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Writing a tricky obit

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Batman, Dec 7, 2008.

  1. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    Inspired by the Jelenic thread, but also something I was thinking about last week.

    There's a coach in our area who ain't dead yet, but he's getting up in years. If my math is right, he's pushing 80 now, so one of these days we're going to get the word that he's passed on. The guy is a hall of fame coach, won a bunch of state championships back in the day, and is pretty respected by a lot of former players.
    There's also a good number who revile him, with good reason, because he was caught fucking a cheerleader in the fieldhouse.
    Now, this happened well before my time. About 25 years ago. To the best of my knowledge, it wasn't his word against hers, or her parents. He was caught in the act. However, it being a slightly different time in journalism and a small town, there wasn't a whole lot printed about it in the paper. He was forced to resign, run out of town, and that was that. I think most of the case was covered up either by the school board or by the family. Everyone knows what happened, but no one wants to dredge it up.
    He surfaced in a neighboring town a few years later and coached another 10 or 15 years. So, other than word of mouth accounts, I've never gotten the exact specifics of who, when, where.

    Since I've been here, I've written several lengthy stories on this guy. Once when he went into the hall of fame, another time writing about the history of the program he basically built (they sucked before he came, and were a state power for the better part of 30 years afterward). I've always danced around the real reason he left here, because I didn't have the specifics and didn't want to touch that third rail without having everything nailed down.
    But, when we end up writing the obit on this guy, do we owe it to our readers to delve into that? Or should we just keep saying "He resigned from Podunk in 1983, but returned to coaching at Shelbyville five years later..."?
    Like I said, I've always felt like his scandal should be mentioned, but didn't want to touch it without all the details, for obvious libel-ridden reasons.
  2. Some Guy

    Some Guy Active Member

    Too bad he didn't kick the bucket while fucking the cheerleader.

    Then you could write: "He died doing what he loved -- an underaged piece of ass."
  3. DanOregon

    DanOregon Well-Known Member

    Reminds me of the classic Lou Grant episode where she has to write obits on some fellow journalists who died in a plane crash (that she was supposed to be on) and realized they were all losers who no one really liked.
  4. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    What does "there wasn't a whole lot written about it in the newspaper" mean?

    Why don't you find copies of the paper 25 years ago and see what was written. If it's even a paragraph on an inappropriate relationship with a student, you've got what you need.
  5. BYH

    BYH Active Member

    Fucking outstanding.
  6. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    Just what it sounds like. There was a story about his resignation that never mentioned exactly why he was resigning, just that he was and what he had accomplished with the football program. There was a copy of his brief resignation letter. There was the SE's column about "rumors" of the reasons, but it was actually somewhat sympathetic toward the coach. Talking about how we need to wait until the facts are known before rushing to judgment, etc.
    And that was it. Couple days later it seemed to disappear from the paper and everybody moved on. Reading it, I figured some sort of deal was struck between the parties -- you don't sue, press charges, or talk about this publicly, and coach leaves, goes away for a while, and never even thinks about working here again.
    Like I said, it's a small town during an era when a successful football coach would have pulled a lot of weight. Wouldn't surprise me in the least if something like that happened.
  7. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    You don't mention the incident, just the coach resigning.
  8. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Stitch is right. All you have now is rumors, which may or may not be true.

    In my experience, the most believable stories actually aren't true and the far-fetched ones are. And a coach with a cheerleader is far from far-fetched.
  9. sportsed

    sportsed Member

    If you didn't have enough to write about it when he was alive, then you don't have enough to write about it when he's dead. Sure, a dead man can't sue for defamation, but journalists ought to be better than that.
  10. jlee

    jlee Well-Known Member

    It sucks the guy got away with it, but the above quote tells me there's not a lot you can do.
  11. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    The stories I've written about him, I've always felt a little dirty not mentioning it in some way, shape or form. And some readers have felt the same way, apparently. Last time I wrote one I got a nasty e-mail telling me I ought to be ashamed of myself for "glorifying that disgusting man."
    Yet any time you ask one of the old-timers what really happened back then, they give you the cock-eyed glance to leave it alone.
    So what ya gonna do?
  12. spnited

    spnited Active Member

    You're gonna leave it alone.

    And ask the e-mailer to give you his proof about what "that disgusting man" did.
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