Sports writers and the awards farce

I read a few mornings ago in the Arizona Republic one of its sports writers, Jim Gintonio, received a retirement gift from the Diamondbacks, the pro baseball team he covers.

Gintonio took a recent buyout and is retiring after 32 years at the Republic and its defunct sister newspaper, the Phoenix Gazette.  His sidebar on April 20 after the Braves game was his last, and he received “a personalized No. 32 Diamondbacks jersey” from the team.  Gintonio also was paid a visual tribute on the Jumbotron above centerfield.

“Job well done,” Dbacks manager Kirk Gibson was quoted as saying to Gintonio.

Sports writer Bob McManaman echoed Gibson in his sentimental note on the celebration:  “Job well done, indeed, Jimmers.”

But there is more going on here than meets the casual eye.

First of all, Gintonio is not being rewarded for practicing good journalism, which among other things is “a search for truth” and having the courage to write about it.  The award is not even for good sports journalism which has a much lower standard than almost any other area in the field.  The Dbacks organization would not know “good journalism” if it were a juicy fat one served down the heart of home plate.  So what then was the real purpose of the award to Gintonio?

Simple.   The Dbacks were making a statement, a mandate loud and clear, that Gintonio is the epitome of what  is expected from all reporters who cover the team, be they from newspapers, radio, TV or online bloggers.

And having never read a memorable word Gintonio has written, I can write without fear of contradiction that his body of work has seldom if ever given the Dbacks an uneasy moment,  never exposed a misdeed and likely never riled owners, upper management, or players.  Why else would they reward someone for doing so and encourage other reporters to follow suit?

Such awards are concerted PR efforts by the Dbacks to protect themselves, to not only curry favor with the media but to demand special treatment.  The message is clear.  Toe the line or we’ll make it miserable for you.  It is a common practice in any business where bad PR could cost you money.

The Dbacks practice this in many ways.  For instance, the telecast team of Daron Sutton and Mark Grace frequently will remark after watching a reporter flub a foul ball in the pressbox:  “He’s a great writer,” they will chime, “but he’s a lousy athlete.”   The team, via its PR telecasts, is not describing bad hands.  The Dbacks are defining their perverted view of “good journalism” and someone who practices it.

To bow to this pressure, to be swept up in the manipulation, does not foster good journalism.

By accepting such awards, the journalist not only deceives himself in that he is truly respected among those he idolizes and that he has had a meaningful and maybe even glorious career.  But he has made it doubly hard for any serious and aggressive sports journalist following in his soft wake.

All of this is not to pick on Gintonio per se.  He no doubt is a good guy and popular among his peers and readers.  And these awards are fairly common around the country, particularly in small-market cities like Phoenix.  But they are blatant shams, and news organizations should be embarrassed with their reporters receive them.

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