This, too, will pass if Ken Beatrice goes on the air and says, "Like everybody else, I had my dreams of playing big-time football and getting my doctorate and being a big shot in sports. It didn't work out that way for a lot of reasons, and now I've made the mistake of trying to tell you, my dear listeners, that it did in fact work out. Hey, it didn't, and I'm sorry for passing off my dreams as reality. It won't happen again. Now, let's talk sports."
The temperature of the pro-Beatrice, anti-Post letters in this paper today is solar. Most of our correspondents wonder why we were so critical of a fellow who does a harmless radio sports call-in show. "Must a radio personality be subjected to the same level of scrutiny (harassment?) as an elected official?" one asks.
Even my distinguished colleague, William Raspberry, writing on the pundits' page next to the editorials, came to Beatrice's defense early last week, speaking to Ken directly. "Hey I don't even care that your facts aren't always on the money. . . The sportswriters love to point out the times when you're wrong, but what do they know?"
Beatrice doesn't deserve the extensive, top-of-the-page treatment we gave him. The guy is not the 11 o'clock TV sports anchorman, the most recognized sports media person in a city. If Clenn Brenner with his $3.5 million deal decks Gordon Peterson on the air, let's do 100 inches with three pictures. If Ken Beatrice with his relatively tiny radio audience lets us believe he played football at Boston College -- when under examination he admits he played football only in a park league while he was attending BC -- that doesn't make him worth an inquisition.
The solar heat generated was expected. As in Boston, when Beatrice's facts were questioned in the newspaper, his listeners have risen up in anger. A news reporter at WMAL says the station has received "an unprecedented amount of mail speaking up for Ken, literally scores of letters, and only a single one negative."
Not at the length nor with the prominence given it, our story still needed to be written because at bottom we are dealing with credibility. The media are nothing wihtout it. I would have liked more examples of Beatrice's fast and loose play with facts. Such examples exist, primarily because Beatrice attempts the imposible two or three hours a night, six nights a week -- he tires to convince everyone he knows everything.
Even without such examples, the story was strong. It asked, in effect: If a man deceives you about his life, can you believe him about a linebacker's ability? Or is the whole thing even his "scouting service," a charade?
The sad part of this is that Beatrice has fallen for the idea that only an athlete truly knows what athletes are doing. He is saying by his deception, that a guy who played ball for BC can talk Redskin football better than a guy who played in the park while at BC . With his "doctorate" and his "scouting service," he can talk basketball better than the ordinary broadcaster.
Without doubt, listeners buy the act. For some reason, people want sportswriters or sportscaster to have been jocks. That's why Channel 9 ran those silly spots of Sonny Jurgens jogging, Frank Herzog playing basketball and Brenner on the mound. We even hear George Michael talking about how he broke his fingers as a soccer goalie and had his knees operated on. Tim Brant, we know, was a linebacker.
This Walter Mittyism isn't seen as necessary in any other part of journalism. Does anyone ask if David Broder ever ran for office? Is only an arsonist equipped to write about the Las Vegas fires?
But Beatrice fell for it when, in fact, he doesn't need the false indentity as a big-time college football player. All anyone in the sports media needs is credibility. cIt doesn't matter that I played high school basketball and college baseball if the readers of The Post find me wrong about the facts of the day's news.
The obligation of a sports journalist is not to say, "Believe this story, because, hey, I've got these spike wounds I can show you." The obligation is to report honestly and fairly. Part of my job as a columnist, and Beatrice's as a reporter/commentator, is to form opinions based on facts that the reader, in his innocence, will believe because I tell him they are true.
And once the reader/listener has reason to disbelieve our facts, we are in big trouble, whether we ever made a tackle or stole second in the ninth inning.
Occasionally, I wonder why I'm in sports when there are more important things I could write. Am I, at 39, wasting my time with kids' games? I read the distinguished Mr. Raspberry saying it isn't all that important that sports journalist deal in facts. Here is William Raspberry, a columnist of great common sense, saying that the certainty of sports is a fantasy escape from the confusion of real life. He says he doesn't even care if the facts are on the money.
He is saying it's okay with him if wekids in sports make up our stuff. All i know is that Tony Kornheiser, who did the Beatrice story, didn't make up a word of it.He reported the hell out of the story. And I am proud to be a sportswriter on a newspaper that practices real sports journalism.