We get letters. In an average week SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's readers write us hundreds of them. We get letters that praise stories, letters that probe issues and letters of the "Sir, you cur" variety.
"Each week the mail has a pattern of its own," says Associate Editor Gay Flood, who has sifted through a mountain of missives over the years. "But even within those changing patterns, there are things you can be sure of. If we run an article about Nebraska, we're going to hear from Oklahoma. If we say something controversial about Notre Dame, we hear it from all over the country. But articles on issues that affect life beyond the playing field, such as the environment, drugs and the problems of young athletes, always elicit the most thoughtful responses."
During her 26 years on our staff, Flood has also been our expert on fitness and sports medicine. She edited bridge for three years and researched the article "The Soft American," written by then President-elect John F. Kennedy. But nowadays, her main assignment is to pore over the mail and select the most interesting letters for 19TH HOLE (page 70 in this issue). Flood has no set criteria for choosing the letters that will run in the magazine, because she prefers to make her selections according to the tone of the mail itself. "I really do try to let the readers take over," she says.
Flood has occasion to phone many letter writers and generally finds them to be enthusiastic and sensitive, with strong points of view. Occasionally she comes across a correspondent who hasn't quite gotten everything he wanted to say to SI off his chest. Not all the letters we run, after all, are flattering ones. "I've never hesitated to phone unhappy readers," says Flood. "Challenges keep us on our toes."
Sometimes Flood hears from readers who think the mails are the only way to communicate, and that can present a problem. Recently she received an intriguing letter from a correspondent in rural Connecticut who had no published phone number by which she could contact him for necessary clarification. Flood enlisted the aid of a state trooper, who tracked down the reader and asked him to contact our office. "I think he was a little surprised by that approach," says Flood.
Though she's never written a letter to an editor herself, Flood believes that reader-editor correspondence is "very important. More people should write, because their opinions help to effect changes in our society."
Flood, who enjoys water sports, lives in a Hudson River community near a boat club co-founded by her grandfather, William C. Dycker, who, among other things, was a notable ski jumper. Her mother, Lucy, taught her to ski, and her father, Ned, played a little football at the University of Florida under James A. Van Fleet, later to be a four-star general. Gay studied English and philosophy at Smith. When she was graduated in 1957, she thought she had a job at The New Yorker. "But when I went there," she says, "they told me that the position was filled—coincidentally, by another girl named Flood." It was SI's fortune to benefit from this overflow of Floods. Besides, Gay probably wouldn't have liked that other magazine. It doesn't even have a letters column.
FLOOD ENJOYS LETTING THE READERS TAKE OVER