McMillan has a get out of jail free card. John Rocker would have been crucified.


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