Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Weather is the bread and butter of local television news.  How stations manage a weather crisis can well position a news operation as the market leader for years ahead.  This weekend the three newsrooms that cover Southwest Florida missed the mark in the midst and immediate aftermath of major floods that swept through Lee County.

While the nation is transfixed on the events surrounding Harvey and the awful destruction the storm has brought to the Texas gulf coast, a tropical system sat atop Southwest Florida dumping copious amounts of rain over a four day period.  The street where I live floods about every five years.  After two days of rain, water covered the road in front of our home on Saturday.  I must admit I didn't give it a second thought.

Heavy rains on Sunday changed the equation, completely.  By 3 p.m. Sunday, water was lapping at the front of my garage and creeping across its floor.  Cars began stalling out in my neighborhood as fools attempted to drive through 18 inches of water.  I flipped on the television expecting to see some coverage of what I suspected was a flooding mess that was sweeping across the county.  What I didn't see shocked me.

I flipped through the five channels that one could view local news on.  NBC had NASCAR, CBS golf, FOX was showing NFL, ABC the Little League World Series and the CW had a movie on.  The only consistent crawl I saw was on ABC warning about the flood danger across the area.  Now mind you, flooding was rampant, not just in my little slice of the world.  Roads were covered with dangerous amounts of water over a large area.  Houses a mere five miles from mine were filling up with water.

I saw no cut-in's, no urgent warnings, nothing from the local media outside of pictures on my Facebook feed which should the unfolding disaster.  It wasn't until 6 p.m. when the NBC station finally hit the air that you had a sense that something big was unfolding because all of their main anchors were on the set.  The ABC station took the same tact at 6:30 p.m. as did the CW although all of their main players weren't on the air as one would expect.  The CBS station which owns the CW didn't hit the air until 11 p.m.

All we got from each station was a 30 minute slice of the flooding.  Worse still, it was a mostly light, fluffy, look at the high water type of coverage, outside of the evacuation of a nursing home.  Meanwhile in the Island Park area of Lee County, people were getting water in their homes.  That news really didn't come to light for another 24 hours.

I knew in my guts by 5 p.m. Sunday that this weather event was an all hands on deck type of event for local journalists.  It was as bad as a tropical storm, without the winds.   A tropical storm would bring wall to wall coverage yet none of the stations made the effort.  Fortunately the damage was only in terms of property and not in lives lost.  But Fort Myers news directors need to reassess their coverage plans after Sundays big fail.

Monday, August 14, 2017


USA distance running is back baby.  The latest ten day run of the World Track and Field Championships in London confirmed the success the United States enjoyed last summer at the Olympics in Rio.  American runners are snapping necks and cashing checks.

From 800 meters to the marathon, the United States scored medals.  The highlight of this spectacular success was Friday night's one-two finish in the women's steeplechase where Emma Coburn claimed gold and an American Record while Courtney Frerich grabbed the silver, also dipping under the old AR.  Going into the race Coburn, who won Olympic bronze in Rio, was considered on the outside looking in when it came to a medal.  Frerich wasn't even in the conversation. The one-two finish by these two remarkable runners may well be the biggest upset scored by an American distance runner since Billy Mills took gold at 10,000 meters in Tokyo at the 1964 Olympics.

When you add Evan Jager's steeplechase bronze American runners out medaled Kenya in an event they have traditionally owned.  Jager joined Coburn, Paul Chelimo in the 5,000 and Jenny Simpson in the 1,500 as repeat medal winners from Rio.  Simpson's wonderful dash to silver over the last 100 meters was certainly the second biggest surprise springing from the championships.  Her joyous post-race celebration was awesome.  The medal also stamped Simpson as the greatest championship middle distance runner in American history, man or woman.

Amy Cragg's bronze medal in the marathon was the third biggest surprise in London.  A bevy of Kenyans and Ethiopians were expected to sweep all of the hardware.  But Hastings put in a gut-busting run over the last half mile to snatch her medal from a Kenyan rival.

The other American medal came from Ajee Wilson who took bronze at 800 meters.  Wilson's performance put it just a couple of steps behind the American Record.  And given the controversy surrounding the two women who finished in front of her, Wilson could be a favorite for gold in three years in Tokyo.

The only distance where America was shut out was over 10,000 meters.  But a bigger disappointment was over 1,500 meters where a season of injury and health issues caught up to Rio gold medalist Matt Centrowitz.  His body betrayed him over the last lap of the qualifying heat and he finished dead last.

Those are small blemishes over an otherwise incredible string of races by America.  A seven medal haul in London is one better than the six claimed in Rio.  Overall team USA took 30 track and field medals, a fine performance indeed.

Saturday, August 5, 2017


They booed him.  I understood why they were booing him but I chose to cheer him.  I've always had a soft spot for Justin Gatlin and now he had dethroned the greatest sprinter in running history, Usain Bolt.  12 years after winning his first World Championship 100 meter title, the ancient one, Justin Gatlin, was again World Champion.

Gatlin had always struck me as a gentle soul.  When he captured 100 meter Gold at the 2004 Olympics, he was the polar opposite of the man considered America's best sprinter, Maurice Greene.  I liked Greene, a native of Kansas City, Kansas.  He often raced at the Kansas Relays and was a fun interview. 
So that explains this picture.  Sorry for the quality but I took it with my phone, as the photo itself hangs on a wall in my house.  If you look closely you can see Maurice Greene far behind Gatlin as they competed in a 4 x 100 relay at the 2006 Kansas Relays.

The photo was taken by my stepson Andrei, as I stood behind him and we watched this incredible piece of running together.  Little did either one of know that shortly after this race, Gatlin would be drug tested.  He was found positive for a steroid and banned from racing for four years.  At age 26 a ban of that length was tantamount to death penalty for his track and field career.

Gatlin claimed that after the race his therapist rubbed a cream containing testosterone into his legs causing the positive.  Now, I believe that a lot of world class track and field athletes use illegal performance enhancing drugs.  But there was always a small part of me that wanted to believe Gatlin's story.

Despite the badge of dishonor, Andrei had taken such a great picture, the Czarina and I agreed to have the print framed and placed on the wall.  We were both fans.  It was a special moment in history that I had witness. 

Nine years later I would be in Eugene at the Prefontaine Classic.  While catching up with some friends at Track Town Pizza, I spied Gatlin enjoying a slice with some friends across the room.  I don't usually approach athletes or any celebrity, especially when they are eating.  But I walked over and introduced myself and told Justin that I was a big fan.

I was struck by how small he is.  Gatlin is not especially tall and while powerfully built, he didn't have the pitbull body of his one time rival, Maurice Greene.  Gatlin was incredibly gracious and kind.  A warm smile floated across his face.  I wanted to tell him that his picture hung in my house and the race it came from but I knew better than to uncover old wounds.

Gatlin's return to the sport after his suspension offered little promise.  He looked lost.  Few meets wanted him.  When Gatlin did race he looked ragged.  Somehow by 2012 he was an Olympian.  He would spent the next five years nipping at the heels of the great Usain Bolt.  Then came August 5, 2017 and the 100 meter final at the World Championships in London.

The smile on Gatlin's face as he hit the finish line summed it all up.  He knew he had won.  Bolt had no inkling that Gatlin had exploded over the final 20 meters to overtake him and Christian Coleman.  Gatlin, not surprisingly, bowed down to Bolt when the great champion turned to congratulate his rival.  And yet the fans booed.  Well let them boo.  It was a hell of a race.