Craig Calcaterra

I write about baseball for NBC Sports.com. I write about other things here.
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Anna is in the gifted program at school. Her standardized test scores are startlingly high. She is able to converse with adults comfortably and at a surprisingly sophisticated level.

But when she’s bored she does stuff like this.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go lobby for year-round schooling in New Albany. 

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The LeBron James news dominated sports media for the past several days. Everyone — even people who don’t much care about basketball — was interested in it at least on some level. Even if it was only to joke, snark and/or join in some fun collective happening.

And then the news came — bam! — straight from the horse’s mouth, in the form of a first person essay from James “as told to Lee Jenkins” of Sports Illustrated. We had the story and now the important business of analyzing it — or, if you don’t much care about basketball, the important business of making Twitter jokes about it — was at hand.

But there are some who weren’t as interested in analyzing it, joking about it or just reveling in the fun collective happening. There are some who are using all of this as an occasion to wring their hands about journalistic integrity.

Here’s Richard Sandomir of the New York Times, who takes issue with Sports Illustrated and Jenkins allowing James to publish a brief essay about going back to the Cleveland Cavaliers:

News value aside, the approach cast Sports Illustrated more as a public-relations ally of James than as the strong journalistic standard-bearer it has been for decades.

And while James’s words may have been all that the sports world wanted to hear, the magazine should have pressed for a story that carried more journalistic heft.

Sandomir spoke with Jenkins, who explained that this wasn’t a press release. Rather, it became an essay when Jenkins stitched together James’ words from a lengthy interview into this statement. That doesn’t satisfy him:

But Jenkins has proved quite deft — at Sports Illustrated and before that at The New York Times — at stitching quotes into a broader third-person narrative that serves the reader even better … why not let Jenkins tell the story without handing James the platform for his unfiltered statement?

This is crazy. It’s an instance where Sandomir and the Times — who I think are fantastic most of the time, by the way — are fetishizing the business of Serious Journalism at the expense of understanding what sports fans actually care about, appreciating how informed sports fans already are and asserting that the reporter’s highest and best function is to get between fans and the news as opposed to delivering it to them.

Question: what, apart from the name of the team LeBron James chose and his reason for choosing it, do people interested in this story either not know or actually care about? What sort of “journalistic heft” does Sandomir think should have been added to this to “serve the reader” better? Jenkins prefacing the actual news with "James, 29, from Akron, has played for Miami since the 2010-11 season," would not have added journalistic integrity here. It would have been byline-justifying filler.

Everyone tuning in to this story knows what’s happening. Sports Illustrated and Jenkins provided them with the one thing they didn’t know: where James was going and why. If there is any concern about larger context here, it can and will be addressed by SI sidebars, bullet-pointed, fact-based graphics and, most importantly, an in-depth story from Jenkins about his conversations with James which provides deeper context. All of which, I assume, have either already been published or will soon be.

But Sandomir here is missing more than just the value Sports Illustrated provided by putting out a direct and immediate first-person account of this story. He’s missing the way in which modern sports news breaks and the manner in which readers consume news in this day and age. He’s missing the difference between the dissemination of basic information and the product of actual journalism.

News — especially sports news — has long revolved around the scoop. Yes, all reporters and editors will tell you that it’s important to get it right, not to just get it first, but getting it first is an obsession that drives reporting. Cultivating your sources and becoming that guy who everyone expects to break the news. To be Adrian Wojnarowski for basketball news. Jay Glazer for football. Ken Rosenthal for baseball. These dudes are brands of their own, quite famous and, I assume, quite wealthy as a result. 

But, as I have been saying for three years now, readers don’t care who got this news. They just care about the news itself. The Wojnarowskis of the world will tweet it out and, within minutes, it’s retweeted and blogged halfway around the world. Good retweeters and bloggers will credit the Wojnarowskis, but not everyone does. In very short order, that scoop has become a simple commodity — a fact in the ether — not a unique journalistic product. At least not in the minds of the people consuming it.

No, not all stories are like this. In-depth reporting about institutions, changing dynamics and trends or substantive interviews with newsmakers cannot be easily gutted and commodified like this. Those sorts of stories — stories like Sandomir’s New York Times’ colleague Tyler Kepner often writes — stand on their own and contain reader-serving journalistic heft, the sort of which Sandomir wants to see.

But the LeBron James story doesn’t. It’s a big event, sure, but at bottom it’s functionally equivalent to a team issuing a statement that it placed a player on the disabled list. That day’s starting lineup. A simple bit of data. A commodity. And just as sports teams and leagues are increasingly bypassing the press in order to release that sort of commodity news directly to fans via their Twitter feeds or in-house news operations, LeBron James could have very easily tweeted that he was heading back to Cleveland to his 13.6 million followers. Or, like he did back in 2010, could’ve said it on some TV show cum P.R. festival he created for himself. Indeed, it’s amazing to me that Sports Illustrated even got what it got here and they should be credited for getting that much. I didn’t need more than that yesterday. I’m more than happy — hell, very, very eager — to wait for Jenkins’ in-depth followup to all of this. I bet it’ll be incredible. 

Sports Illustrated gets it. They know that, no matter how much “journalistic heft” they had put in to this story, it would not have mattered too much to them due to everyone taking what they’re dropping and running with it. I mean, just look where we are now, less than 24 hours after the story broke. Here’s the top Google result for “Sports Illustrated LeBron James”:

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Yup, that’s Sandomir’s story criticizing SI’s story in the top slot. Which, it’s probably worth noting, doesn’t even link back to Sports Illustrated.

Good thing Lee Jenkins didn’t waste too much time weaving third-person narratives and serving readers in that piece. No one would’ve seen it.

UPDATE: Seems like whoever puts together the New York Times’ very own sports front is making my point for me: it’s nothing but a blown-up agate transactions blurb. It’s beautiful. No need for more “journalistic heft.” It says all it needs to say.

I drink a lot of coffee. Like, an awful lot of coffee. So much coffee that if the kids see me without a cup of coffee in my hand between the time I wake up and lunchtime, they ask me if something is wrong. They are probably right to ask me that.

I did not start drinking coffee until I was 33 years-old, however. Just didn’t like it or need it before then. But when it became necessary to be up and functional to take care of babies, my love affair with coffee began. It’s been a good eight years.

This afternoon the kids decided that they wanted to try coffee. I told them about how it’s not a good idea for kids to drink coffee and how caffeine is a drug and how drugs are addicting and how it will stain their teeth and make them crazy and stunt their growth.

Then I made them some coffee to try because, man, coffee is AWESOME.

I let them have some of my everyday. Not wasting high-end whole bean stuff on these two:

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Also: not letting them use my kickass Takin’ Care of Business mug I got at Graceland because, as if:

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I did allow them to use the Fiestaware mugs. I started with a bit less than half a cup:

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"UGH!! NOT BLACK!!" Carlo said. "BLACK COFFEE IS BITTER." He clearly heard that from someone else, but I let it slide. I started coffee by drinking it with cream (never sugar), so I decided to give them training wheels.

First the sugar:

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Then the cream. Or, in this case, milk, because I don’t keep cream or half and half around:

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Alright, we’re ready to go!

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 The result:

I was somewhat surprised that they didn’t immediately spit it out. But as an experienced parent, I also smelled b.s. with these responses. They clearly wanted to like coffee because if they said they hated it I might be loathe to let them do other adult things.

Carlo begged out after two sips by saying “I’m … not thirsty,” and poured his out. Anna took a few extra sips and said “Um, it’s too sweet. Maybe next time I’ll do it without sugar,” and poured hers out. I filled up my TCB mug and settled in to the afternoon portion of my love affair with the dark stuff.

They’ll be back. They always come back once they get that first taste. They’ll be chasing that dragon just like their dad does soon enough.

Based on what I’ve read, May Pang was actually a pretty good girlfriend to John Lennon. I mean, say what you want about his 1973-74 “Lost Weekend,” but he was, by all accounts, happy.

But her personal assistant skills left a lot to be desired. From Pang’s Wikipedia page:

In March 1974, Lennon began producing Harry Nilsson's Pussy Cats album … Lennon thought it would be a good idea for the musicians to live under one roof to ensure they would get to the studio on time, so Pang rented a beach house in Santa Monica, for her, Lennon, Nilsson, Ringo Starr and Keith Moon to live in.

I feel like maybe Pang should have pushed back on that idea a bit and maybe, just maybe, not have signed that lease.

In other news, what do you suppose the security deposit on a house leased to 1974-Lennon, Harry Nillson and Keith Moon would have run you? Ringo had to have been the stable one. [checks Ringo’s Wikipedia page]:

Zak Starkey is also a drummer, and during his father’s regular absences, he spent time with the Who’s Keith Moon.

Holy crap, I’m surprised anyone survived the 70s.

My mom: “Craig, your father and I just received your wedding announcement. We haven’t even met Eric yet. This is all so … unexpected. What happened?”

Me: “Well, mom, I used the personal care products in non-black containers and now I’m gay. But I do hope you’ll wish Eric and I the best.”

OK, that didn’t happen. But you have to assume that’s what the general mindset is of most men these days. If it wasn’t, the men’s personal care aisle at your local discount store wouldn’t look like this:

Look at all of that black and dark gray and midnight blue! It’s everywhere, from body wash to deodorant to tampons and soda. This morning Eric, er, I mean Allison alerted me to the fact that they’re doing this for sunscreen now. According to the product information, it’s “formulated for men’s unique sun care needs.” The only difference between it and every other sunscreen I’ve ever seen is the fact that it features a “contemporary, masculine scent.” Who knew that all of the other sunscreen had an old lady smell?

Of course in reality it’s all in the packaging. Give something a dark, bold color and men will be more likely to buy it, it seems.

This is our fault, gentlemen. I mean, rail all you want against the companies which produce this stuff or the stores which sell it for being dumb about gender roles and attitudes, but P&G and Target are rational actors. Their goal is to sell as much crap as they can, and if the black packaging didn’t improve sales, they wouldn’t package things in black like they have been. It’s all on us, fellas. We’re voting with our wallets and our wallets seem to be saying “if I get body wash in a steel-gray bottle, no one will think I am a homosexual and/or a woman.”

If there’s any validity to that — if buying things “formulated for men” and packaged in bold dark colors determines one’s masculinity — I’m utterly screwed. This is my current preferred line of personal care products. Literally everything I use on a daily basis:

That’s a pretty darn bright bunch of bottles! To the extent they have photos on them, they’re in soft focus! I see at least three with some floral motif! That sound you hear is Allison refusing to return my phone calls and Eric wondering if he’s got a chance.

But the packaging isn’t the worst part. Take a look at that deodorant. It’s Sure solid Unscented. I have used it, and no other deodorant, since I was a teenager in the 1980s. It has always served me well. However, about a year ago, I had a crisis: I couldn’t find it. None of the stores near me had it in stock for a few weeks and signs saying “coming soon with a fresh new look!” were attached to its usual place on the shelves. Soon, its place was gone entirely and, if I were not a hoarder with multiple sticks of it under my sink, I would have run out and I would have had to choose a new deodorant for the first time since the Reagan Administration.

But, thankfully, I found it again. It was now in the “women’s deodorant” section.

It was there, in the somewhat effeminate packaging you see above (it used to look more like this). Seeing as though it was unscented, I bought it anyway and compared it to my last stick of the old version. Same stuff, 100%, as it was back when the commercials for it featured firefighters and middle linebackers singing “raise your hand if you’re Sure!” Just now, Sure is apparently for women.

Or is it?

That’s from Sure’s UK website. I haven’t seen those manly deodorants or their excessively manly scents like “Quantum,” “Active,” “Adventure,” and “Cobalt” here it the United States yet. But I’m guessing I will soon. Sure needs to get on the dark products gravy train just like everyone else.

When I do see it, I’ll be Sure to continue to pass it up and buy two sticks of the women’s deodorant. And perhaps a couple boxes of tampons for extra measure. 

Eric uses them for tinder when he goes camping, you see.

My dad left all of his nails here. He has 50 different kinds sorted in medicine bottles. OCD much, Richard?

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Craig - I respect your opinion on the scotus decision today. I'm confused by your statement that it will make it more difficult and more expensive for women to get important health care. Can you explain that?
craigcalcaterra craigcalcaterra Said:

People with insurance get their medication and medical care through their insurance. Now employers are being told that they can carve out some of that — birth control and maybe a lot of other things in the future if they make a case for it — and the means by which women normally get these drugs and services will be closed off.

We can quibble about whether, theoretically, people should get their medication and health care via employer-based insurance in this fashion. Whether it’s efficient or right or whatever. But in the real world, that’s what people do. It’s the best and in many cases the only choice. Many of the people who sought to get today’s decision have also sought to foreclose other health care options too, it should be noted. 

What I’m on about is what happens, practically, in the real world. Not what we think the proper solution in an ideal world that does not even remotely exist would be. 

As a lawyer at least generally conversant with Constitutional law, I will grant that the matter of whether corporations should be afforded individual rights is a tricky one. Trickier than many of my friends on the left suggest. 

Also, as a lawyer, I will grant that if you accept that corporations possess such individual rights, religious rights kind of have to go along with them. The Bill of Rights is not a cafeteria from which you choose the ones worthy of protection and bypass the ones you don’t much care for.

In light of those two things I will grant, again, as a lawyer, that though I think the Supreme Court got the decision wrong today, both sides have merit given the current state of Constitutional law and that, legally speaking, it wasn’t the easy call either side claims it was.

As a human being, however, I will state that if your religious convictions are such that you believe basic contraception measures are abortifacients, you are objectively ignorant and that no matter how much respect I give your religious beliefs, they do not change scientific reality.

Also, as a human being, I will state that if your religious convictions are such that you believe contraception is itself sinful, I hope you enjoyed Roman Catholic mass last Sunday, because it’s basically the only Christian religion of size that holds such a belief, despite all of the people so vigorously defending that theological position today.

Finally, no matter what you believe, if you fail to acknowledge that practically speaking, today’s ruling makes it much harder and much more expensive for women to take care of their basic health care needs, and if, instead, you choose to focus on what hoops women should jump through in order to obtain these needs in a way that doesn’t offend your political sensibilities, you lack basic human empathy and are seriously deluded about the barriers ordinary people face to take care of their lives, their health and see to their economic security on a daily basis.

Enjoy today’s ruling if it went the way you wanted it to. But please do other human beings a favor and at least attempt to acknowledge that your ideological/theological victory means very little to the real people whose lives will be made considerably harder as a result of it.

Pool book status: tempting fate.

Not many people who only know me as an adult know this about me, but I used to be something of a drama geek.

I acted or did tech work for every production we put on during my time in high school. Even starred in a few. There were lots of kids who were more emotionally and intellectually committed to theatre than me and, without question, many more kids who were more talented than me. I did, however, possess the proper mix of ample free time, general inter-clique popularity and mild-but-annoying ego-serving ambition that I managed to overcome that lack of commitment and talent to get myself elected president of our school’s chapter of the International Thespian Society and the Drama Club.

OK, so maybe I was a bit more than something of a drama geek. Don’t look at me that way. Not everything you did in high school was cool either.

My high school was, on occasion, a challenging environment in which do theater. It was southern West Virginia, after all, and there are a lot of Baptists down there. Our drama teacher and the director of most of our plays was a wonderful woman and a devout Christian. While she seemed to lean toward the liberal end of the religious world, she put her foot down a few times. Most memorably in nixing the idea of us doing “Grease” because it was … questionable. The biggest problem wasn’t the language and innuendo, she said, but that “in the end, rather than turning Danny into a better person, Sandy abandons her morals to be more like him.” Oh well. 

That aside, I enjoyed almost every production we mounted back in those days. The best was certainly the last one in which I participated. It was our senior year musical: Steven Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” I played the narrator who, unlike the narrator in most stories, gets his own song and, in a lovely post-modern twist, gets killed in the second act when the characters turn on him. It’s a pretty spiffy play with a ton of great songs. I highly recommend it to even those who aren’t normally fans of musicals, as it’s absolutely hilarious, deliciously subversive and possesses no small amount of edge.

Or it did. Now it’s being turned into a movie and, as is the case with most movie musicals, the motion picture will, unless it utterly bombs, eventually come to be thought of as the definitive product by virtue of more eyes having seen it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. “My Fair Lady” holds up really damn well as a film. But in the case of “Into the Woods” I think it might very well be. That’s because Disney is producing it and they appear to be cutting the balls right the hell off of the thing.

According to this New Yorker article, Disney made a few changes. Sondheim himself explains:

"You will find in the movie that Rapunzel does not get killed, and the prince does not sleep with the baker’s wife," he said.

The teachers gasped, but Sondheim shrugged. “You know, if I were a Disney executive I would probably say the same thing,” he said.

A teacher asked what would happen to the song “Any Moment” if the baker’s wife remained chaste. “Don’t say the song is cut.”

"The song is cut."

Sondheim added: “Disney said, ‘we don’t want Rapunzel to die,’ so we replotted it. I won’t tell you what happens, but we wrote a new song to cover it.”

I find this disgusting, but my disgust at this isn’t about my nostalgia for the original or your typical “the play was better than the movie” sort of thing. I realize that compromises often must be made when one adapts one form of art into another. You have to make choices and you have to make cuts. This cut, however, eviscerates the entire message of “Into the Woods.”

The message, as put by my high school music teacher and the musical director of all of our productions when I shared the article with her on Facebook last night: 

It is all about consequences and decisions … Making this more appropriate for younger performers takes out the heart of the show and eliminates the idea that actions and consequences matter. We do not do enough to teach consequences for the actions and decisions we choose. This is a perfect story for that.

In essence: in trying to sanitize “Into the Woods,” Disney has actually removed its core moral message. It has decided that it doesn’t have the courage, faith and stomach for risk possessed by a little Baptist lady in Southern West Virginia who clutched her pearls when she thought of Olivia Newton-John in leather pants.

I don’t know what Disney plans on doing with the Baker’s Wife, the Prince and Rapunzel. Maybe the new plot points will be wildly entertaining. But in failing to put them through the very human trials and tribulations the original play does, they are, perversely, likely to render the story into something which is far less morally and ethically instructive than the one Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine originally told.

This week my daughter is taking an introduction-to-acting class put on by the Columbus Children’s Theatre. She’s a lot like me — kind of a ham and kind of a geek — so she’s really enjoying it. Right now this is just something different to pass the time this summer, but I could see her getting into drama as she gets older. She’s also done something else recently: totally abandoned those kid-oriented sitcoms produced by the Disney Channel that she used to watch all of the time. I didn’t tell her to, she just doesn’t care for them anymore.

As a parent, I couldn’t be happier that she’s choosing the godless and libertine culture of the theatre over the wholesome and family-friendly world of Disney. It’s far safer and morally instructive for her that way.