Mourning McNair, Jackson tragedies

Former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair was killed on the Fourth of July. Truly a tragedy.
Former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair was killed on the Fourth of July. Truly a tragedy.
The more details come out about Steve McNair’s life and final days, the sadder the situation becomes.

There are many things to take away from the last week of celeb-craziness, hysteria, fame, infamy and alleged adultery. While the entire world mourned the loss of Michael Jackson, many sports fans and those who work in the industry found themselves mixed up in a tragedy too close for comfort.

These are the dog days of summer.

While initially annoyed by the response and attention Jackson received, I was overcome with sadness by the reaction of his only daughter, Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson, crying out that her daddy had been “the best father you could ever imagine.”

These aren’t the times to be a curmudgeon. Not when folks are hurting.

On Saturday, the sadness came instantly. For while McNair didn’t have the same impact Jackson did globally, and while he didn’t carry any of the baggage that the King of Pop claimed, he was by all accounts a standup dude, and that warranted a moment of pause.

As investigators determine whether he died by the hands of his girlfriend, Sahel Kazemi who also was killed, or some third party, I think of his four kids as well. He only managed to get to 36. Still young. Still lively. Still destined for greatness. And unable to see his boys become men.

We can argue McNair’s merits for the Hall of Fame, his stature as one of the greatest black quarterbacks ever, or why he was mixed up with a 20-year old mistress, but somehow all of it feels so wrong.

The worst part, we may never know the complete details despite the openness of the Nashville, Tenn., police department.

“It may be we’ll never know exactly why this happened,” police spokesman Don Aaron told the Associated Press, referring to the rising media interest in the case.

Kazemi had purchased the gun used in both of their deaths and the police department is trying to determine if this is a case of murder-suicide, although there are no signs that point to any troubles between the two.

Meanwhile, McNair’s wife, Mechelle McNair, was apparently unaware of the affair. Again, as details dripped out, it was difficult to stomach the news. He had allegedly told Kazemi he was divorcing his wife, and yet she had no idea.

When this week is over, and all of these bodies are buried — Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Billie Mays included — it’ll be a good opportunity to look to the people around you and really consider what it means to lose someone you love. And then, what would it mean for them to lose you.

As Jackson has shown, with McNair following, no matter what transgressions may have occurred in their lives, it doesn’t take away from what they aspired to be. I’m sure if we dig long enough, we’ll find plenty of skeletons in each of their closets. But do we want to?

I don’t.

Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in The Union.

10 ways to improve online sports journalism

I was just put on to this guy, Mark Luckie, who runs the blog 10,000 Words. It deals with online and multimedia journalism. Very cool content.

Anyways, Luckie has this article about how to improve online journalism, right up my alley in the industry. I absolutely think it’s a great read.

Here’s one way he had to improve online sports journalism:

2. Map it — Sports games are great candidates for mapping because they can happen anywhere in the world or, in the case of the New York Times’ 21 Stages of the Tour de France, all over the country. An equally interesting map was created by The Charleston Gazette for the Charleston Distance Run and the basketball court maps from Nofouls.com and Courts of the World are worth checking out.

By all means, check it out.

Some thoughtful words on Tim Lincecum

Tim Lincecum

Grant at McCoveyChronicles.com, a sports blog nation blog on the San Francisco Giants, lists his 10 reasons why the he’s not worried about Tim Lincecum after his faulty two starts to begin the season. There’s some gems in the list. Particularly:

7. Young pitchers are a static, predictable group without a propensity for wildly fluctuating performances. “If a young pitcher is good one year, he’s always good the next.” – Bill Jaymes, the well-known Dutch baseball analyst and author of The Bill Jaymes Baseball Abstrakt.

Also:

4. The fielding behind him has been atrocious. There’s no guarantee that the fielding will get better, mind you, but it seems like every miscue this season has led to runs. There will be at least some margin for error.

Check out his full post at the blog. I just joined the blog (as a fan) and I’m currently waiting for the 24-hour moratorium to end before I can post any comments. For some reason, the exclusivity makes me think it’s really cool. I could be wrong. But so far, I love the insight. That says something, right?

Betting on disclosure

The biggest dilemma any sports writer can go through nowadays — besides facing the chopping block — is figuring out whether or not he or she should draft the local star on their fantasy sports team.

Hell, figuring out if the writer even wants to put some money in a fantasy sports league in the first place is a situation in need of conflict resolution.

I’ve discovered very simply that it’s easy to bypass the ethical boundaries of the job at hand when you’re somewhat distant from the subjects in which you “fantasize.” But the worry that folks like myself, beat writers and others in the industry should have is considering when the fun ends and when the price of playing the games affect the way the sport is covered.

The honorable answer is that journalists, particularly those in sports, should hold themselves to high standards and forego the urges of taking part in the office Super Bowl pool, March Madness brackets and withhold from gambling on the sports books— especially when it comes to teams which the writer may cover.

From my standpoint, not playing is killing the golden goose and that just sounds crazy to me. I’m having way too much fun playing fantasy football, picking the over-under on the Super Bowl and putting my two cents (literally) on who’ll win the NCAA championship. This year, I’ve expanded to fantasy baseball and I’m planning on taking all of my friends money. What other way can a sports writer make extra dough in these tough times?

But my conscience eats at me.

I twittered during my fantasy baseball draft how I drafted Tim Lincecum fourth overall, No. 1 on my team. Lincecum, the defending National League Cy Young winner and the San Francisco Giants opening day starter, is more than deserving of the generous draft position. But he’s also a guy I’m more than likely going to write about 15 to 20 times this year. And if I’m not going to be writing about him specifically, I’m going to be diving into the great and terrible underbelly of the Giants clubhouse. It’ll be magnificent. And it’ll be a quandary.

Herein lies the dilemma: Am I rooting for Cy Young Tim, or am I providing commentary on the Giants? As I noted before, distance is a factor. I’m not writing 162 gamers on the team, therefore I have no issue that a Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle might, but the worry is that it may affect what little I will write about the team and even the pitcher.

After consulting with the Society of Professional Journalists ethics committee, there are lines that need to be drawn in the sand. The first starts with transparency. Readers should know who a writer is betting on, whether it’s on the hometown team or against it. I think you would want to know if I dropped a grand against the Sacramento Kings. Even if it were the smartest bet in the world, I wouldn’t be surprised if it offended our readership. It would be best to not go down that path.

The fuzzy area is how the betting and fandom trickles down to the pools, particularly fantasy sports. As a sports writer, do you root for Manny Ramirez because you have him as your left fielder? When the Dodgers play the Giants, do you secretly wish he homers off of the hapless Barry Zito? Do you feel guilty collecting the money, knowing you didn’t take any Giants or A’s on your team? Do you feel like a cheerleader, knowing you have five Giants or A’s on your squad? (I’ve got three.)

Andy Scholtz of SPJ’s ethics committee told me in short, there needed to be a separation of church and state, although there’s wiggle room depending on position and proximity to the coverage.

“Can you separate your rooting interests from your profession,” Scholtz asked. “A columnist is paid to have opinions. You want to let people know if you have a particular interest.”

My interests are simple: Go Giants; go 49ers; go Warriors. Any questions?

I work in the belief that being a fan makes me a better sports writer and that influence will undoubtedly make me a more interested and gracious person to cover our professional sports teams. It undoubtedly keeps me sane.

Whether I make money off of it in the extracurricular, is just icing on the cake.

This column originally appeared in The Union.