Wick Communications

4 Horsemen of sportswriting

In sports on 19 Jul 2013 at 9:07 am


Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.

Go ahead and blame the author of those words, Grantland Rice, for all the hyperbole of modern sportswriting that came after. I won’t go as far as the writer who says “Grantland Rice sucked,” but I wouldn’t really argue the point either. Personally, I think that “four horsemen” lede is sort of great. I also like the music of Liberace and fried pickles. Sometimes I appreciate things that go too far. But, when it comes to writing, I know that us mere mortals should leave the work of myth-making to Homer and Mr. Rice.

The Rice style is evident in nearly every newspaper in the land. Senators engaged in a skirmish on Capitol Hill… A war of words erupted in the city council… Teachers may have lost the battle over health care, but the bloody salary siege continues!

It’s enough to make you run for cover. …

Friends, we live in uncivil times and we, the press, are partially to blame. When we render accounts of garden-variety disagreements as epic battles in larger wars, we escalate tensions unnecessarily and unwittingly trivialize the true horrors of actual war. A 13-7 Notre Dame victory over Army 90 years ago wasn’t really a battle of biblical proportions. I bet there were World War I veterans among his readership muttering something along the lines of, “Brother, let me tell you about a real war.”

In retrospect, Rice went over the top and took the rest of us with him.

Incidentally, the men Rice equated with “death, destruction, pestilence and famine” were all under 6 feet tall and none of them weighed more than 160 pounds. You could look it up. Which means all of them would be ground to rubble in a modern Division III football game.

Do me a favor. Unless your name is Grantland, think twice about comparing school board races to the battle of Normandy.

And with that, Clay steps off his soapbox.




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