Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sports Weekend Shows Impact of Games

Covering sports a decade ago in the Las Cruces Sun-News, which has thankfully since given up the ugliest flag in the history of the Fourth Estate.

Sometime in January 1998 I had a difficult decision to make. Then Las Cruces (N.M.) Sun-News editor Harold Cousland and then publisher David McCollum were offering me two jobs.

First I could become sports editor. Or, second, I could become the editor of the Silver City Sun-News about 120 miles away. Granted, the Silver City job was a glorified edition, but I would have been the editor of a daily newspaper at age 24. Not too bad.

I always have had lofty career ambitions. That editor's job seemed like just the ticket. But there was one problem. My wife, Emily, was pregnant with a baby girl, and Emily had another year to go before she graduated from New Mexico State. I couldn't handle that kind of distance. So sometime in February, I became the sports editor.

I never was a "sports guy." Sure, I liked sports. But I did not live them. I always loved George Brett, but I still cannot quote you any of his lifetime statistics. This made it a little difficult for me to take the sports job. It seemed like the "toy" section of the paper.

During my short tenure as sports editor (career ambition soon moved me to The Albuquerque Journal, the flagship paper in the state), I came to realize something important. The sports section is the most important section in the paper.

I have no data, but I'd bet my last dollar that more readers pick up paper and turn directly to the sports section than any other section of the paper. Heck, I was Mr. Hard News guy, and even I did not read the city council stories.

The point is that sports play an important role in society. And we can all wish that hard news played a bigger role, but the one truth I know as a former journalist and recipient of three degrees in mass communications is that you cannot tell people what to care about.

Sports defines us. They often define me. Here's an idea of my weekend ... just to give you an idea.

  • Got a babysitter for my first official date with Emily in Lubbock. We went to watch Bob Knight's basketball team practice (I am a Hoosier, after all).
  • Came home to read about prep star Eric Gordon deciding to attend Indiana University instead of Illinois.
  • Woke up Saturday morning and watched ESPN's Gameday on TV.
  • Read the entire sports section of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (don't ask me, I did not name it).
  • Read the entire sports section of the Kansas City Star online.
  • Read about Gordon's decision to attend IU in the Indianapolis Star online. As an aside, more than 14,000 fans attended Hoosier Hysteria. That made me miss B-Town a lot!
  • Turned on ESPN2 to see Indiana playing Iowa.
  • Worked out at halftime while listening to Texas Tech pregame on KKAM 1340 AM.
  • Watched Indiana knock off Iowa, for the Hoosiers' first win over a Top 15 program in 19 years.
  • Fielded phone call from Tim Laubacher in Columbus, Ohio, about the Hoosiers' win.
  • Got e-mail from James Angelini in Bloomington, Indiana, about the Hoosiers' win.
  • Angelini said he could not remember the last time IU beat a Top 25 team. I reminded him that it was in 2003 over Oregon, when colleague Johnny Sparks drug us down to Kirkwood Avenue to celebrate. But being a basketball school, we were the only ones celebrating.
  • Turned on (and muted) the television to watch Texas A&M beat Missouri (Yeah).
  • Turned on the radio to listen to Colorado humiliate the Red Raiders (Boo).
  • Got asked by Emily whether I was distracted watching one game and listening to another.
  • Lost 5 minutes pondering the limited capacity ramifications of my task.
  • Decided that having the radio on the opposite side of the room as the TV made task easier.
  • Got voicemail from Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where friend Johnny Sparks and son Eli were about to watch Alabama play Ole Miss.
  • Got disgusted by Texas Tech's play and turned off the radio.
  • Dug my Hoosiers replica football jersey out of the closet for rare celebration.
  • Noted that I have three former or current students playing NCAA football Saturday. One at Indiana, one at Ohio State, and one at Tech.
  • Drove to colleague Harsha Gangadharbatla's house to watch Florida vs. Auburn football game.
  • Cursed at television when I saw that Nebraska beat K-State.
  • Lamented that Auburn won. I should not have been rooting for Florida, but I was anyway.
  • Tried to watch SportsCenter on TV, but Emily had finally had enough. Held on long enough to see that USC did pull it out. I hate USC but wanted them to win anyway. I do not claim to understand fanship.
  • Woke up Sunday, repeated routine of reading A-J in person, and the K.C. Star and Indy Star online.
  • Became saddened reading Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski's tribute to Kansas City legend and former Negro Leagues star Buck O'Neil. I am amazed at how many lives were touched by "Ol' Buck."
  • Still waffling on whether I will watch Kansas City Chiefs game later. The Chiefs are my first love, and I don't do well when they lose.
  • Lastly, I recall that Sparks has given up on his sports Weblog, and I vow to flog him for it the next time I see him.

So, you see, I seem to care about sports. And I know that I should care more about North Korea. But that does not make it so. Instead, it is sports that move so many of us. Sports journalists do not get the respect that they deserve, and certainly, sports research does not get the respect that it deserves.

Studying human behavior is more about what they do rather than what they should do!


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