Postscript on Sports Writing

Damon Runyon

I class="firstwords">have no fancy for returning to sports writing. I would be no good at it any more; at least not in the tradition of sports writing that flourished in my day as a member of that branch of the newspaper game.

I had softened up too much long before I quit it. I had become too relenting and too friendly and had too many personal contacts. Instead of the district-attorney which I hold should be the role of the sports writer and especially the columnist or editorial commentator, I found myself too often playing the part of the counsel for the defense.

To be a great sports writer a man must hold himself pretty much aloof from the characters of the games with which he deals before his sympathy for them commences to distort his own viewpoint. There is nothing more engaging than an engaging rogue and there are many engaging rogues in professional sports. I fear I knew most of them, and that is not good for a sports writer.

The very nature of nearly all professional sports and some amateur sports, too, makes them subject to influences and practices that are harmful to public morals and, inasmuch as the newspapers recognize the reader interest in sports to the extent of giving great space to them and hiring many sports writers, it is the duty of these writers to severely police their field.

They will be called knockers by sport itself and by many of their own fellows but they will be feared and respected and the sports public will buy the newspapers they represent to see what they have to say. The “he-never-knocked-nobody” sports writer sells very few newspapers, though he gets large and cordial hellos as he moves among the operators and participants in professional sports.

I have heard it argued that a man writes according to his nature—according to the way he is gaited, but I am not sure that this is true. I think it is a matter of character and courage and sense of right and justice. If you have that you can be sweet-natured and kindly off stage or an 18-karat stinker and still be a great sports writer in my opinion.

The soft-soap style of sports writing makes things pleasanter for a sports writer in his daily life as he encounters many more smiles than frowns and it fills his space as well as the sand-paper stuff in case the publisher chances to glance at the sports page to see if the guy is working. But after awhile, few read him. They know what to expect.

Oh, no, I do not say that a sports writer should always be on the blast. That can pall, too. I say he should blast when conditions and abuses warrant and not pass them over unnoticed or apologetically. But inasmuch as even my unpracticed orb can observe conditions right now that seem to me should be blasted, yet my attentive ear hears no general blasting, so I take it that sports writing in that tradition has gone out of fashion with sports writers for the time being.

Except for a few instances. We still have a few stout-hearted chaps of the old school who lay about them boldly and well. And there are a number of youngsters coming up since World War II who give promise of development. I would like to be where they are now, just starting out, of course, but I would not want to go back. And so I will file this in the Look Who’s Talking department and let it go at that.