By Terence Smith
So, now it is official: the New York Times sports section is kaput!
The 30-plus editors and reporters will be shifted elsewhere in the paper and some of them will be lodged in the business section, where they will cover the frequently controversial business of sport. The coverage of games and tournaments will be available online and now and then in print in the Times via The Athletic, the prodigious website that The Times acquired for more than half a billion dollars a year or so ago. The Athletic has a huge staff of some 400 and puts up as many as 150 stories a day. They cover the day-to-day ballgames and events that have disappeared from most sports sections today.
The change makes economic sense, I suppose. To be honest, The Times’s sports section is so diminished in the print paper these days that it will hardly be missed. With the exception of the stand-alone Sports Monday, sports coverage is relegated to the tail end of the business section and focuses on soccer, Formula 1, golf and tennis, all of which appeal to the international audience of online subscribers that are crucial to the economic survival of the paper. Sports, particularly the coverage of the sports teams and games in and around New York, have become an after-thought.
But no sports section at all? That’s a loss. The section once had a voice, an urbane, sometimes witty, sometimes poignant voice that was distinctive and valued. My father, Red Smith, who wrote the Sports of the Times column decades ago and won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in his column in 1976, was part of that voice. So were Robert Lipsyte and Dave Anderson and so many others. Their columns made you smile at times, and made you angry at others. People bought the paper to read them.
Will The Athletic provide a similar, distinctive voice? Will its many pieces inform you, amuse you, anger you, provoke you?
We shall see.