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Longtime Listener
Steve Rushin
January 18, 1999
As a recent book tour proved, a sports-talk guest is all too often a silent partner
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January 18, 1999

Longtime Listener

As a recent book tour proved, a sports-talk guest is all too often a silent partner

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George Carlin, with whom I guested on a late-night talk show last week, gave the best advice I have yet heard on how to promote a book. "I wrote mine and forgot everything in it," the comedian said of his best-seller Brain Droppings. What, then, did he talk about on talk shows? Carlin shrugged and said, "You can't go wrong attacking God and children."

The fact is, you can say any blasphemous tiling you want as a touring author because nobody is listening, probably not even God. Trust me. While flogging my own sports book, Road Swing, around America these last 10 weeks, I have been the subject of relentless—one might say unprecedented—media inattention. A sportswriter in Milwaukee interviewed me for 10 minutes without allowing me even to speak. A radio host in Kentucky conducted a similar Q & Q: After five minutes I put down the phone, vacuumed my apartment and returned to hear him still in mid-monologue about the media's mistreatment of Adolph Rupp.

Occasionally I am allowed a few words. In a Minneapolis bookstore I delivered a 60-minute sermon on America's alarming obsession with sports, then grandly offered to entertain questions. An epic silence ensued, during which my armpits burst into flames, before a single hand finally floated up from the audience. The man cleared his throat and said, "Do you think relief pitchers should be eligible for the Cy Young?"

The same evening I suggested that America's alarming obsession with sports had reached its apotheosis with the election of a former pro wrestler as the governor of Minnesota. Six minutes later I signed a copy of my book to Jesse (the Body) Ventura.

The Body was until last July a sports-radio host. Hardly surprising, given his name: I have now discussed grave sports issues of the day with radio hosts named Coach, Common Man, Dark Star, Dream Weaver and—in Des Moines—the Round Guy. Each must be addressed as such on the air, so that you're made to feel as ridiculous as you do when forced to order, in a fast-food restaurant, the Char-Chicken Choco-Taco Mexi-Melt Fiesta Fingers.

On one station—I can't remember where; I'm guessing Deep South—I took a call from a man named Bump. I don't mean to suggest that all-sports radio is shameful, but why do the hosts and callers all seem to be using pseudonyms?

While flying to Los Angeles to promote my book—about America's alarming obsession with sports—I read that Houghton Mifflin has published an American history textbook for fifth-graders in which the Great Depression is given less space than the baseball career of Cal Ripken Jr. When I incorporated this fact into my spiel, most hosts and callers responded that Ripken's career has lasted longer than the Great Depression. Not all of them, I now fear, were being ironic.

I don't mean to complain. I am genuinely grateful to be America's guest, particularly on television, where authors are usually bused to a bad neighborhood called C-SPAN2. At least on TV you know where you stand. On any given talk show the author is always on last. This is an immutable law, an FCC regulation. Bob Costas recalls how self-conscious he felt about preceding eminent author David Halberstam on one program. A former late-night host himself, Costas foresees a day when the following teaser is read on a talk show: "Up next, Nelson Mandela. But first, Yasmine Bleeth."

Personally, I'd rather hear Mandela on the radio, addressing various Mad Dogs, Bulldogs and Bullfrogs. Heaven knows, this is one nation mat needs healing. And heeling.