This week managing editor Bill Colson turns over this space to Jerry Kirshenbaum, a valued member of the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED staff for the past 28 years, the last 11 of them as an assistant managing editor. Kirshenbaum writes:
Long ago I wrote two lengthy pieces for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED on the subject of retirement and how folks were coping with its burdens and pleasures. I got the assignments shortly after I came to SI, from TIME, from then managing editor Andre Laguerre, who was soon to retire and felt certain he would be consigned to the scrap heap. After running the first story, Laguerre wanted something "more poignant," hence the follow-up piece. That one conveyed more of the pathos he had in mind. It was titled You Can't Put Out the Fire.
Now it's my turn to retire—after completing a sabbatical that I embark on this week—and while I don't share Laguerre's dread of spending more time at home, my wife, Susan, and son, David, may be experiencing some pangs. So, as SI's writers sum up 1996 (page 64), I find myself summing up a career.
For whatever reason, a lot of the most memorable stories I wrote or edited were downers. The saddest was the murder of 11 Israeli Olympians in Munich, which I reported while covering the 1972 Games. Later I was put in charge of investigations and Olympic operations, which led to my overseeing our coverage of the Ben Johnson doping scandal in Seoul in '88.
You can't spend three decades on any job without witnessing changes. Years ago SI spent a lot of time conducting lab tests to determine whether baseballs were juiced, but the bigger question has become whether the athletes are juiced. In the mid-1970s the success of East Germany's women swimmers prompted their U.S. rivals to accuse them of using anabolic steroids. As SI's aquatics expert I spouted (fortunately, not in print) that the Americans were guilty of sour grapes and predicted that 10-year-old schoolgirls would soon routinely achieve the same supposedly impossible times. I was right about the 10-year-olds but wrong about the grapes; it turned out that many of the East Germans had been on steroids.
I saw sports evolve from individual athletes holding out to leagues holding out (baseball strikes, football strikes) to nations holding out (Olympic boycotts). I saw the day come when players change uniforms so often that fans who root for the home team are, as Jerry Seinfeld says, "cheering for laundry." I've been at SI long enough to have seen a challenger win the America's Cup, somebody break Bob Beamon's long jump record and Northwestern, my alma mater, return to the Rose Bowl. But I figure it would be folly to wait around for somebody to eclipse Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. Or for Northwestern to win the Rose Bowl.