Politics on the Sports Pages

This is a letter I wrote to John McClain, a sportswriter for the Houston Chronicle, in response to a piece he wrote for the Chronicle on October 16, 2009, in which I believe he crossed the line between News and Opinion.

Dear Mr. McClain,

If the point of your piece in today’s Chronicle was that the Limbaugh bid was doomed because of perceptions that he is a racist, I would agree that you have done a fair job of reporting the news.  There would appear to be little doubt that a whole lot of people, some of whom are not black, consider Mr. Limbaugh to be a racist, and it would also appear that Commissioner Goodell opposed Mr. Limbaugh because, as a businessman, he anticipated negative economic consequences if Limbaugh became part-owner of an NFL team.

The problem I have with your column is that one could easily infer from it that you share in those negative perceptions of Mr. Limbaugh, and that would mean you have approached (and maybe crossed) the line between reporting the news and giving opinions about it.  (I do not know whether calling his views “racially insensitive” is the same as calling him a racist, but I think you make it quite clear that you are not a Limbaugh fan.)    You are certainly entitled to hold and express opinions, be they about sports or politics or anything else, but when work for a newspaper and you cross the line between news and editorial opinions, you cross a line that, in my opinion, you ought to think twice about crossing.

Nowadays, while I occasionally will pick up (or even buy) an edition of The Chronicle, I no longer read The Chronicle on a daily basis; I cancelled my subscription nearly a year ago, because I finally ran out of patience with the fact that the paper no longer even pretended to be anything other than a spokesman for a particular, political point of view.  I had no problem with the non-stop, one-sided slant of the editorial pages, but when the Business section, the City section, and even the Entertainment section and the Sports section became tainted by political opinion, I decided that there was no further reason to buy the paper.

The Sports section of the Chronicle, when I was a subscriber, was the main reason I stayed with the paper as long as I did – I loved reading about the local teams, even when they stunk (as they so often do).  I was willing to read all about the personal habits and problems of the Texans’ 6th round draft choices, regardless of how stupid that made me feel, because it gave me a sense of closer identification with my team, which made the Texans’ games far more entertaining than, say, a game between two teams who might have been much better than the Texans but whom I did not have a real association with.  However, after Richard Justice’s endless whining about the mean, cheap, and heartless owners of all our local teams and about how the poor, innocent players were the misunderstood victims of the nasty, greedy owners, I just started to get tired of the whole thing.

One can only read so many stories about how Jeff Bagwell should not have to honor the terms of his multimillion-dollar contract, and about how Miguel Tejada was justified in lying to the Astros about his age, before saying, enough!   I really do not care whether 100% of the people who write for the Chronicle are hard-core Liberals, so long as they confine their political opinions to the editorial page and use the rest of the paper to present the news, but I am simply not going to buy a paper where I cannot even read the Sports section without having to be told that Rush Limbaugh is unfit to be an NFL owner.

I understand that journalists, movie actors, and many others who have an easy platform for dealing with the general public, are regularly tempted to utilize that platform in order to convey their thoughts on all kinds of things.  What I do not understand is how frequently you folks yield to that temptation, even when you must know that in doing so, you are gratuitously alienating a large segment of your audience, many of whom wish you would just shut up and do what it is that they paid to see you do.  I am sure I am not the only person who will never watch another Woody Allen movie (who wants to watch an old guy who married his stepdaughter?), and I will bet you I am not the only person who has lost a lot of interest in what you will have to say in the future about 6th round draft picks.   As Michael Jordan once said, in explaining his diligence in avoiding public statements about his politics, “even Republicans buy Nikes.”

[Published @ mecmoss.com Feb 2012]

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