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Building the brand? Or losing one’s freakin’ mind?

More than once, frightening things have happened to me on the golf course, though I'm hard-pressed to remember a more chilling moment than occurred one morning on the first tee when the producer of the ESPN teevee thing, "Around the Horn," asked if I'd like to be on the show.

This was early in the long, successful, rollicking life of ATH. My pal Woody Paige was in the rudimentary stages of developing his ATH persona, which he would come to define memorably: "I am not an idiot, I just play one on TV." I
had seen bits of the show by accident and was momentarily fascinated by the behavior of the men and women with whom I had shared experiences in press boxes across America.

My instant reaction was to say aloud the all-purpose expletive I'd first heard from the old Kentucky basketball coach, Adolph Rupp, who at moments of stupefying wonder could be heard from great distances declaring,
"Goodgawdamighty."

So, to the producer's invitation to join ATH, I said, "Thanks, but no, I can't shout that loud."

Do I regret passing up the opportunity? Just think, now that ATH is a hit in its little corner of the teevee world, I might have become a star. I might have been able to understand what Tony Kornheiser meant the day he told me, "I find fame amusing." I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody.

And here's the really scary part.

I could have been Jay Mariotti, only without the hair.

Mariotti's legal problems – an arrest after a late-night hassle with a girl friend – didn't happen because he's an ATH regular. But I believe his work on the show has hurt him in two ways. First it made him quote-famous-unquote. That allowed him to work as a cartoonish facsimile of the journalist he might have been; instead he cast himself as an avenging angel, calling for the heads of athletes and coaches whom he judged as failures. It all conspired at the moment of his private failure to exact a terrible price in public humiliation. Few things in life, after all, are more satisfying than seeing the smarmy, hypocritical bully get his.

The simple truth, repeated hundreds of times at every level of journalism, is that the panting pursuit of celebrity makes it impossible to be a responsible reporter. In this New World of sportswriting – this odd world began with the Big Bang of teevee colliding with the Internet as print fell dead on the floor – the euphemism for that pursuit is "building the brand."

I'm told that the current master of that sportswriting art is Jason Whitlock, a columnist who did as much teevee as he could and sought national attention by taking inflammatory positions on race, sex, and politics. No surprise, then, that he recently left the Kansas City Star as loudly as possible while spreading personal smears about his former employers. I've read that Whitlock left KC only after agreeing to a multi-million dollar deal to write for the Fox Sports website. I don't believe the multi-million part of that, but there it is, Whitlock perhaps "building the brand," which in some corners of the Old World was known as lying.

I'm sure it's just me. But, really. Exactly when did we lose our freakin' minds?

Dave Kindred's latest book, "Morning Miracle," is an inside-the-newsroom account of two years in the life of The Washington Post. Now a contributing writer at Golf Digest, Kindred is a Red Smith Award winner and member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. He can be reached at inkstained1@aol.com. He can be followed at Twitter.com/DaveKindred and facebook.com/people/Dave-Kindred/509353295.
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