On character, writers fumble chance

MEDIA WATCH

February 04, 1999|By MILTON KENT

The names of Bill Clinton and O.J. Simpson probably didn't come up during last weekend's Football Hall of Fame voting, but it's not much of a stretch to think that their images were on the minds of Pro Football Writers Association members who inducted former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

That seems to be the most sensible rationale for why the panel of 36 voters would first induct Taylor -- who has had a number of run-ins with the law -- and then vote down a move to include consideration of the character of future Hall nominees.

No doubt, the writers took into account public opinion polls that suggest while the majority of the public deplores the president's private conduct with Monica Lewinsky, they see no link between that and his public accomplishments.

The link to Simpson is a clear one; how could the Hall keep out a man (Taylor) whose crimes have largely been self-inflicted while keeping in another (Simpson) who many believe got away with two counts of murder?

Baseball Hall voters historically have considered the character of nominees, with the exclusion of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and Pete Rose from Cooperstown the most notable examples.

Football voters are only allowed to consider the on-field accomplishments of a player, and the panel, by a 24-11 vote (with one member abstaining), declined to include character in the consideration of future nominees.

But, as New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden raised the issue beautifully last weekend, should we, in the media, even be in the position of making ourselves moral arbiters of the athletes we cover?

"What gives the news media the right to not judge athletes on their athletic abilities, but to judge morality? That is not our role; more than that, that is not our place," wrote Rhoden. "Our place is in the press box, beyond the sidelines, reporting, analyzing, discovering and uncovering news. Not determining."

Rhoden's argument is interesting and with some merit, but also a bit naive from this perspective. The fact is, we are in the hero-making business, usually unwittingly and uncomfortably, and without choice.

Our culture and its blind hero worship -- no doubt fueled by the press -- has made it hard to write or talk about another person's athletic achievements without appearing to make those accomplishments somehow more significant than, say, what the average person does in a day.

A city accountant who shows up for work every day and finds innovative methods to save the taxpayers money is actually much more important to society than the left fielder who throws out a runner at the plate in the ninth inning. But, of course, the accountant doesn't have reporters from newspapers, magazines and 24-hour-a-day cable channels hanging on his every word.

Taylor, perhaps, is the greatest linebacker to play the game, but it shouldn't be too much to ask him or any other athlete to follow the rules off the field as well as on, and to hold him as accountable for that as for a missed tackle.

The pro football writers missed a great opportunity to say that a player's character should count for something. If nothing else, the good works that a player contributes to his surroundings ought to accrue some benefit to his record as much as his scrapes with the law should detract from it.

Steadman, Miller to the Hall

This year's induction ceremonies for the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame will have a Baltimore flavor, with John Steadman and Jon Miller being enshrined.

Steadman, one of a handful of writers and broadcasters who have covered all 33 Super Bowls, is a longtime local columnist, plying his craft for the Sun, as well as the now-defunct Evening Sun, News American and News-Post.

Miller, meanwhile, was the radio voice of the Orioles for 14 seasons until he left for San Francisco two years ago. He also calls ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" telecasts and last season called the World Series for ESPN Radio.

Hall nominees must be active for at least 25 years to be considered. The Salisbury, N.C.-based association also announced that CBS' Jim Nantz was named its national Sportscaster of the Year, and Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press was selected national Sportswriter of the Year.

Locally, Joe Platania, a veteran local writer and broadcaster, was named Maryland Sportscaster of the Year for his work on WCBM (680 AM), and longtime sports editor Joe Gross of the Annapolis Capital was tapped as the state Sportswriter of the Year in balloting conducted among the NSSA membership. The awards ceremony will be held April 26.

Making a change

The New York Mets yesterday bounced Tim McCarver from the television booth, where he had been perched for 16 seasons.

McCarver, who has a reputation for bluntness, was told yesterday that the team -- which recently moved its games from WWOR, its home since its inception in 1962, to WPIX -- would not pick up his option for this season, going instead with Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, perhaps the franchise's greatest player.

McCarver will continue as Fox's top national analyst, but he may not be able to land a gig with a local team for this year.

Week's ratings

The ratings for the top 10 most-watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore during the past week (R-Rating; S-Share):

Event Day Ch. R/S

Super Bowl Sun. 45 27.4/38

Super Bowl Sun. 45 18.0/27

postgame

Super Bowl Sun. 45 15.6/28

pre-game 5-6: 30

Md.-Wake Forest Sun. 54 5.6/12

Super Bowl Sun. 45 5.0/11

pre-game 2-5

UConn-St.John's Sat. 13 4.3/11

Figure skating Sat. 2 4.1/9

Millennium team Sun. 45 3.0/7

Super Bowl Sun. 45 2.9/7

pre-game 11-11: 30

Duke-N.C. State Sat. 54 2.9/7

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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