Presenting the Ultimate MSM Moron
Mark Whicker Leaves The Yard
By Tommy Craggs
Wed Sep 9 2009
I do not say this lightly: What you're about to read is the single worst piece of sports journalism ever committed to the page.
It is a column by the OC Register's Mark Whicker, and it begins thusly: "It doesn't sound as if Jaycee Dugard got to see a sports page." You'll recall that Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped at 11, impregnated and forced to spend 18 years of her life in her captors' backyard shed. Jaycee was freed last month, only to find that the world she re-entered was one in which a lazy sports columnist might crack his knuckles, sit down to his computer and bang out column about all the "odd things [that] have happened in sports" during the 18 years that she was living in a shed.
I've pasted the whole thing below, so one can appreciate the warp and woof of the single worst piece of sports journalism ever committed to the page:
You left the yard. Because what woman — having been kidnapped, impregnated and forced to spend 18 years of her life in a shed (no, Mark, that's deprivation) — wouldn't appreciate a little light punning about the whole ordeal? For my money, the hero here is the poor copy editor, who had the unenviable task of writing the headline atop the single worst piece of sports journalism ever committed to the page: "Many odd things have happened in sports the past 18 years." A fine choice — almost intentionally bland, as if to tell the reader, "Nope, nothing to see here, might I suggest you check out the lifestyle section?"
It doesn't sound as if Jaycee Dugard got to see a sports page.
Box scores were not available to her from June 10, 1991 until Aug. 31 of this year.
She never saw a highlight. Never got to the ballpark for Beach Towel Night. Probably hasn't high-fived in a while.
She was not allowed to spike a volleyball. Or pitch a softball. Or smack a forehand down the line. Or run in a 5-footer for double bogey.
Now, that's deprivation.
Can you imagine? Dugard was 11 when she was kidnapped and stashed in Phillip Garrido's backyard. She was 29 when she escaped. Penitentiary inmates at least get an hour of TV a day. Dugard was cut off from everything but the elements.
How long before she fully digests the world she re-enters? How difficult to adjust to such cataclysmic change?
More than that, who's going to explain the fact that there's a President Obama?
Dugard's stepfather says she's going to need a lot of therapy - you think? - so perhaps she should take a respite before confronting the new realities.
So, Jaycee, whenever you're ready, here's what you've missed:
•Barry Bonds, who was just leading the Pirates to their second NL East title, wound up breaking Henry Aaron's home run record. How did such a skinny guy manage that? We'll deal with that later.
•Well, actually, some baseball players began taking drugs in order to hit more home runs and throw faster fastballs. Football players, who had cornered the market on most of their drugs, began driving drunk, slapping their wives, selling drugs, and killing people. The baseball players caught more grief.
•Michael Jordan did indeed win the big one, and five others.
•Yeah, this golfer really is named Tiger Woods.
•Stock car drivers now marry international models and are invited to the White House.
•Domed stadiums, like the ones in Houston and Minneapolis, are considered obsolete, or at least unfit for baseball.
•John McEnroe became a respected television analyst, just as tennis adopted a replay system that eliminated the need for McEnroe to argue.
•Magic Johnson is a billionaire businessman, and most of us have forgotten just why he had to retire.
•You missed absolutely no Servite victories over Mater Dei in football.
•Or World Series championship for the Dodgers.
•Or Stanley Cup championships for the Kings, even though Wayne Gretzky took them to the Finals in 1993.
•Mike Tyson now makes fun of himself in movies.
•The Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup in '07. Yeah, a hockey team came to Anaheim. Yeah, they built an arena in Anaheim.
•I know you've had trouble digesting all this so far, but they also built a basketball arena at USC. Honest to God.
•A guy from East L.A. named Oscar De La Hoya now makes boxing contenders rich and famous. Just as he did when he was boxing.
•The Angels won a World Series. When you learn who they beat, you'll understand why.
•Speaking of the Giants they did not move, but they did get a new stadium downtown. The Florida Marlins, who did not exist when you left, won two World Series and are getting their own ballpark. Even if you were there, it's hard to believe.
•For the most part, fans have stopped doing The Wave.
•In fact, you don't see many beach balls in Dodger Stadium or Angel Stadium anymore.
•The two NFL teams that we used to have? They've been gone for 15 years. You haven't heard anyone complain about that? Neither have we.
•Jackie Autry isn't in charge of the Angels anymore, as you might have surmised by looking at the standings.
•Joe Torre now manages the Dodgers, after a fruitful detour through New York. Tommy Lasorda? Sure, he's around. He hasn't called?
•You disappeared a couple of months before John Daly came into our lives at the '91 PGA. Who's John Daly? Never mind.
•Todd Marinovich showed why careers aren't played on paper.
•USC is one of college football's elite programs, three coaches later.
•The Red Sox won two World Series, which proves that history is bunk. The White Sox even won one. But not the Cubs.
•Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played but never threatened Vladimir Guerrero's record for most consecutive swings.
•One blessed constant remains: Vin Scully.
•And ballplayers, who always invent the slang no matter what ESPN would have you believe, came up with an expression for a home run that you might appreciate.
Congratulations, Jaycee. You left the yard.
Now, Whicker is not a bad columnist by any means. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt: Maybe he was having a bad day and decided to do what sportswriters often do when they're having bad days: throw a bunch of bullet points at the screen and channel his inner Hallmark card. Rick Reilly has become a very rich man doing precisely this sort of thing. But even Reilly has the good sense not to hang a few lame sports yuks on the story of a woman who was kidnapped, impregnated and forced to spend 18 years of her life in a shed. Jeebus. Let's hope the poor woman didn't see this sports page, either.
Nor has he figured it out yet. His later-that-day apology:
For Tuesday's Register, I wrote a column that clearly offended and outraged large portions of our readership.
It was not my intention to do so. But it's obvious that I miscalculated the effect the column on Jaycee Dugard, and the events that she might have missed during her captivity, had on those who read, buy and advertise in our newspaper.
For 22 1/2 years at The Register, I feel like I've had a good and direct relationship with our audience and I think most of the regular readers know how I go about reporting and commenting on sports.
This column appears to have disconnected that bond with at least part of our readers. For that I apologize.
It's impossible to unring a bell or to bring back a column that has already been transmitted. In many ways the damage is done. I'm hopeful that I can be forgiven for this lapse of professionalism by those who were affected most profoundly.
I'll try to earn back the trust of those customers in my future endeavors.
Again, I regret this incident and apologize to all concerned.
That same day - still
unable to figure it out:
This afternoon I e-mailed Whicker to ask him if he came up with the idea for the column or if an editor assigned it, whether he thinks his words run the risk of trivializing the kidnapping of Dugard, and what he thinks about the response.
Whicker's reply to my e-mail is below, in full:
1. It was my concept, which was to (1) celebrate the release of the girl and (2) show just how long 18 years in confinement really is, in the context of sports, which is something sports readers understand, presumably.. If you say "18 years" that's a little abstract and incomprehensible. If you say "Michael Jordan hadn't won an NBA championship yet," that's a little easier to fathom.
2. I don't think writing about something in a sports context "trivializes" it at all. The idea that sports writers should ignore the outside world went out a long time ago.
3. I am quite surprised by the angry tone of the reaction. Some have asked me why I didn't make light of the 9/11 attack or the Holocaust while I was at it, ignoring the fact that this woman is alive. For 18 years the family didn't know if she was or not. Obviously I mis-read the emotional component of this story because the reaction really has been quite extreme. I think the intent of the column was still valid. I could have changed some ways of expressing it to make it more palatable, I suppose.
If there's anything you can give Whicker credit for in this, it's that he takes complete ownership of the idea for the column. When I first read it, it struck me as the kind of piece that was written at an editor's direction, but no: Whicker says it was his idea, from concept to execution.
But if Whicker is surprised by the tone of the reaction, he shouldn't be. The Dugard case is a shocking, horrible story, and it's not at all surprising that people who read Whicker's clumsy attempt to use it as fodder for a sports column are shocked and horrified.
Update: Whicker has published an apology. He also e-mailed me after this post was published, saying, "Thanks for ripping me. I'm really happy I devoted part of this very hectic day responding to someone who had as little interest in my viewpoint as the crazies out there."