Last Night's Winner: Whatever's Left Of Sportswriting's ConscienceS

In sports, everyone is a winner—some people just win better than others. Like Dave Kindred, who the other day threw some heat at Mitch Albom's bean and gave us moderate hope that the sportswriting establishment isn't completely out to lunch.

Not long ago, you might remember, the Associated Press Sports Editors gave Albom its Red Smith Award. That the folks in the APSE — along with Indiana University's National Sports Journalism Center — would give an award to the guy on whom they once compiled this lengthy dossier is bad enough. That they'd then let the preening homunculus climb on stage and harangue the profession about accuracy and egos and the perils of encroaching cynicism is even worse. A braver industry would've thrown Albom out onto the street years ago. This one gives him a plaque.

All the coverage of Albom's award merely genuflected at his feet — he sells lots of books in airports, after all! — and no one wanted to mention the fairly germane fact that the guy fondling his rosary beads over the state of sportswriting is the same person who once wrote a column in which he MADE SHIT UP. (Now, I should say here that there is a long and occasionally distinguished tradition of journalists making shit up — without a little embroidery, the New Yorker once upon a time would've been three cat cartoons and a long essay about wheat — but Joe Liebling, to my knowledge, never went around loudly proclaiming his own rectitude, and Joseph Mitchell never committed any atrocities like Five People You Meet in Heaven.) Dave Kindred spoke up on Friday, at long last, and if he didn't quite raise the hell his headline promised, he at least scored points for laying out what should've been obvious already (and for implicitly taking aim at his own outfit). Writing for the National Sports Journalism Center's web site, he cited Albom's infamous exercise in time travel:

Trouble was, neither Cleaves nor Richardson made it to the game. Not in their MSU clothing. Not rooting for the dear old Spartans. Not by plane, train, or riverboat had they been delivered to St. Louis. They'd told Albom early in the week that they'd be there, then they changed their minds.

That meant Albom had written as fact on Friday a Sunday column leading with events of Saturday that never happened.

Note to journalism students: This is known as fiction. It can get you expelled.

I'll take it — as will our pal Charlie Pierce — but Kindred leaves out a lot of things when you wish he'd just nail the full 95 theses to Mitch Albom's head. He could've mentioned the time Albom crossed a picket line during the Detroit newspaper strike (which was perhaps the last stand of closed-shop newspapering; the unions lost in a rout). He could've mentioned all those overwrought "One night. One town. One bullet. One kid." columns that Albom hands out every Christmas like a holiday fruitcake and that elevate ambulance chasing into a genre. He could've mentioned the Happy Meal theology of Albom's books that would've made Jonathan Livingston Seagull want to fly into the nearest wind tower. He could've mentioned the craven Detroit Free Press editor who spiked an unfavorable review of Five People You Meet in Heaven lest it offend the petulant haircut a few offices over. He could've mentioned how Albom, as much as anyone not named Mike Lupica, turned sportswriting into something to be done in the spare moments when he wasn't sitting in ESPN's green room. Albom is the embodiment of every bad instinct in sportswriting, and yet the people who should know it better than anyone have fallen all over themselves to give the guy an award he doesn't deserve any more than I deserve a Fields Medal. One night. One profession. One award. One jackass.

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