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From the Editor’s Desk: The cathedral of sports writing

22 January 2014 By Jonathan Munshaw, Editor-in-Chief No Comments

Any mass communication major has had a discussion in their MCOM 101 class that attempts to answer the question “What is journalism?”

As a journalist, I like to think that journalism is a noble occupation that aims to bring the public the truth.

But being a journalist also offers those who write or appear on TV to make a real statement about something, in an attempt to hopefully change people’s minds about something through their reporting and writing.

Over our winter break, sports writer Dan Le Batard didn’t write a long column to try to do this. He didn’t go on Pardon the Interruption to talk to Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon. He handed over his baseball Hall of Fame ballot to the anti-ESPN sports website Deadspin, which is owned by Gawker.

He didn’t sell it to Deadspin, he simply offered Deadspin readers the opportunity to vote on who they think should be on the Hall of Fame ballot, and Le Batard agreed to fill out his ballot as readers saw fit.

All in all, the Deadspin readers did well with their picks, and voted for all three of the players who ended up making it in (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas).

Le Batard didn’t make out so well. Pundits, writers and personalities (including his colleagues at ESPN) ripped on him. Not everyone did, but most did.

After Le Batard came out as the writer who had handed over his ballot to Deadspin writers, his Hall of Fame voting privileges were revoked, and his membership to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America were suspended for a year.

Le Batard explained his move by saying to Deadspin that “…I always like a little anarchy inside the cathedral we’ve made of sports.”

And who is one of the perpetrators of creating that cathedral? The BBWAA.

These “elite” sports media members were mostly in favor of Le Batard’s punishment. Bruce Hooley of ESPN Cleveland said that, “By handing his Hall of Fame vote to the internet site, Deadspin, which polled its readers and then voted with Le Batard’s ballot, LeBatard resorted to tactics beneath even the most spoiled child on the playground. Rather than take his ball and go home, Le Batard brought a whole bunch of kids along to disrupt the game by playing with a completely different set of rules.”

Hooley has a point here that Le Batard was trying to create a new set of rules, but doesn’t it take someone trying to shake up the rules to actually make change?

I do have respect for the writers in the BBWAA. Most of them are very talented writers and analysts (Buster Olney being one of my personal favorites), but there is no doubt that the cathedral that Le Batard spoke of consists of some of these same writers.

Although I have interest in both sports and news writing, I would like to one day make a career out of covering sports. But I would never want to be one of these writers that rips one of their own for trying to make a change.

Le Batard has a great point. There are baseball fans who could vote for the Hall of Fame just as well as someone who works for ESPN. There are potential voters who could look past the dumb unwritten rule that there should never be a unanimous Hall of Famer ever again.

Wilbon and Kornheiser were both critical of Le Batard’s move, which is fine. You can be critical, but don’t completely disown a writer who has the credentials of having his own show on ESPN and being a columnist for the Miami Herald.

Just look at Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News who Tweeted, “Tard is a perfect way to end the name of the look-at-me specialist who sold his HOF vote to @Deadspin.”

First of all, Le Batard didn’t sell his vote, he just handed it over. No money changed hands. Second of all, that’s a really classy Tweet.

Sure, this issue has kind of blown over since it first came about since it happened a few weeks ago, but sports writers should have used this as an opportunity to do some reflecting.

We are sports writers. We don’t cover politics. We don’t cover war. We cover games. These games do mean more than anything to a lot of Americans, which is why I chose to become a sports writer in the first place.

But these games completely pale in comparison to some of the reporting that freelance journalists are doing in foreign countries who are at war, and organizations like the BBWAA need to stop acting like being a baseball writer is some God-given gift that needs to be treated as such.

If you want to suspend Le Batard for breaking the rules, then fine. But what do they gain from just removing his vote entirely and not having a real discussion about the point that he was trying to make?

Baseball writers now the Hall of Fame voting process is messed up, but instead of trying to change it, the BBWAA just kicks out anyone who tries to point out these issues.

If the BBWAA wants to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen in the future, it needs to stop constructing the sports cathedral that Le Batard wanted to shake up.

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