My good friend Marc David is a journalist, author, avid runner (he has an outlandish, blows my mind, years long streak of consecutive running days without a day off), cross-country coach, teacher’s aid and traveler. When he learned that The New York Times killed its venerable sports section and shipped the body parts to its online site, The Athletic, Marc wrote the piece below. It’s a short poignant reminiscence about his years as a sports writer, the death of The New York Times sports section and the demise of sport journalism in general.
When I think of the New York Times, I think of a sports department teeming with legends. I think of Red Smith, Dave Anderson, Michael Katz, Roy S. Johnson, William Rhoden, George Vecsey.
I think of a young sports writer in the 1970s approaching Red Smith at a National League playoff game at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and introducing himself. “Mr. Smith. My name is Marc. I just wanted you to know how much I enjoy reading your articles. It is great to meet you.”
Today, the Times sports department is a thing of the past, swallowed whole by The Athletic. The Times purchased The Athletic eighteen months ago, so it is not as if those perusing the seminal newspaper’s website will go sports-less … they will be guided to another website. Still, this is the latest blow to the written word and another in a long line of counter-punches that have rocked the newspaper industry since many readers chose the Internet to get their (sports) news.
It is a sign of the times. Thirty-six years ago, I had to make a choice of taking a sports editor position at a small Caribbean daily or becoming a copy editor at the Arizona Republic. I opted for the former. Today, even if I was 36 years younger and infinitely more talented, I doubt whether any newspaper offers would come my way.
Most of us have learned to adjust. It’s a brave new world we live in today. I still write sports articles occasionally for newspapers. However, I no longer consider myself a newspaper journalist. I gave that up 11 years ago.
Those of us who were weaned in newspaper offices throughout the country have found other endeavors to keep us busy and fulfilled. In my case, I have chosen working as a teacher’s aide with special needs elementary school students and coaching high school cross country. Hey, we do what we need to do.
While I no longer feel the urge to write newspaper articles, I still enjoy good writing and appreciate the journalists that can put their thoughts into words. Sports to me has always been a great escape from our daily grind, and I feel fortunate to have been a part of the newspaper industry during its glory years and to have met some of the best journalists of the last half-century.
Gene Williams, my sports editor for nine too-short months, was as talented as anyone I met in the industry. He impressed me when he spent a day at Rahway State Prison interviewing wrongfully convicted middleweight boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and putting to words a lengthy story that was a must-read. Jack McCallum went from a relatively unknown (but extraordinarily talented) sports writer for the old Bethlehem Globe Times to the NBA writer for Sports Illustrated.
I sat next to Howard Cosell in Houston during the Larry Holmes-Randall “Tex” Cobb heavyweight title fight. After Cobb absorbed a brutal beatdown but refused to be knocked out, Cosell swore off covering boxing. I shot pool with Dave Anderson at Scott LeDoux’s home in Minnesota a couple of days before he fought Holmes for the heavyweight title.
Boxing writers Michael Katz and Royce Feour (Las Vegas Review-Journal) were friends. I shared quarters with USA Today writers David Dupree and Mel Antonen at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Blair Kerkhoff went from a general assignment sports writer at the Roanoke Times to a lengthy and stellar career at the Kansas City Star.
I wouldn’t trade those years at newspapers for anything. While it is nice to reminisce, I like to remain in the present and think about what I can do for others in the future.
Still, I took time today to think back and remember all the great writers that I was privileged to meet and work with after reading about the seismic shift at the New York Times. Things and times change and we need to change along with them.
Those of us who are of a certain age and enjoy the games of summer, fall, winter and spring will always remember the iconic New York Times sports section and the great writers who wrote for it.
In Teach Your Children, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young told us “the past is just a goodbye.” The New York Times sports section wasn’t just a good buy. It was words we lived by.