Kersee awards no medal for media's scandal focus

Media Watch

September 24, 1998|By Milton Kent

Bob Kersee held an impromptu news conference Tuesday regarding the death of his sister-in-law, Olympic gold medal sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner.

The transcript of the briefing -- or at least what ESPNEWS deemed important enough to carry -- ought to be required reading in every sports newsroom in the country, as Kersee eloquently discussed two of the principal problems with U.S. media today.

Kersee, the husband and coach of Jackie Joyner-Kersee, touched briefly on some of the funeral plans for Griffith Joyner, then took questions from assembled reporters. He touched on the media's obsession with scandal and its inability to get a handle on trends that it doesn't identify with or endorse.

Specifically, Kersee wondered why it was necessary for reporters to speculate that Griffith Joyner's death Monday -- possibly caused by a heart seizure -- may have been caused by steroids, which the three-time Olympic gold medalist had been rumored to have taken, a rumor she vehemently denied.

"How would you feel if someone was spreading false rumors about you, and your daughter has to go to school and live with these things that have not been [proven] factually true?" said Kersee, referring to his niece, 7-year-old Mary Ruth, Griffith Joyner's daughter. How indeed? If he or she hasn't already, the viewer-reader is going to get the real sense that reporters and editors have lost all sense of humanity in the pursuit of getting a story if we don't slow down.

Think of the feeding frenzy that opened six years ago when Arthur Ashe was needlessly outed as an AIDS patient. Some journalists argued at the time that Ashe's status as a public figure entitled the world to know, but one perhaps should ask why anyone should have to know private facts about someone, particularly someone like Ashe, who had left the field of competition.

Then, there's the speculation that former Dunbar star Reggie Lewis' 1993 death may have been linked to drug use. Last month, Boston Globe columnist Will McDonough, citing a court deposition, wrote that a former acquaintance said he used cocaine with Lewis twice and gave him the drug 15 or 20 times. McDonough, who first advanced this notion less than a week after Lewis' death, has never produced an on-the-record source to back it up.

In other words, whatever passes for soul-searching in this business gets sacrificed pretty quickly at the altar of getting a story out first.

"If you printed the facts only, and all you did was print the fact, it would be that Florence Griffith Joyner is a world-record holder, has competed well, has trained hard, has taken every drug test and has volunteered for drug tests, and has proven herself to be a true champion and a true role model," Kersee said.

That naturally led to Kersee's second point: Female athletes have been achieving at high levels for quite some time, but the male-dominated sports press corps doesn't seem to grasp that.

Kersee, who coached his wife for nearly 20 years and Griffith Joyner early in her career, nearly chuckled as he recounted all the attention paid to female athletes in the 1996 Olympics, as if they had just landed on the planet like aliens.

"In 1988, people were not ready for female athletics. The media never took female athletics serious 10 or 20 years ago. You guys [the media] just missed it," Kersee said.

It's not the only thing we've missed. The lingering question is how much effort will we apply to keep from missing things in the future.

Attention to detail

There were a couple of things in Tuesday's premiere of the new ABC "SportsCenter"-esque sitcom "SportsNight" (Channel 2, 9: 30 p.m.) indicating that the show's producers have been doing their homework about the world of sports news gathering.

The first sign was that one of the anchors, portrayed by Baltimorean Josh Charles, was wearing shorts and later jeans with a jacket and tie.

More often than not, the well-coiffed sports dude has only got the top half of a $500 Armani suit on, and why not? Heck, you can't see the other half if they're sitting behind a desk.

The other thing the "SportsNight" staff got right was the idea that many people working in sports departments don't know that Helsinki is in Finland, not Switzerland.

That is right, isn't it?

Mark in the park

Thanks to its affiliation with Fox Sports Net, Home Team Sports will be carrying tonight's St. Louis-Montreal game at 8 o'clock to get another look at Mark McGwire's march into the history books.

By the way, folks tuning into HTS looking for the Orioles-Toronto game Monday night got soccer instead. A channel spokesman said that a scheduled game had to be dropped once HTS got permission to air Sunday's Yankees game, which had been slated for ESPN. And, in view of what happened Sunday, it looks like HTS made the right choice.

Week's ratings

The ratings for the top 10 most-watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore last week (R-rating; S-share):

Event .............. Day ... Ch. .. R/S

Ravens-Jags ........ Sun. .. 13 ... 14.8/27

Steelers-Dolphins .. Sun. .. 13 ... 7.9/18

Giants-Cowboys ..... Mon. .. 2 .... 7.8/12

Orioles-Yankees .... Fri. .. 13 ... 7.5/14

"MNF Blast" ........ Mon. .. 2 .... 4.5/7

Orioles-Yankees .... Sat. .. 45 ... 4.3/11

Packers-Bengals .... Sun. .. 45 ... 3.5/8

Fla.-Tenn. ......... Sat. .. 13 ... 3.4/6

CBS Pregame ........ Sun. .. 13 ... 3.2/8

Ravens Report ...... Sat. .. 13 ... 2.8/6

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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