SPORTSWRITERS GET NO RESPECT; NATIVE SON

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The Boston Globe, Jan. 21, 1998
Literary Life

 
Hey you! Bozo!

Yeah, you, reading this article.
 
Don't you know that nobody reads print journalism anymore, that in these days of television, radio, cable, and the Internet, there's nothing left for us to say?

OK, so I'm extrapolating a bit, but that's just about the sorry theme of a wonderfully written story by Bob Drury in the February Men's Journal. He's talking only about sportswriting, but after going through his wringer, I think I hear footsteps.

The picture is ugly from every angle: Athletes and coaches view reporters, particularly the print press, as "a roving pack of drooling hyenas." When one of them treats reporters with an morsel of respect, a San Francisco writer says off the record, "we lionize the guy."

Sportswriters used to attend practices, stay afterward, get to know the players. Now, Drury says, they're shut out and "beat writers are left to chase players through parking lots . . . to get a moronic quote."

Jimmy Johnson, the imperious (well, I think he is; all I know is what I read in the newspapers) coach of the Miami Dolphins, says the problem is that the electronic end gets to everything first. "What's left for the print guys to go after? I'll tell you what: a lot of {expletive} about who missed curfew or who failed a drug test or who got arrested. Who the hell needs that?"

Drury's story has a very strong Boston flavor as he reports that the region's football writers have noted how Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe is "balky and pro forma" when he meets the press in league-mandated sessions, then becomes "a freewheeling font of information" when he appears, for pay, on WEEI (AM 850).

Sorry, 'EEI, they didn't mention you by name, though the Globe is consulted repeatedly. Sports editor Don Skwar concedes that athletes "don't need us as much as they need ESPN or Nike."

You might ask, why all this talk about sports, and this isn't the sports section, but the topic is inescapable. Forbes of Jan. 26 devotes two pages to a screed by Dan Seligman, whose not particularly fresh angle is how political correctness has invaded the sports pages. He laments that when he turns there, "I am suddenly in the clutches of lightweight heavy thinkers who are looking for the deeper meaning of it all." Yeah, so?

The reason I picked up Men's Journal was really to read about Sherman Alexie, a name I had heard but couldn't place. That's often a sign that someone is about to enter his or her 15 minutes of fame, and I wanted to be at the front of the curve.

Writer Bruce Barcott portrays Alexie as a funny, angry, abrasive, big-mouth (his words) Indian (don't call him a Native American) who is about to become the first American Indian cultural superstar. If he does, he will be the sort of overnight sensation who has been toiling for years but with fewer people noticing. He has made the Granta list of "Best American Writers Under 40" (he's 31), he's drawn praise for collections of his poetry and short stories that go back six years, and near-fanatical praise for his most recent novel, "Indian Killer."

Another of his works, "Smoke Signals," is now a movie on the roster at Sundance. Alexie wrote the screenplay and is a coproducer, and he loudly proclaims it as the first Indian-produced, Indian-directed, Indian-written feature film. Indians are portraying Indians too: "No long-haired Italians," he says.

Alexie appears to have a future even in stand-up comedy. Barcott says most writers hate going on book tours because it takes time away from writing. But "one almost suspects he writes books as a pretext to hop onstage" for his performances, which far exceed mere readings.

There may well be something to this fame-in-his-future thing; he was also featured in the Sunday New York Times Magazine this week. If he does burst into your conciousness any time soon, remember: You heard it here third. Or fourth.

George magazine nods to Valentine's Day with a series of light (what else?) profiles of mostly Washington power couples, asking his-and-her questions such as "Name a sacrifice you made for your spouse" and "When are you the boss?" It's amusing enough, although under the main headline, "Power Couples," on the cover are Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Is there something going on here that we should know about?

Meanwhile, this men-are-from-Mars, women-are-from-Venus thing is getting out of control. New to newsstands is Men Are From Mars & Women Are From Venus, the magazine version of the bestseller. It's not exactly useless, but most of it has been done before, just as poorly, by other magazines: How to keep the romance strong in your marriage; "Love Styles of the Rich and Famous" (sample: John Tesh says of his actress wife, Connie Sellecca, "Connie gives me a lot of power in my life just by saying, `Whatever you do is all right with me.' "); and "365 Days of Love/The Romance Doesn't Have to Vanish Come February 15 . . ." written by none other than Mars-and-Venus author John Gray himself.

But this magazine's most egregious feature is the cover headline, "The one SEX SECRET you must know." That ought to be worth the three bucks alone, but try as I might, I couldn't find the article it was referring to.

Maybe it's there, maybe it's not a horribly shameful way to boost circulation, but at a minimum, the answer is hidden. Believe me, I checked. I like to be ahead of the curve on stuff like this.