Monday, September 18, 2006

Advocacy is not good sports copy

Just so no one thinks I haven't been writing at all lately, here's a column I did last week as I was filling in for the sports editor, who was on leave.

COMMENTARY - Advocacy is not good sports copy

By Spc. IAN BOUDREAU/Turret Staff Writer

"Just the facts, ma'am."

Sgt. Joe Friday used to say that on "Dragnet," and the phrase is four words to live by for reporters today--including sports writers.

I followed the controversy over Sports Editor William "Ski" Wilczewski's alleged non-support of Knox sports teams with some interest, and it seemed to me that there was, at least in some cases, a substantial misunderstanding of what a sports writer's job is--which is, simply, to obtain and report the facts.

I heard the same complaints during my own tenure as sports editor. "You're not supporting the team." "Your negative headlines aren't doing our kids any favors." "Why can't you put a positive spin on this?"

Here's the deal--reporters aren't paid to engage in advocacy. When nations do that in print media, it's called propaganda. When sports writers do, it's called crummy reporting.

The use of words like "amazing" and "breathtaking" is discouraged outside spaces such as this. Editorializing, as it's called, is best left to restaurant critics, uninformed columnists, and amateurs who can't figure out how to make the facts speak for themselves. I don't need to say Xavier Bacon's 73-yard touchdown run Friday night was "awe-inspiring;" the reader can come to that
conclusion on his own.

The other major point here is the fact that if everyone's a winner, then everyone's also a loser. What's the point in reading a glowing account of a team's performance during a 60-point blowout? Doesn't that take the luster away from a well-earned legitimate victory? Who wants to clip out a praise-filled newspaper article about a stunning win when every defeat has been lauded in the
same gushing terms?

The Boston Globe's Mike Reiss reported in February that a youth basketball league in Framingham, Mass., distributed trophies to each participating player. One of Reiss' sources was Roy Baumeister, a professor of psychology at Florida State University.

"The trophies should go to the winners," Baumeister said. "Self-esteem does not lead to success in life. Self-discipline and self-control do, and sports can help teach those."

That's why there's a Stanley Cup, a Lombardi Trophy, Olympic gold medals, and Masters' green jackets--it's to honor those who have struggled and ultimately won. That's why there are sports games held all around the world in the first place--to determine who the winners are, and to give them the respect the losers rue.

If anyone is responsible for encouraging and praising athletes, it's not sports writers. That's the job of the parents, friends, and fans of the team--those people who can afford to be biased in their appraisal of the organization. Heck, if it was the newspaper's job to act as the cheerleader for
the team, then why have actual cheerleaders?

Here's the very simple formula needed to get "positive" headlines in the Turret: win games. I understand that Knox teams are currently struggling to even fill their rosters. I know there aren't as many students as there have been in years past.

That's not the issue. It's the athletes' and coaches' jobs to win games, and it's our job at the Turret to be there when they do--and to stick with "just the facts, ma'am."

# # # #

Had to get my cheerleader dig in there, by the way.