Sports in Moderation

I’m your new, bi-weekly sports columnist, happy to be a small part of what CityBeat brings to the local scene.

Hello, CityBeat World. 

You are a good world, a progressive part of Greater Cincinnati with a voracious appetite for arts, entertainment, interesting food… the works for a vibrant city. You celebrate diversity among your fellow citizens, knowing that embracing all is the way to avoid becoming Pleasantville. 

And who am I? I’m your new, bi-weekly sports columnist, happy to be a small part of what CityBeat brings to the local scene. 

There hasn’t been a regular sports column on these pages for a few years. (Now-Enquirer Reds beat writer C. Trent Rosecrans last held the perch in 2012.) No doubt, that reflects the belief (and likely the reality) that CityBeat’s audience includes relatively few athlete idolizers or gameday face-painters. 

Relatively few of you, I imagine, are forced by a big sports loss to confront the stunning overall emptiness of your existence. There is much more to life, as the other 40-odd pages of this publication show you every week.

But I do love sports — always have — and I think they warrant a spot among the varied menu this publication offers you. “Sports in moderation,” let’s call it, so let me try to sell you on this deal.

First, a bit more self-introduction: 

Though I’m not a Cincy native, I’ve lived here 34 years, and two of my three kids are natives. (I’m a Texas native, but don’t worry, I’ve never been one of “those” Texans. The roots were shallow, as my parents were native Midwesterners.) 

I came to Cincinnati as a newspaper sports reporter, signing on in 1983 with the now-departed Cincinnati Post. I was the beat reporter on the Bengals from 1984-89, moved to the Enquirer as Reds beat man for the 1990 World Series year and was a Bengals beat man again from 1991-93, this time for the Enquirer. Over 11 years as a Cincy newspaper guy, I also got to write a lot of sports opinion columns. 

In 1994, I left journalism to become public relations director of the Bengals. I did 23 seasons, covering four head coaches, and I retired this past March. 

I left journalism because, for me, the career opportunity with the Bengals was a better one. I left the Bengals because at age 65, I am ready to stop working quite as hard and long as that job requires.  

Being part of the Bengals organization was very cool. Ownership and coaches treated me with consideration and respect. (Players? Haha, maybe not always quite so much, but overall it was fine.) 

It was exciting, and, yes, it’s an ego-stroker to have a Bengals card in your deck for social and family interactions.

But over all of my 23 years with the team, I never ceased being a writer/journalist at heart, and that is no secret among those who know me.

Quite early in my Bengals career, the writer in me started penning personal letters and op-eds to the Enquirer. I was published numerous times, sometimes with my photo, and Bengals owner Mike Brown never suggested I cease, even though he likely was at 90 percent disagreement with my liberal viewpoints on social and political issues. Sometimes he’d crack a joke about something I’d written, other times he was up for a brief debate. 

(One thing CityBeat readers should know is that — much more than many conservatives these days — your local NFL owner respects the historic role of an independent media.)

But a football team is rather like an army, with a necessarily rigid command structure, and that wasn’t exactly my style. I won’t say I couldn’t fit in — I think I did — and just as it was at the newspaper, my loyalty went totally to the guys signing my paychecks. But let’s just say that at Paul Brown Stadium, there weren’t as many jokes flying around as I used to experience in newsrooms. 

Make no mistake, most sports journalists truly love sports. They can’t be fans of particular teams, but they are huge fans of sports’ entire entertainment package. They feel privileged to be close to action, both on and off the field. 

And though they don’t always love the sports people they cover, they love being the public’s agent for interactions with celebrities who fans can see only from afar. (“Sportswriter” is another great card for your deck at the next group barbecue. Tell us again, Scoop, about the time you told Rob Dibble to go bleep himself.)  

Unlike team employees, media can’t hope to ever be part of a champion. But hey, life is full of trade-offs, and that’s one they’re willing to make.

So that’s more the real me — a media guy more than a mid-level sports executive, despite 23 years in sports PR vs. 20 years in journalism.  

For sure, there’s a lot of weak B.S. in sports. But calling that out can be part of the fun. Sports are a huge soap opera for all of us to enjoy. The games themselves feature performers of great skill, under intense pressure, and even this eclectic weekly has numerous ads from establishments seeking fans on Bengals gamedays. 

And even the artsiest crowd can’t deny that big-time sports are a city’s best vehicle to look cool to the wider world. Like it or not, it’s the fact. 

Though comparably sized cities all have their spots where interesting people gather, they don’t look quite as hip without the national identity provided by a prime-time Bengals game, with those glittering aerial shots of the city. Or by the buzz of major league baseball in town 81 times a year, with every date a potential national attention-grabber, even when the team (as presently) is not so good. 

We supplement those two pillars with:

• Two major college sports programs. University of Cincinnati football now begins every year with Top 25 aspirations, a far cry from 25 years ago, and doesn’t the city look great every year when the almost-unique Crosstown Shootout goes on national TV?

• A minor league soccer team making a stunning bid for the majors. Soccer’s time has finally come in the U.S. after 40 years of predictions it would happen, and FC Cincinnati’s breakneck bid for the big time is truly a fascinating tale. 

• A significant stop on the pro tennis tour, and the roar of a regular NASCAR gig.

The end product is a fairly well-known sports town, and we’re a city significantly viewed through the prism of our sports. That’s the way of the heartland, and even if we don’t live and die with every final score, we want our sports to be lively and honest, and to reflect well on our city.

That’s what I’m all about in this role, and I hope to prove worthy of your time.

JACK BRENNAN’s column will appear in this space biweekly. Contact him: [email protected].

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