The biggest sports stories don't always make SportsCenter or SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. They aren't televised or telestrated. They seldom induce Jimbo eruptions, in which whole stadiums are overrun by Jim Nantz, Jim Gray, Jim Rome, Jim Lampley, Jimmy Roberts and James Brown. No, the biggest sports stories don't make all the papers, and often make only one: yours.
All sports, like all politics, are local. So the big sports story on a recent morning in Poughkeepsie was not the Oscar De La Hoya welterweight tide defense, played on page 6 of the Poughkeepsie Journal sports section, but a Page One piece on the three consecutive no-hitters thrown by a divinely named local on the John Jay High School softball team, Tara DiMaggio.
The same day, 5,000 miles away, the Honolulu Advertiser ignored DiMaggio, downplayed De La Hoya and led instead with the story and a photo of a bare-buttocked Hawaiian called Fiamalu Penitani, who sumo-wrestles in Japan under the name Musashimaru. The night before in Tokyo, Musashimaru had defeated fellow Hawaiian sumo star Akebono to win the Emperor's Cup. Musashimaru's is a much bigger belt than De La Hoya's, certainly in a literal sense.
Somewhere between Poughkeepsie and the Pacific Rim, mat very weekend, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette snubbed Fiamalu Penitani and front-paged the professional fishing tour event in Memphis, where all the talk was of Arkansan Mark Rose and his Scale Mary finish, in which he caught four bass in the final 45 minutes of angling to finish fourth on the day. The Spurs-Lakers NBA playoff series, featured on NBC and the cover of this magazine? It was on 6C, near the ad for Skeeter fishing boats.
That's a news judgment with which the editors of the Anchorage Daily News would surely have taken exception, as the folks in Arkansas didn't go nearly far enough. In Alaska they put the NBA on page 8 and published a lovely, 35-page, full-color fishing supplement suitable for one's coffee table.
The point is, if a national magazine writer wants to know the hearts and minds of American sports fans, he has to leave his plush New York City office, buy two dozen out-of-town papers at the corner newsstand and return to his plush New York City office. Only then can he see that America is just the sum of its parts, in which case a big American sports story is the retirement of Earl P. (Mickey) Duffy as Wheeling (W.Va.) Central High School athletic director (pages 3 and 4 of the Wheeling News-Register), much bigger than the Chicago Bulls' winning the NBA draft lottery (page 5).
This is what the people want. The Omaha World-Herald publishes letters to the editor on the front page of its sports section. On a recent day the correspondents included Monroe Brunt, Mrs. E. Haines and one Otis J. Seals Jr., all of whom sound—to judge strictly by their names—like veteran authors of letters to the editor. Of eight missives published, seven were about local issues, as when a man protested that the World-Herald had blithely ignored a high school trapshooting meet in Doniphan, Neb., a "wonderful recreational" activity involving children and firearms at a time when "the news media literally drowned the public with all the hype about Littleton." (Literally?)
All of which is to say that the next time a TV network or a national magazine literally drowns you in NBA and NFL coverage, your local paper—with its Tara DiMaggios, its Monroe Brunts, its Earl P. (Mickey) Duffys—will bring you back to life. Real life.