Oh, soccer…I will learn to love you

AddySoccer

I have had a real love-hate relationship with soccer going all the way back to my youth.

I never really played the sport. Not that I can remember at least. In our old neighborhood, we grew up with a baseball glove and ball, a basketball and a bike. If there was a soccer ball around, we didn’t do much with it.

Sometime in junior high, The Kansas City Comets appeared on my radar. I don’t remember the first game I went to at Kemper Arena, but I remember I had to go back. Maybe it was the light show before the game. Or the pure energy of a few thousand people (never any more than that as I recall) shrieking as the players were announced and ran onto the indoor soccer field.

They made entrances as if they were the most popular and famous athletes on the planet. And, at the time, they were to us. They had names like Jan Goossens, Alan Mayer, Ed Gettemeier and Gino Schiraldi.

The days of the Comets faded and I turned to the world of sports writing. Some time in 1996, I covered my first high school soccer game. Not long after, I covered my first high school girls’ soccer game, an epic 0-0 tie that went four overtimes and had no end in sight.

I think that’s when I started mildly mocking the sport. Although I did, and still do, openly acknowledge that the soccer players are often some of the best athletes in the schools.

So, I knew the day was coming when Addy would want to hit the soccer field. She started asking for a soccer ball last fall and, once the purple wonder was purchased and brought home, she started asking to take it outside and “play” a game against me.

When it came time for a soccer “team” then, Addy was ready. Well, sort of.

First, she requested she play on an “all girls” team.

“Yeah, that’s probably not going to happen, girlie,” I told her. Of course, I am not all that disappointed that Addy wants to steer clear of the boys right now. But, at her age, the boys and girls play on the same team, I explained.

That earned me an eye roll. I’m used to it now.

Addy’s mom and I decided the Itty Bitty Soccer program through the Lee’s Summit Parks and Recreation would be the best way to go to start our kiddo off on the right foot.

Of course, I had to wrap my head around my kiddo playing soccer. Yes, I realize millions of kids play it. Yes, I get that she’s not going to be mired in some four-hour-long tie game (God I hope).

At this age, soccer is more about the fundamentals of the game – passing, dribbling, teamwork and learning that the game isn’t 45 minutes of constant shooting the ball into the goal. Sometimes you have to, you know, be the goalie. Addy had a hard time with that.

The great part of Itty Bitty Soccer is that the parents are right there the whole time. And I mean right there. On the field.

Each parent is out there dribbling, passing, shooting and instructing with a slew of kiddos knocking a much smaller version of a soccer ball around.

And that’s where I renewed my appreciation for the sport. Right there, on the field with Addy. Observing the very beginnings of her learning to kick and interact and play the game.

I still haven’t been a Sporting Kansas City game, though. So, if you want to throw some tickets my way to convince me, please do.

Otherwise, I will be out at Miller J. Field on Saturday mornings watching and “coaching” my daughter and the other kids. For that brief moment in time, they are the stars of the show.

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Rolling Stone adds to our heartache

I’ve been a Rolling Stone reader, off and on, for decades.

Mainly, it was for the music, profiles and features on the musicians. Whether or not I cared for the political banter, I never gave it much attention. It wasn’t what Rolling Stone was about, for me at least.

Nearly every issue, too, they would have a hard-hitting, investigative piece. Those were always intriguing, especially to a life-long journalist.

I would find myself in the midst of a criminal piece, surrounded by a murder-mystery or uncovering an injustice in a way that was actually going to matter and affect change, and I would be insanely jealous that the reporter was given the time and latitude to work on such an enterprise piece.

Reading newspapers and magazines used to come with all the confidence of the highest order of the Fourth Estate. It wasn’t Meet the Press. It wasn’t The McLaughlin Group. Print journalism was pure and good and right.

And, in a lot of ways, it still is. But man, this Rolling Stone debacle sure hurts. In fact, the retraction and scathing Columbia University report on litany of missteps made by numerous staffers of the magazine not only does damage to an already struggling industry, it will surely hurt in the realm of reporting sexual assaults.

And it could have all been avoided.

Reading through the highlights of the Columbia School of Journalism’s report on Rolling Stone’s “A Rape on Campus” account of an alleged attack at the University of Virginia last November, it’s shocking to me that the most basic tenants of writing, reporting, editing and, most importantly, verifying, were completely and utterly disregarded.

And that it was happening at such an institute of journalism is supremely disappointing.

When I first heard Rolling Stone was completely walking away from its reporting of “Jackie” and her story of a gang rape at a fraternity party in 2012, I immediately went where others – current and former – go when we bemoan this type of bad press about the press. I went to the current state of our industry, where somehow “doing more with less” (even though, as a former publisher I can tell you those are the most idiotic words ever uttered) and we think we are still going to deliver quality journalism as we continue to slash and burn through our newsrooms.

We aren’t. But that’s not where Rolling Stone failed.

They simply didn’t follow the rules. It’s maddening now to read this report and realize it wasn’t budget cuts or staffing that led to this shoddy storytelling. It was lazy work from the top to the bottom – the editors, writers and fact-checkers. Hell, that Rolling Stone still has fact checkers is a testament to its commitment to journalistic excellence. Except in this case.

Recently I spoke on a panel with two other journalists about our experiences in covering the racial tensions, riots and after-effects of the officer-involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. With a room full of journalists and student-journalists, I decided to take the opportunity to opine a bit on what I believe students should be learning and what they may or may not be getting in the classroom as they head into the real world.

This report from Columbia on the failing of a respected magazine should move to the top of the list in every journalism classroom.

The next generation of journalists are going to be held just as responsible as every writer that has come before them. And they will have to perform those tasks under a larger microscope than we could have ever imagined. Social media is just one of the many weights on their shoulders.

Young journalists must demand that accuracy is still the single biggest burden in their lives. They have to feel it every moment of their existence and demand that those that work above them hold it so sacred that we can never, ever, let “A Rape on Campus” go to press with such storytelling holes looming over the piece and with so many unanswered questions and doubts haunting the writer.

I’ve had enough of being disappointed when these travesties hit journalism. I’m done making excuses for writers that don’t respect the industry or continually use it for personal gain and not the greater good.

My saving grace is knowing there are still plenty of good journalists doing plenty of good journalism. But it’s not easy. It shouldn’t be. And the instant we let our guard down, we will lose our way, our credibility and our proud profession.