Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A case of mistaken identity, etc.

     In a recent column on LSU football, one of my writer friends -- one of several talented and knowledgeable writers who have covered the Tigers for years -- had the wrong quarterback throwing a touchdown pass.
     I saw the column link on Facebook and sent him a private message -- didn't want to post it publicly -- pointing out the error.
     "Sure did. Don't know how that brain fart slipped through. And you are the first [person] that noticed," he answered.
     It's the copy editor in me. But as I replied to him, "Hey, I have had hundreds of those."
     I have. I assure you that I have a hundred "brain fart" awards.
     When I was telling someone about this, they asked, "What was the biggest mistake in your career?" I had to laugh at that. Other than the career itself, gosh, I don't know. Too many choices. I'll let you decide.
This is Chad Campbell (I know that now, but a decade
 ago, you could have fooled me ... and did). See story.
 (photo from www.ryder cup.com)
     In my freshman year at Louisiana Tech, my first semester on the school newspaper (The Tech Talk), I was assigned the education department beat. The paper's advisor,  the most-often crotchety Mr. Kenneth Hewins, told me to go talk to the head of the secondary education department. I went to the education building and -- I thought I had the right guy -- did the interview, came back and wrote the story, quoting Dr. Bobby Tabarlet.
     When Mr. Hewins saw the story, before it went in print, he came into where I was working -- in Pete Dosher's sports information office -- and he was not happy (he was never all that happy). "The head of the department," he said sternly, "is Dr. John Cawthon." He suggested (ha!) I go back over and do the correct interview.
     One of my friends was victimized in the Shreveport Captains' clubhouse one night when Don Robinson (who would be in the majors the next year) pitched a great game and the very young writer went to interview him. Asked the player in front of his locker if he was Don Robinson, he was told yes and he conducted the interview, quoted him in the story.
     Next day, we found out the guy he talked to wasn't Robinson, who was either in the shower or training room. It was a prank. The team's P.R. director, learning the story, blasted the offending player. The P.R. director doesn't remember doing that, but it sounds like me.
     I can say I never had the incorrect score in a game story. I also can say that in my first year as a fulltime sportswriter at The Shreveport Times, I covered a Fair Park-Southwood football game and the next day, the sports editor, Bill McIntyre (one of the people I most admired) asked me what the score of the game was. Yes, I had omitted it.
     Lesson learned. (Later, sports section would begin publishing the score as an insert or lead-in to stories).
     Well, lesson learned until my last year of work at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram when one night, writing a late game story off a TV game, trying to get it ready on deadline, I had the score as XX-XX (going to fill in the score at game's end). Oops, forgot to do it. We "slammed" the story -- no second read, no proofing -- and the page went in.
     About a minute later, I realized what I had (or had not) done. "Uh, Steve," I said to the night sports editor, "I screwed up. ... " Steve rolled his eyes, we re-did the page and hopefully not too many readers had to fill in their own score.
     But I have seen stories with no score or the wrong score. I have seen headlines with the wrong team winning. I managed to avoid that one, but a friend last summer sent me a story on a 1967 American Legion baseball game I had written in which a pitcher (Ronnie Botica) pitched a no-hitter with 17 strikeouts for Kay's Cookies in a 4-0 victory against Royal Crown Cola. Fine story, I got the facts right. Headline (not written by me) had R.C. Cola winning the game.
     I've had my headline errors, one a misspelled word in 48-point type, lead headline in the sports section of the Shreveport Journal one Saturday afternoon. I worked by myself that day -- and I was careless.
     And for careless and "brain farts," here are two examples of my work at The Shreveport Times in the early 1970s:          
     Bethune High School's football coach was Henry Taylor, a soft-spoken, friendly man. Its basketball coach was Huey Turner, a loud, brash guy. Both very good coaches. People were leery of Turner, including -- I believe -- Taylor. I'm convinced Turner did not like me or trust me.
     In writing about basketball, I referred to Turner a couple of times early in the story, then switched and wrote "Taylor: the next two or three references, then went back to Turner.
     Next day at the office, I answered my phone and heard a gentle voice, "This is Coach Henry Taylor at Bethune. You know, I'm the football coach. ..." My apology was sincere.
     A year later, I'm writing about Jesuit High School baseball. The coach was Frank "Champ" Cicero, a terrific classroom teacher (my friends from Jesuit all told me that) and a good guy to deal with and very successful coach (two state champions). Writing a story on his team, I somehow went from Cicero to "Sardisco," as in Tony  Sardisco, then the school's football coach and athletic director. I'd known both of them for years; how I did that, I don't know.
     But I have a friend who, in writing about the Atlanta Braves, had Ralph Garr in mind, but instead called him Ron Gant, who was about a decade behind Garr with the team.
     Ever do an interview using a tape recorder and find out, when you want to transcribe the tape and get correct quotes, that the tape recorder didn't work? It's happened to me; it's happened to friends. It's always good if or when the person you interviewed agrees to do it again, or if you can remember some or all of the quotes. And if not, you just make up the quotes.
     Typos in stories are common, and you probably have seen some awful ones. If you mistype "shot," it can be embarrassing. Be sure you get the "p" on pass. Be careful typing puck or suck or buck. I know of a case -- in a paper where I began my career -- that the word "count" was spelled without the "o." One omission, one bad keystroke, and you can be shot out of luck.
     Often, in headline writing, I would mess around and put in slang words or off-color expressions. Co-workers would warn me: You better be careful. And I always was, honestly.
     We did have a case at the Shreveport Journal where one day a co-worker was trying out the search/replace function. He took "team" and made it say "mulebutts." Thought he had reversed the process, but the next day a football story include the team "area mulebutts." (We had a laugh about that in the sports department, but kept it quiet.)
     And I have a friend -- again, in the paper where I began my career -- who messed around with a high school football schedule one week and put in an explicit sexual reference to a female. A week later -- obviously by mistake -- someone picked up that schedule and it ran in the paper (in agate type, but it was there). There was a big price to pay for that episode.
     Photo IDs can be really tricky. In my first year at the Star-Telegram, I wrote a photo cutline misidentifying someone in a photo with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (there were several people in the photo). I could blame that one on an unclear ID by the photographer.  
     A couple of months later, I was doing the golf roundup and the PGA Tour tournament first-round leader that week was Chad Campbell, who lived in the Fort Worth area. Somehow the page designer picked the wrong photo. Next day we found out it wasn't Chad Campbell in the photo. I took part of the blame because I didn't know Chad from a can of Campbell's soup. But I damn sure knew what he looked like after that day.
     But, photos ... here might be my career screw-up, one that my buddies at The Shreveport Times in 1988 never let me forget.  On the first Sunday in May, we had a story in the middle of our sports front on the Kentucky Derby, a photo of the winning horse. At the bottom of the page, we had a story/photo combo on "A Day at Fair Grounds Field (with the Shreveport Captains)." But ...
     The photos were the same size ... a stupid page design of my doing. In the first edition, they were in the wrong place -- a guy in the Captains' video room with the Kentucky Derby story; the Kentucky Derby-winning horse with the Captains story.
     Good grief. Luckily, it was a first-edition mistake, not that many people saw it. Still ... Brain Fart Central.
     Woodlawn-Louisiana Tech people can laugh at these ... I have a friend who, in a story, had Tommy Spinks -- not Ken Liberto -- catching the 82-yard "miracle" touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw to beat Northwestern State in the final seconds of the 1968 State Fair Classic.
     And, Shreveport sportswriting legend Jerry Byrd -- not one with too many "brain farts" -- did a story once in which he confused Spinks with another '60s Woodlawn receiver star, Jim Hodge. (Spinks and Hodge did look alike and their talents and careers were very similar.)
     Byrd, in his book Football Country (on North Louisiana), refers to Pat Tilley at one point as "Collins," as in Pat Collins. Easy mistake; both were from Fair Park High and Louisiana Tech, and Collins was on the coaching staff when Tilley played.    
     So, as I was thinking of writing this and doing some checking, I came across the Sports Illustrated "Sportsman of the Year" issue, which included a correction up front from the Dec. 8 issue. Instead of using a picture of Melvin Gordon -- Wisconsin's star running back, arguably the best RB in the country this past season -- it used a photo of a teammate.
     "SI regrets the error," the note concluded. Yep, even SI screws up.
     It became part of newspaper routine to publish "corrections" or "clarifications" for mistakes of some magnitude. We didn't do this in the first half of my career, but as time went on, I had my share.
     I'm just lucky they didn't label them "brain farts." I regretted the errors. But they happen, even on this blog.


  1. From Ed English: Speaking of mistakes on golfers . . . here’s one where I didn’t know better. When Seve Ballesteros hit the PGA back in the late '70s, the first four or five times I saw him name in AP wire stories I edited it to make his name “Steve.”

  2. From Teddy Allen: One omission, one bad keystroke, and you can be shot out of luck.
    I GOT IT! Lovely.
    Once in the church bulletin we had the SICK AND SHIT IN instead of the sick and shut in. My shut-in Aunt Opal called Momma: “Get me the hell off that list!”
    Good effort!

  3. From Maxie Hays: That's a first -- never heard of "brain fart" before. I'm sure that everyone in the sports writing business has had one or more of those. Ha!!!

  4. From Jimmy Russell: Enjoyed this. We are all human beings and whether we like it or not, we have all done and many times with others around done some crazy things thinking we were going about our business in a normal way.

  5. From Patrick Locke Sr.: Boy, you always bring back the memories ... McIntyre was also a fav of mine. A Boston hockey fan, The Shreveport Times sports editor? He once had me vote for him on the Heisman and I can't for the life of me remember who I picked. He was also the fastest two-finger typist I ever saw.

  6. From Skip Young: This is a great read. How you remember all of that i'll never know, but it does seem like our mistakes tend to stay with us longer than the victories, thus the old adage that you learn from the losses not the wins certainly holds true here.