George Solomon’s March Column

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George Solomon’s March Column
Mar 13, 2017

George Winkel’s letter published in the March 4 “Free-for-All” page in The Washington Post complained about the inclusion an anti-President Trump line in a February 19 sports story about San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich.

“It was the Sports section for gosh sake. Can’t The Post at least keep politics out of the Sports section?” asked Winkel.

To Mr. Winkel, I would respond, with all due respect, that sportswriters, columnists, bloggers and Tweeters, are quick and often encouraged by their supervisors to offer their views and politics and issues outside the lines.

Simply put, the days of politics and hard news such as statements of protests, drug abuse, criminal acts and the like remaining off the sports pages, sports magazines and websites are over.

Olympiastadion (Berlin, Germany) / Fraser, Derek. The Buildings of Europe: Berlin, p. 115

Sports as an controversy-free island of tranquility disappeared decades ago, if it ever was. The controversy over whether or not the U.S. should have participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics has been going on for more than 70 years, as was President Roosevelt’s decision to keep Major League Baseball going during World War II despite hundreds of players away in service.

Then there was Richard Nixon saying he only read The Washington Post for Shirley Povich and avoided the front page.

But Povich tended to be among the most liberal, progressive sports columnists of his era. He pushed hard, through his columns (as did Sam Lacy, Wendell Smith and Lester Rodney) for Major League Baseball to integrate long before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Povich also criticized and prodded Washington Redskins’ owner George Preston Marshall constantly for years until Marshall finally signed his first African American player in 1962. The Redskins, under Marshall, were the last team in the National Football League to integrate.

Povich, who worked for The Washington Post for 75 years until he died in 1998 at the age of 92, also worked for equal treatment in coverage opportunities and working conditions for African Americans.

Povich, of course, had strong allies in Jimmy Cannon of the New York Post, Dick Young of the New York Daily News, as well as Smith, Lacy and other black sportswriters.

But for most of the 20th century, the majority of the most widely-read sports columnists were generally conservative-leaning white men who tended to write about familiar topics such as baseball, college football, boxing, horse racing and golf. A swing home from spring training, with a stop at the Masters, a big fight and the Kentucky Derby, was not an unusual spring for a big-time columnist.

You’d be shocked how many major columnists avoided a 1947 sit-down with Jackie Robinson or his many antagonists.

Shirley Povich’s son David Povich with Red Smith’s son Terence Smith.

The late Red Smith, perhaps the best known and most respected sports columnist (New York Herald Tribune and New York Times) of the last century, was liberal in his thinking. But for the most part, he kept those beliefs out of his columns, until later in his career when he began to take more liberal public positions. Those included advocating the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics (which it did) and siding with player unions against management. Ironically, one of the few times in his career, Smith had a column killed (by The Times) urging the U.S to boycott the  1980 games.

Other notables of the day, including Furman Bisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Blackie Sherrod of Dallas Morning News and John Carmichael of the Chicago Tribune, were generally conservative and mostly defended the status quo.

Young, an early supporter of Robinson and equal rights for black sportswriters, moved to the right, poking at the growing number of liberals entering sportswriting in the 1960′s.  He would not appreciate the leanings of today’s sports columnists, many of whom openly oppose President Trump’s agenda and the president’s view of the media and the Redskins’ name while supporting Colin Kaepernick’s position last season with regards to the national anthem.

Bryan Curtis, writing in The Ringer, noted, “Today’s sports writing is basically a liberal profession, practiced by liberals who enforce an unapologetically liberal code,”

To which, Michael Brendan Dougherty, in TheWeek.com, responded:  “He’s (Curtis) right. You can see it in the way sportswriters police a consensus against the Washington Redskins’ name, or for on-field political activism. They tweet against President Trump, and for undocumented immigrants. They pile on populist loudmouths like former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, and may even be punishing him for his politics with their Hall of Fame ballots. They proudly admit that they are at a remove from their readers.”

Hopefully, those entering the sportswriting and sports broadcasting professions, do so with an open mind, knowing their readers and viewers appreciate thoughtful commentary. Push a cause, if you will, but respect the readers and viewers. And know what you talk about.

 

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