Talking back to the Times | Bleader

Talking back to the Times

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ESPN commentator Stephen Smith
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  • ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith

Sometimes, it's not that complicated.

Richard Sandomir, whose beat is TV sports, gave ESPN's Stephen A. Smith a slapdown this week. On First Take, Smith had had something to say about domestic violence among athletes, and Sandomir (who wasn't alone) did not agree.

Sandomir wrote: "Smith has used his family history—he was raised by his mother and four older sisters—to provide an experiential backdrop to his so-called expertise. I do not doubt that being close to strong women in his family can make a man more sensitive, more acutely aware of how women feel about certain issues and more willing to fight for them if they are being abused. But that does not make him an expert with the credentials to venture into the psychology or sociology of abuse."

Credentials? Smith covers sports. That's his credential. He's paid to have opinions—not expertise. What business does Sandomir think he and Smith are both in?

Then there's the debate about that famed literary honor—the Man Booker Prize. Americans are eligible now, and last week the first Americans ever were nominated. But there's been grumbling. A letter to the New York Times argued the "inherent unfairness of the new arrangements." Now American authors have one more prestigious award and financial jackpot (£50,000) to shoot for, and it's that much harder for writers in smaller countries to catch a break.

This inherent unfairness might be what rubs people in the book trade the wrong way. But the general grumbling is, I think, more simply explained. The Man Booker used to introduce American readers to superior books we'd never heard of. There was a cachet in keeping up with the winners. If it's just another toot of the horn to the same old titles—why should we care?

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