“I have just fled my own office in horror at their fucking dimwittedness.”

I do not like Jay Mariotti. I do not like what he writes. I do not like what he says on the radio. I do not like what he says on television. I do not find his arguments compelling. I do not find his style intriguing. I find him tired, weak, and clichéd. I believe that Jay Mariotti wants to attract attention to himself. He wants people to listen to what he has to say. He wants people to read what he has written. He knows that people have done these things when they respond to him. He has found a swift way to accomplish those goals. He says something provocative, critical and negative and waits for the return volleys. Writing for a company that buys ink by the barrel and speaking from behind the one-way broadcast booths of television are radio are low-risk methods to achieve those goals.

I do like Ozzie Guillen. I do not like him simply because he is the manager of my favorite sports team—although that does not hurt his case. I love his candor. I appreciate his instincts with respect to baseball. I believe he does things right and calls things like he sees them. He makes mistakes. He speaks without reflection. These are consequences of his candid, earnest approach.

I believe there is courage in an honest straight-up debate where you present your opponents’ arguments in their strongest possible terms—and then defeat the arguments. I am unsure whether this is the role of sports reporting and sports commentary. I would like to think that it is.

My understanding of print journalism is that regular columnists generally do not write their own headlines. The editor reads the column and then assigns a headline to go along with it based on what he believes is the primary point. I suspect there are other concerns in writing headlines as well—catching the attention of readers and drawing them into the column first among them. So with this presupposition, a quick analysis of headlines should show something of a trend in the columnist’s general style. What follows is a list of the headlines of Mariotti’s column “The First Word” in the Chicago Sun-Times over the last several weeks. I may have missed a couple, when I did not grab the paper that day or I recycled it before I jotted down the headline, but these are most of them:

  • Monday, May 29: Danica who? Andrettis make Indy hum
  • Tuesday, May 30: Pitiful Cubs could use a maverick owner
  • Thursday, June 1: New lease for Clemens, old story for Prior
  • Monday, June 5: Fairy-tale ending for Maddux? Get out of town!
  • Tuesday, June 6: It’s about time for Sox to get serious
  • Thursday, June 8: No stopping slide into steroids quagmire
  • Sunday, June 11: Ozzie’s stance on steroids indefensible
  • Monday, June 12: MLB asleep at the wheel on Barrett
  • Tuesday, June 13: Another example of lessons not learned
  • Thursday, June 15: Are you ready for some futbol? Not anymore
  • Friday, June 16: Judgment call: Time to worry about Ozzie
  • Saturday, June 17: Invincibility has its limits, even for Tiger
  • Monday, June 19: Meltdown lowdown: Meet Phil Van de Velde
  • Tuesday, June 20: It’s time to dump Dusty, bump up Brenly
  • Wednesday, June 21: Wade’s class gets best of Cuban’s crass
  • Thursday, June 22: Sensitivity the issue, Guillen the problem

I see a trend. I hope you do, too. If you are unfamiliar with sports figures in general, and Chicago sports figures in particular, you may not know some of the names listed above. “Old story for Prior” and “Fairy-tale ending for Maddux?” refer to Chicago Cubs pitchers, Mark Prior and Greg Maddux. “MLB asleep at the wheel on Barrett” refers to Chicago Cubs catcher Michael Barrett. “Danica who?” refers to Indycar racer, Danica Patrick. “Another example of lessons not learned” refers to Pittsburg Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s motorcycle crash. “Invincibility has its limits, even for Tiger”: Tiger Woods. “Wade’s class gets best of Cuban’s crass”: Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban. “It’s time to dump Dusty”: Chicago Cubs manager, Dusty Baker. “Ozzie’s stance”, “Time to worry about Ozzie”, “Guillen the problem”: Chicago White Sox manager, Ozzie Guillen.

Nine times out of ten, Jay Mariotti will take the provocative, negative view on the world of sports and then write about it with a tone that is filled with conceit, disgust and arrogance. It is weak. It is gutless. If the situation changes, Mariotti takes credit for affecting the change. If his dire predictions turn out right, he gloats. There is no risk involved. And it is tiresome.

Cal Ripken, Jr. did an interview on a Chicago sports talk radio show this morning on my way into the office. The recent feud between Jay Mariotti and Ozzie Guillen has spilled a lot of ink in the city papers over the past couple weeks—this is not the first time, nor do I believe it will be the last—and the radio broadcasters asked Ripken what he thought about the changing dynamic of the role of the media in sports. Ripken was expectedly graceful and refreshingly equitable. He expressed concern about the death of “off the record” conversations and distaste with journalists who take advantage of the emotions of sports to create exploitative copy.

Ozzie Guillen said something similar, albeit with the grace and style of blunt-force trauma to the head. Guillen also chose some language that affected some collateral damage. He took a risk.

Jay Mariotti did not take a risk. He has refused every invitation to speak face to face with the Chicago sports figures he writes about on an almost daily basis. Rick Morrissey, a sports columnist for the Chicago Tribune, writes:

Look, it’s not always fun walking into a locker room. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. But it comes with the territory of being a columnist.

Showing up also makes for a better columnist. Anybody can have an opinion. That’s the beauty of being a walking, talking human being. But asking questions of players, managers and coaches helps give a columnist an informed opinion. It doesn’t mean you’re being co-opted by the people you’re dealing with, not if you have an ounce of integrity. It means you’re being thorough and professional. And you just might learn a thing or two.

What I am trying to say is that there is honor and tangible value in addressing your complaints directly. Do not mince words. Do not rely on intermediaries, hints, allusions or incendiary rhetoric. Even if you believe your interlocutor does not deserve it, you yourself do. – To do otherwise is to be a coward and a traitor to yourself.

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