Woody: Readers Have Right To Write
By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
As my old sports editor used to chuckle, when the letter starts, “Dear Dope,” you figure it’s not going to be complimentary. They’re not writing to tell you how much they admire your wit and appreciate your wisdom.
While serving a 40-year sentence as a newspaperman, I’ve been called every name in the book. And some that aren’t in the book. I know; I tried to look them up.
When I covered football and basketball at Vanderbilt – the high-browed Harvard of the South – I’d frequently receive angry letters written in Latin. One Vandy fan was so mad that he quoted Shakespeare and another threatened to send his butler over to punch me in the nose.
I wrote a story about the University of Tennessee, Vandy’s arch-rival, poking a little fun at some of the institution’s classroom-challenged athletes. I got a letter from an irate UT fan who insisted – in his words – “We’re not as dum as you thank we are, Mr. Smarty Pants.”
Ah, the fruits of academia.
There’s no fan like a race fan, and some of their correspondence is classic. Just last week a Matt Kenseth fan called me a “lunkhead” for suggesting that Matt at times whines more than his engine.
He said NASCAR should revoke my credential and suggested that I cover something that I might know something about, like, say, potting soil.
Never mind that I’ve written dozens of stories in praise of Matt, a fine young man and a credit to his fire suit. One critical comment and they want to boil you in used motor oil.
Back in the Good Old Days before the internet and e-mail, the hate mail was delivered by the U.S. mail in envelopes. I once got a four-page, hand-printed letter from a reader griping about a slanderous comment I’d made about Darrell Waltrip’s manifold or something. I always wondered if someone who labors so long and assiduously over such letters to sports writers ever takes time to send their Mom a birthday card.
One of the funniest hate letters I ever received was a lengthy rant claiming I was unfair to a local driver: “You’ve never liked Bubba Johnson, you say that every wreck is Bubba’s fault, and you never give Bubba credit for being the great racer that he is. You are a sorry excuse for a sports writer.”
It was signed, “Mrs. Bubba Johnson.”
At least she didn’t call me a lunkhead.
Sometimes they don’t send just letters. Once when I wrote a series of stories criticizing some Good ‘Ol Boys who were picking on woman driver Deborah Renshaw, I got a package that contained some frilly ladies undergarments. It was signed, “Love, Deborah.” Only they spelled it “Debra.” It’s sort of a giveaway on its authenticity when the “sender” misspells her own name.
They weren’t just sexists, they were dumb sexists.
I’ve never resented hate mail; like a roofer in July, taking the heat is part of the job.
Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it. Readers paid their nickel and they have a right to express their opinion. Besides, debate makes things interesting. Imagine how boring it would be if everyone agreed with everything that we lunkheads write.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments