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Holliday: Sports Journalism Just as Important When The Cheering Stops

31/03/2020

Former WRAL-TV Sports Anchor and frequent WRALSportsFan contributor Bob Holliday penned this piece about reporting on sports when sports are not happening due to the COVID-19 pandemic:

Bob Holliday

Its a rare event that brings the sports world to a complete pause. Not even the murder of 11 Israeli athletes by the Palestinian terror group Black September at the Munich Olympics could stop Avery Brundages games for more than 34 hours, though of course it should have. As I look back on my years as a sports reporter and even as a young sports fan, I can cite only a few instances where the rhythmic and continual schedule of athletic events came to some kind of halt.

1963 Assassination of President Kennedy: The tragic events took place on a Friday. While the nation mourned, college and professional football schedules were pushed back one week.

1980 Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: President Carter, in response to the Soviet Unions military incursion, decided the USA would boycott the Moscow Olympics. Other American sports took place as usual; but for many athletes who made the U.S. Olympic team in 1980, like UNC swimmer Sue Walsh, there would be no second chance.

1991 Gulf War: Operation Desert Storm marked the first full-scale American military effort in three decades. Out of respect, many college basketball games scheduled on the day of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, including the UNC-NC State game, were postponed.

2001 9/11 Attacks: Four airline attacks on U.S. targets in New York and Washington, coordinated by the terror group al-Qaeda, killed nearly 3,000 Americans. The attacks took place on a Tuesday. By Friday, it was, as NBC Today show host Bryant Gumbel aptly put it, still too soon to play games. Both NCAA institutions and the NFL pushed back their schedules by one week.

Hurricanes: Several major storms have impacted sporting events in North Carolina: Hurricane Fran in 1996, Hurricane Floyd in 1999, and Hurricane Florence in 2019. Games were played during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, though those decisions proved to be controversial. Hurricanes are typically regional events, not affecting sports in most areas of the country. But for those whose homes and communities suffer damage, the impact can be quite long lasting, as we in North Carolina know all too well.

I cant reflect on any of these difficult times without thinking about how my colleagues in the sports media and I spent our time when the cheering for athletes abruptly stopped. I remember being out in the community a few days after the attacks on the World Trade Center when a viewer suggested to me that we sports people must not have anything to do since no games were being played. I bristled. Sports journalists specialize in sports but we are journalists first. I told the viewer that I had covered a church vigil for the 9/11 victims and done a story gauging reaction to the attacks among some international students at NC State. I would do several more non-sports stories before the games resumed.

At WRAL, there is a tradition, dating back to Fran, of using sports reporters to cover the much larger story of hurricane damage. I have talked with people whose homes have been bisected by a toppled pine and shot standups alongside uprooted oaks whose tall tentacles towered over my 63 frame. Ill never forget telling the story of the Bunn Wildcats, unable to play or even practice football, helping clear fallen trees in that Franklin County community.

I mention these few examples, because in the coming weeks and months, the sports media will be challenged in ways we have not seen before, putting aside traditional reporting about athletes and games, to take part in the more significant journalistic enterprise the pervasive pandemic of COVID-19, and how this particular coronavirus is affecting each and every life.

Sports people will still tell some traditional stories to be sure. I can envision features about senior athletes, whose dreams of one final moment of collegiate glory and exposure to the professional ranks were abruptly but necessarily smashed by the cascade of canceled events and even canceled seasons over the past weeks. Joe Giglio wrote a fine column about C.J. Bryces reaction to the sudden end to his senior season.

Yet I suspect stories like these will represent just a portion of the work by sports people. There is so much about the pandemic we still dont know. We have truly never seen anything remotely like this, and the events I have chronicled above will, in all probability, ultimately pale in comparison with COVID-19 in terms of the duration of impact on virtually every sport in America.

Where do we go from here?

Every day just gets a little shorter dont you think

Take a look around you, and youll see just what I mean

People got to come together, not just out of fear

Where do we go

Where do we go

Where do we go from here?

Peter Cetera 1969

To me this song from the rock group Chicago poses the right question. Though written 50 years ago after the divisive Democratic National Convention of 1968, it resonates today on a very different issue. To me, the words challenge us as a society to come together not literally of course but to act as individuals in lockstep with one another to do whats necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Apart from our elected leaders, key government administrators, and of course the medical community, no institution has a greater role in these times than the Fourth Estate. The work for reporters in the days ahead will require long hours and out-of-the-box thinking as the media endeavor to bring us the critical stories while trying not to put individuals in harms way. Journalism during a time of social distancing? There is nothing anyone learned back in J School to prepare for this. And yet I feel sure our media, at both the local and national level, will successfu
LINK: https://www.capitolbroadcasting.com/2020/03/31/holliday-sports-journal...
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