There Will Never Be Another Lewis Grizzard

Lewis Grizzard, 1947-1994

The title of this post is 25% tribute, 75% media reality in 2022.

The older folks reading this are more likely to recognize the name of Lewis Grizzard, a popular Atlanta columnist until his death in 1994 at the age of 47. He combined clever wit with a mischievous irreverence and a writing style that definitely would have bought him trouble had he continued to write to this day.

If you are not familiar with his work, the AJC has a page of his best columns offered to the public. They deserve a read.

As I reflect on Grizzard, however, my concern goes beyond the journalistic void left by his death. I seriously wonder if today’s media table has room for the tasty fare Grizzard used to offer.

Way back in the sports media Stone Age, sports media consumption was defined by scarcity. You might watch the game that night, and if it ended in time you could catch the highlights on the evening news sports segment. Then you would go to bed, and the next morning read about it in the newspaper.

Even as a general interest columnist, Grizzard would frequently provide comment on the big games, and they provided morning-after reflection that a night’s sleep seemed to kindle. Wherever you congregated–work, school or Waffle House–you would discuss the game, and Grizzard’s thoughts frequently were cited.

That doesn’t happen today. We are bombarded with major sporting event information and data from every possible angle, so that reflection, if it comes at all comes, is pushed back to much later, when the moments subside, and is the stuff of retrospectives that lack the shared experience.

There are great columnists out there, but so often their stuff appears two or three hours after the final whistle. It’s amazing that they are able to put out quality stuff so quickly, but often that means a post-midnight publication. If we read it–after frantically scrolling Twitter while seeing the highlights on SportsCenter or checking out a couple of live podcasts–exhaustion plays a factor. And if we don’t read it until the next morning, it can still move us, but the timing is as fragmented as our attention.

What started my thinking on this was a tweet or reply from a Twitter friend, and it’s appropriate to the topic that I can’t remember which one it was. (Lewis would smile sympathetically at that.) But the friend wondered what Grizzard would write about his beloved Georgia’s national championship victory last Monday.

Twenty-seven years is a long time. As Grizzard passed, the World Wide Web was starting its journey toward critical mass without him. Grizzard would have knocked out an amazing column about a long-awaited natty by his Bulldogs.

But would it have been received the same? Maybe, but even then it would be the exception that proves the rule. More likely, most Georgia fans would have seen and heard and felt so much by then that Grizzard would have been just another demand on their attention.

I reference frequently the advantages of being old, from a media audience perspective. Just recently, with Sidney Poitier’s passing, I could recall watching “To Sir, With Love” in a movie theatre. For me, it also involves being moved by “Rocky” before the franchise became a monument to Stallone’s ego, watching the Watergate hearings, and making sure I was near a TV Saturday nights at 10:30 Central to watch this new show on NBC.

Those days are gone. Life, with its various events, comes at us fast now. I’m glad that, years ago, it was slow enough that Lewis Grizzard could be along for the mornings after.