Friday, March 23, 2007

Lay Off the Political Commentary in the Sports Page, Will Ya?

By Mitchell

You know, I've about had it with sportswriters playing political pundit. First William K. Wolfram, and now William F. Reed at (What is it with writers using "William" and a middle initial? On the other hand, where would that leave William F. Buckley, Jr.?) At any rate, in his story about Tubby Smith, the former Kentucky basketball coach (and first ever black basketball coach at Kentucky) who stepped down yesterday to take the job at Minnesota, Reed offered us the standard liberal analysis regarding Smith's long-standing troubles with many of Kentucky's basketball fans:

Of course, some racism also was involved. In the rural areas of the state, where poverty and ignorance have been chronic problems, Smith was never accepted because of his African-American heritage. This is a state, remember, where right-wing religious zealots dominate the debate over flag-burning, prayer in the classroom and same-sex marriage. Thankfully, however, such narrow-mindedness and intolerance no longer represents the majority.

Now, wait just a minute. There's probably little doubt that race played a role in the way people felt about Smith. But to take these three issues - legitimate political issues all - and lump them under the category of "narrow-mindedness" and "intolerance" - is, well, narrow-minded and intolerant. It might even be considered bigoted. Beyond that, it's not only a cartoonish understanding of conservative politics but a broadly charactured portrayal of religious conservatives in general.

Reed’s comments were gratuitous, adding nothing in the way of either news or insight to the story. They were a cheap shot to advance a political agenda in a story that had nothing to do with politics. Certainly Smith’s race played a role, and a historic one at that. But there is nothing in the content of Reed’s story to suggest that opposition to flag-burning, school prayer, and homosexual marriage had anything whatsoever to do with how fans felt about Smith.

Besides which, where does Reed get off, in what is ostensibly a sports story, taking the attitude that we should be thankful that issues such as flag-burning, school prayer and homosexual marriage don't represent the majority opinon? Has he been talking to the folks at the Harris and Zogby polls? Does he really have any idea how the majority of Americans feel about these issues, and why?

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this kind of extra-curricular political commentary at Sports Illustrated. Back in the early 90s, one of their staff writers launched a potshot at the conservative student newspaper The Dartmouth Review for being racist, without bothering to check that its editor at the time, Kevin Pritchett, was black.

Where it gets interesting is that, when I checked back at to provide the link to this post, I found that the story had been edited. The paragraph, in its entirety, now reads:

Of course, some racism also was involved. In the rural areas of the state, where poverty and ignorance have been chronic problems, Smith was never accepted because of his African-American heritage.

Interesting, huh? Here's the way the story now appears. To get the wording of the paragraph as it originally appeared, I offer a big H/T to Chris at Fifty One Outs, who read the same thing this morning that I did, but was smart enough to post on it right away.

And due credit to either Reed or (more likely) his editors at for coming to their senses and realizing that his ugly and biased comments had no place in a story, even an opinion piece, about Smith's history at Kentucky.

We've come to expect this kind of banal commentary - mischaracterizations, intellectual laziness, snide comments cloaked as "news" - from the front pages of the MSM. It's one reason why so many people are drive to the escapism of the sports page. Now, increasingly, you're not safe from it there, either. It goes to show, I suppose, that there's no sense in making distinctions when it comes to the MSM. Birds of a feather stick together.


  1. The assumption that "of course some racism was involved" only serves to point out the authors racism. For some reason, he was compelled to mention it. Does anyone remember the days when sports writing was actually about the sport?

  2. Might I remind the folks that SI is a member in good standing of that charter member of the MSM, Time, Inc.

    It is not unknown that Human Resources (we geezers still call it "Personnel") in large conglomerates is a centralized function.

  3. And don't forget that CNN is also part of that unholy allianc

  4. Racism reminds me of this recently.

    The media does not talk much about the racism involved in NASCAR when Wendell Scott won his only Grand National (now Nextel Cup) race in December 1963 (1964 season). Scott, an independent driver, was black and drove a Chevrolet Impala to an easy victory in a 200-lap race in Jacksonville (FL). Track officials refused to recognise him as the winner because he was black!

    NASCAR wasn't happy about the victory lane ceremonies, and gave Scott the trophy, winner's check, and the honor a few days later. Today, Scott's victory is widely celebrated during Black History Month because of how he overcame every obstacle to win.

    That win was (until last week) the last for the Chevrolet Impala.

    Scott, who died in 1990, was befriended by many drivers on the circuit despite not being a factory driver in the 1960's, with the biggest of those Ned Jarrett, a two-time Grand National (1961, 1965) champion of that era. Jarrett, now in his 70's, currently appears in commercials for UPS.

    But when Scott's win was discussed as part of Chevrolet's 2007 Impala being used in "Car of Tomorrow" races, the color of his skin was all but ignored except for the one-off reference by Brent Dewar (Chevrolet general manager) as a "historic" win. While the radio and television announcers knew the significance, they didn't discuss that part, because the only thing that mattered was it was another one of Chevrolet's (now) 600 wins.


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