Monday, December 27, 2010

Gender equity in sports thanks to Title 9 has given women much deserved opportunities in athletics.  But news that ESPN has decided to launch a website directed at women sports is something of an eyebrow raiser.  But it does raise the chicken or egg argument.  If the sports leader builds it, will they come?

I decided to write about this because I've been chuckling about all the grousing about the supposed lack of coverage of UConn's remarkable run of 89 consecutive wins by its female basketball team.  Trust me folks, the Huskies' winning streak has received far more coverage than UCLA's 88 game run by its men back in the 1970's.  I repeat, UConn has gotten much more exposure than UCLA.

Remember, ESPN didn't exist back in 1974 when Notre Dame ended the Bruins' streak.  There was no FOX sports, no CNN, UCLA got most of its due from Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News, both print publications.  UConn has gotten a ton more coverage than UCLA did simply by the fact that a lot that the media landscape has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 40 years.

But I'm not sure that the appetite for sports coverage of women has.  Granted, more women than ever participate in sports.  It's up almost 500 percent in the last 40 years according to a publication I read.  But participation doesn't equate to consumption of the product in my view.

Women have come a long way in terms of their athletic ability.  The college game is fundamentally sound at the top levels, but only among the very best teams. It's a game played below the rim.  equate with consumption of women targeted sports coverage. UConn's women are at best like watching a very good high school boys basketball team.  Sorry, but it's true.  You really have to be a connoisseur to appreciate women's basketball.

Before you rag on me I enjoy watching women compete in track and field just as much as I enjoy watching men.  Women running a sub 4:00 1500 meters is just as exciting to me as watching men run the same race under 3:30.  Basketball is different than just running, jumping, or throwing a shot, discus or javelin.  The athleticism exhibited by men on a basketball court is often jaw dropping.  You rarely go oh my when watching the same game played by women. 

I guess the point of all this is that a website targeting women athletics or even a magazine like the failed Sports Illustrated for Women seems like a tough nut to crack.  The financial scale of the Internet leads me to believe that ESPN can make it work.  But it would shock me if it became any kind of massive financial success.  The WNBA is a ratings disaster for the world wide leader.  But then again, who would have thought that a website like Dyestat, which targeted high school track and field, a truly small audience, could end up being attractive to an industry leader like ESPN.  But then again, ESPN has messed that up too.

True Grit

When I first heard that Hollywood was serving up a new version of "True Grit" I thought, why?  When I heard the Coen Brothers were at the helm of this re-make I thought hmmm.  I remember seeing the movie as a teenager in Abilene, Kansas and loved every minute of it.  The epic gun battle where Wayne grips his reigns in his teeth and shoots it out at a full gallop really began my love affair with this larger than life movie star.

I remember Oscar night in 1969 hoping that Wayne would win the Oscar and how touching it was to see such a big screen hero turn soft with a statue he probably didn't deserve.  But watch his movies that he made with John Ford and tell me he didn't deserve an Oscar for his epic anti-hero in "The Searchers" or for his role in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", but I digress

So this afternoon I went to see Joel and Ethan's effort to bring "True Grit" to the big screen.  They made a movie that couldn't have been made in the late 1960's.  Nevertheless the Coen's managed to make another great film.  The acting is superb.  Jeff Bridges is wonderful in the role made famous by Wayne and his supporting cast is so much better with Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, and Hailee Steinfeld, than the original cast, it's not even the same movie.

And true to their nature as film makers, the Coen's bring the grit to "True Grit."  Are these guys the best filmmakers over the last 20 years or what?!?  Go see it, I think even the Duke would agree if he were still around, it's a great flick.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Road Trip

I jumped on I-80 and headed west last night deciding to abandon work for a little Kansas basketball.  It was a shockingly easy drive to Berkeley and a surprisingly easy ticket.  The game was nowhere near a sell out and Kansas fans easily made up one-third of the crowd. 

It would be my first chance to watch the Kansas Jayhawks in person against the Cal Bears at the Pete Newell Classic.  It was K.U.'s first game at Cal since Wilt Chamberlain wore the crimson and blue.  Right from the beginning I thought I had traveled back in time.  I hadn't seen play this rough since the mid-1970's since players like Al Eberhard and Jim Kennedy roamed the baseline for Mizzou and Ernie Kuysner did the same for Kansas State.

It was all because of this guy, Jorge Gutierrez.  He's easily the dirtiest player I've seen play in person in more than a quarter of a century.  He pushes, grabs, shoves, and in one instance, tried to bar arm choke his opponents.

The first instance I noticed followed a slight push he received from a Kansas guard Elijah Johnson.  Gutierrez responded by riding Johnson across the lane up underneath Johnson and then flopping when Johnson tried to back off.  The play worked and Johnson got whistled for the foul.

Then when Thomas Robinson got tagged for a flagrant on Gutierrez what the officials failed to take into account was the two handed shove then the arm wrap that he used to draw Robinson's ire. 

The incessant grabbing and pushing continued and climaxed when as Gutierrez lay on top of Robinson on a held ball he shoved his forearm across Robinson's throat.  How he didn't get tossed for this move is beyond me.

Now I write all of this knowing full well that the Morris twins are no angels.  They like to mix it up.  Marcus let his emotions get the better of him when he finally threw an elbow at Harper Kamp.  What you couldn't help but notice was that Kamp and fellow Bear big man Markhuri Sanders-Frison continually shoved all three Kansas bigs every time there was a contested rebound and were continually going over the back for rebounds without getting called for it.  In fact on the elbow play Kamp came running down the lane and tried to shove Marcus out of the way which resulted in the first swing of the arm which was followed by full contact.

The Pac 10 needs to take a good look at Gutierrez and his play.  If he continues to play like this he's going to get an ejection or two before seasons end.

Though rattled Kansas never succumbed to the poor officiating and the physical play.  Josh Shelby has shown that Xavier Henry won't be missed.  Shelby wants the ball and isn't afraid to take the big shot.  He's Sherron Collins but five inches taller and a better outside shot. I'm not sure that this Kansas team is capable of a big run this year but there's no reason why this squad can't make another trip to the Sweet 16.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mr. Roberts

Television news is a rough and tumble business.  The hours are unpredictable, you work way too many holidays and the pay is atrocious.  Yet you get to work with and meet the most interesting people along the way.  Along the way in my crazy patch work of a career a few people served as role models.  Mike McDonald, Jim Overbay, Gary Long, and Mary Cox come to mind.

Constant readers of my blog know that Mike was my news director for many years.  He worked tirelessly at trying to mold my managerial skills.  Jim Overbay was the assignment manager at KMBC when I first started in TV news and his ethics and unflappable nature always struck me as a sort of journalistic North Star.  Gary Long was the anti-Overbay, with a crazy, manic, approach to managing.  But his genius was his self-assured approach to decision making.  Mary Cox was just the smartest one in the room.  I can't find enough adjectives to describe how great she is so suffice to say Mary's amazing.

 But I don't think I would be the producer that I am without having come across the man pictured on the left.  Gerry Roberts was the very first producer I ever worked for.  Gerry along with the human dynamo Jerry Plantz both tutored me at KMBC.  But Gerry was special because he was so multi-talented.  Mr. Roberts as Pam Freund and I always called him, could report, run the desk, produce a great newscast, and run the entire newsroom.  I bet he could have run a life truck if needed.

After I left KMBC in 1979 Gerry stayed on at the then #1 station in town only to watch it slowly slip into the market's bottom slot.  He left for KYW in Philadelphia in the mid-1980's when the then NBC affiliate was a complete train wreck.  He tried to help Mike Sullivan turn it around as the assistant news director.  After the station ended up spitting him and Sullivan out Mr. Roberts landed back in Kansas City.

Our paths crossed again at WDAF in the early 1990's for a short time.  He worked the assignment desk and his presence served as a strong reminder of the what it took to be a great television journalist.  Unfortunately KMBC didn't wait long to snatch him back and he was back at the #1 station in the market.

Gerry served the last several years as the station's assistant news director.  It wasn't unusual for Mr. Roberts to roll up his sleeves and produce a newscast.  I'd be willing to bet he is the only AND in a top 30 market at a #1 station who could do that on a consistent basis.

I always treasured our relationship.  Gerry never hesitated to call or email with either a question about a possible hire or just to inquire into how life was treating me.  I don't think Mr. Roberts had any idea how much it meant to me that he trusted my judgment.

Mr. Roberts is calling it a career on Friday, December 31st.  Kansas City is losing the best television journalist it ever produced who didn't serve as a news director or sit at an anchor desk.  The community is losing a treasure.  Fortunately for me, I still have a touchstone that reminds me that you must always do whatever it takes to get the job done.  Thank you Mr. Roberts.

Editors Addendum:  If you think I'm kidding about the producing, Mr. Roberts is producing on Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Gift

I've been working for 32 Christmases or so.  I can say that most of the time the television stations I worked at rarely held a Christmas party and often gave a turkey or a coupon to the grocery store as a Christmas gift or "bonus."  In those 32 I received one "bonus" and it was a nice one when I worked as a news director at WPSD in Paducah, Kentucky.  And my old boss at KVLY in Fargo, Charley Johnson, always scheduled the Christmas part in January at the beginning of the budget year to make sure it didn't get cut and always offered great door prizes.  But a lot of years there no gifts and no parties.

Besides the bonus the best gift I can remember getting was a wristwatch at a station Christmas party when I worked at KTSP in Phoenix.  It was a cheap watch but I still have it though I've never worn it.  It makes for a nice memento, especially since the call letters are no longer in existence.

News10 held a Christmas party which was great from what I heard.  But I was recovering from a nasty sinus infection and couldn't drag myself off the couch to attend.  Nevertheless the station did give out the best holiday gift I've ever gotten from an employer other than cash.
I've been so busy with work and dealing with another illness (I won't bore you with the details) that I haven't even gotten it out of the box.  But as I laid around my apartment staring at the box tonight, completely worn out from a lack of sleep and a long day at work, I couldn't help think about the double-edged sword that this particular gift represents.  It's a not so subtle reminder that this is an item we should carry with us at all times in case we come across a news story.  Still, it's a heck of a gift.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

And it's Cold Too!

This priceless photo arrived at my email in box at work.  Cold weather has finally come to Florida and as you can see the Czarina doesn't believe in turning on the furnace.  It's a nice look at our office as well.  I especially seeing my Bob Dylan poster above her right shoulder and a signed picture of Alberto Salazar over her left.  The good new is that she's going to doctor to get her toe looked at and hopefully get some help for our plantar fasciitis.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Suffering Czarina

The Czarina is the toughest person I've ever known.  She will work herself to exhaustion and come back for more.  I realized it when shortly after our marriage she took out a patch of thick vines along the back of our house on a hot summer afternoon.  When I asked her what in the world she thought she was doing our response was, "Now you know why the Russians won the war!"

It wasn't long after that the Czarina took up running.  Within a few months she became a great running companion, often pushing me in our workouts.  Without telling me in the weeks leading up to the St. George Marathon the Czarina was suffering with plantar fasciitis.  Shortly after her return to Florida the pain in her foot became unbearable, the Czarina even resorted to using a cane to aid her in walking.  I can only imagine the pain she had been dealing with leading up to the marathon.  If you've ever had plantar it's no picnic.

Much to her chagrin the Czarina hasn't been able to run on a consistent basis since early October.  To add to her misery she bumped her foot into a door jam two nights ago.  Given her description of the pain and the color of her foot I advised her to go to the doctor.  She refused.  Tonight I got a tearful phone call because she did it again.  I scolded her for not going to the doctor, who would have probably put the injured foot in a protective boot.  She promised to go to the doctor tomorrow. 

It just goes along with the time I told her not to go up on the ladder to cut a tree limb by herself, immediately ignored me and went out and broke her wrist.  I think if you looked up the word stubborn her picture would be next to it!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Nice Surprise

More than four months ago I committed to running a leg of the California International Marathon.  I was going to join the gang that invited me to take part in the Eppies race last summer.  The marathon went off this Sunday morning but not without a week of worry leading up to it.

I developed a nasty sinus infection early in the week.  By Wednesday my head felt like it would explode because I was so stuffed up.  I finally gave in on Friday and went to a doctor who prescribed me antibiotics.

The other issue was the weather.  Our meteorologists were promising a weekend full of rain and cool temperatures.  So the prospect of running a little more than seven miles feeling like crud in cool, rainy, weather didn't sound too appealing.

But miracle of miracles the weather started warming up on Saturday.  And while working Saturday night I actually started to feel good again.  Even though I was short on sleep because of work I got up at 6:30 a.m. to 50 degree temperatures and clearing skies.

So I made it to my relay spot at 7:40 a.m. and waited about 20 minutes or so for our first team member to arrive.  Steve Holmes, our captain of sorts, had told me that he had given me the toughest leg.  I thought he merely meant longest because it measured at 7.6 miles.  It turned out to be the toughest too!

I never knew there were this many hills just a few miles from my apartment.  It was unending up and down for the seven plus miles.  I was worried because I haven't been running much since St. George, but I managed a steady 8:20 pace.  I focused on catching the pacing groups that were in front of me hoping to make it all the way up to the 4 hour gang.  I missed catching them by about a minute but I was pretty happy all things considered.

The surprise came when I got home and was informed that we had won our team category.  I suspect the high school athlete we had running anchor reeled in a few teams to help out the cause.