The biggest sports stories don't always make SportsCenter or
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. They aren't televised or telestrated. They
seldom induce Jimbo eruptions, in which whole stadiums are
overrun by Jim Nantz, Jim Gray, Jim Rome, Jim Lampley, Jimmy
Roberts and James Brown. No, the biggest sports stories don't
make all the papers, and often make only one: yours.
All sports, like all politics, are local. So the big sports story
on a recent morning in Poughkeepsie was not the Oscar De La Hoya
welterweight title defense, played on page 6 of the Poughkeepsie
Journal sports section, but a Page One piece on the three
consecutive no-hitters thrown by a divinely named local on the
John Jay High School softball team, Tara DiMaggio.
The same day, 5,000 miles away, the Honolulu Advertiser ignored
DiMaggio, downplayed De La Hoya and led instead with the story
and a photo of a bare-buttocked Hawaiian called Fiamalu Penitani,
who sumo-wrestles in Japan under the name Musashimaru. The night
before in Tokyo, Musashimaru had defeated fellow Hawaiian sumo
star Akebono to win the Emperor's Cup. Musashimaru's is a much
bigger belt than De La Hoya's, certainly in a literal sense.
Somewhere between Poughkeepsie and the Pacific Rim, that very
weekend, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette snubbed Fiamalu Penitani
and front-paged the professional fishing tour event in Memphis,
where all the talk was of Arkansan Mark Rose and his Scale Mary
finish, in which he caught four bass in the final 45 minutes of
angling to finish fourth on the day. The Spurs-Lakers NBA playoff
series, featured on NBC and the cover of this magazine? It was on
6C, near the ad for Skeeter fishing boats.
That's a news judgment with which the editors of the Anchorage
Daily News would surely have taken exception, as the folks in
Arkansas didn't go nearly far enough. In Alaska they put the NBA
on page 8 and published a lovely, 35-page, full-color fishing
supplement suitable for one's coffee table.
The point is, if a national magazine writer wants to know the
hearts and minds of American sports fans, he has to leave his
plush New York City office, buy two dozen out-of-town papers at
the corner newsstand and return to his plush New York City
office. Only then can he see that America is just the sum of its
parts, in which case a big American sports story is the
retirement of Earl P. (Mickey) Duffy as Wheeling (W.Va.) Central
High School athletic director (pages 3 and 4 of the Wheeling
News-Register), much bigger than the Chicago Bulls' winning the
NBA draft lottery (page 5).
This is what the people want. The Omaha World-Herald publishes
letters to the editor on the front page of its sports section. On
a recent day the correspondents included Monroe Brunt, Mrs. E.
Haines and one Otis J. Seals Jr., all of whom sound--to judge
strictly by their names--like veteran authors of letters to the
editor. Of eight missives published, seven were about local
issues, as when a man protested that the World-Herald had
blithely ignored a high school trapshooting meet in Doniphan,
Neb., a "wonderful recreational" activity involving children and
firearms at a time when "the news media literally drowned the
public with all the hype about Littleton." (Literally?)
All of which is to say that the next time a TV network or a
national magazine literally drowns you in NBA and NFL coverage,
your local paper--with its Tara DiMaggios, its Monroe Brunts,
its Earl P. (Mickey) Duffys--will bring you back to life. Real
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAVID GOLDIN