JG Online

The Sports Writer

January 2010

Longtime Chicago sports writer Bill Gleason passed away at the age of 87 during the first weekend in January. Gleason was a World War II veteran whose opinions on the sports world kept fans entertained for half a century. But more than that, Bill Gleason was a symbol of what I thought a sports writer should be: always skeptical, somewhat cranky, strongly opinionated, and brutally honest.

Through the magic of cable television, I was introduced to the fedora-wearing Gleason and his cohorts on 'The Sports Writers On TV,' a staple of SportsChannel's syndicated programming in the late 1980's. Gleason joined Ben Bentley, Bill Jauss, and Rick Telander on the gritty, bare-bones set that typified the life of a sports writer. They were four middle-aged/older guys with cigars sitting around a poker table strewn with newspapers in a smoke-filled room simply talking about sports headlines.

Each segment began with the sound of a typewriter -- an archaic device in today's WiFi/broadband world. Their debates made for a riveting hour of television and captivated an 8th grader from Long Island whenever the show aired. The four writers certainly had differences of opinion, but they always backed their positions with solid facts. That seems to be a lost art in today's world of hate-filled pseudo journalism by bloggers with a modem and a keyboard.

I can remember the study hall period in middle school. We'd sit in a room with circular tables with no more than five seats at each table. During the NCAA Basketball Tournament in the spring, I came into class with a copy of the bracket. I joined four of my friends making predictions at the table. On the surface it was just a few 8th grade kids killing time. Looking back on it now, the time we spent had some real meaning. For a few minutes each day, we could transform ourselves into Gleason, Jauss, Bentley, and Telander. One of the kids around that study hall table went on to become a lawyer, while another kid became a professional journalist. Yes, there are some days where I wish I had gone to law school!

'The Sports Writers On TV' showed me a different side of the profession. Writers had to convey their opinions on paper, but they may also be called out to defend those opinions with their peers in a smoke-filled room. Above all else, they had to understand the responsibility of the job. Writers may receive their paychecks from a publishing company, but the real boss is the average sports fan at home. It is up to the sports writer to ask the tough questions and put the story on the fan's doorstep -- or computer screen -- by the end of the day.

Bill Gleason came from a generation who weren't afraid to ask the tough questions and stand behind their opinions. He didn't tow a company line or cow-tip to a sanctioning body's point of view when the skies darkened. He understood that his job was to cover the story; it wasn't to become the story. Gleason used his straightforward, no-nonsense approach to earn admiration and respect from the personalities he covered, his peers in the industry, and the sports fan at home. That's the measure of a great sports writer and true professional.

Jeff Gordon Online

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