George Solomon on Sports Reporting During COVID-19

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George Solomon on Sports Reporting During COVID-19
Mar 30, 2020

The difficult task of putting out a sports section when there are no sports was best exemplified when the award-winning Washington Post sports section was tucked behind the newspaper’s Style section for most of the last two weeks of March – and it will likely stay there for the remainder of the COVID-10 pandemic.

While most newspapers and websites offered sports coverage, the fare was generally limited to stories about the one-year postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, disappointments among athletes and arena employees, as well as the postponements of the start of Major League Baseball and holds to NBA, NHL and MLS seasons. The NCAA’s billion-dollar March Madness that pays for many of the nation’s college sports programs was also canceled. So were college and high school spring sports. Triple Crown events and the Masters were moved to the fall.

Only the National Football League powered on; its free-agency and draft-planning moves covered with the intensity of D-Day, 1944. Quarterback Tom Brady’s departure from the New England Patriots for Tampa Bay left Boston in a state of shock, but provided Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy enough material to last until Fenway Park opens for business again.

In Washington, the big offseason story for the Redskins remains the never-ending saga of All-Pro tackle Trent Williams’ future with the team. Williams did not play in 2019 because he believed the team’s medical staff misdiagnosed a legion on his forehead in 2018. Washington’s new coach, Ron Rivera, tried to establish a relationship with Williams, but that lasted only long enough for Williams’ agent to demand a trade. Again. The story has taken so many turns the only medical expert who hasn’t been quoted is Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Still, good sports journalism has been on display during the current period, with the coverage of the Olympics postponement getting full attention. I’ve enjoyed Post columnist Thomas Boswell’s piece on the significance of missing Opening Day; Sally Jenkins (Post) and Christine Brennan (USA Today) were spot on with their Olympics coverage.

Jayson Stark and Ken Rosenthal were terrific in The Athletic — writing about what a truncated MLB season might look like. Richard Deitsch was equally entertaining with his columns on The Athletic. For hundreds of journalists working for The Athletic, one hopes the backers of the growing sports media organization hold fast until sports return.

Reading for pleasure, I’ve loved Tim Kurkjian’s work for ESPN and The Undefeated’s Lonnae O’Neal. Bill Plaschke (Los Angeles Times), Tim Cowlishaw (Dallas Morning News) and Mitch Albom (Detroit) never disappoint. Richard Justice’s piece for MLB.com on his first meeting with the late Billy Martin, manager of the Texas Rangers, as a new intern in Dallas, is wonderful. The New York tabloids remain relentlessly solid.

Yahoo Sports, The Ringer, SBNation, Bleacher Report and The Overtime – among others – try. But if the games are not there, it’s tough.

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It should not go without mentioning the winner of the 2020 Red Smith award is Christine Brennan, whose stellar work on the Olympics, sexual abuses of athletes by some coaches in skating and gymnastics, does great honor to USA Today, the profession and past winners of the Smith award.

Brennan, whom I had the pleasure of editing at The Washington Post, is a dogged reporter whose columns are significant and carry weight beyond sports.

“I’ve been very lucky to work with or know quite a few of the Red Smith award winners over the years,’’ Brennan said in an interview. “To join them is very humbling. … I got my start at The Miami Herald where Edwin Pope (1989) showed me the way. When I was covering the NFL in Washington, Sandy Rosenbush (2019) was often at the other end of the phone. It’s quite an honor to be thought of in the same light of so many of my role models, heroes and mentors.”

Brennan is an example of someone who by her own will and determination is making a difference in sports and journalism.

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