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a story

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by friend of the friendless, Jan 12, 2008.

  1. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Sirs, Madames,

    I was asked by alma mater (not that I graduated) to write something for the journalism-school magazine. Something first-personish about the life of a sportswriter. Ordinarily I wouldn't touch it--especially for no dough--but maybe it's a mitzvah that the faculty might return by allowing my daughter into a program. Rather than something self-congratulatory--about being some paragon of journo-standards--I opted to write about one of my low points. It's only in the draft stage. Can anyone read (or decode) it?

    Beware the Irishman Bearing Writs: The author would be relieved if you burned this story after reading it

    I am the son of an Irishman but I won’t visit my father’s homeland until a man who knows many tough men is safely in his grave.

    Did I get your attention?

    You know that there’s a story here and I can tell you most of it. Everything, really, except some names, especially the name of the man who knows many tough men and also the precise layouts of high courts in several jurisdictions. That man also knows many Irish lawyers. I know only one Irish lawyer—actually, only one lawyer at all—and he gives me sage counsel only when he’s stark naked.

    Are you still with me?

    Okay, some background. Please accept that everything that follows here is true.

    I am a sportswriter of small distinction. I’ve had a lifelong ambition to see my byline in a well-respected Irish newspaper, a story complete with the odd dollop of high Hibernian prose, flashing words like “codswallop” and "knackered" and choice phrases in the vein of "me ould sweat" and "put the heart in crossways." I dreamed I might somehow channel my sportswriting hero Eamon Dunphy who wrote this of Liam Brady, a national hero:

    He is often looked on as a great player. He is nothing of the kind. His performance on Wednesday was a disgrace, a monument to conceit adorned with vanity and self-indulgence, rendered all the more objectionable by the swagger of his gait.

    This passage brings to mind my naked lawyer, but I digress.

    So I set about coming up with an idea to pitch the sports editor of the well-respected Irish newspaper. I came up with a winner: A son of the Auld Sod, a true folk hero back home, was being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. In my pitch I detailed how the occasion would be bittersweet—the Irish boxer being honored, sound of mind and body, was going into the hall with a couple of American fighters who were clearly broken physically and neurologically. One had even successfully sued a wild-haired promoter for millions for sending him into the ring with short-circuited synapses and neurons misfiring. The irony: Upon the Irish fighter’s retirement, he loudly lobbied on the cause of safety, health-care and disability and life insurance for fighters.

    I received an email from the sports editor. The story was a go for the paper’s monthly sports supplement. The promised fee wasn’t much. Still, my dream was about to come true. I set about my research.

    Over the phone I interviewed the Irish fighter and the two American champions—one even had a friend “translate” for him because the game had left him unable to speak clearly. ‘Twas stuff to break your heart.

    For background I consulted an old-time boxing scribe based in New York , a loudmouth who cultivated an image straight out of the B movies of the 40s, right down to the cheap fedora. Mid-cigar-chomp, the scribe described watching the Irish fighter wilt during a championship fight held in 110-degree heat in Las Vegas . Tales of the thoroughly knackered* champ and the oh-what-might-have-beens would reflexively set off scores of Guinness-drenched reminiscences.

    I sent off a draft of my story weeks before deadline. There followed a deafening silence. No emails back. No phone calls. No cheque. Nothing. I feared my story had been killed and I, the next of kin, had not been notified of the death.

    Then one day a long-distance call. The sports editor. I thought he was going to ask me questions about the piece before sending it to press. Instead, he told me that he had rushed the piece into print word for word as I sent it, uninspected by editor, barrister or solicitor. A grevious error because the former manager of the Irish champ was suing the well-respected Irish paper for libel in both Dublin and Belfast . He told me to gather up my notes for questions from editors on high and company lawyers.

    It would have been enough to put the heart crossways in me**--but for the fact I couldn't believe it.

    Libel? This small piece of nostalgia and hagiography? Well, according to the sports editor, none of my over-wrought prose supposedly offended, just an off-hand observation by the American scribe. He suggested, tongue in cheek, that the Irish champ would have held onto the championship in Las Vegas if his manager “had been looking after him” and held out in negotiations for “the corner in the shade.”

    I thought these suits were, well, a load of codswallop*** until I Googled the former manager. Hundreds of hits came up. A few had to do with boxing. Most had to do with a string of successful libel cases, including one for millions against his former boxing champion and the publishers of the champ’s autobiography. I looked for the champ’s autobiography on bookdealers’ websites: Only a few copies existed at about $500 per, a collectors’ item, thousands having been pulled off the market and pulped as part of an out-of-court settlement. The former manager knew many tough men, most of them lawyers. In the service of his fellow ring veterans the former champ might have been better advised lobbying for libel insurance.

    The well-respected paper’s editors and lawyers called me several times over the next few days, asking me for details. They told me that the suits filed by the plaintiff named only the publishers, not me. They invited me to come to Belfast and Dublin to be deposed, to stay on if it went to trial, all expenses covered naturally. A chance to catch up with relatives.

    I gave this considerable thought until one day when I made my routine trip to the YMCA and encountered the only lawyer I know. An Irishman no less, one who works internationally for business concerns in Toronto . I was in the showers when he walked in straight from the steam bath, pink as a salmon. Having not received the newsletter he casually asked about recent events in my life and I recounted the whole imbroglio of the well-respected Irish paper, the boxing champ and the litigious former manager.

    His advice, offered freely, was to the point: “You don’t want to be involved,” he told me. “Do not pick up the phone. Do not respond to emails. Break off all contact. And you certainly don’t want to go there. Just because you haven’t been named to the suit means nothing. The sums of money are immense.”

    The word in Gaelic is the same in English: Gulp.

    The naked lawyer then asked questions that were asked only once by the well-respected paper’s editor. “Did they ever pay you?” he said. “Did you ever sign anything?”

    No and no.

    “All to the good,” he said.

    On the advice of the naked lawyer, whom I consider my ould sweat****, I have not picked up a phone in two years. Dozens of emails from the well-respected paper landed in my inbox and I wouldn’t open one for fear that poisonous gas would billow from my laptop. I have never mentioned the litigious manager’s name out loud. Only after I read his obituary will I be able to bring myself to open a brochure from the Irish Tourism Board. And even then I’d want that obituary well-sourced and fact-checked—I’d sooner trust a naked lawyer than a newspaper, however well-respected, that doesn’t promptly cut a freelancer’s cheque.

    * physically spent
    ** nonsense
    *** give me a heart attack
    **** my best friend

    YD&OHS, etc
  2. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member


    nice. not sure it details the life of a sportswriter, but it certainly is a cautionary tale.

    i thought it was a good read. and chilling.

    i was tripped up a bit by the call from the paper. it wasn't clear to me at that point that the story had actually run and how long ago. just because something is "rushed into print" doesn't necessarily mean it hits the streets immediately.
  3. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Mr Ace,

    Good point. I kept looking for it in the online edition but the sports supplement's content wasn't picked up by the website. It had been out for a couple of weeks ... not like they ever sent me a copy, mind you. (Turned out they even managed to mis-identify me as an "American sportswriter.) But I guess I can clarify.

    And I opted not to do the "life as a sportswriter" deal, too much like a trip to the sausage factory.

    YD&OHS, etc
  4. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Good work.
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