Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Covering sports and the perception of stories, angles and who’s ‘rooting’ for what

Thanks to the magic—or the curse—of the internet, those of us who write for a living have a chance to get some idea what readers think of what we write soon after it goes into cyberspace or into a newspaper or even a magazine. Books take a little longer.

This can be a mixed blessing. One has to learn to take everything that’s posted with a large grain of salt—both the good and the bad. If you take a strong position on an issue there are always going to be people who will absolutely agree and people who will absolutely disagree. Certain people are guaranteed to get readers fired up: Mention Pete Rose and the Hall of Fame and you’ll start a firestorm of some kind. The same is frequently true of Tiger Woods or Mike Krzyzewski or Tom Brady. About the only person who almost everyone—at least in Washington—agrees on is Dan Snyder and if the Redskins every make a Super Bowl while he’s the owner most of those who can’t stand him now will say, “he’s changed, matured, learned from his mistakes.”

That’s why I try to read what people have to say but rarely respond because life is too short to get into constant exchanges with people, especially since 99 percent of the time you aren’t going to change their mind anymore than they’re going to change yours.

I bring this all up not because of anything that’s been written recently about anything of mine. On Tuesday I was reading Rex Hoggard’s story (linked here) on The Golf Channel website about Tiger Woods’ hiring of Joe LaCava as his caddy. Rex is about as balanced and reasonable as anyone I know and his account of the events leading to LaCava leaving Dustin Johnson after working for him for less than six months to go work for Woods was pretty straightforward.

No one begrudges LaCava his decision to go work for Woods. Even if Woods never comes close to being the player he once was, the tournaments he plays overseas for huge appearance fees—like the event in November in Australia where he’s reportedly getting $3 million—alone will make LaCava very well paid. And, at 35, the potential for Woods to make a comeback that could make LaCava very wealthy is still there.

What bothered some people, according to Hoggard, was that no one from Team Tiger bothered to make a courtesy call to Johnson to let him know he might want to hire his caddy. Most, though not all, players will let another player know if they are going to talk to their caddy. Woods isn’t the first—and won’t be the last—player to not make the courtesy call by any stretch but this isn’t the first time he’s been down this road.

Fifteen years ago when Woods first came on tour, Peter Jacobsen was injured. He asked Woods if he would like to use his longtime caddy (they’d been together 17 years) Fluff Cowen for his first few tournaments. Woods said yes. When he had almost instant success he asked Cowen to come work for him fulltime. To this day he hasn’t called Jacobsen.

Jacobsen completely understood Cowen’s decision—working for Woods made him both rich and famous even though he got fired less than three years later for becoming a little too famous for Tiger’s taste. But he wasn’t happy that, after going out of his way to try to help Woods at the start of his career, he didn’t get the courtesy call.

Hoggard didn’t even bring up Jacobsen-Cowen. He just pointed out that this is the way life on tour is sometimes and also mentioned that, after hearing Woods was interested in him, LaCava had contacted Team Tiger to say that, if asked, he probably would accept.

This was hardly one of my virulently anti-Tiger pieces that make some people froth at the mouth.

And yet, when I read the posts because I was curious to see where the golf geeks (if you’re reading you’re a golf geek, right?) came down on this issue, I found them fascinating.

Some people thought that, especially given all the bad publicity he’s gotten since November 27, 2009, that someone on Team Tiger should have told Woods to pick up a phone and call Johnson to let him know what was going on. Some thought it was a non-story— as in who cares?

But MANY thought Rex was Tiger-bashing, that this was another example of the media being out to ‘get,’ Tiger. A number of people wanted to know why the hell Tiger had to ask Dustin Johnson’s permission to do anything since LaCava wasn’t under contract to Johnson in any way. Good point. Except no one—including Rex—ever said Woods needed to ask permission to do anything. Read the story.

I would, at this point be remiss if I didn’t digress for a moment to point out to those who commented on my Maryland/ACC column in The Post the other day that I never said Virginia Tech hadn’t scheduled good teams in the past (although the Hokies didn’t beat any of them) just that they didn’t schedule any of them this season. I also loved Randy Edsall saying this morning that he never claimed he was rebuilding and, “didn’t want to throw anyone under the bus.” Then he proceeded to throw Ralph Friedgen so far under the bus that it may be tough to find even a guy the Fridge’s size underneath those wheels.

My favorites though are the people who insist that all of us who cover sports are ambulance-chasers who would be collecting unemployment if not for Tiger Woods. (Or Michael Jordan, Tom Brady and Serena Williams—among others). We are, according to these people, complete lowlifes who undoubtedly starve our pets and beat up little old ladies every chance we get.

As Rhett Butler once said to Scarlett O’Hara while she screamed, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you,”: “My dear you’ve made your point fairly clear.”

Even people like me who find a lot of what Woods does away from the golf course reprehensible understand that he is one of the two greatest players of all time—I’d say the greatest regardless of how many majors he finally ends up winning because of his total dominance of the game while at his peak—and has brought attention to the sport that no one since Arnold Palmer came close to achieving.

Those in and on television root unabashedly for Woods to do well because it drives ratings. Many—if not most—in the print media want to see Woods succeed because it means they get more space and better play and, in all likelihood, get to travel to more tournaments. The better Woods is doing the more interest there is in golf.

Thus, the notion that any of us, simply can’t wait for Woods to fail or can’t wait to pounce on anything he does, is simply wrong. Do I root for him? Absolutely not. But do I sit around sticking pins in a Tiger doll? No. He’s a story—for good and for bad. I’ve always taken the approach that he’s got enough people who are paid to burnish his image and gloss over his failings that he doesn’t need me to do it. And anyone who thinks Rex Hoggard or 99 percent of the golf media have any kind of axe to grind with Woods simply don’t know the people involved or understand the business they are in.

So, if you want to disagree with what Rex writes or what I write or what anyone else writes, that’s perfectly fine. And, of course, you have an absolute right to call us lowlifes if that makes you feel good. Come to think of it, in a few cases, you’re right. But I’ll save that for another day and time.

Oh, one other note: For those of you who get SO upset when I make a political comment: Look, I don’t claim to be fair and balanced. Or that I’m reporting and letting you decide. I’m biased. I’m a Democrat. If you’re reading the blog you have to know an occasional shot at the right wing is coming somewhere, sometime. God knows there are lots of places you can find shots being taken at liberals like me so have at it.


Anonymous said...

just speaking for myself, i read your blog for your fact, i wished you'd post more of your makes my day.

Tim said...

I second that...more opinion is welcomed. Even if I don't agree with it...

John from Indiana said...

Don't mind your political opinions one bit (Often agree), and appreciate you declaring yourself as NOT fair and balanced. My problem is with the "Let's not play nice, so we can get rid of Obama Network," that insists on calling themselves "Fair and Balanced." What a joke...

Mike from HMB said...

Regarding the press and Tiger...I think it's a question of selective integrity. Regardless of how anyone comes down on Tiger's behavior I still want to know how a hundred members of the press including long time golf writers could sit at the press conference at the Master's where Billy Payne lectured Tiger Woods about the MORALITY of his actions and NOT A SINGLE member of the press raised to hand to question Payne on the irony of a tournament steeped in racism lecturing anyone about moral behavior. That you didn't do this,given how brilliantly you portrayed that sordid history in your book The Majors still stuns me.

Eric said...

I was hoping to get your take on the Syracuse - Toledo game. I am not a fan of either team, but I know you would have brought a unique perspective to this mess. The Big East claims by NCAA rule the score can not be changed after the final whistle, yet the Pac-12 changed the score to a recent USC game 2 hours after that game ended. It did not change the outcome but it did change the betting line. I don't know why I am so facinated with is game, but I think some of it has to do with wondering what John would write.

ruffin said...

About the only person who almost everyone—at least in Washington—agrees on is Dan Snyder

You've obviously never posted on The replies seem pretty close to what Hoggard got at It's the nature of the internet beast... not necessarily representative of the rational world at large.

Of course that response is also fairly revelatory on the character of your "golf geeks". Probably a bad choice of words, as their defense of Woods is more "fanatic" than geeks obsessed with the sabermetrics of golf.

if the Redskins every make a Super Bowl while he’s the owner most of those who can’t stand him now will say, “he’s changed, matured, learned from his mistakes.”

Then I feel sorry for the "most". Reminds me of that line from, if I'm remembering correctly, a NY Times Magazine story on Snyder about being intimidated by Gibbs and desiring a "different" sort of coach. If he wins with Family Shanahan, it'll again be in spite of, not because, and his id will let us know at some point.

pulmcrit1 said...

Count me among those who welcome your opinions. Yours is the only blog I read faithfully because whether I agree with you or not, I appreciate your candor and talent.

PeteWill said...

John, when I disagree with you I pretty much don't comment. I just turn the page. But when I agree or want to offer some additional thoughts I will often respond. I'm laughing because your last point about political comments struck a chord. I am a conservative (although I would say moderate) and I disagree with many of your comments, which often are blatantly gratuitous. But I'm not reading your blog or columns for your political ideas and I just don't feel like carping about your obviously heartfelt positions. What's funny is that Lupica is really bad about politicizing his column, "Shooting From the Lip." And he has a political column in the News. It's gotten to the point with him where it pretty much ruins my read. After all, we are there because of sports and Lord knows we are bombarded constantly from the rest of the media with the political hatred that permeates our society.

Anonymous said...

I don't does this relate to Invictus?

Kevin Kaczmarek said...

Not for nothing, is a blog...your blog. You are entitled to your opinion, because...well, it's your blog. While I feel it's healthy to disagree, I too read your blog for your opinions. I don't always agree with your slant on things, but always respect what you have to say. To those who continually disagree, or attack you for your points of view, I say...don't read your blog. Last I checked, there was no requirement to do so.

Keep telling us what you think John, not that I would expect anything less of you.

Anonymous said...

Equally interesting is that Johnson has a VP from TaylorMade working as his caddy for the remainder of 2011. Apparently his duties at the company are not terribly pressing so he can work, at best, part time for the next few months. May say something about state of golf industry.

Anonymous said...

John - I assume you heard what Friedgen had to say about the Maryland administration, and how they treated him. I assume you're on his side, right? I have to say good for him for speaking his mind. And burning his diploma if he saw fit. Many of us don't get a chance to get fired by our alma mater's, but many of us have had the chance to be fired. Mixing the two together like that would be toxic.

And God help the kid who's dialing for dollars from MD, soliciting donations, who gets the lottery of calling the Fridge's house.

Anonymous said...

Come on John. Admit you don't like him because he won't give you an interview or acknowledge your existence. I have listened to you and read you for years. I am quite certain that if Tiger contributed to your Book about the Open that you would be sucking up to him as well.