When it comes to the issue of whether sportswriters should vote for prestigious awards and the Hall of Fame in various sports, I flash back to a day in Miami in 1991. I saw my name in large type in the Miami Herald and realized I had become news.
It seems timely to weigh in on the subject after heavy traffic and reaction generated by a post I did yesterday on Notre Dame beat writer Brian Hamilton. He was conflicted over what to do with his Heisman Trophy ballot in light of Irish linebacker Manti Te’o being a top candidate. Eventually, the Chicago Tribune decided to use an internal staff poll to determine Hamilton’s vote.
Hamilton’s dilemma underscored the possible pitfalls and conflicts that result when writers engage in this exercise. He is to be commended for bringing up the issue with his sports editor Mike Kellams.
Based on my experience, I don’t think writers should participate in votes for major awards and the ultimate honor, election into a Hall of Fame. I fall back on that old axiom: Reporters cover the news. They don’t make the news.
I come to this perspective as someone who once voted for the biggest trophies in sports.
I became the Tribune’s baseball writer for the White Sox in 1986. At the end of the year, I was allowed to participate in voting for the American League MVP and Cy Young Award. There were only 28 voters for each award.
I was only 26 at the time. Only a decade or so earlier, I was collecting baseball cards. Now I was voting for AL MVP. Talk about a powerful feeling. It was intoxicating.
In 1988, I became the Tribune’s national college football reporter. Soon, I was awarded a Heisman Trophy vote. But even bigger, I was asked to be among the voters for the Associated Press writer’s poll.
In the old days before the BCS, the writer’s and UPI coaches’ polls determined the national champion. Again, it was an incredible power surge. This athletically-challenged sportswriter was going to have a say on No. 1.
My epiphany, if you will, came in 1991. The polls were split between Miami and Washington. As a result, I was fielding calls from reporters about my vote for No. 1. It started to dawn on me that there was something not right about this.
Then it really hit me one November day when I was in Miami to cover the Hurricanes. The Miami Herald did a major story on the polls. They splashed a big pullout quote across the top of the front page. I had to do a double take.
The quote was mine.
I remember it was a really uneasy feeling. I felt like a line had been crossed. My vote was news.
It was magnified even more when Miami won the AP poll by a two-point margin thanks in part to my vote for the Hurricanes. If I had gone the other way and it ended in a tie, history would have been different. My vote clearly helped Miami players and coaches win that ring.
Did I realize it fully back then? No, I still was a bit naive. Even though I felt uncomfortable about it, I continued to vote in the AP poll until I came off the beat in 1994. Looking back, it wasn’t right.
Later, the Associated Press reviewed its stance, deciding in 2004 not to allow its poll to be used in the BCS’ wacky equations.
As for sportswriters participating elsewhere, let’s make this clear: their votes go beyond somebody winning a trophy. Baseball players get six-figure bonuses for winning top awards. You could be sure Texas A&M will heavily market Johnny Manziel’s Heisman Trophy, and not just this year but many years to come. And Manziel’s marketing power will be much greater once he turns pro.
For people who say there’s no money involved with Hall of Fame votes, guess again. A Hall of Famer sees a huge jump in demand and appearance fees. There’s nothing like being able to sign an autograph that includes the tagline: ”HOF.”
Aside from the money, there’s prestige involved for the athletes with these honors, and in the case of the Hall of Fame, a legacy and sense of immortality.
I can go on forever about the potential conflicts for sportswriters being involved in these awards. The Tribune’s Hamilton faced them with his vote.
Ultimately, though, most sportswriters are responsible and do the right thing. In many respects, they are best qualified to do the job. But that isn’t the point.
Basically, it’s very simple: This is all about reporters not making news. Repeat, reporters DO NOT make news.
Sportswriters made news Saturday night when their votes for the Heisman Trophy were disclosed. It’ll be huge news in January when the Baseball Hall of Fame reveals their votes for the 2013 class. Will it include first-time eligibles Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa?
Baseball writers will be reporting on news they created with their votes. Is that right?
You wouldn’t allow a court reporter to be on a jury and then write about the case. I respect the political reporters who decide not to vote in elections so they can maintain an appearance of objectivity.
Several newspapers, such as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, have decided not to allow their staffers to participate in votes. Others, such as my former paper at the Chicago Tribune, are OK with their writers being part of the process.
There are plenty of views on the subject. I just know how I felt on that morning in Miami in 1991.
I didn’t like seeing my name in that big pullout quote. I didn’t like making news.
What’s your view?