When the 1989 World Series was interrupted by a San Francisco earthquake, my work as a sports copy editor at the Herald & Review felt like it went on hold. There was little nationally in sports keeping my attention. We were just waiting.
On one of those Series-less evenings, I was talking with then-sports editor Mark Tupper and suggested I might write a column about how seeing the earthquake affected places I'd just driven the previous month "kind of put things in perspective."
Mark's wince was almost audible. "You don't want to do that," he said. "Sports should always be in perspective. Pointing that out would make you look kind of foolish."
He was right, of course. I've thought a lot about that conversation lately, Even though I no longer work daily in sports, I still watch far more ESPN and listen to more sports talk radio that I should or ever would admit to. I've felt an amount of empathy for those who have tried to perform while acknowledging tragedies like the apparent murder-suicide by an active NFL player in Kansas City. the death of a former Illini and Dallas Cowboy player; and Friday's Connecticut school shooting.
They've had to start their shows by essentially saying, "We know this happened. But we've still got to do this show, OK? So if it ticks you off that we're still going to talk sports in the light of a tragedy, don't call us and complain, OK? 'Cause we're telling you we know it happened."
And I've seen a few soliloquies where people who didn't have Mark Tupper to give them a tip have given the talk about how this "kind of put things in perspective." Predictably enough, that handful of talkers was set upon by social media.
Yet, by Sunday morning, it occurred to me - as I thought about some of the pieces I was hearing, and remembering my own experience from 1989 - what the "perspective" commentators are truly saying.
The commentators aren't talking about YOU, the listener. They are talking about THEMSELVES.
When you work in insular worlds like sports or entertainment, you don't become unaware of the world around you. You just follow it and think about it a little less. This time of year in sports, especially if you work somewhere like here, is a flood of mental activity. If you're a sports copy editor, you have the end of college football, the playoff chase and games in the NFL, the NBA (and remember the Chicago Bulls were really good then), the NHL (yes, they used to play every year), college basketball (when the Illini were at the top of their game) and Millkin and prep sports. You tend to sharpen your focus. The commentators who work at a national level have to have a similar myopia.
But every once in a while, something will bust in on that focus. It comes as a shock, and is so blunt to your system that it changes the way you look at things.
That's what they mean, I think, when they talk about having things "kind of put things in perspective." Maybe you're well-balanced enough that you don't need perspective that way. But the person talking to us is probably confessing instead of trying to instruct.