May 01, 2003

Columnist chooses not to call Dilfer: -- Bob Linneman, assistant sports editor at the Santa Cruz (Calif.) Sentinel, just can't bring himself to call Trent Dilfer on the tragic death of the QB's 5-year-old son. "It’s an unfortunate, but often essential, part of a journalist’s job to deal with death; in this case, to tackle the Dilfer story like it’s Super Bowl Sunday. Sorry. Not this time. Count me out."

posted by bitstop to football at 11:05 AM - 17 comments

Being a journalist, I agree with Linneman. People don't need to know any more about the death of Dilfer's son than Dilfer is willing to tell them. Why people would want to know more is beyond me, but kudos to Linneman and the paper for not satisfying the ghoulish element out there.

posted by wfrazerjr at 11:13 AM on May 01

Damn straight. That's the way it should be. I'm pretty sure we all have a good idea of what the Dilfer family's reaction to this would be anyway. No one really needs to read quotes to understand that they're deeply saddened by the loss of a family member.

posted by Samsonov14 at 11:17 AM on May 01

(or I guess "what wfrazerjr said" would have sufficed - gotta pay more attention to the preview)

posted by Samsonov14 at 11:19 AM on May 01

While I appreciate the sentiment, and especially feel for Trent (who seems such as a class act) and his family, the guy still managed to make an entire story out of it. What was his alternative? I don't know, but it seems ironic to write an entire column about how he won't interview Trent for a column. Maybe he can donate his check for the column to a foundation for the kind of heart ailment Trevin had. Sorry to sound so crass, but I look at stories like this with a healthy dose of skepticism.

posted by vito90 at 11:33 AM on May 01

/steps on soap box I'm sorry, but this man is a hypocrite. If there was a story about how Trent Dilfer was divorcing on his wife, he'd be all over it like white on rice. Why should one entirely personal moment (death of a child) be considered "off-limits", but another personal moment (dissolution of a marriage) be "fair game"? I think that ALL personal stories about athletes, celebrities, politicians and "normal folk" should be "off-limits" to reporters and the news. There is nothing to be gained by leering into the lives of other people except to tsk-tsk or laugh at their misfortune. That said, if the story is in direct contradiction with a publicly stated belief/stand that the person has (God-fearing Christian baseball player who spouts how important it is to follow the "good book" is caught whoring around town behind his wife's back), then I think the media has a right to expose the hypocrisy. As well, if it affects the well-being of people outside the family (murder, embezzlement), then the media can feel free to report on it. As well, if the person WANTS the media to know, then they are free to ask the questions as well. But I don't think anyone gains anything from reporters plastering newspapers/airwaves with how Lance Armstrong is now separated from his wife, or how Darryl Strawberry is still struggling with drug addiction. And we especially don't need to celebrate hypocrisy when a reporter tries to act all high and mighty by pretending to show "character" by not interviewing a person during a personal tragedy. /steps off soap box

posted by grum@work at 11:45 AM on May 01

Well, Vito, that was my one problem with the column. It sounds like a lot of self-congratulatory crap ... but how else could you write it without fully explaining yourself? I would have done the same thing, because it heads off readers who want to call and ask why there's no coverage of it and sets the precedent for the next time the same sort of thing occurs.

posted by wfrazerjr at 11:46 AM on May 01

vito90: it seems ironic to write an entire column about how he won't interview Trent for a column. I'm with vito90 and, to a smaller extent, grummy, and now, wfrazer!. This guy spends a whole article saying that he's not going to write an article. Dork.

posted by worldcup2002 at 01:39 PM on May 01

I like the exclamation point at the end of my nick, wc2k. It makes me feel like the third member of Wham!

posted by wfrazerjr at 01:43 PM on May 01

Is anyone in the insurance industry? I'd like to see the actuarial tables for NFL quarterbacks' children. It's gotta be about as safe as a violin-playing pharmacist. Someone had to be unfeeling here.

posted by yerfatma at 02:21 PM on May 01

kudos to Linneman and the paper for not satisfying the ghoulish element out there. Bob Linneman's column is phony, smarmy, self-admiring B.S. As he writes, "About a month ago, when Trevin Dilfer's heart illness became public, I contacted the Dilfer family and was politely told the family wishes to be left alone." He's patting himself on the back for showing discretion even though he contacted the family month ago and was turned down. Now he's covering the tragedy for readers while pretending he isn't. If he was genuinely interested in not milking a tragedy for the interest of readers, he'd simply cover something else. Making such a production of his desire not to cover this story rings completely hollow. It's like people who can't give a dollar to charity without telling 10 people about their generosity of spirit. Additionally, I think he's wrong not to give the family an opportunity to talk to him. Even though it's distasteful, there are many instances where a family wants to use their tragedy as a platform to do some good. For example -- Jim Kelly has used his son's horrifying health woes as a chance to promote charity and fight the disease. Does Dilfer's family want to do that? Perhaps not, but Linneman ought to act like a professional journalist and give them the chance to decide.

posted by rcade at 02:45 PM on May 01

Rcade, see my post above. I guarantee you, had Linneman not written this column, he and his paper would have been asked tons of questions about why they didn't do more with the story. Part of being a good journalist is putting your rationale out in the open, where your readers can eviscerate you for it. Did I say I thought it was the best piece I've ever read? No. Linneman does sound self-serving and shallow, but that's his own fault for writing it the way he did. Does it diminish the fact that I think he made the right call to leave the Dilfers alone? Not a bit. As for whether or not he should contact the family now why would he? What if your son had died of some rare illness and you had already told a reporter you didn't want to talk about it? Would you appreciate that same person calling back before you could bury your son? Does that make any sense? Linneman says in the column he'll print whatever Dilfer wants to say when he's ready to say it. What else do you need?

posted by wfrazerjr at 03:55 PM on May 01

wfrazer: It makes me feel like the third member of Wham! You like Wham!? Damn, that George Michael is boss. He may be a superfreak (on the scale of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis) but man, that boy can write and sing good music. Make it Big!

posted by worldcup2002 at 03:56 PM on May 01

btw, to rcade and wfrazer's points ... Right on! Look, Linneman could've just as easily done a little sidebar or devoted a brief paragraph, at the end of whatever else he was writing about, to Dilfer's loss. Something to the effect: "For those of you wondering where the article on Dilfer Jr's death is, I'm not writing about it. I was asked by the family to respect their privacy. I will do that. Whenever Dilfer is ready to talk, I'll be here to listen." And stop there. No need to natter on about what a wonderfully deep person you are, justifying the exception you made in this case, blah blah blah. Btw, nice way to fill a column w/o really writing anything but how you're feeling today. I think I'd like that professional navel-gazing job, please.

posted by worldcup2002 at 04:03 PM on May 01

I don't think a single reader would have contacted the paper about the absence of more coverage about this kid's death. The paper ran an obit with a quote from a family member.

posted by rcade at 05:58 PM on May 01

Seems like the columnist said pretty much the same stuff he would have said in an article that included Dilfer interview stuff - but just without the Difler interview stuff. If you really want to take a step back and respect the privacy and blah blah blah - then don't write an article about it. (aka ditto, worldcup 2002)

posted by gspm at 07:18 PM on May 01

My money is on the columnist laying the groundwork for getting the first extensive interview with Dilfer after Trevin's death. Like someone else pointed out, the Sentinel did run a glorified death notice. So, what's left to say, other than for him to point out how sensitive he is in comparison to the other "media vultures." The ridiculous part about this is that every day, obit writers across the country -- some willlingly, others less so -- do this task that Linneman seems to find so demeaning. They find a way to bring the dead to life by talking to relatives, friends and etc. Somehow, they manage to do so without coming off like Geraldo and actual obits do provide a service to the families like the Dilfers. This is a service the Dilfers might pass on, but you've got to make the call, and it's an alternative to doing a medical piece on the kid. I guess I'm saying that there are far more slimy gigs to tackle in journalism, and his column is a slap in the face to people who apparently do their job better than he did his on this particular day. No one's asking Linneman to tackle the Super Bowl. He only has to convince the public why they should care about this kid other than the fact that he died young and that his dad is a hometown boy who made good. Instead, we know that it sucks to be Trent Dilfer and that our sensitive scribe didn't want to take part in what won't exactly be a media circus.

posted by jackhererra at 01:20 AM on May 02

That's a lot of cynicism. The paper's almost required to cover this, and even though it was kind of a Holier Than Thou article, I still think this is one of the better ways to approach the article, if only because it brings up the point that we should respect the privacy of famous people when they're going through hardships.

posted by Samsonov14 at 09:33 AM on May 02

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