More Messages: Afield of Play

In "Just 24, Another Goes Too Young," published on February 26, Denver Post sports columnist Mark Kiszla wrote about Denver Broncos backup runner Damien Nash, who died shortly after participating in a charity basketball game. Along the way, Kiszla mentioned the New Year's Day passing of another Bronco, cornerback Darrent Williams, whose murder under what appears to be gang-related circumstances constituted another tragedy for the team. In addition, he included some lines that might be interpreted as a dig at Rocky Mountain News scribe Dave Krieger, the subject of this week's Message column thanks to his efforts to raise the profile of Denver's gang problem using an unlikely platform: the sports section.

Here's the key passage in Kiszla's offering:

In the aftermath of D-Will's death, angry feet have righteously stomped around town, with demands the mayor do something about Denver's gang problem. Now, there's nothing wrong with trying to honor Williams by fighting the good fight.

But will there be the same outpouring of emotion to combat heart disease and the same pressure put on the Broncos to financially support the charitable foundation of Nash?

We already know the answer.

Setting aside the question of how "angry feet" can "demand" anything (maybe they use the tongues in their shoes), these comments seem to suggest that people like Krieger reacted in knee-jerk fashion to Williams' slaying. But Terry Frei, another Post columnist (seen in this blog's second image), has a more nuanced view of Krieger's recent work, and for a very good reason.

Last year, Frei wrote a column inspired by his late father, Jerry Frei (pictured below), a onetime University of Oregon football coach who had served as a fighter pilot during World War II; he flew over sixty missions in the Pacific theater beginning when he was just 20 years old. Frei concluded the submission with a call for "a universal draft, minus student deferments or any other loopholes, for young people into national service, whether military or otherwise. A draft of young people, including athletes playing in nationally ballyhooed college football games, musicians and prospective journalists." Had such a World War II-style call-up been in place during subsequent years, Frei believes that "our decisions about Vietnam and Iraq might have been different."

Don't remember this material turning up in the Post? That's because the Denver broadsheet declined to print it, leaving Frei to search for another venue. The article eventually appeared in the Eugene, Oregon Register-Guard, and can be read by clicking here.

When asked via e-mail how far a sports columnist should be allowed to stray from the fields of play, and whether the Rocky was right to give Krieger leeway, Frei responded as follows:

"In Portland and in Denver, I've argued that a capable sports columnist should have the widest possible latitude in subject matter. I have the bruises to prove it and I lost some of the battles. So on the issue of whether the subject matter is appropriate, I'm 100 percent on Dave's side. I respect what he's trying to do. But I have to admit that I've felt that if I were his editor or confidante, I would gently ask him to at least think about whether he diminishes his impact if intelligent readers -- and I mean readers who have no problem with him addressing the topic and acknowledge its importance -- now feel he is being repetitive and are tuning him out, or worse. I don't know the answer to that, but I'd ask him to think about it. I'd say the same thing to any columnist in any section in parallel situations, so this is not an issue of subject matter per se and I greatly resent any suggestion that sports columnists should stick to pounding the table about playcalling."

As for how he felt when the Post turned down the column he wrote about his father, Frei added, "I certainly conceded the sports editors' right to make that decision, but, as they know, I still respectfully disagree with it. But I bet you don't agree with all of Westword's decisions, either." -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts