Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Vent Day, Part I: A Response to Mr. King

"Strike me down with all your hatred, and your journey to the dark side will become complete!" - Emperor Palpatine

“Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.” - Jimmy Breslin

Unfortunately, I'm not too much like Breslin, and most of my pieces aren't written out of rage. That doesn't mean I don't have it bottled up, though. Ever since I became the assistant sports editor of the Journal last spring, I've endured almost-weekly slings, arrows, mocking and outright character assassination from one Tyler King, a former Journal writer who used to co-host a sports show on the campus radio station, CFRC.

King was promoted over the summer, so he's now CFRC's sports co-ordinator, which means that he's now affecting their entire coverage as well as his own show (where he now is the sole host, thanks to Brendan McNamara moving back to Toronto: an unfortunate development, as McNamara was a good guy and an insightful commentator who often kept King from flying off the deep end). To this point, I've shrugged off his attacks and haven't bothered to respond: that may have been a poor decision, especially considering how well appeasement's worked in the past.

I don't want to get into a long battle with King, which is why I've ignored his attacks to this point. Still, sometimes you can only be pushed around for so long before you stand up for yourself. Maybe publishing this will only heighten his attacks on me, but maybe it will show him I'm not the easy target he's grown to expect.

Now, I've heard plenty of King's attacks and rants over the air (whenever I can bear to sit through his hour of drivel and uninformed rants, there usually seems to be something inflammatory about either myself personally or the Journal as a whole). I have less of a problem with those, though: it's his show, he's entitled to his opinions, and if he wants to waste air time complaining about me instead of actually covering sports, he can go right ahead.

I've also read his numerous attacks on me and my co-workers, both on his own "blog" (if you can give something he updates about once a month, usually with just a blatant promotion for his latest show, the lofty title of "blog") and in comment threads at Out of Left Field , where he's a co-writer with myself (though his incredibly infrequent contributions seem to primarily consist of plugging his radio show or posting ridiculous pictures).

What really bothers me, though, are the venomous letters to the editor he writes to our own paper. I can't usually respond to them, so his one-sided diatribes are published with no context and impugn my credibility. Here's some excerpts, with a deconstruction following each:

Letter 1:
"The Journal’s editorial assertion that the comments of Gary Sheffield with regard to race in sport have “some degree of truth in them” is both shockingly ignorant and uninformed, and should be withdrawn. ... Racism is surely a major issue in sport, but the Journal approaches it in the most boneheaded way possible by practically endorsing the clearly offensive views of one of the least respectable players in baseball. ... Furthermore, as much as I personally dislike the New York Yankees, the Journal conveniently omits the fact that famed African-American slugger Darryl Strawberry contradicted Sheffield’s remarks about Yankee manager Joe Torre, and that the overall consensus in baseball is that the comments about Torre, a widely respected veteran of the game and known admirer of hall-of-famer Bob Gibson, are entirely without merit. The support of Kenny Lofton, who played only a single below-average year for Torre, does not make Sheffield’s wild allegations true. Essentially, the Journal’s “exposé” on racism in sport smacks of sensationalism, poor research and overall shabby journalism that does nothing but harm to the profile of this legitimate sports issue. Here, however, it’s appropriate that these columns are titled “sideline commentary,” because these insults to intelligent sports fans deserve to be permanently relegated there."
[September 25, 2007, in response to this column].

Read my column for yourself and then tell me if it "smacks of sensationalism, poor research and overall shabby journalism." For one thing, it's ridiculous that a man whose show is a whole hour of over-the-top sensationalist drivel with little research and even less of an effort at journalism is calling me out. For another, I put a hell of a lot of effort and research into that column, and it bothers me to have the wider implications of racism in sports written off just because King doesn't happen to agree with one of the sources I used. I agree that Gary Sheffield isn't perhaps the most reliable source, but that doesn't mean his complaints should be dismissed out of hand, especially when they're backed by a more reliable player like Kenny Lofton. The point wasn't to convict or acquit Joe Torre, in any case: it was to point out that there's still at least a perception of racism in professional sports, and that we should be taking a look at it.

Letter 2: "Contrary to what was reported in the Journal, the second Queen’s touchdown in their game against Western was scored by Mike Giffin, not Marty Gordon. ... Official box scores for OUA football games are regularly available on the internet, and the aforementioned errors were not present in other sources like the Kingston Whig-Standard. If students can’t rely on their campus newspaper to accurately report the details of the school’s most popular team, it will be an unfortunate season for football fans. [September 11, 2007].

Deconstruction: He's got a point with this one, as we did make a mistake. However, the error came from an official game recap on the same OUA website he mentions, which mentioned Marty Gordon as scoring the second touchdown (more on CIS stats later today). I noticed the contradiction between the recap and the box score when writing the article, but decided to go with the recap, as I figured that someone who took the time to write a game story probably would be more likely to have it right, as it's just a single key stroke that can change a stat in a box score. In any case, it was a minor error and we corrected it. Pointing out mistakes is fair game, but a small mistake like that one shouldn't become an excuse to carry out an all-out attack on a media outlet, especially when it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I never bothered to write anything about the numerous errors on his radio show, which show up on almost every one of the rare occasions when he dares to discuss a Queen's sport other than football or men's hockey as I prefer to add to the wealth of information out there instead of nitpicking over small mistakes in other people's work.

Letter 3:
"Why is it that those who lament the lack of student attendance at football games are always those who understand it the least?
Football has never drawn successfully in recent years and the drop in attendance from last year’s match-up against Laurier can be attributed to a good portion of the alumni side of the stadium being unsold due to repairs.
It’s almost shockingly ignorant to praise the addition of concessions and the “VIP Zone” (hardly “countless”) as draws for student attendance when students can’t access those amenities. Alcohol is still banned on the student side; when it wasn’t, attendance was far higher.
Furthermore, every student, prior to entering, has to be frisked by a self-important student constable who obviously adds nothing to the game experience. This is not a requirement of fans on the other side of the stadium.
Did anyone think that perhaps students would be more likely to come to games if they weren’t treated like second-class citizens?"
Finally, as much as the idealistic enthusiasts who cover football might want to believe the bands and cheerleaders are “well-choreographed,” no student heads all the way over to West Campus to hear the Bands’ 14th consecutive rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” nor to hear the cheerleaders bellow their “Gaels, get tough, let’s go!” chant that no fan either knows or follows."
[September 23, 2008, responding to this column].

Deconstruction: This letter in today's paper is the straw that broke the camel's back and convinced me to finally write this post, especially given the venom he wrote it with. I get it: he doesn't like being frisked, contrary to what Mike Hogan says (fast-forward to the end of the clip). I don't think it's fair to say that's the main factor in low student attendance at games, though: it certainly doesn't seem to discourage students from going to the Ale House. Moreover, does he really need to call me "shockingly ignorant", an "idealistic enthusiast" and one who "understand[s] [football] the least" to get your point across? There is such a thing as disagreeing without being disagreeable, but I guess they don't teach that in shock-jock school, where radio shows seem to be handed out based on how much controversy you can stir up and how venomous you can be.

What also bothers me is how two-faced King is. One day, he'll roast you over the coals on his radio show or call you an idiot in a letter to the editor: the next, he'll greet you with a friendly hi and a wave when you bump into him in history class or at a football game. I'm quite able to get along with those I disagree with, but the difference is that most of them don't attack me personally. To me, it seems hypocritical to spend your day bashing me in various public forums and then act like everything's just fine whenever you see me.

Why does King dislike me so much? Perhaps he wanted the jobs I've held at the Journal, but I think there might be more to it than that. In my mind, the bigger reason is I'm at least partially representative of the "jockocracy" he's often ranted and raved about on his show, the former athletes who are now involved in the media. I partly agree with him, though: not all athletes make great writers or broadcasters (see Smith, Emmitt), and playing credentials alone should not be enough to get you a job in the sports media.

That doesn't mean that all athletes are dumb jocks, though. Some of my favourite analysts are former players like Jock Climie and Duane Forde, two very intellectual guys who combine deep insight with a superb knowledge of Canadian football and the unique experiences that come with playing at a high level.

Even sports experience in general can be extremely helpful. Katie McKenna, Queen's star women's soccer goalie, is one of the best writers I've had the privilege of working with over the last couple of years at the Journal. I think her experience playing soccer allows her to understand other athletes and know what's going through their minds, which leads in turn to better questions and better articles. She has a lot of pure writing talent as well and undoubtedly would still be great even if she didn't play sports at all, but that experience gives her an extra edge over the rest of us in my mind. That insight of what it's like to be on the other side is tremendously valuable.

I'm not saying you have to have playing experience of any sort to be a writer, radio host or TV commentator, or that the work you produce is somehow inferior if you don't have that playing experience. There are many writing and broadcasting legends who never stepped onto the field themselves, and there are plenty more who had that high-level experience. My point is merely that athletic qualifications alone may not make a great writer or broadcaster, but they shouldn't break one either. Experience isn't an necessary asset, but it can be a great one if utilized properly. All jocks should not be tarred with the same brush.

I'm also not saying that King has to agree with me. There's plenty of room for dissenting views about sports, which after all, are often a rather grey area. Any two people will not see a single sporting event in the same way, and that's why there are a variety of sportswriters, radio hosts, TV analysts, bloggers and the rest, each bringing their own perspectives to the table. That diversity of views is a great thing, and should be encouraged whenever possible.

The problem is that King seems to see sports in black and white. There's his opinion, which is invariably right, and then there's what everyone else thinks, which is invariably stupid. It's not like he's providing constructive criticism or is interested in an actual discussion or debate: he's got his views carved in stone, and you can either fall in line with him or bear the brunt of his heavy-handed personal attacks. He spends far more time on criticism than constructive comments or creating his own work.

Another part of the problem is the medium involved. King works in sports talk radio, which has evolved into more of a shouting match than ever in recent times. Many of the big names in the industry, like Jim Rome, Bob McCown, Dave Pratt and Dan Patrick,get much of their fame and prestige from taking controversial stances and stirring the pot whenever possible. That's not saying all talk radio hosts are like that, as there are many who have a greater taste for subtlety, like Dan Russell, Blake Price and Stephen Brunt (though Brunt started out as a print guy, he's pretty darn good on the radio too). Still, when viewed as a whole, sports talk radio is probably more over-the-top than any other medium covering sports, so King may be a product of his environment. Controversy gets listeners/viewers/readers, which is unfortunate, but a fact of life in our day and age.

In any case, I hope the above is not read as a personal attack. I intend it to be a defence of my own work, perhaps intermingled with some criticisms of King's style and decisions, but nothing on a personal level. I also don't think that we have to be enemies. I get along just fine with most of my competitors, and [the] King and I aren't really even competitors, given the different natures of our media outlets. There's no reason for us to fight, and I'm happy to leave things here and move forward if he is.


  1. Anonymous8:53 AM

    The Buck Strikes Back!!!!

  2. Anonymous9:01 PM

    But will The Buck stop here?