Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Vagaries of Sports Reporting

[Media] The indefatigable Lois Collins once told me that sports writing is among the most difficult and creative journalistic disciplines: Sports writers must constantly come up with new and inventive ways to report the fact that Team A scored against Team B. The good ones know how to write about the most repetitive of events, day after day, week after week--and still keep it interesting.

Even so, it's not often that a writer must deal with a situation as delicate as that faced by Boston Herald sports writer David Teel on Jan. 22. How, exactly, does one write a piece about the basketball victory of a college team whose campus is still in shock from news of the same day's violent, public kitchen-knife decapitation of a grad student? How can you report a sports triumph in the wake of a human tragedy?

Teel's lede is a visceral and pulsating montage of free throws, fouls and hustle plays-- immediately interrupted by this somber call for a moment of silence:

This was also an evening of tragedy at Virginia Tech, a campus all too familiar with such. Authorities reported a fatal stabbing at the university’s Graduate Life Center and said a suspect was apprehended.

So before hailing the Hokies for their admirable performance, pause for a moment. Think of the victim, her loved ones and the unfathomable events that surround us.

... and then it's on to a blow-by-blow narrative of three-pointers, left blocks and jump shots culminating in a 78-71 Hokie victory. I have to admit--although I've been known to holler at the Jazz, hold Michael Jordan in the same regard as Darth Vader and suffer active depression for a week following the 1997 NBA Finals--I rarely so much as glance at the sports section. Still, Teel's lively reportage makes for great reading.

I keep wondering, though. At some point, Teel must have been grappling with the question: Mention it? Leave it alone?

How do you deal with such a sensational tragedy in a sports story--considering that, since it was an away game, the team was not subject to the campus lockdown? Was the team even aware of the murder prior to the game?

Should Teel have simply omitted mentioning the tragedy? Or did he handle it well?

(Brandon Burt)


  1. In this case, if he had any doubts about his ability to report this sensitively, I think he should have just left it out altogether. The story was only posted 23 hours ago, a matter of hours after the attack. At the very least, if someone had complained, he could have plead ignorance, or just admitted that he didn't feel fit to comment.

  2. I say leave it alone. If a writer is covering the game, then s/he should stick to writing about the game. One must not try to be all things to all people. No writer is responsible to cover every event at all times; if there were any doubt about the appropriate timing of running a story about a sports team because of a tragedy associated with the school, then let the editor deal with making the call. If anything, they might choose to run a separate piece about the crime or make mention of it in some other way, but not as part of the sports story (which in my opinion is a bit tacky).

  3. Deep, man, real fucking deep...


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