When it comes to sports coverage, you just can't win
OK, I'll admit I started the trouble.
Opinion page czar Jim Slusher's weekly column was based on an embarrassing miscommunication among editors that resulted in no mention of Illinois' overtime loss to Penn State last weekend. But we did have a big photo of Northwestern's loss in OT to Nebraska at the top of our Sports front page. Slusher provided a good explanation of the latter decision: A Hail Mary pass was grabbed by a former Daily Herald All-Area Football Team captain, a Montini High School grad. It provided a perfect opportunity to laud one of our local sports heroes, which is our bread and butter. From there, Slusher pointed out how we try to let news judgment rather than personal bias dictate story play and choice.
But I couldn't resist taking a jab.
In a note I sent just to Slusher, but copied two other editors, I joked:
"However, I KNOW we favor NU and Illinois over 15th-ranked NIU."
The editors I copied, of course, are, like me, NIU grads. They gleefully piled on with their fan-based points of view, which led me to suggest I should do another column on the topic, which led Slusher to retort:
"Just don't mention that my son goes to Northwestern! Hey, that's off the record, isn't it?"
Sorry, Jim, all's fair in love, war and column writing.
Actually, in the more public email exchange, it was pointed out that both our editor and managing editor are Illinois grads, so it hardly would be in anyone's career interest to intentionally snub Illinois.
It also was pointed out that our playing up Northwestern snatching defeat from the jaws of victory might not exactly be perceived as our being pro-NU. "If anything, I'd think it would be more logical that Northwestern fans would suspect that we were rubbing it in," one editor said.
I think the lesson here is it's really hard to win in the world of sports coverage because fans are so, as Slusher said, fanatical. Admit it: When the Blackhawks were on national TV during their playoff run to the Stanley Cup earlier this year, didn't it grate on you when "our" Eddie Olczyk had to walk the straight and narrow while providing color commentary for NBC Sports? If you're a true Cubs fan, you root against the White Sox. And vice versa.
Heck, I believe sports stir more passion and generate more controversy than anything this side of the Semiaffordable Obamacare Act (no bias intended, of course).
It had to be at least 15 years ago, but I remember well taking a call from a guy who said he had definitive proof of our bias in favor of Naperville Central High School over Naperville North. I think the occasion was a football game between the crosstown rivals, and we had published an entire page of photos from the game and hoopla. The caller had gotten out a ruler, and measured the size of all the photos on that page. You'll never guess which school had more square inches of Daily Herald photo coverage. I wish I could recall by how much, but I'll swear it was a close as those Northwestern and Illinois overtime games.
I neglected to mention to the caller that I'm a Naperville Central grad, which I'm sure would have sent him completely over the cliff.
See what I mean? Despite our best efforts, you can't win. Because, truth be told, all of us are fans to some degree.
Praying for a rematch against Florida State.
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