Keeping "Keeping Things In Perspective" In Perspective: Hacky Sportswriting In Response To The Japanese DisasterS

Every time some awful tragedy happens—natural disaster, terrorist attack, swine flu—a handful of idea-starved sports hacks sprint to their keyboards or their microphones and unfurl some drivel about how "this really puts sports in perspective."

So we have this delight from Joe Buscaglia at WGR 550 AM in Buffalo, seeing the NFL's labor dispute in the cold light of the devastation in Japan:

The fact that these two sides are too stubborn to even extend talks without going directly to court for the common good of every person in America is incredibly infuriating. And because it's a $1 billion dollar pie that they can't decide how to split up evenly, the every day common person like you and me are left wondering why it is we even support the league with alot of our time and energy.

And it coming on the SAME EXACT DAY that a devastating earthquake and tsunami combination ravaged Japan, killing hundreds with even more missing is even worse. Here's an idea for your billion dollars that you can't seem to agree on. How about sending it over there for relief efforts. How about sinking it in to the national debt if you don't like that idea? Anything could be more constructive than what you're doing right now.

Or this (literally titled "Earthquake puts sports into perspective"), from Amanda Rykoff at ESPNW:

But it all feels small and unimportant right now in the wake of Friday's devastating earthquake, which caused a tsunami that struck Japan and is rolling through the Pacific region. The ACC and Big Ten tournaments are on right now and I just can't watch. I'm riveted to the news.

[...]

I lived and worked in Tokyo during the fall of 1996. My immediate family is in California. As much as I love sports (and you know that I do), the NFL labor talks and how many tournament bids the Big East conference gets seem unimportant.

Make no mistake: this stuff is no better than the hackery over at Bleacher Report. These writers are pimping the suffering, too, but taking refuge on the safer side.

Buscaglia made a compelling bid to be the worst of the lot, heaping on the stupid. We have the illogical, quasi-informed political comment ("sinking it into the national debt"), the rapid-fire redundancies ("SAME EXACT DAY," "$1 billion dollar"), the populist appeal ("the common good," "the every day common person like you and me"), and the Japan shit.

But Rykoff's "in perspective" template, plus the solipsistic aside that goes nowhere ("I lived and worked in Tokyo during the fall of 1996"), puts her column somewhere beyond Buscaglia's. Even better, Rykoff's fellow ESPNW columnist Sarah Spain kneecapped her today with this response to Cappie Pondexter's tweets:

Look, I know it's tough to make it through life without offending ANYONE, but what isn't tough is to learn from the mistakes of others. If a handful of people have already been lambasted for their insensitive comments on a topic, it's just plain common sense to avoid it. So for all the athletes, coaches, sportswriters and anchors out there who aren't smart enough to know better or perceptive enough to learn from past incidents, here's a short list of topics that should never, under any circumstances, be used to describe a sporting event, its players, or its outcome.

Her preliminary list: Nazis/the Holocaust/Hitler, 9-11, slavery, natural disasters, war. She writes, "There are a dozen or more topics that deserve mention here, but this is a blog, not a term paper." (Bleacher Report's new motto?)

Spain uses metacommentary to talk about the things she tells us we shouldn't talk about: clever. But things aren't so simple. It's not that Pondexter was criticized for talking about Japan; she was criticized for talking stupidly about Japan. She said they deserved the earthquake. Likewise, Paul Shirley wasn't canned for talking about Haiti. He was canned for being stupid about Haiti, for roasting a devastated, impoverished country as if it were a Saturday night at the Friars' Club.

As Rykoff's column proves, you can get away with breaking Spain's rule so long as you don't say anything too offensive or jarring. But she is exploiting the disaster for her own ends just as surely as Pondexter was, even if their means of expression differ. What's your flavor: racism or crocodile tears?

But here comes Tom "Turby" Turbiville, at WTAW News/Talk 1620 (your source for news and information around the Brazos Valley!), chiming in for the win:

Unbelievable that it was just seven years ago that the two A&M basketball teams combined for "one" conference win. Now both teams are going to the NCAA Tournament for a sixth straight year!
Perspective!!

I was watching Aggie basketball tonight and at halftime switched over to CNN and saw video unlike I've ever witnessed from Japan. It's indescribable. The human suffering certainly put the basketball game in perspective. The country that we bombed and regarded as an evil empire 70 years ago is today in our prayers.

But how 'bout them Aggies?

This writing really puts things in perspective, you know? A comma splice here, a Hitler reference there, it could all be so much worse.

Earthquake puts sports into perspective [ESPNW]
Screw You, NFL [WGR 550]
"TurbyTalk" [WTAW 1620]