The Sports Magazine Years

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 6.35.32 AMMy past caught up with me. But in a good way.

A former student provided a link to back issues of SportsFocus and Second Look (now Sports Spectrum), two versions of the same magazine that I edited in two stints between 1984 and 1989.

The former student, Sarah Layne, now works for Sports Spectrum as director of partnerships, helping to keep this magazine going.  So of course, I’m indebted to her — both for alerting me to these links and for helping to continue the magazine we started 31 years ago.

For those of you interested in finding out more about Sports Spectrum and subscribing or supporting their good work, click on the magazine name for more info.  You can also see all of their available back issues, for all three titles, here.

It’s fun to look at the links and see the athletes profiled — not only because these are some of the top athletes of the 1980s, but also as an implied “where are they now?”  In some cases we know and in some cases we don’t know.

Check out the publications where I gained the experience that I apply in my classes as an associate professor of journalism at Auburn.  Not all are listed here, but a few that I worked on and wrote for.  The athletes are listed according to where they were at the time of the article.

SportsFocus, Volume 1, Issue 1

Julius Erving, Philadelphia 76ers

Dan Quisenberry, Kansas City Royals

Wayman Tisdale, University of Oklahoma

Willie Gault, Chicago Bears

Cheryl Miller, USC

Alberto Salazar, U.S. Olympic team

Pete Maravich

The above, unfortunately, is the only issue of SportsFocus available on issuu.com.  We didn’t print too many; our parent company folded and we went our separate ways after only about four issues.  (The last issue, in legendary manner, was at the printer with a cover article about Gary Carter that he did not like, but never made it out.)

After a couple of other brief jobs, including a year in Colorado, I returned to Southern California.  SportsFocus had re-emerged as Second Look, through a partnership with Radio Bible Class, publishers of the popular devotional Our Daily Bread.

Here are a few issues from those years:

Second Look, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Winter 1987)

Orel Hershiser, L.A. Dodgers

Jeanette Bolden, Olympic gold medalist, track

John Wooden, UCLA basketball head coach

(I was not editor for this issue; I joined the magazine soon after.  But I did contribute the Bolden article, and it’s one of the old issues still online, so it’s worth a look.)

 

Second Look, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Spring 1987)

Steve Alford, Indiana University

Ozzie Volstad, volleyball

Stan Smith, tennis

Jenna Johnson and Suzy Ryan, swimming

 

Second Look, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Summer 1987)

Steve Largent, Seattle Seahawks

Larry Sheets, Baltimore Orioles

Jeremiah Castille, Denver Broncos

I did the Castille article.  It was fun — not only as an Auburn grad interviewing a Bama athlete, but also because we did part of the interview in Westwood, near the UCLA campus.  That was always my favorite place to take Southerners who wanted to experience the SoCal life.

Second Look, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Fall 1987)

Scott Simpson, PGA Tour

Lynette Woodard, Harlem Globetrotters

Bob Boone, California Angels

 

Second Look, Vol, 2, No. 2 (Winter 1988)

Frank Tanana, Detroit Tigers

Mark Price, Cleveland Cavaliers

Anthony Munoz, Cincinnati Bengals

 

Second Look, Vol, 3, No. 1 (Fall 1988)

Glenn Davis, Houston Astros, and Storm Davis, San Diego Padres

Pat Williams, Orlando Magic

Therese Hession, LPGA Tour

The Glenn and Storm article was one of my favorites.  Being from Jacksonville, and friends with Storm Davis’s family, their intertwined stories particularly struck home with me.  If I wrote it today, I might have worked my own references into the story more directly.  But that’s not how we did it in the 1980s.

 

Second LookVol, 3, No. 2 (Winter 1989)

Jim Ryun, former mile record-holder

Brad Budde, Kansas City Chiefs

Dave Dravecky, San Francisco Giants

Dravecky anecdote: I moderated a discussion between Kyle Rote Jr., our companion TV show’s host, and Dravecky.  After the interview, the three of us said our goodbye’s, and I heard a phone click.  So I told Rote how impressed I was with Dravecky’s depth and insight and how well the discussion had gone. The response: “Um, John, I think Kyle has hung up.”

Maybe that’s why I was able to do a few more interviews with Dravecky over the years.

Second Look, Vol. 3, No. 3 (May/June 1989)

Reggie Williams, Cincinnati Bengals

Kay Yow, N.C. State

Ed Rush, NBA referee

This was my last issue of Second Look before I decided to make the transition to the academic life, first as director of public information at Azusa Pacific University.

As I transitioned from college administration to the classroom — first at APU, then Campbell University, then Auburn University — I also moved away from Second Look.  It eventually would change its name to Sports Spectrum, to emphasize the sports connection.

I wrote a couple of free-lance articles for them: one on Dale Jarrett and another interviewing several NASCAR personalities in conjunction with some PSAs they were filming in Charlotte, N.C.

But as I focused more on the college classroom, and on articles that were much longer and had a flood of footnotes, I left Sports Spectrum to the capable hands of Discovery House Publishers, and now as a nonprofit independent publication based in Charlotte.

I’m glad that their work continues, and that they have made mine available.

 

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2001: A Space Odyssey, The Terminator and the BCS

Originally published on Medium.com.  Click here

Hal

Why did college football fans hate the BCS?  Look no further than the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, with a stop at the Terminator series.  Then glance at Google, Facebook and Amazon.

It might be hard for Millennials to realize, but there was a time when society was pretty scared of computers.  And that fear has morphed into a different kind of suspicion today.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Actually, even before 1968 and the release of 2001, we could go all the way back to the 19th century.  Advances in science began to unravel the mysteries of the universe, undermining religious faith.  A book like Darwin’s Origin of the Species sought to take God even further out of the equation.

Anxiety transitioned from the anti-evolution fundamentalists to the greater society coming out of World War II, as science demonstrated its ability to incinerate entire cities.  The emergence of huge, powerful supercomputers fed off this anxiety as well.

Now we’re ready to revisit Kubrick’s 2001, the film version of Arthur Clarke’s sci-fi short story, “The Sentinel.”  Its climactic tale (spoiler alert) of a computer that learns to kill on its own initiative resonated with a society that was suspicious of the room-filling, soulless supercomputers that were gaining power.

The theme remained popular, even into the 1980s.  The Terminator played off that fear with its dystopic tale of technology having taken over a future society.  A particularly nasty robot, portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, travels back in time to kill the woman who would bear the future human rebellion’s leader.

About the time that movie came out, however, Apple had begun to roll out its original Macintosh personal computers, with IBM close behind.  Suddenly a computer was not some military-industrial complex storm trooper; it was a cute contraption on a desk or table — producing documents, playing games.  Their developers were portrayed less as mad scientists and more as harmless nerds.

Eventually even the Terminator found a heart.  By the second film in 1991, Arnold was as helpful as a desktop, and actually came back from the future to protect the future rebel leader his robot model had tried to kill just a few years before.

But then, those computers were networked together, and again, a fear of their power began to emerge.  As technology progressed, a certain ambivalence set in. We feared that the “ghost in the machine” had the power to travel from terminal to terminal. But we also loved the features of cyber-life.

You had The Net, where Sandra Bullock faces perhaps the first identity theft ever, but you also had You’ve Got Mail, where AOL helped Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan find love in a way they never could face-to-face — or at least since their last romcom.

And along came Google. And its algorithms.

The formula for life decisions changed.  As Google successfully couched its searches in complex formulas related to Web surfing, and other companies applied the process to other areas, that Hal-based uneasiness began to creep in again.

What (or more precisely, who) were these computers that were taking so much control of my life.  When Amazon suggested I check out this book, or Facebook suggested that friend for me, how did they know?  We could reassure ourselves that for every nine rational matches suggested, that tenth would show a cluelessness that only the human touch could rectify.

It was all fine as far as our day-to-day lives and relationships were concerned.  But when it infected college football, well, that did it.

(At this point I should stop and give credit to an excellent panel at the IACS’s 2015 Summit on Communication and Sport.  The panelists — Marcus Paroske, Michigan-Flint; Paul Johnson, Pittsburgh; and Ron Burg, Wake Forest — sparked the thinking here.)

The BCS did something more disruptive than drag that face from our junior high past into our Facebook consciousness.  Its network of computer rankings and human polls played with the dreams and hopes of college football fan bases.  And with only two happy fan bases per season, it was doomed.

A variety of disasters — the 2003 split title, the 2004 Auburn snub, the seemingly annual exclusion of hopeful undefeated teams — enhanced the anger.  The minor tweaks satisfied nobody.

To bring the human element back in (along with bazillions of simoleons in new revenue), the BCS and its computers were declared obsolete. In 2014, the College Football Playoff replaced it, with a selection committee that would meet weekly starting midseason and would issue rankings — but mainly, would be human.

Did they ever act human, in its messiest sense. Sure, there were conflicts of interest, with former coaches and athletic directors rating their own teams, but that’s what happens with people. Per chairman Jeff Long’s descriptions, the system seemed to change from week to week, but hey, they’re not some computer you can program. They’re people. Like us.

In the end, it all seemed to work — and not just because the three games generated huge ratings and massive narratives.  So maybe the four teams that made the playoff also would have been the top four teams using BCS’s formula.  Still, this time, humans had made the decision.  So that made all the difference.

With college football thus secured, and our relationship with technology once more renegotiated, life was better. We could return to our Google searches, and our Facebook relationships, and our Amazon purchases

And let algorithms make the rest of our decisions for us.