Coach's Corner

"Sports•writ•er: a person who writes about sports, especially for newspaper."-- The American Heritage Dictionary

Well okay, I guess I fit the bill. But I'd amend this by adding, "a person who writes about sports for a living." I'm a mongrel hybrid. For me, it's a hobby. A real sportswriter wakes up and goes downtown to his desk, where he puts in a full day studying sports stuff. On Monday night, it's his job to watch Monday Night Football. On Saturday afternoon, he needs to see Ohio State play Michigan. On Saturday night, it's his job to cover The Beavers. For a part-timer like me, it's a different world. I have, you understand, a real job also. It's not that hard a job, I'll admit, but still it does, inconveniently, take up quite a bit of time. Once it was a pleasure to read the sports page. This is something every fan can relate to. But now, as a part-time sportswriter and less-than-part-time-talk-show-host, the sports page dynamic has changed. I force-feed myself three sports sections every day. I rip into our nation's finest dailies, consciously embarrassed at how fast I discard the real news. Los Angeles could have slid into the Pacific, a glacier may have covered Minneapolis, and an Aleutian Eskimo might now be investigating the President, but unless the disaster in L.A. was mentioned in the context of a canceled Dodgers press conference, unless the network feed from the Metrodome went black as the fast-moving glacier overran the satellite truck, unless the Eskimo owned the Braves, I'd never know.

I once fancied myself a well-read fellow, a modern day renaissance type guy. Indeed, I subscribed to Newsweek, The New Yorker, Esquire, Discovery Magazine, and GQ. I understood economic problems in Hong Kong. I read dense, 10-page movie reviews about "films" I'd never dream of watching. I'd peruse clever features about famous people. I knew about black holes in far-away galaxies. I was learning how to match ties and shirts. There was a time when I could carry on a fairly high-level conversation about something other than NBA labor strife. But my world has changed.

Newsweek was the first to go. The guilt I felt as the untouched magazines piled up was too much. The New Yorker was a short-lived experiment, basically conceived, in retrospect, to impress a brainy girlfriend. I still get Esquire. I quickly scan the table of contents to see if Mike Lupica's column is there. If it's not, I toss it on the coffee table. It's never opened again.

Three sports sections a day is too much of a good thing. Sports Illustrated is read, workmanlike, cover to cover. ESPN's Sports Magazine takes the place of Newsweek. A deadly dull publication called Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal replaces the equally colorless, but thicker New Yorker. For fun, I gag down Longhorn trivia from Inside Texas, an off-center Longhorn newsletter that fills me in on the diets of UT noseguards. I scan the Internet reading ESPN Sportszone and CNNSI twice a day, desperate for a Chronicle or radio topic.

All spare time is now devoted to sports, and that's not the worst of it. My car radio habits are so embarrassing, I try, like any kind of self-respecting addict, to hide them. I was once a normal person. I listened to music on the radio. I thought of myself as a hip sort of guy. A little rock. A little classical. No more. Compulsively, obsessively, constantly I listen to what is surely the lowest common denominator in the discourse of Americana: sports talk radio. I flip from KVET to KFON, from the Fabulous Sportsbabe to the Pressbox. Jim Rhome and the Jungle to Papa Joe Chevalier. I'm mortified when someone else is in the car with me and the radio comes on. I feign surprise; I don't listen to this shit.

Last weekend, every real sportswriter in Central Texas was at the Baylor/UT game, but not me.Texas was a 17-point favorite, so in the name of "relationship building,"I surprised Kelly with dinner at the Four Seasons. And a lovely time of relationship building it was, until I overheard a waif-like busboy named Elan, about three tables over. Judging from disconnected hand gestures and spastic facial ticks, the busboy was clearly agitated. The words "Texas" and "losing" drifted through the elegant dining room. A pang of guilt, more painful in my belly than a stuffed cabbage, overcame me. What have I missed, I thought, as I frantically waved Elan down. Texas is losing? "You got to be kidding," I said to the busboy, way too loud, "Williams broke his ankle?" I moaned. "Is Applewhite still in the game?" Elan said he'd find out and promised to keep me informed. Our evening lost a little of its soft focus.

In character, I was overwhelmed with guilt, while Kelly, who actually bleeds a little orange, was distressed. It was I, after all, the expert "sportswriter," who assured her that we could go out tonight. Baylor would be an easy W. Outside, gathered around an old, red Ford pick-up, stood the entire Four Seasons valet parking crew. The game blared through the open doors and windows. We stood around while Ricky Williams scored two TDs in a few seconds. Not far away, 80,000 fans roared. I read all about it the next morning.

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