Serving as Rick Telander's conservative foil | Bleader

Serving as Rick Telander's conservative foil


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I was headed downtown on the train the other day, immersed in Solomon Burke, whose singing about lost love is so freaking great that I’d undoubtedly taken on the look of one of those miserable, iPod-listening professionals Ben Joravsky is so worried about—though I’m actually just a melancholy, iPod-listening semi-professional, and pretty happy to wallow in this existence when “Cry to Me” is the soundtrack.

Anyway, that’s when I got a text from Ben himself. He wanted to make sure I’d seen that Sun-Times sports columnist Rick Telander had quoted me.

No kidding! Very cool—I’ve always been a big Telander fan.

By the way—what did he quote? I mean, out of all the wise and insightful things I’ve uttered through the years on topics such as how to get rich in journalism …

“Your hoops story.”

That makes a little more sense—he didn't quote me, but the story my colleague Kevin Warwick and I wrote about how basketball hoops are at the center of anxious debates about crime in neighborhoods around Chicago.

It's a serious issue, and people have a lot to say about it, as it touches on sensitivities like race, class, and public safety.

In this case, people have also had plenty to say about the writers. A number of Uptown residents have been moved to tell us how much we’re loved: not very much. In fact, some have let us know that, as one commenter put it, we’re “just plain ignorant, not to mention completely immoral and ethical for writing such an editorial. It’s obviously written for self-serving purposes only.” Otherwise, we're great reporters and even better men.

The central gripe from these folks is that we quoted long-time residents critical of the removal of hoops at Broncho Billy playlot in Uptown but did not write enough about the “other side”: how “most gangbangers are upset that one of their primary recruiting spots was taken away.”

Telander, meanwhile, has written a compelling series of columns about spending the summer visiting Murray Park in Englewood—a place nicknamed “Murder Park” because of the troubles in the surrounding community, but also the place where Derrick Rose found refuge on the courts.

Telander is the kind of sportswriter whose stories are more about human lives than games. He reports on angles of the story that others can’t or won’t see.

One astute political columnist even called on him to run for mayor.

So I thought again: This is great! Telander must believe we’ve really nailed this issue.

Upon pulling up the column, I discovered that Telander had in fact quoted our story—and then spent the rest of his column refuting what we’d written:

There has long been debate about the value of sports in the development of children and adults. Nothing is clear. But if calming young men, keeping them active, is all sports do, that’s something. And some young men from bad places can honestly say that basketball has saved them.

Yet there are far fewer outdoor basketball rims at Chicago schools and playgrounds than there used to be. As a recent cover story in the Reader, titled ‘‘Criminal Courts,’’ describes it, ‘‘Residents and officials . . . believe getting rid of basketball hoops can help. They say that not only do fights break out frequently on the courts, but gang-bangers try to recruit younger members or deal drugs under the guise of waiting for the next game.’’

That may be true, but no connection between basketball as a game and criminal activity has ever been made.

Our moment of being quoted by Rick Telander—and we served as his conservative foil.

I’d barely gotten used to our role as apologists for gangbangers and race-baiters. But hey, it’s a multitasking age.

Incidentally, I’ve been immersed in a lot of conversations lately about race and crime, and two of them that didn't end in bar brawls were recorded: my chat with Mike Stephen on Outside the Loop radio, and with Ken Davis and Salim Muwakkil on Chicago Newsroom. Check them out if you're so inclined—and let us know how we got it wrong.