Saturday, August 13, 2011

JOU 6309 Journalism as Literature
1090 Weimer Hall Tuesday 4:05 – 7:05 p.m.
Dr. Ronald R. Rodgers / Office: 3058 Weimer 
Class blog:

The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable, and literature is not read.
Oscar Wilde (1891)
This course lies at the crossroads of journalism and literature. During the next 15 weeks we will explore the journalistic, historical and critical tangents that make up the notion of literary journalism as we read and analyze some of the best reportage ever written. In the process of reading the works of many fine journalists, we will weigh how form and content work together to create great factual literature.

This course will look back as far as the 18th century at some of the literary antecedents to what Tom Wolfe – and others before and after him – have called the "New Journalism." We will then read and analyze the works of many different literary journalists and commentators on literary journalism  from the 19th century to our present day.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Learning to Read

Learning to Read by Malcolm X - 1 -
Born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, Malcolm X was one of the most articulate and powerful leaders of black America during the 1960s. A street hustler convicted of robbery in 1946, he spent seven years in prison, where he educated himself and became a disciple of Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam. In the days of the civil rights movement, Malcolm X emerged as the leading spokesman for black separatism, a philosophy that urged black Americans to cut political, social, and economic ties with the white community. After a pilgrimage to Mecca, the capital of the Muslim world, in 1964, he became an orthodox Muslim, adopted the Muslim name El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, and distanced himself from the teachings of the black Muslims. He was assassinated in 1965. In the following excerpt from his autobiography (1965), coauthored with Alex Haley and published the year of his death, Malcolm X describes his self-education.

It was because of my letters that I happened to stumble upon starting to acquire some kind of a homemade education.  

I became increasingly frustrated. at not being able to express what I wanted to convey in letters that I wrote, especially those to Mr. Elijah Muhammad. In the street, I had been the most articulate hustler out there - I had commanded attention when I said something. But now, trying to write simple English, I not only wasn't articulate, I wasn't even functional. How would I sound writing in slang, the way I would say it, something such as, "Look, daddy, let me pull your coat about a cat, Elijah Muhammad-" 

Many who today hear me somewhere in person, or on television, or those who read something I've said, will think I went to school far beyond the eighth grade. This impression is due entirely to my prison studies. 

It had really begun back in the Charlestown Prison, when Bimbi first made me feel envy of his stock of knowledge. Bimbi had always taken charge of any conversations he was in, and I had tried to emulate him. But every book I picked up had few sentences which didn't contain anywhere from one to nearly all of the words that might as well have been in Chinese. When I just skipped those words, of course, I really ended up with little idea of what the book said. So I had come to the Norfolk Prison Colony still going through only book-reading motions. Pretty soon, I would have quit even these motions, unless I had received the motivation that I did. 

I saw that the best thing I could do was get hold of a dictionary - to study, to learn some words. I was lucky enough to reason also that I should try to improve my penmanship. It was sad. I couldn't even write in a straight line. It was both ideas together that moved me to request a dictionary along with some tablets and pencils from the Norfolk Prison Colony school. 

I spent two days just riffling uncertainly through the dictionary's pages. I'd never realized so many words existed! I didn't know which words I needed to learn. Finally, just to start some kind of action, I began copying. 

In my slow, painstaking, ragged handwriting, I copied into my tablet everything printed on that first page, down to the punctuation marks. 

I believe it took me a day. Then, aloud, I read back, to myself, everything I'd written on the tablet. Over and over, aloud, to myself, I read my own handwriting. 

I woke up the next morning, thinking about those words - immensely proud to realize that not only had I written so much at one time, but I'd written words that I never knew were in the world. Moreover, with a little effort, I also could remember what many of these words meant. I reviewed the words whose meanings I didn't remember. Funny thing, from the dictionary first page right now, that "aardvark" springs to my mind. The dictionary had a picture of it, a long-tailed, long-eared, burrowing African mammal, which lives off termites caught by sticking out its tongue as an anteater does for ants.

I was so fascinated that I went on - I copied the dictionary's next page. And the same experience came when I studied that. With every succeeding page, I also learned of people and places and events from history. Actually the dictionary is like a miniature encyclopedia. Finally the dictionary's A section had filled a whole tablet-and I went on into the B's. That was the way I started copying what eventually became the entire dictionary. It went a lot faster after so much practice helped me to pick up handwriting speed. Between what I wrote in my tablet, and writing letters, during the rest of my time in prison I would guess I wrote a million words. 

I suppose it was inevitable that as my word-base broadened, I could for the first time pick up a book and read and now begin to understand what the book was saying. Anyone who has read a great deal can imagine the new world that opened. Let me tell you something: from then until I left that prison, in every free moment I had, if I was not reading in the library, I was reading on my bunk. You couldn't have gotten me out of books with a wedge. Between Mr. Muhammad's teachings, my correspondence, my visitors,... and my reading of books, months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free in my life. 

Malcolm X, “Learning to Read.” USC Personal Web Pages. 2009. University of Southern California. 16 Apr 2009 .

Hell's Angels Excerpt

Read an Excerpt
Hell's Angels
by Hunter S. Thompson
Roll em, boys

California, Labor Day weekend . . . early, with ocean fog still in the streets, outlaw motorcyclists wearing chains, shades and greasy Levis roll out from damp garages, all-night diners and cast-off one-night pads in Frisco, Hollywood, Berdoo and East Oakland, heading for the Monterey peninsula, north of Big Sur . . . The Menace is loose again, the Hell''s Angels, the hundred-carat headline, running fast and loud on the early morning freeway, low in the saddle, nobody smiles, jamming crazy through traffic and ninety miles an hour down the center stripe, missing by inches . . . like Genghis Khan on an iron horse, a monster steed with a fiery anus, flat out through the eye of a beer can and up your daughter''s leg with no quarter asked and none given; show the squares some class, give em a whiff of those kicks they''ll never know . . . Ah, these righteous dudes, they love to screw it on . . . Little Jesus, the Gimp, Chocolate George, Buzzard, Zorro, Hambone, Clean Cut, Tiny, Terry the Tramp, Frenchy, Mouldy Marvin, Mother Miles, Dirty Ed, Chuck the Duck, Fat Freddy, Filthy Phil, Charger Charley the Child Molester, Crazy Cross, Puff, Magoo, Animal and at least a hundred more . . . tense for the action, long hair in the wind, beards and bandanas flapping, earrings, armpits, chain whips, swastikas and stripped-down Harleys flashing chrome as traffic on 101 moves over, nervous, to let the formation pass like a burst of dirty thunder . . .

They call themselves Hell''s Angels. They ride, rape and raid like marauding cavalry--and they boast that no police force can break up their criminal motorcycle fraternity.
--True, The Man''s Magazine
(August 1965)

They''re not bad guys, individually. I tell you one thing: I''d rather have a bunch of Hell''s Angels on my hands than these civil rights demonstrators. When it comes to making trouble for us, the demonstrators are much worse.
--Jailer, San Francisco City Prison

Some of them are pure animals. They''d be animals in any society. These guys are outlaw types who should have been born a hundred years ago--then they would have been gunfighters.
--Birney Jarvis, a charter member of the Hell''s Angels who later became a San Francisco Chronicle police reporter

We''re the one percenters, man--the one percent that don''t fit and don''t care. So don''t talk to me about your doctor bills and your traffic warrants--I mean you get your woman and your bike and your banjo and I mean you''re on your way. We''ve punched our way out of a hundred rumbles, stayed alive with our boots and our fists. We''re royalty among motorcycle outlaws, baby.
--A Hell''s Angel speaking for the permanent record

. . . The run was on, "outlaws" from all over the state rolled in packs toward Monterey: north from San Bernardino and Los Angeles on 101; south from Sacramento on 50 . . . south from Oakland, Hayward and Richmond on 17; and from Frisco on the Coast Highway. The hard core, the outlaw elite, were the Hell''s Angels . . . wearing the winged death''s-head on the back of their sleeveless jackets and packing their "mamas" behind them on big "chopped hogs." They rode with a fine, unwashed arrogance, secure in their reputation as the rottenest motorcycle gang in the whole history of Christendom.

From San Francisco in a separate formation came the Gypsy Jokers, three dozen in all, the number-two outlaw club in California, starved for publicity, and with only one chapter, the Jokers could still look down on such as the Presidents, Road Rats, Nightriders and Question Marks, also from the Bay Area, Gomorrah . . . with Sodom five hundred miles to the south in the vast mad bowl of Los Angeles, home turf of the Satan''s Slaves, number three in the outlaw hierarchy, custom-bike specialists with a taste for the flesh of young dogs, flashy headbands and tender young blondes with lobotomy eyes; the Slaves were the class of Los Angeles, and their women clung tight to the leather backs of these dog-eating, crotch-busting fools as they headed north for their annual party with the Hell''s Angels, who even then viewed the "L.A. bunch" with friendly condescension . . . which the Slaves didn''t mind, for they could dump with impunity on the other southern clubs--the Coffin Cheaters, Iron Horsemen, Galloping Gooses, Comancheros, Stray Satans and a homeless fringe element of human chancres so foul that not even the outlaw clubs--north or south--would claim them except in a fight when an extra chain or beer bottle might make the crucial difference.

Over and over again I have said that there is no way out of the present impasse. If we were wide awake we would be instantly struck by the horrors which surround us . . . We would drop our tools, quit our jobs, deny our obligations, pay no taxes, observe no laws, and so on. Could the man or woman who is thoroughly awakened possibly do the crazy things which are now expected of him or her every moment of the day?

--Henry Miller, in The World of Sex (1,000 copies printed by J.N.H., for "friends of Henry Miller," 1941)

People will just have to learn to stay out of our way. We''ll bust up everyone who gets in our way.
--A Hell''s Angel talking to police

On the morning of the Monterey Run, Labor Day 1964, Terry the Tramp woke up naked and hurting all over. The night before he''d been stomped and chain-whipped outside an Oakland bar by nine Diablos, a rival East Bay cycle club. "I''d hit one of their members earlier," he explained, "and they didn''t appreciate it. I was with two other Angels, but they left a little bit before me, and as soon as they were gone, these bastard Diablos jumped me outside the bar. They messed me up pretty good, so we spent half the night lookin for em."

The search was futile, and just before dawn Terry went back to Scraggs'' small house in San Leandro, where he was living with his wife and two children. Scraggs, a thirty-seven-year-old ex-pug who once fought Bobo Olson, was the oldest Angel then riding, with a wife and two children of his own. But when Terry came down from Sacramento that summer to look for a job in the Bay Area, Scraggs offered bed and board. The two wives got along; the kids meshed, and Terry found a job on the assembly line at a nearby General Motors plant--in itself a tribute to whatever human flexibility remains at the shop level in the American labor movement, for Terry at a glance looks hopelessly unemployable, like a cross between Joe Palooka and the Wandering Jew.

He is six feet two inches tall, 210 pounds heavy, with massive arms, a full beard, shoulder-length black hair and a wild, jabbering demeanor not calculated to soothe the soul of any personnel specialist. Beyond that, in his twenty-seven years he has piled up a tall and ugly police record: a multitude of arrests, from petty theft and battery, to rape, narcotics offenses and public cunnilingus--and all this without a single felony conviction, being officially guilty of nothing more than what any spirited citizen might commit in some drunk or violent moment of animal weakness.

"Yeah, but that rap sheet''s all bullshit," he insists. "Most of those charges are phony. I''ve never thought of myself as a criminal. I don''t work at it; I''m not greedy enough. Everything I do is natural, because I need to." And then, after a moment: "But I guess I''m pushin my luck, even if I''m not a criminal. Pretty soon they''ll nail me for one of these goddamn things, and then it''s goodbye, Terry, for a whole lot of years. I think it''s about time I cut out, went East, maybe to New York, or Australia. You know, I had a card in Actors'' Equity once, I lived in Hollywood. Hell, I can make it anywhere, even if I am a fuck-up."

On another Saturday he might have slept until two or three in the afternoon, then gone out again, with a dozen or so of the brethren, to find the Diablos and whip them down to jelly. But a Labor Day Run is the biggest event on the Hell''s Angels calendar; it is the annual gathering of the whole outlaw clan, a massive three-day drunk that nearly always results in some wild, free-swinging action and another rude shock for the squares. No Angel would miss it for any reason except jail or crippling injury. The Labor Day Run is the outlaws'' answer to New Year''s Eve; it is a time for sharing the wine jug, pummeling old friends, random fornication and general full-dress madness. Depending on the weather and how many long-distance calls are made the week before, anywhere from two hundred to a thousand outlaws will show up, half of them already drunk by the time they get there.

By nine o''clock that morning both Terry and Scraggs were on their feet. Vengeance on the Diablos could wait. Today, the run. Terry lit a cigarette, examined the bumps and welts on his body, then pulled on a pair of crusty Levis, heavy black boots, no underwear and a red sweatshirt smelling of old wine and human grease. Scraggs drank a beer while his wife heated water for instant coffee. The children had been put with relatives the night before. The sun was hot outside. Across the Bay, San Francisco was still covered in a late-lifting fog. The bikes were gassed and polished. All that remained was the gathering of any loose money or marijuana that might be lying around, lashing the sleeping bags to the bikes and donning the infamous "colors."

The all-important colors . . . the uniform, as it were, the crucial identity . . . which the Attorney General of California has described with considerable accuracy in a fuzzy but much-quoted official document titled "The Hell''s Angels Motorcycle Clubs."

The emblem of the Hell''s Angels, termed "colors," consists of an embroidered patch of a winged skull wearing a motorcycle helmet. Just below the wing of the emblem are the letters "MC." Over this is a band bearing the words "Hell''s Angels." Below the emblem is another patch bearing the local chapter name, which is usually an abbreviation for the city or locality. These patches are sewn on the back of a usually sleeveless denim jacket. In addition, members have been observed wearing various types of Luftwaffe insignia and reproductions of German Iron Crosses. Many affect beards and their hair is usually long and unkempt. Some wear a single earring in a pierced ear lobe. Frequently they have been observed to wear belts made of a length of polished motorcycle drive chain which can be unhooked and used as a flexible bludgeon.

The Hell''s Angels seem to have a preference for large heavy-duty American-made motorcycles [Harley-Davidsons]. Club members usually use a nickname, designated as their "legal" name, and are carried on club rolls under that name. Some clubs provide that initiates shall be tattooed, the cost of which is included in the initiation fee. Probably the most universal common denominator in identification of Hell''s Angels is their generally filthy condition. Investigating officers consistently report these people, both club members and their female associates, seem badly in need of a bath. Fingerprints are a very effective means of identification because a high percentage of Hell''s Angels have criminal records . . .
Some members of the Hell''s Angels as well as members of other "disreputable" motorcycle clubs belong to what is alleged to be an elite group termed "One Percenters," which meets monthly at various places in California. The local Hell''s Angels clubs usually meet weekly . . . Requirements for membership or authority to wear the "1%-er" badge are unknown at this time . . . Another patch worn by some members bears the number "13." It is reported to represent the thirteenth letter of the alphabet, "M," which in turn stands for marijuana and indicates the wearer thereof is a user of the drug.

This compact description of rancid, criminal sleaziness is substantially correct except for the hocus-pocus about the one percenters. All Angels wear this patch, as do most other outlaws, and all it means is that they are proud to be part of the alleged one percent of bike riders whom the American Motorcycle Association refuses to claim. The AMA is the sporting arm of the Motorcycle, Scooter and Allied Trades Association, a fast-growing motorcycle lobby that is seeking desperately to establish a respectable image--an image the Hell''s Angels have consistently queered. "We condemn them," says an AMA director. "They''d be condemned if they rode horses, mules, surfboards, bicycles or skateboards. Regretfully, they picked motorcycles."

The AMA claims to speak for all decent motorcyclists, yet its fifty thousand or so members rode less than five percent of the 1,500,000 motorcycles registered in the United States in 1965. As one of the trade magazines noted, that left a lot of outlaws unaccounted for.

Terry and Scraggs left the house about ten, taking it easy on the two-mile run through downtown Oakland, keeping the engine noise down, aware of the stares from passing motorists and people on street corners, observing stop signs and speed limits, then suddenly accelerating a half block from the house of Tommy, vice-president of the local chapter, where the others were waiting. Tommy was living on a quiet, deteriorating residential street in East Oakland . . . an old neighborhood with small, once-white frame houses sitting close to each other on tiny lots and sparse front lawns worn down by generations of newsboys delivering the Oakland Tribune. Now, on this holiday morning, his neighbors were out on front porches or at living-room windows, watching the awful show build up. By eleven about thirty Hell''s Angels were there, half blocking the narrow street, shouting, drinking beer, brushing green dye on their beards, gunning their engines, adjusting their costumes and knocking each other around to get the feel of things. The girls stood quietly in a group, wearing tight slacks, kerchiefs and sleeveless blouses or sweaters, with boots and dark glasses, uplift bras, bright lipstick and the wary expressions of half-bright souls turned mean and nervous from too much bitter wisdom in too few years. Like the Angels, the girls were mainly in their twenties--although some were obvious teen-agers and a few were aging whores looking forward to a healthy outdoor weekend.

In any gathering of Hell''s Angels, from five to a possible hundred and fifty, there is no doubt who is running the show: Ralph "Sonny" Barger, the Maximum Leader, a six-foot, 170-pound warehouseman from East Oakland, the coolest head in the lot, and a tough, quick-thinking dealer when any action starts. By turns he is a fanatic, a philosopher, a brawler, a shrewd compromiser and a final arbitrator. To the Oakland Angels he is Ralph. Everybody else calls him Sonny . . . although when the party gets wild and loose he answers to names such as Prez, Papa and Daddy. Barger''s word goes unquestioned, although many of the others could take him in two minutes if it ever came to a fight. But it never does. He rarely raises his voice--except in a rumble with outsiders. Any dissenters in the ranks are handled quietly at the regular Friday-night meetings, or they simply fade out of the picture and change their life pattern so as never again to cross paths with any group of Angels.

If the gathering at Tommy''s was a little disorganized, it was because Sonny was serving time in the Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center, for possession of marijuana. With Sonny in jail, the others were keeping the action to a minimum--even though Tommy, in his quiet, disaffiliated sort of way, was running the show pretty well. At twenty-six he was a year younger than Barger: blond, clean-shaven, with a wife and two children, making $180 a week as a construction worker. He knew he was only filling in for the Prez, but he also knew that the Oakland Angels had to make a tough, full-strength appearance at the Labor Day Run. Anything less would forfeit the spiritual leadership back to southern California, to the San Bernardino (or Berdoo) chapter--the founding fathers, as it were--who started the whole thing in 1950 and issued all new charters for nearly fifteen years. But mounting police pressure in the south was causing many Angels to seek refuge in the Bay Area. By 1965, Oakland was on its way to becoming the capital of the Hell''s Angels'' world.

Prior to their ear-splitting departure, there was a lot of talk about the Diablos and what manner of lunacy or strange drug had caused them to commit such a sure-fatal error as an attack on a lone Angel. Yet this was a routine beef, postponedç and forgotten as they moved onto the freeway for an easy two-hour run to Monterey. By noon it was so hot that many of the riders had taken off their shirts and opened their black vests, so the colors flapped out behind them like capes and the on-coming traffic could view their naked chests, for good or ill. The southbound lanes were crowded with taxpayers heading out for a Labor Day weekend that suddenly seemed tinged with horror as the Angel band swept past . . . this animal crowd on big wheels, going somewhere public, all noise and hair and bust-out raping instincts . . . the temptation for many a motorist was to swing hard left, with no warning, and crush these arrogant scorpions.

At San Jose, an hour south of Oakland, the formation was stopped by two state Highway Patrolmen, causing a traffic jam for forty-five minutes at the junction of 17 and 101. Some people stopped their cars entirely, just to watch. Others slowed to ten or fifteen miles an hour. As traffic piled up, there were vapor locks, boil-overs and minor collisions.

"They wrote tickets for everybody they could," said Terry. "Things like seats too low, bars too high, no mirror, no hand hold for the passenger--and like always they checked us for old warrants, citations we never paid and every other goddamn thing they could think of. But the traffic was really piling up, with people staring at us and all, and finally, by God, a Highway Patrol captain showed up and chewed those bastards good for ''creating a hazard'' or whatever he called it. We had a big laugh, then we took off again."

We get treated good here [in Monterey]. Most other places we get thrown out of town.
--Frenchy from Berdoo talking to a reporter not many hours before the Angels were thrown out of town

Between San Jose and the turnoff to Monterey, 101 rolls gracefully through the rich farming foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Hell''s Angels, riding two abreast in each lane, seemed out of place in little towns like Coyote and Gilroy. People ran out of taverns and dry-goods stores to stare at these fabled big-city Huns. Local cops waited nervously at intersections, hoping the Angels would pass quietly and not cause trouble. It was almost as if some far-ranging band of Viet Cong guerrillas had appeared, trotting fast in a tight formation down the middle of Main Street, bound for some bloody rendezvous that nobody in town even cared to know about as long as the dirty buggers kept moving.
The Angels try to avoid trouble on the road. Even a minor arrest in a country town at the start of a holiday weekend can mean three days in jail, missing the party, and a maximum fine when they finally come to court. They know, too, that in addition to the original charge--usually a traffic violation or disorderly conduct--they will probably be accused of resisting arrest, which can mean thirty days, a jail haircut and another fine of $150 or so. Now, after many a painful lesson, they approach small towns the same way a traveling salesman from Chicago approaches a known speed trap in Alabama. The idea, after all, is to reach the destination--not to lock horns with hayseed cops along the way.

The destination this time was a big tavern called Nick''s, a noisy place on a main drag called Del Monte, near Cannery Row in downtown Monterey. "We went right through the middle of town," recalls Terry, "through the traffic and everything. Most of the guys knew Nick''s, but not me because I was in jail the other time. We didn''t make it till about three because we had to wait in a gas station on 101 for some of the guys running late. By the time we got there I guess we had about forty or fifty bikes. Berdoo was already in with about seventy-five, and people kept coming all night. By the next morning there were about three hundred from all over."

The stated purpose of the gathering was the collection of funds to send the body of a former Angel back to his mother in North Carolina. Kenneth "Country" Beamer, vice-president of the San Bernardino chapter, had been snuffed by a truck a few days earlier in a desert Hamlet called Jacumba, near San Diego. Country had died in the best outlaw tradition: homeless, stone broke, and owning nothing in this world but the clothes on his back and a big bright Harley. As the others saw it, the least they could do was send his remains back to the Carolinas, to whatever family or memory of a home might be there. "It was the thing to do," Terry said.

The recent demise of a buddy lent the ''64 affair a tone of solemnity that not even the police could scoff at. It was the sort of gesture that cops find irresistible: final honors for a fallen comrade, with a collection for the mother and a bit of the uniformed pageantry to make the show real. In deference to all this, the Monterey police had let it be known that they would receive the Angels in a spirit of armed truce.

It was the first time in years that the outlaws had been faced with even a semblance of civic hospitality--and it turned out to be the last, for when the sun came up on that bright Pacific Saturday the infamous Monterey rape was less than twenty-four hours away from making nationwide headlines. The Hell''s Angels would soon be known and feared throughout the land. Their blood, booze and semen-flecked image would be familiar to readers of The New York Times, Newsweek, The Nation, Time, True, Esquire and the Saturday Evening Post. Within six months small towns from coast to coast would be arming themselves at the slightest rumor of a Hell''s Angels "invasion." All three major television networks would be seeking them out with cameras and they would be denounced in the U.S. Senate by George Murphy, the former tap dancer. Weird as it seems, as this gang of costumed hoodlums converged on Monterey that morning they were on the verge of "making it big," as the showbiz people say, and they would owe most of their success to a curious rape mania that rides on the shoulder of American journalism like some jeering, masturbating raven. Nothing grabs an editor''s eye like a good rape. "We really blew their minds this time," as one of the Angels explained it. According to the newspapers, at least twenty of these dirty hopheads snatched two teen-age girls, aged fourteen and fifteen, away from their terrified dates, and carried them off to the sand dunes to be "repeatedly assaulted."

repeatedly . . . assaulted
aged 14 and 15 . . .
stinking, hairy thugs

A deputy sheriff summoned by one of the erstwhile dates said he "arrived at the beach and saw a huge bonfire surrounded by cyclists of both sexes. Then the two sobbing, near-hysterical girls staggered out of the darkness, begging for help. One was completely nude and the other had on only a torn sweater."

Here, sweet Jesus, was an image flat guaranteed to boil the public blood and foam the brain of every man with female flesh for kin. Two innocent young girls, American citizens, carried off to the dunes and ravaged like Arab whores. One of the dates told police they tried to rescue the girls but couldn''t reach them in the mobscene that erupted once the victims were stripped of their clothing. Out there in the sand, in the blue moonlight, in a circle of leering hoodlums . . . they were penetrated, again and again.

The next morning Terry the Tramp was one of four Angels arrested for forcible rape, which carries a penalty of one to fifty years in the penitentiary. He denied all knowledge of the crime, as did Mother Miles, Mouldy Marvin and Crazy Cross--but several hours later, with bond set at a lowly $1,100 each, they were lodged in the Monterey County Jail in Salinas . . . out there in Steinbeck country, the hot lettuce valley, owned in the main by smart second-generation hillbillies who got out of Appalachia while the getting was good, and who now pay other, less-smart hillbillies to supervise the work of Mexican braceros, whose natural fitness for stoop labor has been explained by the ubiquitous Senator Murphy: "They''re built low to the ground," he said, "so it''s easier for them to stoop."

Indeed. And since Senator Murphy has also called the Hell''s Angels "the lowest form of animals," it presumably follows that they are better constructed for the mindless rape of any prostrate woman they might come across as they scurry about, from one place to another, with their dorks carried low like water wands. Which is not far from the truth, but for different reasons than California''s ex-lightfoot senator might have us believe.

Nobody knew, of course, as they gathered that Saturday at Nick''s, that the Angels were about to make a publicity breakthrough, by means of rape, on the scale of the Beatles or Bob Dylan. At dusk, with an orange sun falling fast into the ocean just a mile or so away, the main event of the evening was so wholly unplanned that the principal characters--or victims--attracted little attention in the noisy crowd that jammed Nick''s barroom and spilled out to the darkening street.

Terry says he noticed the girls and their "dates" only as part of the overall scene. "The main reason I remember them is I wondered what that white pregnant girl was doing with a bunch of suede dudes. But I figured it was her business, and I wasn''t hurtin for pussy anyway. I had my old lady with me--we''re separated now, but then we were doin okay and she wouldn''t have none of me hustlin anything else while she was around. Besides, hell, when you''re seein old friends you haven''t seen in a year or two, you don''t have time to pay much attention to strangers."

The only thing Terry and all the other Angels agree on--in relation to the "victims'' " first appearance--is that "they sure as hell didn''t look no fourteen and fifteen, man; those girls looked every bit of twenty." (Police later confirmed the girls'' ages, but all other information about them--including their names--was withheld in accordance with California''s policy of denying press access to rape victims.)

"I can''t even say if those girls were pretty or not," Terry went on. "I just don''t remember. All I can say for sure is that we didn''t have no trouble at Nick''s. The cops were there, but only to keep people away. It was the same old story as every place else we go: traffic piling up on the street outside, local bad-asses prowling around, young girls looking for kicks, and a bunch of Nick''s regular customers just digging the party. The cops did right by staying around. Everywhere we go there''s some local hoods who want to find out how tough we are. If the cops weren''t there we''d end up having to hurt somebody. Hell, nobody wants trouble on a run. All we want to do is to have some fun and relax."

It is said, however, that the Hell''s Angels have some offbeat ideas about fun and relaxation. If they are, after all, "the lowest form of animals," not even Senator Murphy could expect them to gather together in a drunken mass for any such elevated pastimes as ping pong, shuffleboard and whist. Their picnics have long been noted for certain beastly forms of entertainment, and any young girl who shows up at a Hell''s Angels bonfire camp at two o''clock in the morning is presumed, by the outlaws, to be in a condition of heat. So it was only natural that the two girls attracted more attention when they arrived at the beach than they had earlier in the convivial bedlam at Nick''s.

One aspect of the case overlooked in most newspaper accounts had to do with elementary logistics. How did these two young girls happen to be on a deserted midnight beach with several hundred drunken motorcycle thugs? Were they kidnapped from Nick''s? And if so, what were they doing there in the first place, aged fourteen and fifteen, circulating all evening in a bar jammed wall to wall with the state''s most notorious gang of outlaws? Or were they seized off the street somewhere--perhaps at a stoplight--to be slung over the gas tank of a bored-out Harley and carried off into the night, screaming hysterically, while bystanders gaped in horror?

Police strategists, thinking to isolate the Angels, had reserved them a campsite far out of town, on an empty stretch of dunes between Monterey Bay and Fort Ord, an Army basic-training center. The reasoning was sound; the beasts were put off in a place where they could whip themselves into any kind of orgiastic frenzy without becoming dangerous to the citizenry--and if things got out of hand, the recruits across the road could be bugled out of bed and issued bayonets. The police posted a guard on the highway, in case the Angels got restless and tried to get back to town, but there was no way to seal the camp off entirely, nor any provision for handling local innocents who might be drawn to the scene out of curiosity or other, darker reasons not mentioned in police training manuals.

The victims told police they had gone to the beach because they "wanted to look at the cyclists." They were curious--even after several hours at Nick''s, which was so crowded that evening that most of the outlaws took to pissing in the parking lot rather than struggle inside to the bathroom.

"Hell, those broads didn''t come out there for any sing-song," said Terry. "They were loaded and they wanted to get off some leg, but it just got to be too many guys. To start with, it was groovy for em. Then more and more guys came piling over the dunes . . . ''yea, pussy,'' you know, that kinda thing . . . and the broads didn''t want it. The suede dudes just split; we never saw em again. I don''t know for sure how it ended. All I knew then was that they had some mamas out there in the dunes, but me and my old lady went and crashed pretty early. I was so wasted I couldn''t even make it with her."

No family newspaper saw fit to quote the Angel version, but six months later, playing pool in a San Francisco bar, Frenchy remembered it this way: "One girl was white and pregnant, the other was colored, and they were with five colored studs. They hung around Nick''s about three hours on Saturday night, drinking and talking with our riders, then they came out to the beach with us--them and their five boy friends. Everybody was standing around the fire, drinking wine, and some of the guys were talking to them--hustling em, naturally--and pretty soon somebody asked the two chicks if they wanted to be turned on--you know, did they want to smoke some pot? They said yeah, and then they walked off with some of the guys to the dunes. The spade went with a few guys, and then she wanted to quit, but the pregnant one was really hot to trot; the first four or five guys she was really draggin into her arms, but after that she cooled off too. By this time, though, one of their boy friends had got scared and gone for the cops--and that''s all it was."

"The next morning," said Terry, "I rode in with somebody--I forget who--to some drive-in on the highway, where we got some breakfast. When we got back to the beach they had a roadblock set up with those two broads sittin there in the cop car, lookin at everybody. I didn''t know what was goin on, but then a cop said, ''You''re one,'' and they slapped the cuffs on me. Those goddamn girls were gigglin, righteously laughin . . . you know, ''Ha ha, that''s one of em.'' So off I went to the bucket, for rape.

"When we got to the jail I said, ''Hey, I want to be checked. Let''s see a doctor. I ain''t had no intercourse in two days.'' But they wouldn''t go for it. Marvin and Miles and Crazy Cross were already there and we figured we were deep in the shit until they told us bail was only eleven hundred dollars. Then we knew they didn''t have much of a case."

Meanwhile, out on Marina Beach, the rest of the Angels were being rounded up and driven north along Highway 156 toward the county line. Laggards were thumped on the shoulders with billy clubs and told to get moving. Side roads were blocked by state troopers while dozens of helmeted deputies--many from neighboring counties--ran the outlaws through the gauntlet. Traffic was disrupted for miles as the ragged horde moved slowly along the road, gunning their engines and raining curses on everything in sight. The noise was deafening and it is hard to imagine what effect the spectacle must have had on the dozens of out-of-state late-summer tourists who pulled over to let the procession come through. Because of the proximity of an Army base, they undoubtedly thought they were making way for a caravan of tanks, or at least something impressive and military--and then to see an army of hoodlums being driven along the road like a herd of diseased sheep--ah, what a nightmare for the California Chamber of Commerce.

At the county line on U.S. 101 a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle talked with Tommy, and with another Angel, named Tiny, a six-foot-six, 240-pound outlaw with a shoulder-length pigtail who later gained nationwide fame for his attack on a Get Out of Vietnam demonstration in Berkeley.

"We''re ordinary guys," said Tommy. "Most of us work. About half are married, I guess, and a few own their homes. Just because we like to ride motorcycles, the cops give us trouble everywhere we go. That rape charge is phony and it won''t stick. The whole thing was voluntary."

"Shit, our bondsman will have those guys out in two hours," said Tiny. "Why can''t people let us alone, anyway? All we want to do is get together now and then and have some fun--just like the Masons, or any other group."

But the presses were already rolling and the eight-column headline said: hell''s angels gang rape. The Masons haven''t had that kind of publicity since the eighteenth century, when Casanova was climbing through windows and giving the brotherhood a bad name. Perhaps the Angels will one day follow the Freemasons into bourgeois senility, but by then some other group will be making outrage headlines: a Hovercraft gang, or maybe some once-bland fraternal group tooling up even now for whatever the future might force on them.
What is the trend in Kiwanis? There are rumors in Oakland of a new militancy in that outfit, a radical ferment that could drastically alter the club''s image. In the drift and flux of these times it is easy enough to foresee a Sunday morning, ten or twenty years hence, when a group of middle-aged men wearing dark blazers with Hell''s Angels crests on the pockets will be pacing their mortgaged living rooms and muttering sadly at a headline saying: kiwanis gang rape: four held, others flee, ringleaders sought.

And in some shocked American city a police chief will be saying--as the Monterey chief said in 1964 of the Hell''s Angels--"They will not be welcomed back, because of the atmosphere created."

From the Hardcover edition.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Paper Example 4

Sports Journalism as Moral and Ethical Discourse

Authors: Thomas P. Oatesa; John Paulyb
Affiliations:  a Northern Illinois University, b Marquette University,
To cite this Article: Oates, Thomas P. and Pauly, John 'Sports Journalism as Moral and Ethical Discourse', Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 22:4, 332 - 347


This paper explores the marginalized practice of sportswriting to demonstrate the limited ways in which the question “who is a journalist?” has been answered within the profession. Following John Dewey and Raymond Williams, we offer an alternative view of democratic culture that values narrative as well as information. We also discuss how “New Journalists” (and other writers since), in their quest for fresh, sophisticated storytelling strategies, turned to sports as a cultural activity worthy of serious examination. Our goal is to demonstrate that sportswriting fundamentally resembles other forms of reporting and that journalism should not use sports as an ethical straw man against which to defend the virtue of its serious work. This suspension of our usual ethical judgments would deepen our sense of the moral significance of sportswriting and allow us to rethink journalism's relation to democratic culture in productive new ways.


Journalism defines itself as a profession, in part, by proclaiming the moral seriousness of its most cherished story forms. The breathless on-the-scene account of disaster and war, the dramatic recreation of courtroom testimony, the shocking exposeacute, the shrewd and dispassionate political analysis, the stinging editorial, the tender-hearted human interest feature—such are the narratives by which journalism asks to be judged (and that working journalists use to take one another's measure). Journalists answer the question “who is a journalist?” by invoking such narratives as exemplars of their community's standards (Zelizer, 1993). Those who practice honorable forms of narrative and observe the ethical precepts of the tribe are deemed journalists. Those who traffic in narratives considered renegade, deficient, or false are not.

Sports stories struggle with just this burden. They are rarely imagined to meet the journalism profession's standards of social or political importance. Moreover, sports coverage routinely violates the ethical norms by which the profession asks to be judged. These shortcomings would not pose a problem except that audiences love sports stories, and news organizations unapologetically cater to their enthusiasms.

Stories about competitive sports became a mainstay of news coverage more than a century ago in the United States (Stevens, 1987; Oriard, 1993; Reel, 2006). Major newspapers now generously staffed sports desks and devoted considerable space to documenting the latest developments in elite leagues (Koppett, 2003). Broadcast radio and television expanded the sports media complex, and cable television and the Web have multiplied the quantity and extended the range of sports news. The ESPN franchise (Columbia Journalism Review, 2007), for example, owned by Disney, now includes an extensive and popular online Web site, more than ten cable channels, a book publishing arm, a nationwide network of radio stations, and a mobile telephone service. Its ventures, generating more than a half-billion dollars of profit annually, have demonstrated to other media entrepreneurs the astronomical profits to be gained by expanding coverage of sports. Fox, CBS, and others have similarly invested heavily in sports media, drawing enormous audiences and employing thousands of people who cover sports.

Our purpose is not to enumerate the ethical failures of sports reporting, nor is it to catalog all its suspect practices of commercialism, partisanship, and covert collaboration. Rather, we hope to use the question “who is a journalist?” to refigure sports reporting as a legitimate object of ethical reflection. We want to show how the journalism profession's normal ethical critique of sports reporting holds at bay equally troubling but arguably more difficult questions about the moral obligations of sports reporting as a form of cultural representation.

We begin with a discussion of the profession's normative commitment to information as a principle widely used to judge ethical behavior, and a critique of the limitations of that principle. We then document sports reporting's routine violations of those norms. We identify the New Journalism of the 1960s as a historical moment at which new understandings of the cultural and political significance of athletes and sporting events emerged in the work of journalists. We conclude with a brief analysis of a seemingly simple act of contemporary athletic behavior—the end zone celebration in professional football—that demonstrates the application of that emerging cultural perspective. We argue that journalism and sports reporting need to consider the ethics of not just their information behaviors but of their storytelling practices.

Journalism, Democracy and Ordinary Life

Journalism's crucial function remains the transfer of information, a role that frames and narrows this piece. Within this mode of thought, many key ethical questions involve matters of access and the collection, distribution, and ideological balance of information. However, framing ethical quandaries in this way means that huge swaths of material that regularly appear in print and broadcast news may receive scant critical attention. Consider, for example, the absence of attention to the ethics of sports reporting on the Indiana University (2007) on-line ethics Web site. The site offers 173 case studies of journalism ethics, organized in 13 categories that focus on matters such as source relations, law enforcement, privacy, sensitive topics, and workplace issues. Only six of those cases deal with sports, and in each one the sports connection is incidental. Three factors may explain this lack of attention:
  1. The cases included involve coverage of topics more routinely considered central to journalists' sense of professional identity.
  2. If information is the framing idiom of journalism ethics, then sports may seem a less central topic to community and democracy, for it is not immediately clear what essential information sports reporting might convey.
  3. Though the cases often discuss how stories are told, they focus more on the information gathered or included than on narrative strategies such as characterization, plot, or trope.
Using sports reporting as our example, we propose a more expansive view of the targets, tools, and purposes of ethical criticism. In imagining principles that might guide such criticism, we look to American pragmatist John Dewey and the Welsh cultural, political, and literary critic Raymond Williams. Though Dewey and Williams have significantly influenced contemporary thought about journalism as an institution, the ethical implications of their work remain, for the most part, unexplored. In particular, we hope to show how Dewey and Williams' conception of democracy as a social and cultural practice (rather than a procedural domain of laws, elections, institutions, rules, and routines) invites us to consider the ethical implications of morally discounted narrative practices such as sports reporting.

Dewey (1954), famously writing in 1927 in response to Walter Lippmann's The Phantom Public (1925), argued against the limits of a narrowly transactional model of news, insisting on the importance not just of domains of public governance, but also of “democracy as a social idea” (p. 143). For Dewey, “the idea of democracy is a wider and fuller idea than can be exemplified in the state, even at its best. To be realized, it must affect all modes of human association” (p. 151). Placing aside the concern for democracy's political machinery so central to Lippmann's critique, Dewey emphasized that democracies exist and are fostered in communities, and that “communal life is moral, that is emotionally, intellectually, and consciously sustained” (p. 151).

In Public Opinion (1965), Lippmann argued that democracy chiefly suffered from a longstanding knowledge problem: the absence of reliable maps with which to navigate reality. Though he would later become a strong advocate for the work of journalists, at that moment Lippmann believed that news could never make up for the failures of casual or vernacular knowledge, and that only a new class of nonpartisan social scientists could offer citizens the information and expertise they required in order to govern themselves. Dewey, in effect, rejected the equating of democracy with information.
Decades later, Raymond Williams (2001) would similarly argue in a seminal essay that “culture” should be understood not as “the outward and emphatically visible sign of a special group of cultivated people,” but as an “ordinary” human activity (p. 12). Williams objected both to elite critics' dismissal of popular culture as an easily readable sign of readers' lack of education and to traditional Marxist critics' condemnation of popular culture as little more than a manifestation of false consciousness. Instead, he argued that culture and education were symbolic resources that belonged to everyone. Like Dewey, he refused to equate culture with information; he insisted that it was not the exclusive property of those with access to the proper channels for conveying information. Williams spoke of culture as a “structure of feeling” that organized the “lived experience of a community.” A writer's job, as he saw it, involved making individual meanings common (p. 24).

The Sandbox of the Newsroom

Dewey and Williams' argument about the political significance of ordinary cultural practices opens alternative ways of imagining the ethical implications of sports reporting. Even when sports coverage does not offer citizens crucial information, it may offer them cultural narratives that frame and shape their understandings of the group identities and relations of democratic society.

As we have noted, in spite of its popularity and profitability (or perhaps because of it), sportswriting struggles to be taken seriously. Though journalists may grudgingly acknowledge the “writerly” craft of a Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon, Dick Schaap, or Gary Smith, the profession has long considered sports “the sandbox of the newsroom,” a comparison that suggests the work of the sports department is more playful and childlike than that of the rest of the news organization. In response, sportswriters have increasingly sought to be taken seriously by the journalism establishment. They have, for example, recently formalized ethical guidelines for their work, modeling their rules after those governing political journalism in an attempt to align themselves with more respected spheres of journalistic work.

Sports reporting deserves more systematic ethical criticism not just because of its scale and popularity but also because journalists, in effect, use sports to mark the moral boundaries within which journalism as a professional practice habitually operates. In particular, critics fault the ethics of sports reporting because of its powerful commitment to narrative, its blurring of distinctions between news and advertising, and its acceptance of promotional stunts. The larger journalistic community regularly condemns these practices as departures from the profession's ethical norms. We also believe that these practices are more common across the profession than journalists like to admit.

Marginalized by their peers, sports journalists have developed a set of conventions that suit the needs of the profession but also seem to distance them from “normal” journalists. Sports journalism's credibility problem lies in part with the (quite accurate) perception that narrative invention is central to the enterprise. The work routines of sports journalists, after all, are organized around regularly scheduled, carefully managed, and orchestrated contests. The buildup to each game is replete with what Lawrence Wenner (1989) called “insider's gossip” and the self-conscious creation of a “script” or “storyline” for each event.

For example, in the days leading up to the 2006 British Open, newspaper and television sports news reports included frequent contributions by journalists anticipating possible storylines: How would Tiger Woods perform, given the recent death of his father? Would Phil Mickelson bounce back in his first major since blowing a safe lead on the final day of the Master's? Would the hard, dry ground and soaring temperatures affect play? As Tiger Woods stamped his authority on the tournament (he won by two strokes), the recently fatherless Woods would become the dominant storyline. After Tiger had clinched his victory, he broke down crying and remarked that he missed his father's presence and had been hit by the finality of his death. Post-game wrapups had now identified the most satisfying storyline as Woods' heroic efforts in the face of personal tragedy. Post-tournament analyses emphasized that Woods had played intelligently. He had won, the stories explained, in part because he had learned an important lesson from his father: to think one's way around the golf course. The victory was acknowledged as a fitting tribute to the man who had been Woods' first golf teacher. With remarkable consistency, sports pages and television reports quickly fell in line as this particular storyline was adopted. In doing so, the sports pages succeeded, as Wenner put it, in “placing the game and its hero into a 'fantasy world' that both sportswriters and readers have a hand in creating” (p. 15).

That sports news has a narrative quality is not a taboo acknowledgement in sports journalism. The storyline-building that suffuses sports journalism routines is done so consciously that an unexpected turn during the course of a game itself is commonly referred to as a “departure from the script.” This storytelling function of sports journalism is celebrated openly in other ways as well. Anchors often stamp their personality on a sportscast by inventing catchphrases. Radio journalists, such as Chicago's Harry Carey or St. Louis' Jack Buck, who skillfully weaved play-by-play narratives, were frequently praised for their way with words and their storytelling abilities. An ability to convey drama (while maintaining an air of spontaneity) in lyrical ways is a valued and admired trait in sports reportage. As one author put it, “Talented broadcasters have provided a dramatic soundtrack to the moments we hold in almost magical regard” (Garner, 1999, p. vii). Occasionally, a play-by-play announcer's ability to wholly invent incidents even receives a kind of folksy admiration, as in popular accounts of Ronald Reagan's brief career rebroadcasting Eureka College football games (Wills, 1986). Sports journalism's inventive tradition and the reverence with which it regards the creative use of language places it in opposition to the profession's familiar claim to be reporting facts from a neutral position.

"Free Advertising:" Sports Journalism as Ethically Suspect

Sports journalism's acceptance of narrative invention also challenges another foundational ideal of journalism by ignoring the professional ideology that wishfully and inaccurately separates editorial and business interests. Where professional norms urge political journalists to declare an appropriate independence from those they cover and the advertisers who fund them, sports reporting proposes a quite different relationship. In recent years, for example, television broadcasters have attempted a near-seamless coordination of sports contests and advertising. The private corporations that stage those contests (the teams and the league) and the media that cover them have interests intersecting on so many levels that many media scholars prefer to speak of the “media-sports complex.” As Robert McChesney (1989) put it,
Sports and the mass media enjoy a very symbiotic relationship in American society. On one hand, the staggering popularity of sport is due, to no small extent, to the enormous amount of attention provided it by the mass media. On the other, the media are able to generate enormous sales in both circulation and advertising based upon their extensive treatment of sport. Media attention fans the flames of interest in sport, and increased interest in sport warrants further media attention.
In essence, then, media outlets cover sports with a clear conflict of interest: Their very enterprise is deeply invested in the continued success of commodified sport. Because the most elemental structures of sports news ensure free exposure for the teams of elite leagues, Mark Douglas Lowes (2000) called media coverage of sports “publicity-as-news.” He cited a media relations veteran who notes that, for pro sports teams, “Coverage is really important. You know, it's like free advertising” (p. 13). Many other corporations are willing to pay large sums of money for advertisements in print, on radio, Internet, or television, or do so more subtly by actually owning teams themselves.

Marketers seek the male audience that sports gathers. Most viewers, readers, and listeners are men. Thus sports media's ability to “deliver the male” to advertisers is well-known; and recently, vendors have shown an increasing receptiveness to marketers wishing to reach consumers in creative ways. As TiVO and other DVR technologies have entered the market, advertisers have found ways to circumvent the traditional 30-second spot in favor of marketing that is more integrated with programming. ESPN's SportsCenter, for instance, includes a number of segments devised in close cooperation with marketers. ESPN also uses SportsCenter to promote its other programs on the network by inviting the commentators from “NFL Live” or “Baseball Tonight” to offer analyses on recent developments. Reviving a tradition begun more than a century ago by yellow journalism, the program also displays a willingness to engage in promotional stunts; the program recently broadcast from all 50 states in 50 consecutive days. Recently, ESPN and Disney have teamed up with the Make a Wish Foundation to sponsor “My Wish,” a ten-part chronicle of sports-themed wishes granted to seriously ill children, which ESPN then recorded and broadcast as news.

In short, the cherished “wall” that is said to separate the business from the editorial function is quite evidently not in place for most sports journalism, which is foundationally promotional of itself and its corporate partners (the teams and leagues) in its coverage. Critics take this blurring of promotion and reportage as prima facie evidence that sportswriting is not really journalism. But this judgment sidesteps the uncomfortable reality that all mainstream commercial journalism displays this same mix of business and editorial content, though not always as plainly. Like sports journalism's open acknowledgement of news as a “story,” the unapologetically commercial nature of its content disturbs fragile myths about journalistic practices.

A critic might conclude that sports journalism's indiscriminate mixing of editorial content and business rules it permanently out of bounds for serious critical attention. But the spoiled reputation of sportswriting (to borrow a concept from Erving Goffman [1963]) also presumes a series of cultural distinctions that treat the substance of sports as socially insignificant when compared to that of civic life. The visible playfulness of sportswriting's narratives leads critics to conclude that sports writers tell stories in a way fundamentally different than other journalists do. For all these reasons, sports journalism may appear to lack gravity, or to admit personal voice in a way that undermines professional credibility and allows storytelling to overwhelm the journalist's commitment to an impartial rendering of the facts. Within the profession, the invocation of sportswriting as an ethically flawed form of journalism allows journalists to affirm the presumed ethical righteousness of their normal professional work.

The New Journalism and Sports As Moral Discourse

Journalists have not always dismissed sportswriting as inherently trivial, culturally low, or ethically tainted, however. At key moments, some have discovered in sports contests and characters a sociologically rich domain worthy of their best craft. We want to note one such moment—the New Journalism of the 1960s and 1970s—in order to create a historical context in which to reconsider the work of contemporary sports journalism. The debate over “who is a journalist” represents a recurring (and probably permanent) feature of the profession. The New Journalists, in their quest for fresh, sophisticated storytelling strategies, turned to sports as a cultural activity worthy of serious examination. Our goal is to demonstrate that in many ways sportswriting fundamentally resembles other forms of reporting, and that the journalism profession should not use sports as an ethical straw man, against which to defend the virtue of its serious work. This suspension of our usual ethical judgments would also deepen our sense of the moral significance of sportswriting (Tomlinson, 1999).
The New Journalism of the 1960s took shape in a moment of turmoil and skepticism (Pauly, 1990; Polsgrove, 1995; Weingarten, 2006). Both defenders and critics began using that term around 1965 to describe what they liked best or least about the forms of reporting in magazines such as Esquire and New York. Admirers of Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, and Gay Talese praised the new styles of reporting as being more in tune with the cultural changes of the time, more hip in tone, more cosmopolitan in their cultural judgments. While Esquire and New York led the way, similar experiments were appearing occasionally in other magazines such as Life, Look, and Saturday Evening Post. The visibility and growing popularity of the new styles of storytelling among both writers and readers attracted fierce criticism (Weber, 1974), particularly from newspaper journalists and from an older generation of New Yorker writers (who saw the new work as nothing new), New York intellectuals, and Partisan Review essayists such as Dwight MacDonald and Irving Howe. Newspaper journalists condemned what they considered a hyperbolic approach to popular culture, an inappropriately personal involvement of the reporter in the story, and the carelessness in the New Journalism's handling of factual details.

Today such debates have subsided—in part because the literary techniques popularized by the New Journalists are now widely used (Boynton, 2005). What media historians have not fully recognized is how often sportswriting figured in this tale. We are not used to thinking about the New Journalism as a moment of exemplary sportswriting. We more commonly remember the New Journalists as reporters who specialized in discussions of politics and popular culture. And yet, many of the signature stories of the movement were profiles of sports figures: Gay Talese (2003) on baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, Tom Wolfe (1965) on race car driver Junior Johnson, and Hunter Thompson (Wolfe & Johnson, 1973) on the Kentucky Derby. For many years, George Plimpton made a virtual career of documenting his experiences as an amateur athlete—as a pitcher in Out of My League (1961), a quarterback in Paper Lion (1966), a golfer in Bogey Man (1968), a fighter in Shadow Box (1977), and a hockey player in Open Net (1985). Contemporaries not associated with the New Journalism were similarly exploring sports themes. For example, during this period John McPhee published books on Princeton basketball star Bill Bradley (1965) and on tennis champions Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner (1969).

Sports themes in magazines and books are now so popular that it may be hard to remember that in the 1960s, news coverage of sports was far less ubiquitous than it is today. Though accomplished writing on sports was appearing occasionally in newspaper columns and in magazines such as Esquire, True, and Playboy, Sports Illustrated struggled to meet its costs for its first decade and survived only because of the deep pockets and determination of the Luce empire. Similarly, nonfiction books on sports did not hit the bestseller lists as frequently as they do today. Thus the nonfiction bestseller lists of Publishers Weekly from 1960 to 1980 included only 18 books on sports—nearly all of them memoirs by well-known players or sports figures such as Jerry Kramer, Jim Bouton, Billy Martin, Joe Garagiola, Leo Durocher, Dave Kopay, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sparky Lyle, Bill Veeck, and Howard Cosell. New Yorker writers Roger Kahn and Roger Angell would both publish bestselling books on baseball in 1972, and Jim Fixx's The Complete Book of Running would spend 75 weeks on the bestseller list from 1977 to 1979, including 13 consecutive weeks at No. 1 in 1978, much of it alongside George Sheehan's Running and Being.

David Halberstam's (1999) edited collection of The Best American Sports Writing of the Century includes a significant number of stories from the 1960s and 1970, suggesting that such work had begun to deepen in its quality and intention and also had begun to attract higher-caliber writers. Most of that work appeared in magazines rather than newspapers. Halberstam's own career illustrates the general trend, moving from political and war reporting in his early career to a series of books on sports and American culture more recently.

The New Journalism's encounter with sports can help us reimagine sports journalism as a serious domain of moral experience worthy of sustained discussion and critique. Most obviously, the journalists who turned to such work had often already proved themselves as political reporters. They chose to write about sports not because it was merely entertaining or fun but because it evoked wider cultural themes that interested them. Among the most important of those themes that emerged across the work of Talese, Wolfe, Mailer, Thompson, and others was the cult of celebrity built around sports heroes, the public's symbolic identification with particular teams, the existential and agonistic qualities of competition, the increasing resemblance of politics to sporting life, sports as a stage for the dramatization of cultural difference, and the behind-the-scenes connections between journalist and sporting event. A single example illustrates this theoretical point. One might say, without much exaggeration, that the career of Muhammad Ali embodied powerful and complex reasons for writing about sports. In Ali, writers discovered new reasons to take sports seriously—his principled resistance to the draft, his witty and outspoken public persona, his transformation of the aesthetics of heavyweight boxing, the derision of his competition. So many journalists wrote about Ali in the 1960s and 1970s that Halberstam included a whole section of stories by Murray Kempton, Dick Schaap, Norman Mailer, Jim Murray, and Mark Kram (and he could as easily have included stories by Wolfe, Plimpton, and many others). New Yorker editor David Remnick's book on Ali (1998) documents much of this interest.

In short, writers and readers discovered in the New Journalism deeper lessons about sports, exploring the moral implications of sports as a cultural activity. It was not so much that the New Journalism “discovered” sports as a topic; to the contrary, newspaper, magazine, radio, and television had covered events and athletes for decades. What the New Journalists did was to undermine older narratives of sports as heroic or epic. Halberstam himself did not always make this connection. For example, he praised Talese's famous Esquire profile of Joe DiMaggio as an example of a very traditional journalistic virtue: Talese's willingness to unmask a public hero, to show the “real” person behind the idolized public figure. This assessment praises sportswriting as best when it mimics the forms of normal political journalism, exposing the truth behind the public faccedilade. But as David Eason (1984) astutely observed, the problem confronted by the New Journalists was precisely the experience of living in an age that constantly blurs and intermingles image and reality. Journalism can do little to settle such moments of existential angst, but it can dramatize their impenetrability. The New Journalists found those themes as easily in sports as they did in other domains of society.

New Journalism offered an uninvited critique of normal journalistic conventions and assumptions. Taking up sports as a serious topic was part of this critique, but shifting the focus from the structure and apparatus of games and events to sports participation, spectatorship, production, and display as culturally complex activity was the other part. Despite the challenging and innovative approach these writers brought to their work, sports remains one of the more mystified social practices in contemporary life, a tangle of amateur and professional experiences, contested meanings, and organizational and commercial relations waiting to be interpreted. Presented with such rich material, many writers continue to imagine sportswriting as an invitation to social criticism, understanding sports as a significant site where the (sometimes troubling) assumptions that shape our social world are given shape.

Because such writing remains at the margins of journalistic practice, however, we do not subject it to the rigorous ethical criticism we more normally direct at other forms of reporting, except to stigmatize it as an obviously defective practice that proves the worth of normal journalism.

End Zone Celebrations and Moral Judgments

We want to offer one last instance of how sports narratives routinely offer moral judgments that are not systematically subjected to ethical critique: the customary manner with which sports journalists relate incidents of end zone celebration in professional football. For years now, the National Football League (NFL) has punished “premeditated” or “excessive” post-touchdown celebrations with a 15-yard penalty, and the television and print journalists who cover the sport frequently (almost reflexively) describe such incidents in disapproving and disappointed terms. These incidents, it is frequently noted, set a poor example for young players who are undoubtedly in the audience, learning new forms of egocentric self-promotion that undermines the morally unquestionable team ethic that sports ideally impart. If such critiques were not so common, it might be difficult to understand institutional sanctions on unscripted, improvised entertainment in the midst of the carefully organized entertainment spectacle that is NFL football, especially when one considers how commentators universally celebrate the improvisation of its athletes at other moments. The stated preference of many commentators—that athletes, upon entering the end zone, simply hand the football to the referee and act subdued, “like they've been there before”—runs counter to the elaborately staged, exuberant, and frequently over-the-top production of the game-as-entertainment.

To explain such anomalous moral judgments in American sports journalism, we must first recognize the delicately balanced terrain sports journalism has constructed for professional football. This game has not come to occupy a central position in mainstream articulations of contemporary masculinity without careful crafting by its expositors. Indeed, journalists and broadcasters have had an important role to play in elevating the game to battles of sometimes transcendent importance on par with labor or warfare. Decades ago, Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi could, in all seriousness, draw direct comparisons to warfare: “I believe that any man's finest hour, his greatest fulfillment of all he holds dear, is the moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle—victorious” (Lombardi, Jr., 2003, p. 182).

In contrast with such matters of life, death, and honor, the contemporary player sometimes prefers, with his words or actions, to unmask the game as a spectacle (and occasionally, as silly rather than serious). When Terrell Owens signs the football with a hidden pen, or joins a line of cheerleaders to celebrate with a choreographed shake of the pom-poms, he pierces the mythic comparisons to combat by (intentionally or not) exposing their absurdity.

Owens has had company. Lately a long line of wide receivers and running backs, almost all of them African-American, have come in for considerable attention from a mainstream press that overwhelmingly and unreflectively denounced their antics in strong terms. In recent years, this kind of violator had become so recognizable that Budweiser was able to launch a successful advertising campaign based on his caricature. Leon (the actor Nigel Thatch), the cynical, self-promoting fictional black football player at the center of a 2003 Budweiser advertising campaign, offends the sensibilities of his team's authority figures with his selfishness and insubordination. Significantly, he also repeatedly undermines the game's cherished warrior myths with his repeated insistence on approaching the game as commodified entertainment. In one advertisement, Leon is commanded to enter the game by his white coach, but suggests that he might better help the team if he sat down “and let the camera focus in on me and see all the pain and anguish all over my face. Watching a great athlete suffer is very powerful stuff.” Of course, Leon is not the first person to recognize the narrative potential of such mo ments. His comic faux pas is in acknowledging that sporting events become material for social narratives and in acknowledging his own role as a performer in them. Like choreographed end zone celebrations, such acknowledgements are understood to mock the macho sentimentality that the press has constructed around professional football, and so both become the object of ridicule in media culture.

But while mainstream sports journalism made the figure of Leon recognizable with a consistent narrow interpretation of player performance, other voices continue the traditions of New Journalism's insistence on exposing sports' mythic faccedilade. When the NFL responded to one Owens celebration as “extraneous to the game,” New York Times columnist William Rhoden (2002) observed that “most of what is attached to the NFL is extraneous to the game, beginning with scantily clad cheerleaders. Once again, the NFL is trying to have its cake and eat it too” (D1). For Rhoden, the NFL's attempts to curtail these celebrations reveal a contradiction at the heart of the contemporary game. Football is carefully manufactured entertainment that pretends to entertain purely by accident, and the usual air of life-and-death seriousness can only be maintained with the cooperation of sportswriters. Increasingly, however, sportswriters representing traditionally marginalized groups are rejecting this narrative. Like the New Journalists who were their ancestors in approach, if not in style, these writers, many of them African-American or women, refuse to accept the narrative boundaries of sportswriting, preferring instead to frame sports as a significant cultural site that has much to teach us about public life.

Race, Rhoden (2006) insists, is a significant factor in these struggles. His book Forty Million Dollar Slaves is inspired, he reports, by a comment delivered to NBA star Larry Johnson by a white spectator. The book, like those written by New Journalists, views sport as an opportunity for a political and moral critique, one that reveals significant features of the political landscape to the careful reader. The stories Rhoden tells in the book span decades and are connected by a desire to demonstrate “the reality of exploitation and contemporary colonization” (p. xi).

Likewise, other African-American sports journalists, including Scoop Jackson, Jason Whitlock, and the late Ralph Wiley, make frequent interventions that insist on viewing mainstream, black-dominated sports such as basketball and football as important cultural sites for the construction of racial meaning in a “colorblind” society. A 2003 Selena Roberts column noted disparities in the negative public reaction to Owens, an African American, and Caucasian New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey, who was praised by commentators for his confrontational style. Roberts, a white woman, used that discrepancy to challenge broader assertions of the league as a culture of color-blind meritocracy.


The refusal of these writers to accept the dominant myths surrounding the game is an ethical act. Writing about commodified sport is a community-building exercise. Yet there is little in our usual approach to journalism ethics that would help us capture the moral significance of such writerly activity. The games may be of little social consequence, but the stories told about them routinely give shape to deeply felt communal values, including the value of self-sacrifice, the possibilities of group achievement, the power of the individual will, and the capriciousness of social hierarchies. How such stories are told raises vital ethical questions. That they are told is vital to our shared experience of democratic culture.