Sports sections just need to be more creative. The game story isn’t that relevant anymore. Sports is a 24-hour business and newspapers keep operating as if television doesn’t exist. We need to capitalize on what the other mediums can’t give you. ESPN is the most popular sports medium, but it only gives you snippets. Newspapers can still give you analysis and insight because we’re there when the cameras aren’t.
LCB: You wrote the following about ice dancing (while covering the 2006 Winter Olympics): “When death comes, you’ll agonize thinking about the time you wasted watching it.” And, “I know ice skating requires coordination, skill and timing, but so does picking your nose and that ain’t a sport.” You wrote this about Sheryl Swoopes, the WNBA star, coming out: “Sorry, but Swoopes’s coming-out doesn’t have enough shock value to make us learn anything. Lesbians don’t pose a threat and have a certain appreciation in a male-dominated culture. And sadly, the prevailing stereotypes of female athletes as lesbians will probably reduce Swoopes’s emotional admission to a raunchy, tasteless joke by the end of the week. The only way we’re going to address homophobia in sports is if Peyton Manning, the NFL’s MVP last season, makes a similar disclosure. Or Brett Favre. Or Michael Jordan.”
Which of your columns has provoked the most passionate feedback from readers? Why do you think it struck a chord?
JH: I didn’t really catch flak for the ice dancing or the one about Sheryl Swoopes. The columns that generate the most response are always the ones you don’t expect. When I ripped ice skater Sasha Cohen for her terrible performance [at the 2006 Winter Olympics], that drew enormous response. My voicemail was full. I was Lucifer to most people. And I naively thought readers would agree with me, that Cohen choked. But I forgot most people were getting the sugary-sweet NBC version of what happened. And no matter how old they are, we tend to always see figure skaters as little girls. Anyway, they weren’t happy, but I found the whole thing sort of amusing.
And, of course, any time you write about race, people get incensed. I recently wrote a column saying that there is just as much evidence against Lance Armstrong as there is [against] Barry Bonds, and part of the reason there is this extraordinary benefit of the doubt extended to Lance is because he’s white. That’s not the overwhelming reason, mind you. Just a factor in the whole equation. I got a ton of mail about that one, even though I posed the racial element in the next-to-last graf of the column.
But I’ve pretty much heard every racist and sexist insult there is. That stuff doesn’t bother me because I know it doesn’t represent our total readership.
LCB: I noticed you dabbled in a bit of media criticism in a recent column about golfer Michelle Wie. You wrote, “Wie failed to qualify for the men’s U.S. Open, but the way it was characterized by many media types, you would have thought Wie was the Hindenburg at the Canoe Brook Country Club in New Jersey.” Can you elaborate on that, on which “media types” you were referring to and on what you think they were doing/do wrong?
JH: Well, the tone of a lot of columns and other pieces written about her were that she was this huge failure. It’s an understandable and justified opinion because of her talent and her track record of not closing out tournaments. But given her age and the short time she’s been a professional, it’s unreasonable to expect that she’s got everything figured out at 16. She’s still growing into her game. Plus, she owes it to herself to try to compete on the highest stage, which is the PGA Tour. What people fail to point out is that the PGA Tour is not a men’s tour. The language about who is eligible to compete is not gender specific.