Editorialists arrive after the battle, kill the wounded

January 18, 2004|By G. Jefferson Price III | G. Jefferson Price III,Perspective Editor

Readers of this column who noticed my byline on a news story in the Maryland section of the newspaper Friday may wonder if I am a reporter again.

That hasn't happened, though it certainly would not be an insult. Reporters are the mainstay of any newspaper. They are the true warriors in the battle for truth and enlightenment. Opinion writers, as Ray Jenkins, former editor of The Evening Sun editorial page once relayed to me, come in after the battle and kill the wounded.

If an opinion writer comes across news, there is an obligation to get it into the paper immediately. This news happened to reach me while working on a tongue-in-cheek column about the idea that lacrosse should replace jousting as the officially designated state sport of Maryland - a subject that arouses intense emotions among a select group on both sides. In researching the column, I discovered that state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, historically - and still - a powerful supporter of the jousters, would submit a bill designating lacrosse as the state "team" sport, sharing the limelight with jousting. This was news - competitive news at a certain level - so we put it into the paper.

If I were to go back to reporting, rest assured it would not be to the sports staff, because I don't know enough about sports. Much of my schooling in the days when I was obliged to play sports was in England, where I was sent while my family lived in Europe. So, I ran in track events and played rugby enthusiastically and successfully; and soccer and cricket - not enthusiastically and decidedly unsuccessfully.

Cricket is a national passion in Great Britain and its far-flung former dominions. But I found it boring and would occasionally fall asleep in the outfield during interminably long innings. Corporal punishment was still a primary form of discipline in English schools then. So the consequences of being caught sleeping when an enemy ball drifted overhead, could be painful. Under the circumstances, I was taken off the team and sent to keep score. Falling asleep during that task had even worse consequences. So I was assigned to flatten the playing pitch with a huge and heavy roller. No sleeping during that odious task.

Back home in America, I had no interest in football, which seemed a pretty barbaric sport played by men who had no necks; nor in baseball, which seemed as boring as cricket.

But in 1977, all that changed. I married Anne Catherine Hargaden, the daughter of Edward J. Hargaden, an All-American, Georgetown University of Fame basketball player and legendary coach and athletic director at Loyola High School, where the football field is named after him.

By the time I came into his life, Hargaden, who died in 1987, had retired from his long and victorious career as a teacher, coach and mentor at Loyola. He was head of the Maryland Scholastic Association. Quite apart from knowing nothing about sports, I was 11 years older than his daughter, who had only graduated from Georgetown the year before, and he viewed me with great suspicion.

But we soon became good friends and also soon we gave him grandchildren, three boys and a girl, all of whom became athletes and sports fanatics. My daughter, Mary, played soccer and lacrosse and made the varsity lacrosse team at Seton-Keogh High School in her freshman year. My sons, Arthur, John and Sebastian, played varsity football and lacrosse at Loyola and all went on to play lacrosse in college: Arthur at Georgetown; John at Holy Cross, where he was elected captain of the team just before his death in 2000, and Sebastian, who is on the team at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.

There was some irony in the grandsons of Ed Hargaden playing lacrosse on a field named after him at Loyola. In his time, Hargaden had banned lacrosse because he felt - quite accurately - that it would attract athletes away from baseball. More than once I would overhear an older fan at a lacrosse game at Loyola denounce Hargaden for that.

Now I live in a family that is all sports, all the time. During the recent holidays, the television was tuned to one football game after another - no matter whether a Maryland team was playing or some other from a place no one knows about it. It seemed that for two weeks a football game was being played somewhere in the land at every moment. One bowl followed another, endlessly. When I get a huge bill from Comcast and threaten to cancel the cable service, shrieks of protest go up because the household would lose access to ESPN.

By sheer osmosis, I now know enough about football, lacrosse and baseball to be an enthusiastic fan of my children or when professional teams I care about are playing, which limits it to the Ravens and the Orioles. But I do not know enough to be a sports writer. I also do not know enough to suggest that a coach or a referee, or a player, has made an egregious error which must be denounced in the loudest, vilest terms.

That tendency - passionate, vulgar, demeaning and humiliating - seems to have become a regular part of sports among spectators in America at every level, from the peewees to the pros. At the scholastic level, it is highlighted by parents who seem to completely lose control of themselves, abusing coaches, officials and players, who, in some cases, are their children. Not much fun in that. It did not happen in Ed Hargaden's day. He would not have tolerated it.

One thing I did learn in England was the importance of fair play, decency and magnanimity, especially in defeat. Those qualities have been challenged by the recent trend toward lager-loutism among British soccer fans. But, as my old masters there would have said, "It's just not cricket."

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