Memories of a sportswriter

When I tell people I don’tcare who wins the games I cover, they don’t believe me. I’m not sure I used to believe me, either.

Just Tuesday, during my live chat at Kansas.com, someone submitted a question that went something like this: “If Kansas and Wichita State ever played basketball, who would you be for?”

I didn’t have a chance to get to the question because I had just put a wrap on the chat. But my answer would have been something like this:

“I wouldn’t have a vested interest in who won such a game. I would hope it would be competitive and that it would produce good story lines, but I don’t remember the last time I covered a game in which I had an emotional investment in the outcome.”

That’s not just journalist speak, although as someone who went to college to study journalism, one of the things that has stuck with me throughout all of these years is the impartiality of the job. It’s the impartiality that confuses people. Let’s face it, fans are fans and they should be. They are not restricted in their support for a particular team or player. And more power to them.

I’m a fan, too, of the St. Louis Cardinals. I care about that team and whether it wins or loses. But I’m detached from the Cardinals in the sense that I don’t cover them or any other MLB team.

That said, I want to make sure and mention that, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, journalists are human beings. While I believe totally in our responsibility to be unbiased, fair and accurate, I also know it’s a concept that is difficult for those who aren’t journalists to understand.

And it’s not easy to detach. As a columnist, I have the advantage of being allowed to share my opinions with readers. But for years, I had to bottle up those opinions and present both sides of the story, which is the job of a journalist. Then it’s up to you to interpret.

As a kid, I was a big-time Wichita State Shocker fan. That was still true for several years after I started working at The Eagle. I wasn’t assigned to cover WSU games, so there was no conflict.

Over time, though, I began to lose my fan connection to the Shockers. It wasn’t like one day I woke up and was no longer a WSU fan. It was more methodical.

And it was necessary.

My wife, Debbie, is a fan, not a journalist. When we watch games together, she always picks a team to root for. When it’s one of the local teams – WSU, Kansas or Kansas State – she’s boisterous in her support. She’s lucky that way.

Any comments I might make while watching a game have to do with its particular technicalities or observations about how a team or player is performing. I never find myself “rooting” for a particular team, even one from Wichita or Kansas. My unbiased approach has become hard wired over the years. So much so that I can’t see it changing even after I retire.

I know it frustrates some of my friends, especially when I write something critical of the team they support. And I know that many readers don’t buy my assertion, believing that I’m a blanket fan of so-and-so.

Wichita State, Kansas and Kansas State fans are convinced I have it out for them. Of course I don’t, but I have found the arguments to defend myself to be a waste of time. People are going to think what they’re going to think.

Truth is, I have respect for all three athletic programs and many of the fine people who work for them. I applaud their successes with proper emotional detachment. And I do not revel in their failures.

I suppose losing my ability to be a fan of the Shockers is one of the prices I have had to pay to further a career doing something I love. But those years of being a WSU fan still pay off. Just last week. I got to publicly reminisce, both on radio and her on the blog, about the Harry Miller years from 1971-78, when I was a passionate Shocker fan.

There will always be something special to me about Wichita State’s basketball team because of my formative years that were spent living and dying with the Shockers. A monster of a WSU fan was constructed in Section R, Row 23 of the Roundhouse back in the day.

Only a career in journalism was able to strike him down.