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When The Press Became The Media

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There is a great valedictory from Frank Deford called Confessions of a Sportswriter in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. It's well worth your time to read.

I've touched upon some of these themes here before on Barking Carnival, most recently when Gary Cartwright tore into the modern sports media in Texas Monthly eulogizing Bud Shrake.

Deford offers a useful, if gentler, explanation for the decline dismal fall enfeeblement evolution of his craft.

Indeed, Deford is often described as a "literary" sportswriter.

Think about that.

The description alone suggests a degraded state; a disappointing baseline, like calling someone a virtuous clergyman or an honest politician.

Presumably literacy and the ability to write meaningfully would be a precondition of the craft?

In any event, Deford has a great opening in the article:

There are many roles a man plays in life. Son, Husband, Father, Breadwinner. If he is successful: Star, Boss, Grand Old Man. But nothing, I believe, is quite so thrilling as getting to be The Kid. That is, you, as a novice, are accepted by your elders into their privileged company. You are not quite their peer. You are on trial, tolerated more than embraced, but at least you are allowed to step into the penumbra of the inner circle, to sniff the aroma of wisdom and humor and institutional savoir faire that belongs to those old hands. It's a heady sensation.

As a former The Kid in a tiny corner of commerce, I can only agree. More importantly, that's really well-written. Let me suggest to you that Rick Reilly can't do that. Much less the hack in your local rag.

Here are two of my personal Deford favorites: his piece on Nolan Richardson called Gotta Do Some Coachin' and his paen to Johnny U . He also wrote Everybodys All American, a fine book, sports genre or otherwise, that became an underrated movie adaptation, with a 39 year old Jessica Lange playing a LSU sorority girl.

Can't win 'em all, Frank.

Here's the ending to Deford's article, where he revisits his opening theme (look, a literary device!):

I was a character in the age's last scene, too. The NBA didn't have a full-season network contract then, in the '60s, but on Sunday day games in the Finals, a network showed up, cherry-picking on the cheap. When the Celtics won another championship, a young assistant rushed onto the court and asked Red Auerbach to come right up to the TV booth. Red looked down at the boy. "Where the f--- were you in February?" he asked, waving him off with his cigar. Then, gloriously, he threw the other arm round me and said, "I'm going with my writers."

It was the last hurrah for the press. After that, it became the media.

Stick around Frank, we still need the press. We can probably do without the media.