Missing the Point II

Picking up from last week: Responses and Round Two.

His response to my initial message, published last week:

HIM: “Thank you so much for reading and for taking the time to write. I really appreciate it. I want you to know that I read your entire email and am impressed by your passion for track and love for your son. You are right about many things: We, in the media, do often focus on the negative. And we do exalt the bad apples in sports. I would add to that correct assessment that readers respond to the negative more than the positive. When I write positive columns on athletes – which I do often – the response is often minimal. Don’t get me wrong: I hear from many fine people who take the time to say some very nice things. However, I have found that an “edgy” column or a column about something unpleasant often stirs readers to write very long emails like yours. And if you write about race, forget about it! People come out of the woodwork. It can be disheartening as a writer because I work just as hard on positive columns as I do on negative ones, but I guess people mostly write to me when they are upset. If something moves them or makes them feel good, they write less. It’s just a fact of life. Another fact of life is that the negative things I mentioned in Sunday’s column are really happening. I’m not making them up. Kelli White has been banned. The USADA is massing against Tim Montgomery, Marion Jones and other “big names.” Your points about other sports and drug testing are well taken and are echoed often by people in track. Testing in baseball, for example, is a joke and I’ve written that in my column. However, the situation is what it is in track. The people within USADA and others such as the expert I quoted from a New York Times story often say the same thing: that they are having a hard time keeping up with the cheaters. I actually do know the amount of testing that track athletes must endure – far more than baseball players, that’s for sure – but the point remains. The testers feel outflanked by the cheaters. I’m not making that up either. Actually, my point in this column was to look forward to the trials and touch on the “drug scandal” because it could have an impact on the trials. The 2000 event was a wonderful experience and I wrote that in my column. I had such a great time that I saved my press credential – something I never do. These trials could be just as great….or not. We’ll have to wait and see. In closing I would say this – we have written many, many positive stories on good guys like your son. In the past several weeks our paper has been filled with them and we will continue to write those stories. If you missed them I’m not surprised – that happens all the time, as I said. Anyway, I do thank you for writing and hope that you continue to read the column. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually write something that you like.

My best to you and your son.

PS – I have actually done some strenuous things in my life. I was a bit of an athlete myself as a kid. Not a good one but I had a great time. And alas, I didn’t go to a single keg party as a college student. I was pretty boring, actually. I lived at home and rode my bike to college, then came home again at the end of the day. I was bitten by the newspaper bug as a college student and went into the business, but not as a sports writer. I wrote news for 15 years and covered immigration and labor. The Bee sent me to South America in 1997 during President Clinton’s state visit and I only came to sports in 2000 after I had written a couple of baseball-themed books. Sports intrigued me because it seemed that sports had jumped off the sports page onto the front page and had permeated our lives in many ways. I actually feel like an oddball among my sports colleagues because I’m interested in a lot more than just the games and scores. Anyway, I’ve prattled on too long. Take care.

I kick off Round Two:

ME: “Thanks for the heartfelt response–you’re still miles ahead of Kreidler, Van Vliet (may he rest in peace) and Burns, who never bothered to respond at all.


What I’m looking for in Section C is someone who has the guts to be a Dan Weintraub–someone who will go his or her own way and challenge the cliches and conventions with a little solid research, thought, and perspective. I can’t make you see what’s already there. In your position, you have the opportunity (if not the responsibility) to help us find our way a little faster and grow in knowledge and appreciation. If you refuse to do so, that’s fine. Just don’t write columns bemoaning the absence of quality and integrity in sport when it’s obvious to those of us who are out here living with it. Controversy is not the same as truth; learn and celebrate the difference.

Thanks again for responding.”

…And, his response:

HIM: “Fair enough. And if you don’t mind, I have two follow-up questions for you:

  • “Do you read my column regularly?
  • “And what is the “truth” that I overlooked in last Sunday’s column?


…And, finally, serve:

ME: “I read your column when I’m attracted by the topic–which isn’t often, since all of you in Section C are compelled for economic reasons to write about that which seems comparatively trivial, if not downright profane, to me. Athletics mean more to me than getting drunk, painting my face, or playing fantasy slavery, and no amount of ink will ever persuade me that three goofy beer-distributorship heirs with the shekels to buy a sports franchise to play with are pillars of our community. Keep your bread and circuses; I’ll take Virgil and Cicero.

The truth: The Olympic ideal is real and available to everyone. It burns brightly in the breasts of the young because it is in our nature. It is the purest form of athletic endeavor that there is–the desire to be adjudged by objective measure the strongest, swiftest, and most skilled warrior on the field. To stand on the podium, honored by the laurel wreath and the anthem, and to wear that venerated crown for a lifetime. To put down the sword and compete with your fellows in honor and mutual respect. To know and understand one another on the common ground of civil competition. The ancient pentathlon was celebrated every quadrennium for eleven centuries until canceled by a Christian emperor. The multievent was revived in 1912 in the modern Decathlon and the Games have survived every attempt since to kill, suspend, and bowdlerize them. Hundreds of thousands of Earthlings dream and aspire, at all times between competitions and at great personal sacrifice, with neither hope nor real care for recompense. All of those who try and fail are better for the attempt, and most certainly better than those who don’t try. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to share this vision in our own lives know this. This is what is worth learning about and celebrating because it makes us all better. These lessons are transferable to other forms of competition–even our peculiarly weird and violent ones–though the result is less pure, but only if the ideal is respected.

Here’s an apocryphal story. It was rumored a decade or so ago that a promoter was trying to contrive some sort of competition between Sergei Bubka, the legendary pole vaulter and truly one of the greatest athletes who has every lived, by any measure, and Michael Jordan. In connection with this endeavor, Bubka was asked if he could dunk a basketball. ‘Of course,’ he replied. ‘But, why?'”

If you missed the point, you need to learn more about the pole vault. That’s my point.”

…And, volley:

HIM: “Great. thanks.”

NEXT WEEK: Many parts of contemporary speech.

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