Back in the mid-to-late 1980s, I used to wake up every Saturday morning and listen to a radio show, “Talkin’ Sports,” on our local station, WVIP. This was before WFAN blew up; before ESPN Radio; before every town had its own yahoo ripping outfielders and praising centers and raving about hot cheerleaders.
“Talkin’ Sports” was hosted by two guys—Tim Malsbury, a lifetime radio employee, and Joe Bucchino, a Pleasantville, N.Y. native who was working as the assistant general manager of the New York Rangers. They were kind and funny and relatively knowledgeable, and I’d regularly call in to offer my insights. Without fail, upon saying, “This is Jeff from Mahopac …” I’d hear Joe bellow, “My man! My man! My man!” It was awesome.
So awesome, in fact, that during my junior year at Mahopac High I asked Joe whether he’d do an interview for the Chieftain, our school newspaper. He agreed, and we met up at the station—Joe cool and laid back, Jeff nervous, holding a clunky tape recorder and a notepad. For, oh, an hour, we chatted about sports and hockey and radio and all nice things. At one point, for no apparent reason, I asked Joe why there were so few blacks in the National Hockey League. Here’s his response:
I stumbled upon this clip two days ago, while digging through the attic. The publication date was March 17, 1989. The story appeared on Page 6. I’m guessing—at most—50 people read the story. Of those 50 (or so), not one uttered to me, “Wait … wait … the assistant general manager of the New York Rangers doesn’t think—medically—blacks have strong enough legs to play professional hockey?” Hell, not one mentioned the quotation. It came, it went, it vanished.
This may well be the greatest example—in sports journalism history—of burying the lede.
Young journalists, hear me out: If you ever interview a GM or assistant GM or coach or athlete, and the person tells you blacks can’t play their sport because—medically—they don’t have strong enough legs, don’t place the info in paragraph No. 9. Don’t insert it after the assistant GM (or whoever) gives you his rundown or Tony Granato and Brian Leetch and Kerry Miller, or after he speaks for his passion of the game. Don’t ignore it out of sympathy; don’t think of yourself as a protector; don’t soften the words.
Lead with it, dammit. Lead with it.
I, again, was 17-years old. I knew enough to ask the question, but not enough to rightly handle the answer. I can look back and laugh and think about the impact—good and bad—the story might have had had, say, Mike Lupica’s kid gone to Mahopac High School. Instead, it disappeared.
Don’t bury your lede.