Apr 27, 2007

Sports Writing Central

In my opinion, the best sportswriters have the following characteristics in common:

A true passion and love for sports.
An incredible sense of humor.
An understanding that sports is not the only thing in the world.
An interest in other things to talk about.
A high intelligence quotient.
A refusal to talk down to the readers.
An ability to keep readers involved even when they don't care about the topic.

This list is why I think that Ray Romano's character on Everybody Loves Raymond would be a horrible sportswriter. He is missing numbers 3, 4, 5, and probably 6. Skip Bayless from ESPN also is horrible because he is missing all of them. He only wants to stir up trouble. That attitude of trouble-making and arguing is sadly becoming the norm. Writers do not actually WRITE so much any more as try to make points to stir up arguments. That and get on tv.

You get to be a part of the television sports commentary scene by causing a ruckus. Usually these guys actually stink as writers. I would wager that most of the newspaper guys who have jumped to television (and vice versa) would fall in the category of "Sports Muckraker" instead of Sportswriter. ESPN is the one responsible for this. They had hours and hours to fill on their many stations, so they started bringing famous writers onto the screen. So now we have Woody Paige, Jay Mariotti, AJ Andale, Dan LeBatard, Stephen A Smith, Bayless and their ilk screaming at each other and basically trying to cause trouble instead of actually write well. It is funny, though. The best sports commentators are often the best best writers too. If you have those qualities above in your writing, you will have it in your talking too. This is my current list of best sportswriters (not necessarily in order).

Bill Simmons -- ESPN Page 2, Sports Guy World -- Not on TV now (used to write for Jimmy Kimmel)
Simmons is probably my favorite sportswriter. (You could argue his wife is the second best - her articles are hilarious.) I would rate him as a 10_10_8_9_10_9_10_10 in the eight categories. His strongest are 2 and 7. How good is he at keeping your attention when you don't care? His favorite sport is basketball (which I hate). His favorite teams are the Patriots (in my bottom NFL 10), Celtics (I only hate the Lakers more), and Red Sox (my least favorite team in any sport). He wrote several complete articles on choosing a favorite soccer team (I read all of them). The days he doesn't write actually make me upset.

Tony Kornheiser -- Washington Post -- Pardon the Interruption, Monday Night Football
I love Kornheiser. I wish he wrote more and longer. But his schedule has not allowed him to continue writing. The amazing thing about him is that he also had my favorite radio sports show and has one of my favorite tv shows (PTI). But the crazy thing is that he didn't start in sports - he used to write culture articles. And his current radio show is not always sports-themed. He's dry and droll and funny as all get out. His scores are 8_10_10_10_10_9_9_10.

Peter King -- CNNSI, Sport Illustrated -- HBO NFL show, NBC Sunday night show
King is a very rare bird. He keeps you interested in all sorts of mundane stuff - his daughters' sports efforts, he quest for good coffee. But he also has forgot more about football than most people know. One of the best pieces he ever did was a report on a sports-loving Iraqi war participant. 10_8_10_10_10_9_10_8.

The list was topped by another man until this past weekend when David Halberstam died in an auto accident in California. In MY opinion, he was the standard for sportswriting. Of course, I came up with that decision while reading a book that had nothing to do with sports. In one of my college history classes (US History 1945-Current) we had to read a book called The Fifties. This was one of seven books (yup 7) for that class alone. Now, if you have ever had a class where there are seven books to be read (and that multiplied by four classes), you know the goal is to skim and read the least possible. Well, when I hit that book about one of the most boring parts of U.S. History, I was going to be in full skim mode.

Until I started reading it. Then, I was enraptured by the style and the approach. It was amazing. I read every page and was sad when the huge work was done. The thing that was crazy was that my roommate was in a class on the History of Baseball, and he was reading a book by David Halberstam. What? The same guy who wrote this amazing book on The Fifties wrote a book on baseball? Well if you go to Amazon.com and look up Halberstam, you will see that he also has books on Michael Jordan, basketball, the Korean War (which my dad fought in), Vietnam, and American Politics. I plan on reading all of them. He was a 10 in each category.

Once I discovered ESPN Page 2, I was thrilled because Halberstam was listed as one of their writers. Unfortunately, it was not for too long because September 11 kind of drove the sports part out of him. He still wrote on sports and was on his way to do a book on quarterback Y.A. Tittle when he died. But the daily obsession with sports became something uncomfortable to Halberstam. This article was his take on the first anniversary of the attacks. It pretty much sums up Halberstam. It is weird, when I list my favorite books on places like mySpace or whatever, The Fifties usually is there. How in the world did a textbook end up on a site like that? That was the kind of impact that sportswriter had on me. Apparently, that was a common opinion. Check out this article by a very good sportswriter Jim Caple. And then, no surprise here, there is the article by the most likely successor to Halberstam - Bill Simmons. I had to laugh when I saw that when I got ready to post this.

Apr 16, 2007

Freedom of Speech Part 2

I know I visited this issue a few weeks back after the court case. But this is a different element of the all-inclusive Freedom of Speech. As anyone who lives outside of a cave would know, radio host Don Imus got in a world of trouble recently for calling the Rutgers University girls basketball team a bunch of "Nappy Headed Hos." This led to much public uproar, calls for his ouster, MSNBC dropping the telecast of his show, CBS canceling his show on radio, and having the Rev. Al Sharpton come swooping in to "help" facilitate an apology meeting between Imus and the Rutgers team.

I am not going to defend Imus It was a horrible thing to say - regardless of the racial element of it. I don't know what context could have predicated a comment like that. I have a hard time believing that there IS an appropriate context for that to be said. But, I get a little touchy about this stuff. We see people make derogatory comments about gays, blacks, arabs, hispanics and get raked across the coals. They get fired or suspended or forced to go through counseling and therapy to "uncover the source of their hate." But, media people can make horrible and derogatory comments about men, whites, and Christians and float away on a cloud with nary a problem in the world. You don't believe me? We have seen Isaiah Washington, Tim Hardaway, and Don Imus publicly crucified for their comments, but Rosie O'Donnell has likened fundamental Christians to Islamic terrorists on more than one occasion and walked away unscathed. Media people slam Elizabeth Hasselbeck from The View for her conservative Christian views and we don't hear a peep. And how exactly were Imus' comments any different than the filth that Howard Stern punches out every day?

So, Imus, who was lambasted by the liberal media has now found himself a defender - in the aforementioned Rosie O'Donnell. She says she is afraid that she is going to become a target. Huh? How did that jump get made? She - the massive liberal mouthpiece - has begun publicly wondering if she is next as a target of the Conservative Conspiracy. Wait a minute - wasn't she one of the ones going after Imus? Wasn't it her buddies leading that charge? How did she spin that so quickly.

In addition, the gay movement has also seized upon this opportunity to point out that there is nothing on the books to protect them from "hate crimes" - like the "crime" of Imus' outburst. One prominent gay blogger went on a big rampage about how Imus got fired, but people like Mel Gibson, Isaiah Washington, and Tim Hardaway did not because their outbursts were at gays. So, now they are again pushing for support to be included in the Federal Hate Crime laws. If you speak out against homosexuality, you could be seen as guilty of a hate crime.

This is where I get confused. According to the media, we want to have the freedom of speech to bash conservatives, Christians, Republicans - and of course to look at porn. But, the Freedom of Speech does NOT cover bashing minorities or homosexuals. From what I understood from all of my history classes in college (of which there were many), the Freedom of Speech was intended to give people the right to speak without fear of government reprisal - as long as it was not damaging to others (ala the "fire in a crowded theatre" argument). So, where is that line? When does it become damaging to others?

I firmly believe that hateful and incendiary comments about minorities should not be allowed. I don't know if I would classify Imus' comment as hateful or just the idiotic ramblings of a very old man. But what exactly is a hateful comment? If I stand up and say something like "I hate this group," is that worthy of arrest? And why is that different if you replace the words "this group" with "religious people." In addition, are you honestly going to tell me that porn is NOT damaging?

If I am allowed to have the freedom to speak my mind for a moment, I think this whole thing has gotten out of hand. I think we have gotten so ultra-sensitive about stuff that it has actually made the situation worse. Now, instead of just writing off Isaiah or Imus, we have a huge national crisis where everyone has to wade into the problem - including one of the following: Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson, former President Jimmy Carter, Sean Penn. Instead of teaching our children how to handle idiots who make stupid comments, we have taught them to litigate or overreact. When you look back on the racist comments of the past, they are so much more severe and ugly than the ones everyone is getting so hyper about. Think about it. What would the civil rights activists of the 60's have done with Imus' comment? They probably would have shook their heads and thought he was an idiot - and then dealt with the real problems like lynchings and getting the ability to vote. I think we have protected things that have no business being protected (porn) and actually we have encouraged people to be weak by never forcing them to deal with unpleasant comments.

I am a big fat smart white Christian male who works for a ministry who fights porn. Do you know how many rude comments I have heard over the years? The number of times people have said things about me or one of my groups that was hateful? I have been called nerd, freak, geek, fatso, tubby, "big guy," lard butt, whitey honky, Jesus freak, Fundamentalist terrorist, lazy, stupid... Should I go on? When is there going to be a national telethon to support me in my pain? When are the powerful in Hollywood going to go raging into the night to get those people fired? Oh, wait, they WERE those people. I forgot.

In the end, I'm glad that Imus got canned. I thought he was a ninny. But there are people out there that make his ridiculous comment seem like a punch line. This whole Freedom of Speech mess is only going to get worse. If I may be so bold as to say that.

Apr 11, 2007

Three Weeks

It has been three weeks since my last post. A lot has happened in that time, but unfortunately none of it on this blog. I'll get some housekeeping out of the way, and then I promise there will be a couple more posts in the next couple of days.

Speaking of posts, part of the big reason that I have not been posting regularly is because I have been setting up and maintaining Defender Ministries' new blog and new podcast. They are more time consuming than I thought. I also have been developing our new Disciple Now style weekend curriculum "Operation Isaiah." Things are moving pretty quickly with Defender, which is great after the barren wasteland that was the end of 2006. Here's hoping and praying we stay super busy.

Speaking of super busy, movie season is almost upon us. I saw two movies in the theater during my blog hiatus. I have reviews for both Meet the Robinsons and Shooter on my Rotten Tomatoes page. I also tossed one up there for the older 16 Blocks that I caught on HBO. There are some major events coming up in the next few weeks. But the biggest may be May 4 - the opening of the Summer Movie Season. I cannot wait. Spiderman 3, Shrek 3, Oceans Thirteen, Pirates 3, Harry Potter 5, Rush Hour 3, Bourne 3, Die Hard 4, Fantastic Four 2. Plus the non-sequels Ratatouille, Underdog, Transformers, Surfs Up, and Simpsons. Awesome. Of course, only two of those films are original and not based on something else. Why? Because that is what we like. So shut up Oscar bait, America has spoken.

Speaking of America . . . uh . . . speaking, I have tried to refrain from letting my true feelings out about the current American Idol season. I was going to do a week by week review of it, but when I realized some things, I knew it would be a bad idea. I would just get to angry and ugly. Why? Well, Sanjaya is going to win. It is funny how AI producers have tried to play off the influence of web sites like votefortheworst.com, but the fact of the matter is that they have a HUGE impact. And now that the idiot Howard Stern and his moron buddy Perez Hilton have taken up the fight, it is a foregone conclusion. At this point, Sanjaya could get up there with his hair in curlers, rip his shirt open, starts rubbing cocoa butter on himself and sing in a collection of grunts, tongue clicks, and the word "me go winky some night time" and still win. And Haley Scarnato will probably be in the top three or four - largely because she realized that showing her legs and wearing see through jiggle tops is much smarter than singing well. If you think I'm wrong, go ask Gina Glockson, Chris Sligh, and Phil Stacey (who will go home tonight). At this point, the only thing that Sanjaya could do to get booted was make a racial slur.

Speaking of racial slurs, it appears that Don Imus has reaped the whirlwind for his comments about the Rutgers' ladies' basketball team. I certainly do not condone his actions. But, I think there are some points to be made about the incident. That is going to come in another post, though.

Speaking of another post, I plan on putting a couple up this week to make up for lost time.

Speaking of lost time, tonight's episode is supposed to be one of the best ever. I've really enjoyed it since it returned from break, and I really like some of what is going on with it. We have really stripped down our viewing from the logjam of the Fall. Now, it is 24, How I Met Your Mother, American Idol, Jericho, Lost, The Office, Scrubs, 30 Rock, and Heroes (when it comes back). That may not seem stripped down, but it is. And, no, I could care less about any show HBO puts out.

Speaking of not caring, check back soon for more posts.