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FOCUS Sports Writer "gets it" from all angles

For an industry that is allegedly in its dying days, the power of newspapers and one story can kill that idea quickly.

For the most part, stories come and go in a mundane fashion where people get the information they were looking for and move on to the next story.

However, sometimes, with a little controversy and some drama, a story will blow up and fly around mobile devices and computers all leading back to a small pipeline that ends at the desk and phone in my office.

Which is where I found a healthy collection of insults and compliments for some of my latest work.

Rather than cover baseball games over the weekend, I ended up attending baseball games and listening to the chatter of the other human beings.

Some raced up to me to report what they had seen and heard. Others were boisterous enough to be quoted from across a baseball diamond.

Either way, ridiculous things were afoot. I just sat there and let people talk and the more I heard and shared the more I heard about it.

Most of what I shared came from others and they were not shy about it. Neither were those who commented after the stories appeared.

Kudos from Minnesota Public Radio and the Minnesota State High School League had me flying high on Thursday, while having shame heaped upon me by angry mothers balanced it all out.

According to most complaints about the complaints I made, based on the complaints I heard, it can be assumed that I should have personally spoken to every single person at these games and gotten the "real" story of whether sportsmanship was less than par.

According to the comments of some readers, I can write a new story completely contradicting what has already been printed.

Responses have been all over the spectrum and I have heard the same story reported in two versions where if the two parties were face-to-face, I'd be hard-pressed to know which one to believe.

That is the slippery slope that comes along with the power of the printed word.

For balancing on the reported decline in behavior, I have been called brave, courageous and also scum.

There are times in this industry when you can touch people's lives and leave them and yourself feeling good, bad, happy, infuriated, what-have-you.

That is the power of newspapers and proof that this industry is far from dead. For, if people did not care about newspapers, why would someone take the time to send in the following?

"It's about time that someone in the media demonstrates that they have a backbone, and most importantly a value system, that impels them to name names of those who disrespect the code of sportsmanship and the rules in the game of life."

The same can be said about reading the following, as it screamed down the pipeline to my desk:

"You have done a great disservice to a group of boys and fans who are working hard to make a good name for (their team), our communities, and our families. Shame on you."

You're great, Bob. You're scum, Bob.

I love a good dichotomy. It's like a tense ball game where feelings can go from good to bad in one pitch of the ball.

I pitched two versions of explanation from all the things I was told and witnessed. I even rewrote one piece four times to appease those who were most livid.

I believe all readers who contacted me are correct in their assessment, just like I feel I was correct in my own.

"We saw a catcher throw his glove on home plate and shout at the ump that it was a (expletive) horrible call. The ump did not eject him. We had players shouting back and forth across the field with the F words flying."

This is from a local fan and parent who attended the game where this occurred.

In another statement, a coach commented, "Both teams were warned about swearing one time; that was it."

I believe them both.

Better yet, "You didn't even mention so-and-so from that other town!"

Don't do it to me, but you can sure do it to them.

The topic of something simple like sportsmanship has taken a life of its own in three days and because I chose to take a controversial stance and start by actually naming the people who were accused of bad play or witnessed doing so, in one instance incorrectly naming someone, I too have become a willing participant and have felt, at times, like swearing at people.

I knew I had done something right when the Minnesota State High School League acknowledged "Bob Williams, a writer from the East Otter Tail Focus gets it," as they linked to my story on Facebook.

I can firmly state that I have made a lot more friends with these stories and those new pals of mine are umpires and referees.

One umpire confided in me that the declining nature of play, dealing specifically with sportsmanship from everyone at games, has caused him to clear his schedule of half his games.

"They don't pay well enough to drive several hours to put up with the absurdity," he said.

Another umpire posted a comment about my story online stating, "This hits the nail right on the head."

It seems to me this decline of sportsmanship must be happening everywhere. That makes it easier to take some of the rumblings from those who didn't like my story.

The comments laced with anger forced me to apologize to a number of people who countered some small part of the story I printed with their own version.

Nobody wants to look or feel bad and I have tried to be big enough of a person to empathize with those angry readers and I believe them when they relate how they strive to instill sportsmanship in whatever capacity they hold at games.

I have gotten a healthy dose of looking and feeling both good and bad and people are not afraid to let loose via email, believe me.

It shows how an important topic can be brought up in this forum and still garner the attention it deserves and I firmly believe, had I written a 'Minnesota Nice' column, where I said little more than - well, I guess there was some bad behavior going around town - nobody would have paid any attention to it, whatsoever.

Instead, people got angry.

So be it.

People felt better after reading.

So be it.

Regardless of the situation, who was involved and who was insulted, sooner or later somebody says something that brings it all back to what the intention was in the first place.

"Thank you for directly confronting this issue and not getting lost in the fog of political correctness.

"You should also be commended for pointing out that the majority of players and fans consistently practice good sportsmanship, class, and pride.

"I will guarantee you that most of the parents who saw these acts of bad sportsmanship had an important conversation with their children that included the phrase, 'If you ever act like that in public...' to reinforce the family value of good behavior.

"You really earned my respect when you apologized to anyone you may have wrongly accused of bad sportsmanship.

"It takes a person with a strong character to admit when they are wrong, and say so in public.

"Such a character is built by always practicing good sportsmanship everyday in the game of life. Keep up your good work and calling them as you see them."


I must have done something right or the kind reader who sent me that note would have never bothered to say such nice things.

Just like those who think I bungled the whole story and made everything from their team to entire communities look bad.

Throughout the hazing and positive reinforcement I've received since printing these popular stories, I have kept one particular mindset in dealing with the fallout from those who loathe me, while trying to accept the praise from others with humility.

I'm simply trying to be a good sport about it.

Follow @eotsports on Twitter for live game updates and immediate links to stories when posted.

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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