A Sportswriter Without Decency

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SAN FRANCISCO -- The Dodgers and Giants have carried grudges across the decades and across the country. It always has been baseball with an edge.

Now it has become baseball with a reminder.

"There is no room in this game,'' the Dodgers' Jamey Carroll had told a somber crowd Monday evening, "for hatred and violence.''

A week ago, when the teams met in the season opener at Dodger Stadium 350 miles to the south, a Giants fan, a father, a paramedic, Bryan Stow, 42, was beaten so savagely by two men he has been placed in a medically induced coma and may have suffered brain damage.

The attack brought the expected reaction of disgust, and also unexpectedly brought the teams and fans together, rather than pushing them further apart.

Baseball, the pastime, the game of which the late author Charles Einstein said "You don't need violence in your heart to enjoy,'' had been tarnished by violence.

"The love you've shown to the Stow family,'' said Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt in somber ceremonies before Monday's game, "please respect that.''

A journalist three time zones to the east, however was unable to show any respect. Or decency. Or sensitivity.

Exactly what John Steigerwald of the Observer-Reporter in Washington, Pa., a Pittsburgh suburb, intended with his article blaming Stow for the incident and not his attackers is unknown.

Was he trying to be funny? Yeah, a real thigh-slapper, a person getting bashed senseless. Maybe he was attempting to be a contrarian. Or more likely he was just acting stupid. No law against that.

The suspicion is Steigerwald was seeking attention, which these days with stories going viral on the internet, is easily done. Hey, Martha, did you see what that horses' behind in Pennsylvania wrote? No, call it up on the screen.

What he wrote was a column headlined, "Know When You've Outgrown the Uniform.'' Stow, who lives in Santa Cruz, on the coast about 80 miles south of San Francisco, was wearing a Giants jersey.

Hardly an indictable offense. Except maybe to Steigerwald.

"Maybe it's time for sports fans to grow up,'' Steigerwald wrote.

Sporting journalists are born cynics. The unwritten rule of the business is no cheering in the press box. But this man wasn't being cynical, he was being inimical.

"Maybe someone can ask Snow if he ever comes out of his coma,'' wrote Steigerwald, misspelling the victim's name - Steigerwald is sloppy as well as irrational - "why he thought it was a good idea to wear Giants' gear to a Dodgers' home opener when there was a history of out-of-control drunkenness and arrests at that event going back several years.

"Are there really 40-something men who think that wearing a jersey makes them part of the team? It was cute when a 10-year-old got that feeling by showing up at Three Rivers Stadium in a Pirates jersey, but when did little boys stop growing out of that?''

The issue is when did big boys feel privileged to go after a fan simply because they didn't like his attire? Are we living in a society with laws or not?

Dodgers management at first was protective in its comments about the attack, not wishing to chase away spectators. But then the Los Angeles Police Chief said he would send more than a hundred uniformed officers to future Dodgers games, no matter the opponent.

He was taking the situation seriously.

As opposed to Steigerwald.

"Sometimes there's a heavy price to pay for an adult who wears the wrong colored jersey to a baseball or football game,'' blogged Steigerwald two days before the column.

A heavy price? This wasn't a morality play, it was a sporting event, recreation, a brief escape from the real world. A couple of thugs - still on the loose - have perhaps destroyed a man's life forever. Stow did nothing but cheer for his team.

Someone with a long memory was able to locate a 30-year-old video of Steigerwald, as an adult, not a 10-year-old, wearing jerseys of every Pittsburgh team, Pirates, Steelers, Penguins, for a TV promotion. There are no secrets in this electronic age.

According to one internet report, in 2009, Steigerwald's brother, Paul, the Penguins' announcer, tried to make a joke of Hobey Baker, for whom the award as the top college hockey player is named, being killed in a plane crash in 1918. Ho, ho.

Now the sibling offers something more outrageous. Indeed something more dangerous.

In both Los Angeles and San Francisco there have been prayer vigils for Bryan Stow, who unfortunately has shown no improvement since being hospitalized.

You want to believe there's something we can do to help Stow. Nothing can be done to help John Steigerwald. He's helpless. And heartless.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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