These letters are in response to Gary Cartwright’s June 2009 column on the decline of sportswriting (“Game Over”).
Well it sure is true sportswriters today don’t have as much fun as you old guys had. What can be more fun than getting liquored up, missing a game, and then writing a story that led readers to believe you were there? Now that’s real fun. Real journalism, too. How many times did you pull that one off, Gary? How many of your peers did that? Share that with us, Gary.
I’ll tell you what else is fun. Making up quotes and attributing them to football coaches. For instance, Darrell Royal. Know anyone that did that, Gary? Give us the inside on that one, you funny old sumbuck. Tell me again how my generation couldn’t carry your water bucket. That’s a knee-slapper. Dad-gone-it, I wish we’d had that kind of fun.
Fun? Those boys had fun. Like allowing friendship and journalism to get all blurry. Good thing them old coaches never stopped buying you guys off with food and drink. That didn’t influence what you wrote, did it, Gary? Say it ain’t so, Gary!
Fun? No one had more fun than you fellers. How about covering the Dallas Cowboys while accepting tickets, paid vacations, and assorted other gifts from the team? Now durnit, that was fun. Only thing is, if a player—let’s say a black player—got in a contract dispute with the Cowboys, that feller never had a chance in the media, did he, Gary? I’ll bet you’ve got some dang funny stories about how your generation never talked to an agent or got the other side of a story. Beneath you, right, Gary?
There’s no end to the fun you goobers had. How about taking quotes from a 20-year-old column and passing them off as new and original work? Did you do that, Gary? One of the people you praised in your article sure did. Ain’t heard much from the old boy since a real editor decided to hold him accountable for doing something that would get a reporter in any other department fired.
Isn’t it amazing, Gary, that you guys lasted so long doing things that would never have been allowed on the city hall beat, or at the state department?
I’ll tell you something else that’s fun. That’s making up a story and passing it off as fact. Ever do that, Gary? Come on, Gary, be honest.
Truth is, Gary, your generation did do something better than us. You wrote better. You were more literate. You used humor instead of anger to make your point. You weren’t journalists as much as you were keepers of the flame. You created an image of famous folks and you worked like hell to protect those images. I know this because one of your peers said it exactly that way.
It was a sad day for you guys when real editors came along and made us attempt to stick to the facts, to cover the finances of the game, the fairness issues, to take people inside the boardrooms and locker rooms. We’ve gotten it wrong a lot, but we do try to be at the games we cover and to go down and ask what happened instead of turning a clever phrase.
We could argue all day which is better. Should Roger Clemens have had his personal life aired? You and I probably agree on that one, Gary.
Kirk Bohls? You got him wrong, Gary. I’ve known that guy almost forty years, and he works harder and cares more about his work than anyone I’ve ever known. OK, OK, he ain’t perfect. He will criticize a coach instead of protecting him. He tries to get both sides of every story. In fact, he probably tries too hard. He has been doing this stuff a long, long time, and he has become famous among his peers for being a bulldog of a reporter and a tenacious interviewer. I’m sure he gets it wrong sometimes, but unlike your generation, he never got it wrong on purpose, never made up funny quotes and attributed them to someone. I’ll talk to him about being more protective of Mack and Augie, of keeping the flame and creating heroes.
Would that make you happy, Gary? Is that how you done it?
Richard Justice is a sports columnist for the Houston Chronicle.
I’m in agreement that modern sportswriters provide an excess of predictions and lists, but these likely please a segment of the readers. And I can agree that Gary Cartwright’s teammates from the Times Herald were excellent journalists, especially Dan Jenkins and Bud Shrake. I, too, am a Times Herald vet from the Wonder Years, although my role had much more to do with rubber bands and getting the final product onto the porch when it rained. What I recall of reading Blackie Sherrod was a sprinkling of sports info among columns dedicated more toward phrase turning. Like novelist Tom Robbins, he seemed to work a lathe more than a Smith Corona. I remember asking my dad, a 46-year veteran of the Herald, about Sherrod and hearing that the elevator was pretty full with just him on it. Sort of like Click and Clack, sometimes you get to read about cars, sometimes they’ve been busy tying someone’s shoelaces together and they figure you want to know about it.
Cartwright is, regrettably, correct to write off current San Antonio print sports journalists. Here, too, we get mostly statistics, fantasy ratings, and dumb predictions. But once upon a time we had Sherrod’s only real competitor in Texas, Dan Cook. To write about the good old days without naming Dan Cook is like writing about the history of Texas high school football without mentioning Odessa Permian.
Your article on Texas sportswriters was great and brought back a lot of good memories. However, you left one writer off the list whom I think should have been included. Morris Frank, of the Houston Post, was one of the all-time greats. He once wrote that Bobby Layne was the only quarterback he knew who took a cut in salary when he turned pro.
What Cowboy football fan will ever forget the first line of Cartwright’s column in the paper the day after Don Meredith threw an interception in the end zone when the Cowboys were on their opponents 1-yard line: “The Four Horsemen rode again Sunday in the Cotton Bowl. You remember their names: Death, Famine, Pestilence and Meredith.”
Gosh, I sure do miss the Geezers!
H.M. “Mac” Meredith
I think you may need to fire whoever edited this column. To allow an article about mediocre writing to contain the tired cliche “Nobody under fifty reads newspapers anymore” means either someone wasn’t paying attention or has a very well-honed sense of irony.
I have a deep respect for all sports enthusiasts, because I’m a guy who checks ESPN.com daily, watches SportsCenter two times in a row at night, and listens to the Ticket during my work commute, only to retain three or four stats and a few notable plays.
I tell you about my bad memory for daily sports events because each day’s game scores are not what I like. What I love are the scores of blogs that sports comedians keep. Sure, those writers may not be based in Texas, but I only lose so much Texas pride by enjoying non-Texans’ hilarious rants and raves. I’d like to tell you about some sportswriters to whom I can relate. (As a side note, I’m a college-educated 24-year-old employee of a Big Four accounting firm; I plan on leaving the field in a year or so in order to follow my dream of, get this, working somewhere in a more creative area. But I tell you this information because I feel my demographic and aspirations represent the group and kind that a lot of newspapers would like to make into subscription holders, if not for a love of the sports section, then due to a love for the arts reviews.)
Take, for instance, BarstoolSports.com. I dislike Bostonites just as much as the next resident of other big cities, but those guys are usually pretty damn funny. And I realize there’s a lot of non-sports-related crud on the site, but that only enhances the experience. After all, I’m a guy; I appreciate some ridiculously chauvinistic blog posts. (I refuse to believe that any fabled sportswriters of the fifties and sixties were upstanding to the point that they didn’t regularly comment on a nearby and/or famous woman’s physical assets.)
Another example of hilarious sportswriting is the product of Bill Simmons. Granted it doesn’t help my cause that he’s also a Bostonite, but that guy is undeniably funny. If you haven’t already, read his recounting of any recent NBA All-Star weekend.
Now for some advice I received from a Kentucky native: Read the comments that are posted after any sports article containing the slightest bit of controversy. Some of my friends’ favorites follow any Dallas Cowboys article. That’s where DFW’s intellectuals really come out to play. And it’s on the comments pages where regular Joes have the opportunity to release their anger, humor, or otherwise know-it-all opinions.
And now, for my final point, one of which I’m sure you’re well aware: Sportswriters of the future will not necessarily earn their living solely on the sports articles they create. Although this thought may be an obvious point discussed throughout the past few years while newspapers have failed, I mean it in a different way: I’m not growing up following some stiffs who aren’t funny just because they cover my teams for their living. The guys I follow are my best friends. They’re the guys who, after all, remember teams’ records throughout the season; they know two thirds of the names of each team’s roster . . . in three major sports: baseball, football, and basketball. (They look to me, a Minnesota native, for hockey information.)
But the best part of all: They’re hilarious. We grill burgers, I bring up a player who’s on fire, and they make hilarious comments about some interview he recently gave. They comment on his personal life. They do it better than any radio windbag, any newspaper traditionalist, etc.
What I’m saying is, great sportswriters, in my mind, are my college buddies. Our chain e-mails see a lot of trash talk about each of our respective city’s teams. We go back and forth, sometimes into the wee hours of the night.
It’s not like we don’t respect the men who have sweated through covering the pitiful Texas Rangers (pitiful perhaps until this season). Or the Dallas Cowboys. Or whoever.
We’d just really like for some of these guys to start relating to a younger crowd. Start telling it like it is. Make fun of Dale Hansen every day. Every twentysomething male I know would rather hook up with a three-hundred-pound woman than listen to that guy (okay, I’m lying, but you get the point).
We must first rid our communities of the lame guys, and only after doing so will guys my age—ones who are hilarious in their own right—have a shot at being heard, be it through paper, blog, radio, or television.
I was disappointed not to see Dan Cook (one of Blackie Sherrod’s good friends) included in “Game Over.” How could you not mention a guy who was successful at two careers, sportswriting and sportscasting (for fifty-plus years)? Give him the credit he is due.
Where’s a mention of Dan Cook? Cartwright’s lament about contemporary sportswriters’ not having the entertaining style of this state’s late and great newspaper sports reporters omitted the best writer of that era. Perhaps Mr. Cartwright had no cute photo of the self-effacing humorist. Perhaps the snub was the usual for Texas Monthly.
Sadly for Texas Monthly readers, they won’t know San Antonio’s richness in contemporary journalism treasures. Dan Cook, former boxer, entertained San Antonio Express-News readers for 51 years with insight into all sporting events, especially when money was on the line. Dan was a big fan of Blackie Sherrod’s and often quoted him as well as other sportswriters. Yet Dan was more quotable. On sporting tenacity, he gave America the line “The opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings.” Readers of his column anticipated reports on luncheons with the secretive bookie Benjamin Broadhind. And always, there was serious journalism behind Dan’s good humor.