Sports Spectrum, SportsFocus and Me

Seeing this article on Sports Spectrum magazine on The Ringer site brought me a sense of pride and nostalgia. Pride, because I was the founding editor of the publication. Nostalgia, because it generated memories of its founding days. Here are a few:

As the article states, Sports Spectrum started as SportsFocus magazine in 1985. Three of us magazine folks–myself, Sara Anderson and Steve Gier–joined some broadcast personnel, leaving Campus Crusade in July 1984 to start a ministry, New Focus.

The move provided me with the answer to the question, “What is the worst decision you ever made?”, for the rest of my life, conveniently. But it also would provide a lot of good memories.

We published SportsFocus and produced a syndicated television show, “Julius Erving’s SportsFocus.” The show itself was excellent, but it also generated this all-time out-take worth sharing, in a show that looked at sexual morals in the 1980s:

SUBJECT: I lost my lover to AIDS that year
INTERVIEWER: You lost your liver?
SUBJECT: No, my lover
INTERVIEWER: Your lover lost his liver?

We also created a film series for Word Publishers, “Champions”; two of the narrators were Orel Hershiser and Cheryl Miller (then a college student). By August 1985, the TV show and the magazine had failed to catch on, and we were broke and unemployed.

We went our separate ways. I eventually found employment first with Focus on the Family and then with Group magazine in Colorado. During this time, Radio Bible Class (publishers of Our Daily Bread) entered the picture, seeking a media project to reach a younger demographic.

They picked up SportsFocus magazine, renamed it “Second Look” and also created a “Second Look” television show co-hosted by Kyle Rote Jr. and pastor and author John MacArthur. The Group opportunity did not work out, and I rejoined New Focus, which had re-formed as a media agency producing the project for RBC, in July 1987.

The show combined segments on topics in sports with a Kyle/John studio segment that included audience questions. The magazine and television show typically covered the same topics.

New Focus’s president during this time was Ralph Drollinger. You might recognize Ralph as a leader of Bible studies both at the California state capital and more recently in Washington D.C.

Back then he was our company’s president, and sadly, not a very good one. He did not work well within a client agency structure, and pretty much negotiated the television show out of existence.

Seeing this, Steve Gier and I, fearing for our jobs as well, contacted our client RBC directly, pleading for help. They believed in the magazine, so they renegotiated the contract and even had us help develop a second project for them: a youth version of its popular devotional called Our Daily Bread Campus Journal, which is still published as Soul Journey.

The tenure did produce another unforgettable moment–on Jan. 5, 1988, when Ralph called me from Focus on the Family headquarters, shaken and upset, to tell me that basketball legend Pete Maravich had died after a pick-up basketball game that Ralph had joined in that morning.

The magazine also came back after a brief hiatus, but I soon tired of agency work (especially that experience of agency work), and I took a position at Azusa Pacific University as public information director in February 1989, ending my career in magazine publishing.

(By the way, you can link to some of my Sports Focus and Second Look issues through this blog post from three years ago.)

That put me on the path of transitioning to college teaching, and to my position  29 years later, as a full professor journalism at Auburn University.

Radio Bible Class brought the magazine project in-house about a year or two after I left (at some point renaming it Sports Spectrum), and Steve Gier moved from Southern California to Grand Rapids to continue as its art director for many years.

To be honest, I eventually lost track of the magazine and its progress as a different form of publishing (that kind that avoids perishing) consumed my attention.

I knew that it had been picked up by a group in Charlotte, N.C.; a former student of mine at Auburn even got a job there a couple of years without knowing my connection.

But The Ringer article caught me up with its progress, and I’m glad that it’s in a solid place with Jason Romano at the helm. Pro Athletes Outreach seems a perfect organization to oversee it (though granted my last contact with PAO was more than 30 years ago).

Now, as back then, the project seems guided by a belief that sports can be used in a positive way, to reinforce biblical concepts. I was particularly encouraged by Romano’s wisdom in navigating some perilous waters given race-related controversies among pro athletes today (much wiser than many evangelical leaders with a high media profile are handling political issues).

I am also grateful that the article recalled 1985, when some friends and I took our idealistic faith in Christianity and the power of sports media, stumbled around a bit, and ended up affiliated in a small way with a project that does us proud, even today.

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