Looking Back at Some Columnists from the Golden Age of Column Writing Who Inspired Me to Always Write from the Heart and Strive to Make a Difference

The other day as I was pondering, “over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,” as Edgar Allan Poe would say, I was reminded of some of the columnists who inspired me to get into the column writing field.

Throughout my career as a journalist I have written from the features desk, the sports desk, the news desk, the opinion desk, and pretty much any other desk that could be found in a newsroom. While I have written stories of all types and interviewed countless people, columns have always held a special place in my heart ever since I wrote my first column for my high school newspaper. From an early age I dreamed of one day becoming a syndicated columnist whose words were read coast to coast.

Growing up in Orlando, FL in the days before the internet, my exposure to columnists mostly came in the form of the Orlando Sentinel. The two columnists I followed the most were Sentinel columnists Larry Guest and Bob Morris.

Thanks to the newspaper arriving at my parents’ house each morning, I was able to read their columns while eating breakfast and getting ready to head to school. Years later, despite the availability of electronic forms of news delivery, my parents still receive a physical newspaper each morning.

Throughout my career as a journalist I have written from the features desk, the sports desk, the news desk, the opinion desk, and pretty much any other desk that could be found in a newsroom. While I have written stories of all types and interviewed countless people, columns have always held a special place in my heart ever since I wrote my first column for my high school newspaper.
Photo R. Anderson

If I trusted my neighbors to not steal my newspaper each morning, I would likely get a physical newspaper delivered to the Gigaplex.

There is just something about the tactile feel of folding a physical newspaper and getting ink transfer on one’s fingers as they read the paper.

Speaking of neighbors, Larry Guest, the long-time Sentinel sports columnist would always end his column of observations with a witticism from his fictional neighbor, Wolfgang. One such entry that I still remember all these years later is, “My neighbor Wolfgang sez he’s in shape. Round is a shape.”

While I do not have a neighbor named Wolfgang, I do have a neighbor named Niko. The other day my neighbor Niko asked, “Why is it that people will spend hundreds of dollars a year on virus protection for their computers, phones, identifies, and other devices, yet they refuse to wear a $10 mask to protect themselves and others from a virus called COVID-19?”

Why indeed, neighbor Niko. Why indeed?

Sports, like most of the rest of the country, are in unfamiliar territory thanks to the COVID-19 virus and the wide path of destruction that has killed over 202,000 Americans.

In the past, sports have served as a distraction to world events when tragedy strikes. In fact, the coliseum in Rome was built in part as a distraction to prevent civil unrest within the empire.

While I agree that sports have served to soothe the nation in previous times of unrest, it seems like the rush to return sports to full stadiums in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic is an attempt to return false normalcy while Rome burns and a man tunes up his fiddle.

Many sports columnists are taught in sports school that sports and politics should never intermingle just like the fans of the Cubs and White Sox know to keep to their sides of Chicago. However, it has become clear in the course of human events that keeping sports and politics separate in 2020 results in a fan base equivalent of ostriches with their heads in the sand since there are people who only read the sports news and ignore the other news of the day.

How much news to include with the sports is something I have struggled with this year. I am from that generation of journalists who were told that news and sports needed to be treated with the same level of separation as church and state.

Although that may have been the case in the past, this year in the middle of a global health pandemic, economic uncertainty, and social justice movements, one cannot just say that sports and news are two separate things.

Sports, COVID-19, and all of the other challenges we are facing in 2020 are strands of the same rope. A slew of recent events are trying to separate those strands, but the more one tries to pull on the thread the tighter the knot gets.

I am a journalist first and foremost and I would be doing a disservice if I tried to pretend that college football conferences who had delayed the start of their seasons reversing course and now planning to play is a good thing.

Shortly after announcing that restaurants and bars in Florida would open up to full capacity, and masks ordinances will no longer be enforced, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis showed further disregard for the COVID-19 pandemic by stating that it was his desire that the Super Bowl in February be held in a full Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. Sports writers have a duty to call out the foolishness of that statement in terms of public health instead of cheering the announcement as a return to sports as normal. Photo R. Anderson

I would also be remiss if I did not point out that opening all of the bars and restaurants in Florida to 100 percent capacity in the middle of a global pandemic is also an ill-advised idea.

Speaking of Florida, the tone-deaf remark the governor of Florida made about wanting a completely full Super Bowl in Tampa, FL is downright criminal.

Additionally, Major League Baseball appears to want to have fans in the stands when the World Series is played in Arlington, TX. Fans in the stands for the World Series basically cancels out any benefits the MLB gained by using neutral sites for playoff games.

To be clear, none of those things are good, and they all have the potential to make a bad situation even worse.

The COVID-19 virus thrives in large gatherings. As someone who was fortunate enough to cover a Super Bowl in person, I can attest that the Super Bowl is a week-long large gathering that would be the perfect storm for spreading COVID-19.

And a World Series with fans? Come on MLB you are better than that. Try to set an example of responsibility for once during your 2020 fly by night and make it up as you go 2020 season.

Going back to the question asked by my neighbor Niko, masks work. In fact, masks are one of the biggest defenses against the spread of COVID-19. Yet there are still people who refuse to wear masks because they think it infringes on their freedom.

As I have noted before, being dead because someone didn’t wear a mask infringes on freedom.

All of this is common sense, yet looking at some sports stories online some of the columnists are merely complaining about how much they miss full stadiums and how much the fans need to return. These same columnists also are cheering the aforementioned decisions of those college conferences deciding to play football despite no real improvement in the overall virus numbers that led to the postponement of fall sports to begin with. In fact, one could argue the situation is worse as many college campuses are having COVID-19 outbreaks which has led to the cancellation of many college football games.

Worse still, there are politicians who instead of trying to develop a national strategy for battling COVID-19 are doing victory laps for convincing sports leagues to return to action in an attempt to unfurl a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

No mission is accomplished. We are still very much in the thick of it. As bad as 2020 has been, unless people start taking things more seriously, 2021 will be just as bad. COVID-19 will not just magically disappear like a miracle when the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Besides Guest and Morris, other journalists that helped shape my columnist world view, were Bob Verdi, Red Barber, Red Smith, and Dave Barry. While I had the opportunity to read Verdi and Barry while they were still writing, my exposure to Smith and Barber came through books of their collected works and on the radio.

The columnists I grew up reading are mostly retired now. Since they are not actively writing, I have to wonder how they would handle the current conflict of conscience within the world of sports writing. Would they tackle the issues of 2020 with the tenacity of a hard-hitting news reporter, or would they jump on the bandwagon of let them play and fill the stands consequences be damned?

I want to believe that they would shout from the rooftops that there are more important things in life than sports and that sports will return when the virus is under control. Since they are not here to answer that question, I will answer in my own way and say, there is a time and place for full arenas and stadiums. The middle of a global COIVD-19 pandemic is not that time and place.

I miss injecting humor into my writing, but COVID-19 is no laughing matter. It cannot be ignored no matter how much people try to sweep it under the rug, or drown it out with crowd noise piped into empty Ballparks.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my neighbor Niko needs some help installing virus software to stop all of those trolls on the other side of the world from trying to hack into his computer.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

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