Yesterday, I was appalled when Craig Calcaterra pointed out the worst sports column ever written. The column by Mark Whicker uses the Jaycee Dugard tragedy as his hook for a phone-it-in potpourri-of-sports column.
It doesn’t sound as if Jaycee Dugard got to see a sports page.
Box scores were not available to her from June 10, 1991 until Aug. 31 of this year.
She never saw a highlight. Never got to the ballpark for Beach Towel Night. Probably hasn’t high-fived in a while.
She was not allowed to spike a volleyball. Or pitch a softball. Or smack a forehand down the line. Or run in a 5-footer for double bogey.
Now, that’s deprivation.
Can you imagine? Dugard was 11 when she was kidnapped and stashed in Phillip Garrido’s backyard. She was 29 when she escaped. Penitentiary inmates at least get an hour of TV a day. Dugard was cut off from everything but the elements.
How long before she fully digests the world she re-enters? How difficult to adjust to such cataclysmic change?
More than that, who’s going to explain the fact that there’s a President Obama?
Dugard’s stepfather says she’s going to need a lot of therapy — you think? — so perhaps she should take a respite before confronting the new realities.
So, Jaycee, whenever you’re ready, here’s what you’ve missed:
Whicker then inserts list of trivial sporting event that wouldn’t interest an avid sports fan, much less a girl who was imprisoned by a deranged rapist for 18 years. He then follows it up with this delightful closing pun:
And ballplayers, who always invent the slang no matter what ESPN would have you believe, came up with an expression for a home run that you might appreciate.
Congratulations, Jaycee. You left the yard.
The article is so vile that the best Deadspin could do with it was post it verbatim. Imagine that, you say something so outlandish that Deadspin can’t make further fun of you. That’s bad.
As if the column wasn’t bad enough, Whicker’s unapologetic response to readers who complained compounded his gross error in judgment to write and publish this column. Here is a sample of personal e-mail responses he sent to readers.
“Name one thing in that column that was insulting. It was a column celebrating the girl’s release and using an athletic context to show just how long an 18-year period is, illustrating just what she had been through.”
“The column celebrated the girl’s release and tried to use sports as a context to explain just how long 18 years is. I’m sorry you misinterpreted it.”
“I can’t comprehend the motivation of anybody who would interpret “Congratulations, Jaycee. You left the yard” as anything other than sympathetic or congratulatory.”
He’s not embarrassed—hell, I’m embarrassed for him—he’s blaming his readers for “misinterpreting” his words.
Eventually, he was forced to apologize, but the damage was done. Keith Olbermann was already making him the worst person of the day, and news stories about the column were already widely circulating. If he had quickly posted an apology instead of reflexively defending his journalistic integrity and insulting his critics, a simple statement might have reduced his transgression to a minor embarrassment. But, these e-mailed responses indicate he’s just a jackass who thinks he’s above criticism.
I have seen some harsh criticism for his editors at the Orange County Register; though, they should have spiked the piece, every author knows that he is fully responsible for his published words. The Register might want to dole out some sanctions for their editors, but the public blame should be directed at Whicker.
Update: Mark Whicker denies that there was anything inappropriate about his article.
“I vehemently believe I wasn’t insensitive about the fact that she was kidnapped,” he said Wednesday evening while at his son’s soccer practice. “I never made light about the fact that this woman was abducted. I don’t think anyone can cite anything in the column that says I did.”
Further Update: OC Register editor apologizes, and seems a bit more sincere and understanding of the inappropriateness of the column than Whicker.