When you’re a writer for a small or midsized daily newspaper in a suburban community, there are two basic ways that your work can gain exposure outside of your local reading area.
One way is to write a well-researched, meticulously composed and thought-provoking piece on an unique or compelling subject.
The other way is to write something that makes you sound like a complete imbecile.
The problem with John Steigerwald, a columnist for Observer-Reporter of Washington and Greene counties in Pennsylvania, is that he STILL doesn’t understand what kind of column he wrote last weekend.
His column “Know when you’ve outgrown the uniform” has gone viral on the internet, with the overwhelming number of respondents railing against him for “blaming” Giants fan Bryan Stow for the beating he received outside of Dodger Stadium on Opening Day.
By Wednesday morning, Steigerwald’s column had received 162,000 page views and was still climbing.
Now, I spent part of the morning listening to Steigerwald defend his column, and he was defiant.
On his blog, Steigerwald says “I don’t apologize for the column, but I do apologize to the Stow family if this nonsense has reached them and in any way added to their pain. I don’t, for one second, blame (Bryan) Stow for the beating he took. I do blame the ever increasing out of control, out of perspective behavior by fans, too many of whom are no longer satisfied with going to their stadiums and cheering for their teams. And I sure as hell don’t think — as some hysterical posters have claimed — that (Bryan) ‘had it coming.’ “
Now after listening to Steigerwald defend his column Wednesday, I’ve come to the conclusion that he is not an unreasonable person, and that he had some good points to make.
He just failed miserably in making them.
In his defense, this was the point Steigerwald was trying to make.
Apparently, Steigerwald, who is hailed as the “King of Old School” on his radio program, has long railed against the growing phenomenon of fans wearing the jerseys or colors of their favorite team to sporting events. Steigerwald longs for the days when fans just wore regular clothes to sporting events. He said “I know I’m in the minority on this point. All you have to do is look in the stands to see that.”
But he really doesn’t understand the practice of fans of the visiting team wearing their uniforms into enemy stadiums. In stands where drunken fans are starting to resemble soccer “hooligans,” that practice puts fans in harm’s way, he says.
“I understand fans want to show support for their team,” he said. “But I feel that the need for my own safety overrides my need to show support for my team.”
A good point. A valid point. And it’s a point that was not specifically made in his column. Steigerwald might think it’s in there, but it’s not.
Instead, Steigerwald decided to belittle fans, like Stow, who follow this practice. And in turn, he belittled Stow, a man who is in a coma fighting for life after receiving a beating he did not deserve.
Did he express compassion in his column for Stow and his family? No. Did he say Stow did not deserve to be beaten for wearing a Giants jersey to Dodger Stadium? No. He really didn’t even go out of his way to condemn the act of the assailants
Why? Steigerwald said there was no point in belaboring the obvious.
“I’m not a guy who is into making gratuitous attempts to show what kind of compassionate guy I am,” Steigerwald said. “Who doesn’t feel that what this guy has gone through is terrible? What am I, Adolf Hitler? Maybe I’m giving the reader too much credit, but I just didn’t feel like it needed to be said.”
John, shame on you. The “giving the reader too much credit” remark is the most overused and empty-headed defense a columnist can give.
There were 271 comments on your column online before the comment feed was shut off. I looked at all 271. Have you? They were ALL — not most — ALL were vociferously negative toward your column.
Steigerwald used the analogy that people to call the electric company to tell them what a good job it is doing. They only call when they have an issue.
Well, John, if that’s true, you just short-circuited the power grid to one-third of the country.
When you write an opinion in which you look down your nose at fans, like Bryan Stow, who wear visiting jerseys to opposing ballparks and question the wisdom of someone in a coma, it helps to show you’re not a heartless *******.
If you don’t, people will assume you’re a heartless ******* when you write “Maybe someone can ask Stow, if he ever comes out of his coma, why he thought it was a good idea to wear Giants’ gear to a Dodgers’ home opener …”
Or when you write “Are the 42-year-olds who find it necessary to wear their replica jerseys to a road game those kids who are now fathers who haven’t grown up?”
You said you weren’t trying to be flippant. But it sure read like it. Why? It was a poorly constructed sentence. You said that latter sentence was referring to fans in general and not Stow specifically. Of course, Stow happens to be a 42-year-old father. Again, if that was your intent, it was a terrifically poorly constructed sentence.
Those were your starting points. Every other criticism you tossed out after that appears if it were piling on a guy in a hospital fighting for his life.
Heck! Even your lead was “Maybe it’s time for sports fans to grow up.”
You said some of your later criticisms were actually directed at drunken fans who feel the need to start fights against anyone where the opposing colors in the stands. But at no point do you firmly establish that in your column, so it all reads as if you’re unleashing your venom on Bryan Stow.
And that’s why the response has been so rabid. And the fact that you don’t see that is astounding.
How is this possible, you may ask. The answer is simple: arrogance.
Just read Steigerwald’s response to criticisms that “he should be fired” for his column or “he’s a hack” who has no business writing for a daily newspaper.
Steigerwald says he ignores such comments because “I haven’t had a successful career. I’ve had a spectacularly successful career in the field that I’ve chosen.” And whenever he’s received comments like these over the years, he’s ignored them “because my paychecks kept getting bigger.”
Wow. John, might we suggest the picture of your head in your column sig in not quite big enough.
Every writer, no matter how seasoned or how accomplished, is not above stumbling from time to time. Every writer worth his salt knows that.
This was a terrible column from start to finish, and it could have been a good one.
And the fact that dozens of sports talk radio shows want to talk to you today about it, the fact that your name is being condemned all over the internet, that your column will soon eclipse 200,000 page views, or that you had to go on your blog today and defend and explain point-by-point that you were trying to make in your column hasn’t convinced you that perhaps you didn’t quite convey the point you were trying to make … well, that’s simply mind-boggling.