Like many other KC Star readers, I’ve admired the skills of sports columnist Sam Mellinger, a relatively young guy (don’t know his age) who has been growing into the void-filling role left by the departure a few years ago of Jason Whitlock and, before him, Joe Posnanski.
A couple of years ago, The Star made a great hire in Vahe Gregorian as the counterpart to Mellinger.
Gregorian, a sports reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for many years, has a lot more experience in the business than Mellinger, and I said in a post last Sunday that Gregorian is “perhaps The Star’s most sensitive writers.” (That was in reference to a column he wrote about Otis Taylor’s sister, Odell, who is nursing the former Chiefs’ star to his death).
The difference in experience and sensitivity between Gregorian and Mellinger was on full display in Mellinger’s column today about former Chiefs’ pass rusher Jared Allen, who on Thursday announced his retirement from football after 12 seasons in the NFL.
Mellinger constructed the column around a jarring, troubling, long-ago incident in which Allen — with the willing participation of a radio personality — goaded a woman to put Tabasco sauce in her eyes. Her incentive was two tickets to the next Chiefs home game.
The point of this anecdote was to establish what an off-kilter personality Allen is and that he has a weird sense of humor that knows no bounds…Now, I don’t really understand the point of using the occasion of Allen’s retirement to establish that he’s a weird personality, but in any event relating the Tabasco-in-the-eyes stunt was unnecessary and in questionable taste.
Here’s how Mellinger described the reaction of the woman who put the Tabasco sauce in her eyes…
“Her screams of pain were exactly as loud and terrifying as you’d expect, and Allen doubled over in laughter, unable to speak until they broke for commercial and some people start(ed) dousing the woman’s swollen eyes with water.”
…Think about that for a minute. What do you think a physician might have said, had one been in the audience that day, when the woman stepped forward to put Tabasco sauce in her eyes????
In my opinion, we have three stupid people here — Allen; the radio guy, who went along with the “gag”; and, of course, the woman.
And now there’s one other party to the episode — the columnist who lacked the good judgment to veto the anecdote. By going with it, instead of digging deeper to come up with something else, Mellinger reduced himself and his column to sophomoric indulgence.
Certainly, Mellinger must have reflected on whether the anecdote was appropriate. Probably out of laziness — yes, even the best succumb when they’re itching to get a story “up” on the Web or facing the next morning’s deadline — he went with what he had. Big mistake.
This is not all “Monday-morning quarterbacking” on my part. I tried to stop it. As soon as I saw this story on the website yesterday afternoon — before 4:30 p.m. — I sent an email to Mellinger, telling him I was disappointed he had chosen to go the route he had. I urged him to change out the anecdote for today’s print edition. I heard nothing back. About half an hour later, I sent another email to sports editor Jeff Rosen, saying the anecdote made both Allen and the radio guy “look like jerks and idiots” and made Mellinger appear “sophomoric for getting sucked into the stupidity.”
I heard nothing back from Rosen, either.
…Also, this episode reflects a bigger problem at 18th and Grand. For 10 months, The Star has not had a managing editor. The managing editor is the person who functions as the chief personnel and editorial gatekeeper for all departments. Where Rosen would have made the first call on Mellinger’s column, a managing editor could have ordered it pulled or changed. For financial reasons, however, The Star decided not to fill the post of managing editor after Steve Shirk retired last year. When Shirk left, a lot of experience and good judgment went out the door with him, and it wasn’t replaced.
Without a managing editor, there’s a significant gap in the review process. The next level is the editor, whose job is more focused on planning and overall direction of the paper, rather than review of individual, daily stories. The editor, of course, is Mike Fannin, and my guess is he didn’t read the story before it either went up on the website or appeared in today’s print edition.
One final thought on the Jared Allen story. Yes, he was a great pass rusher, but he only played for the Chiefs for four years, from 2004 through 2007. He followed that up with six seasons in Minnesota and one in Chicago, before wrapping up with a split season at Chicago and Carolina this year. As far as most Chiefs’ fans are concerned, Allen is a distant memory. I don’t think he even deserved a column. A straightforward, 15-inch sports story, recounting his record here and elsewhere, would have sufficed.
There’s no way a weirdo and long-forgotten person like him deserved 47 inches of valuable space in The Kansas City Star.