This is not just another story about “Johnny Football”


Many sports news readers are probably sick, by now, of the off-field exploits of Texas A & M Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel, a.k.a. “Johnny Football.” Maybe not so much if you are a die-hard Texas Longhorns fan or supporter of other Southeast Conference schools.

Note: If you give even one little hoot about this story, this “Outside The Lines” story by Wright Thompson is a must read.

My first journalism job was writing sports for my hometown newspaper. I liked some sports although my closest rub with playing was as an equipment manager in junior varsity football — although I also helped during varsity games — and was varsity basketball manager. I lettered in basketball though I never played a quarter. Two of the four fingers and toes I have broken in my life came from pick-up games of basketball, so I know some of the danger of sports, although that would be later in life.

I knew less about writing sports stories in high school than I did about playing them. I did know how to read, fortunately, thus I borrowed my style for writing from the local sports writers of the day. This was some 40 years ago. I am sure I have a copy somewhere, but I am horrified to read it for fear it had to be awful. Then again a friend gave me a great compliment on an article from those days that made me think about writing and writing for others in general.

Arthur has been a friend of mine since grade school when we played cops and robbers — actually Bonnie and Clyde but pay no attention to the gender issue we were just kids. I saw Arthur at a class reunion several years ago. Arthur played most of the school’s sports but he was particularly good in baseball. He told me: “You know I have a story you wrote about me playing baseball.” I found that odd that he kept it. I told him it must have been terribly written. But he said it was good. Besides, the fact he kept the story around for 40 years must mean something.

My friend’s keepsake reminded me how journalists, such as I, have an impact on others that we seldom ponder.

Sports reporting has changed immeasurably. If I was advising a young journalist who eyed a sports-writing career, I would tell him or her to read the great sports writers — everyone from Red Smith to Dan Jenkins to Rick Reilly — and I would likewise tell the budding scribe to study police reporting. The latter suggestion seems cynical or an attempt at humor but it is my authentic advice.

Fortunately and unfortunately, sports writing has melded into more specialized  journalism, like, say, environmental and military reporting. I pick those two beats because they were my specialties at one time.

But I also wrote up a police blotter item – during my time as a crime reporter — about a young guy busted for evading arrest. The young dude was allegedly smoking pot when the cops rudely interruped a party he was attending. The perp happened to be a talented running back for the Division I school in my town. But he also had a history of legal troubles. He was suspended from the team and I couldn’t tell you what happened to him after that.

Even “game stories” have changed, some for the better, and others for the worse.

It is unfortunate that the omnipresent media — from 24/7 cable to Twitter — seem to focus on the bad in sports. It is the reason I advise budding sports writers to learn how to read a police blotter, learn about the criminal justice process while doing the regular investigating that is part of a job in journalism.

At the same time, we are fortunate that sports news of today educates the public on the more serious matters of sports: Performance-enhancing drugs, the long-term medical effects of sports such as concussions from football, even collective-bargaining agreements. All of these are wrapped up in your newspaper, Web page or on a TV-teleprompter.

The modern sports news consumer is tremendously informed about sports and all that surrounds it compared to the trite phrases I would write about games — the Ws and Ls — when stringing for my hometown weekly. It’s evolution. But it isn’t always pretty. That’s why I try to avoid seeing my sports articles from 40 years ago.