By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
The first weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament produced more than its share of excitement, drama and bracket-shredding.
Florida Gulf Coast is this year’s Cinderella, the first 15 seed to ever advance to the Sweet 16. La Salle, a 13 seed, and Oregon, a 12, have done their part to make most people’s brackets moot.
The tournament also has cost three people their jobs. UCLA coach Ben Howland was fired after the Bruins fell 83-63 to Minnesota in the second round, then Golden Gophers’ coach Tubby Smith was canned after Minnesota fell to Florida in the third round.
And Harvard’s stunning first-round upset victory over New Mexico left veteran sports writer Dennis Latta out of work.
Latta, editor of loboland.com, who wrote that he had been around the team for 33 years, announced after the Lobos’ defeat that he was quitting.
Latta wrote in his column he was disappointed in the team and was determined never to be let down by the Lobos again. He not only quit his job, but vowed never to attend another New Mexico basketball game. “I’ve given up,” he concluded.
I spent 17 years as a sports writer, and if I had quit my job every time I covered a losing team, I would have been unemployed decades ago.
Sports writers, even at the local level, are supposed to be impartial, dispassionate and detached. They are supposed to cover the team with a critical, but non-biased, eye.
They are not supposed to be part of the fan base, part of the program, part of the team. They are not supposed to care.
That’s not realistic, of course. Sports writers are human, with human frailties and emotions. When you cover one team game in and game out, season in and season out, you are bound to develop some sort of affinity for the coaches and players. You get to know these people and find yourself rooting, albeit silently, for them to succeed.
Besides, covering a winning team is much more enjoyable than covering a loser. For one thing, coaches and players are much more willing to talk to you after a victory than a loss.
There are only so many ways you can make a losing team sound anything but hopeless.
I covered a college basketball team that won only five games all one season. I covered another that lost after leading by six points with 20 seconds to play. That same team also lost on a half-court three-pointer at the buzzer. There were baseball games decided on bases-loaded ninth inning walks, football games fumbled away at the goal line in the final seconds.
I have been to funerals that were more cheerful than some of the losing locker rooms I have entered.
Losing is certainly no fun, but it is part of life. Every one of us experiences setbacks and disappointments. The strong learn from losses and difficulties. The weak allow losing to not only devastate, but to define them.
Latta has every right to quit his job, of course. But blaming it on a stunning upset loss by a team he has covered for years is a bit silly.
The only time I was ever disappointed in a team I covered was when they didn’t either win or lose with class. That five-win basketball team didn’t whine, didn’t quit, didn’t hang their heads. They kept giving it their best, which is all you can ask of anyone.
Sure, the Lobos’ loss to Harvard was a shock, and undoubtedly a blow to their fans. But the sun came up the next day, and there will always be a next season.
Just ask Cubs fans.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.