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December 21, 2014

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ODDS ’N’ ENDS :

Sports writer Jerry Izenberg unabashedly old-school

Veteran sports writer has harsh words for some on TV and the Internet, says newspapers are still the best way to stay informed

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Sam Morris

Jerry Izenberg recently moved to Henderson after a long and distinguished career as a columnist for the Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J. He still writes occasionally for his old paper, and he is working on a series of book projects.

Our profile of author and longtime sports writer Jerry Izenberg that appeared in the Sun last month was designed to be just that: a look at an engaging local personality, a nationally recognized figure who recently took up residence in Henderson.

Known to several generations of readers as a columnist with the Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., Izenberg retired in 2007. He is working on a series of book projects and files an occasional column for his old newspaper. His latest book, “Through My Eyes: A Sports Writer’s 58-Year Journey,” was published this year.

The subject of the original story, of course, was Izenberg himself.

It was not meant to be a column on media criticism, nor a dissertation on the divisive nature of the social and political discourse in modern America.

Yet Izenberg, a sort of man for all seasons, raised enough compelling points on those topics — and his comments drew enough of a response — that they’re worth revisiting in greater depth.

Think of this follow-up column, then, as Izenberg’s outtakes.

Izenberg, an unapologetic old-schooler who once worked at a desk next to Red Smith’s, challenged today’s readers who respond to news articles online to do so with their real names and hometowns rather than with goofy pseudonyms. His take earned plaudits from a number of readers of the piece. Alas, some of them offered their support ... anonymously. Oh, well. Maybe it’s the thought that counts.

As Izenberg sees it, newspapers are still the best bet for sports enthusiasts looking to slake their intellectual curiosity.

He has little tolerance, for example, for TV talking heads.

“Are you going to get the truth,” Izenberg said, “from the hair spray people, who sit there and say, ‘I think you’re great, Charlie’ ‘No, I think you’re better, Tom.’ ‘Oh, by the way, I think the manager should be fired.’?

“Are you going to get the truth from them? Good luck. And they’re not going to be in that job anyway but another month before some consultant’s going to come through and say, ‘No, I think the hair spray should be going the other way, not that way.’ ”

Likewise, Izenberg has great respect for talk radio shows — when they are presented in the form of a thoughtful dialogue.

“But they very seldom are,” Izenberg said. “Too often it’s a guy shouting and screaming about a football team. Or, it’s Big John from Queens calling in. I don’t care what Big John from Queens thinks. It means nothing.”

Don’t get him started on so-called “citizen journalism.”

“Send us your pictures of your dog (going to the bathroom) and we’ll probably run it,” Izenberg said. “That has nothing to do with journalism, except for the fact that’s your alternative if newspapers go away.

“Where are you going to get the truth from? If newspapers fail, we’re not going to get it. It’s that simple.”

Izenberg also spoke in depth of the hate mail he received — and even the physical violence he encountered — during the controversy regarding Muhammad Ali’s refusal to join the military.

I asked Izenberg if he believes society has advanced in the four decades or so since then, especially given the rancor and distrust that so often accompany the public debate on all things political.

We certainly have progressed since the 1960s, Izenberg said. In the most basic sense, to deny that would be akin to denying the achievements of the civil rights movement.

“Look, who’s the president of the United States?” he said. “You might love him, you might like him, you might hate him. It doesn’t matter. He was elected president. We definitely have come a long way.

“You hear talk about the country divided. There’s some good in that, because it means people are saying what they think. If I don’t agree with them, I have three choices. I can walk away. Or, I can say, ‘(Expletive) you.’

“Or, I can say, ‘Let’s talk about it.’ I want to hear what you have to say, now hear what I have to say.”

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