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A sports journalist should root for the story, not for the team


This column is also award-winning writer Frank Deford's weekly sports commentary on NPR.

My first protocol on rooting in sports is that you should stick with the teams that you grew up with. I know we're a transient society, but that's just it: continuing to cheer for your original hometown teams is one way of displaying the old-fashioned value of allegiance.

Let's say you grew up in Cleveland, and moved somewhere Sunbelt-ish -- I know how hard it is, but the measure of whether you're a good person is that you must remain loyal to the Browns and Indians and that team that LeBron James left behind.

That's what left of roots in America. You must root where your roots were laid down.

Now don't worry, sports love is a two-way street. There is a proviso in this lifetime contract that allows you the right to get mad at your team. The problem with you Cub fans, for example, is that you are too tolerant. But no, you must never leave your precious Cubbies for a more seductive team. No! Be steadfast for another century or so.

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But us hard-bitten sports journalists have a problem. We're supposed to look down at you sappy fans, getting all worked up about your silly teams, while we must be neutered, remain above the fray. No cheering in the pressbox! is our equivalent of don't mention bombs when you're in the airport security line.

But, on the QT here, entre nous, just between us chickens, pretending to make emotional sports eunuchs of sports journalists is a charade, reminiscent of Tallulah Bankhead's saying: "I'm as pure as the driven slush." You see, despite what most athletes think, we sports writers really are human beings... well, at least on the side. At the Ryder Cup a couple weeks ago, the terrific story was the spectacular European comeback from virtual defeat, but surely, every American golf journalist was rooting for our team instead of the story.

Okay, everybody is coming out these days, so yes, I am too.

Since I was a child I've loved the Baltimore Orioles. I loved them before they were the O's, as they are, regrettably, known today. (They were called "the Birds" then, or even better, "the Flock.") So, no, I don't care what it does for my reputation as a hard-hearted sports scribe who has always kept his true feelings to himself in the press box. I have suffered with my beloved Flock losing for fourteen years in a row, and now that they are actually in the playoffs, I must go public and reveal that, yes, I am an actual fan.

Also, truth to tell, I'm not real crazy about the New York Yankees, either...

But never fear. Next week I will once again refrain from being a giddy Bird lover and return to my ugly, bloodless, objective self.