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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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.