Sportswriters tend to be gregarious. In fact, a number of them spend more time hanging out together than going after stories. Which is one reason they don't put the knock on one another in print. After all, you may be having your next free drink with the guy. Another reason is that they fear no one will care.
Larry Merchant, who writes a column for the New York Post, cares when the public is badly informed and couldn't care less what his confreres think of him. He's got other people to drink with. In a piece last week Merchant made history of a kind. He came out against what he called "the old ladies of the press," in general, and Arthur Daley of The New York Times, "the only Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter in creation," in particular. As Merchant has written elsewhere: "Hoo boy!"
The headline over Merchant's column was FIGHTSIGHT, which he defined as the "blindness that afflicts people who watch Muhammad Ali." Merchant went on to say that nature's way of correcting fight-sight is by hindsight. He gave as a for instance Jack Dempsey, who was reviled as a draft dodger and is now revered. And he told how time improved the Joe Louis legend.
Merchant also said that the old ladies of the press believe a heavyweight champ should embody certain virtues, and that since Muhammad Ali lacks these they feel he has betrayed their faith, and woe is Ali. "Thus," Merchant wrote, "we have the spectacle of Arthur Daley...blinking in disbelief at the antics of Muhammad Ali, in and out of the ring. Because Ali Baby is irreverent and immodest—fiery sins both—he obviously can't fight too well either." Merchant went on to quote a Daley sidebar on the fight, which ended up: "...it was a stinker in more ways than one." While he was at it, Merchant might well have questioned the lead on a Dick Young column in the New York Daily News, which began, "You'd be surprised how many people seem to think the Clay-Folley fight had a certain odor to it." All right, how many? Although, farther down, Young said the fight looked honest "on my [our italics] television set," right away readers are thinking the fight was funny. Fight fans feel that the Daleys and the Youngs know more than they're writing because of libel laws or something. And the implication is that Young wasn't looking at the right television set.
Merchant wasn't knocking the freedom of the press or the right to disagree. He was exercising both. (For a real workout, get a load of Jockey Bill Hartack on page 30.) In this case we happen to feel Merchant's on the right side, but mostly we're glad that he broke a long, fatuous silence.
For many years Texas A&M and SMU have played football in November. But this year they will meet on Sept. 16. Why? $88,440 for A&M and $88,440 for SMU, that's why. When ABC-TV asked them if they would be willing to play their traditional game at the end of the summer they thought about it for something like a tenth of a second.
The afternoon game undoubtedly will be played in fierce heat, but the young men who are having their characters built shouldn't mind that. In point of fact, they should be grateful that the folks in TV land traditionally take long summer vacations and aren't going to buy a piece of college football for Aug. 1.