Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Words That Linger

It’s funny how one sentence in a newspaper column can stay with you, haunt you for years and years, long after the paper has been relegated to the bottom of the bird cage. In November 2003, the Star Beacon sports staff was preparing for the high school winter sports season, but doing things a little differently. In previous years, each reporter had been given a list of four or five schools, and he would write stories previewing the girls basketball, boys basketball and wrestling teams from those schools. The beat writer for each sport also wrote an additional story or two: a feature perhaps, and a look at what to expect in his sport during the season about to start.

That fall, however, the beat writer was assigned to do it all in his sport. Instead of previewing several teams in each sport, I, as the girls basketball beat writer, would write eighteen preview stories – one for each of the girls basketball teams then in our coverage area – along with some accompanying articles. And so, on the day the girls basketball preview appeared, my bylines were the dandelions of the sports section. “By Tom Harris” was everywhere; it was ubiquitous; it was unavoidable. It was stunning, at least in my humble opinion. 

But by the end of the day, my opinion wasn’t all that was humble. After basking in the warm glow of my name, I hied myself to the website of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a column by sportswriter Gene Collier, who wrote that day about Lisa Guerrero, then the sideline reporter on Monday Night Football. Her work had been widely criticized, and Collier was coming to her defense – sort of. Citing pearls of wisdom dropped by former players and coaches in the broadcast booth – Joe Theisman, for instance, once told viewers, “You’ve got to score to put points on the board in this league.” – Collier concluded Guerrero was not only better looking than her male colleagues, she was also as bright or brighter.

The column was perceptive and entertaining, as Collier’s columns always are, but would have been quickly forgotten had it not been for one sentence. “As Coach Cower loves to say, ‘There’s a fine line in this business between occasional insight and incessant, vacuous yammering,” Collier wrote. 

Surely, no one would ever mistake my twenty bylines that day for “incessant, vacuous yammering.” Would they? And this blog; there’s no yammering here, incessant or otherwise. Is there? Nah. Of course not.

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