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Can't shy away from controversy

Here's why my Darren Daulton story had to be told

Posted: Friday April 28, 2006 2:48PM; Updated: Friday April 28, 2006 2:48PM
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Darren Daulton
Former Major League catcher Darren Daulton offered some controversial thoughts in a previous column.
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Dear Mr. Lidz,

I am a minor league baseball writer from Philadelphia, and while I respect you very much, I do not understand the reason you even wrote the recent article on Darren Daulton. I cannot imagine the humiliation his family must feel and how upsetting it is for them to see him like this. As a writer, I understand putting out there what is compelling, but as a beginner, I felt this article only taught me what I would not want to present to the public. I just don't see what purpose it served. Just my opinion.

Respectfully, Jessica


Here's my take: Darren Daulton is a public figure who doesn't shy from the public eye. He works as a coach during spring training, where he expounds his beliefs to anyone and everyone. Those beliefs -- as wild or insane as they sound -- are actually shared by millions of people, including one of my former girlfriends and half of California. In fact, the shelves of bookstores groan with tomes about the occult and supernatural phenomenon.

The fact that Daulton -- or anyone else -- espouses this stuff doesn't necessarily mean he's mentally ill. If he were as passionate about Christianity or some other "acceptable" faith, I doubt you would have written your e-mail. In this country, people who hold common beliefs for which there's no rational justification are called religious; otherwise, they are likely to be called mad, psychotic or delusional.

OK, so should a sportswriter not write a story in deference to an athlete's estranged wife? (My own wife advised: 'Write the story. It'll help her divorce case.') I'll try to answer this question by posing one: Can a sportswriter be a fan? Hmmmmm...

I'll tell you this: You can't be a fan if you want to be a good interviewer, because your job, as a British journalist once wrote, is to "cut through all the dazzle and distance of stardom and meet as equals." This, she said, has nothing to do with minimizing an athlete's achievements, and everything to do with not wanting to diminish the reader. The stance you adopt as a writer is the one you put your readers in, she argued; grovel, and the reader is forced to grovel, too. Personally, I believe that if journalism doesn't offer to say the unsaid (if not always the unspeakable), then it's little more than PR.

Sportswriters, I've found, rarely ask impertinent questions. And if they don't ask the questions, they don't get the answers. Here's a little advice on how to read the average sports story: Skip the quotes. They're almost invariably predigested -- and often prewritten -- for mass consumption. I cannot tell you how many times I've seen herds of 10 or 15 sportswriters huddled around an athlete, tossing him the same softball questions and fielding the same softball answers.

It's not that these scribes are lazy, though that's definitely a factor. It's more like there's little percentage in angering an athlete, a coach or an editor who has preconceived ideas about what an athlete should say. The funny thing is that in the days of Babe Ruth, sportswriters hardly ever talked to athletes -- the writers invented all the athlete's quotes in the club car.

Many athletes increasingly see a sportswriter's presence as some kind of gross intrusion, which, in the age of 11-second sound bytes, it is. At the same time, intrusive is about the last thing most sportswriters want to be. Charlie Rosen, a former basketball coach in the Continental Basketball Association, once told me: "Sportswriters just want to be part of a team, an event, accepted as one of the guys. They're just a bunch of whores. I always tell my players: Call any reporter by his first name and he'll eat out of your hand."

Is it any wonder sports pages are stuffed with solemn, humorless stories about great guys? Solemnity -- not to be confused with seriousness -- is a dead giveaway to the fact that the writer of this solemnity has things dead wrong.