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Tear-Jerker headline and Monday Morning Quarterbacking

Every Thursday in the Toy Department brings another installment of "From the Editor's Desk," a weekly dispatch from Tim Wheatley. To ask him questions, register complaints or recommend raises for the Toy Department staff, email him at tim.wheatley@baltsun.com.  

Tuesday morning, I pulled the Sports section out of the bag and winced when I saw the headline.

TEAR-JERKER was splashed in huge display type across the entire front of the sports section. Most days I see the Sports cover and read most of the stories before I leave the night before. But because this was a late Maryland women's basketball game, I viewed the headline in print just like our other readers. 

The reason I had that reaction was I questioned whether that was a fair headline on Maryland's surprising 77-60 loss to Louisville in the Elite Eight of the women's NCAA tournament.The Louisville men were upset by Michigan State in the men's tourney and some of them cried. We didn't use TEAR-JERKER as the headline on that game and I can't imagine that any other publication wrote that headline either. Part of my job as the editor is to make sure we're fair and balanced and I just thought this one didn't work.

I had no problem running the photo of Marissa Coleman crying and being consoled by teammates. I had no problem mentioning the crying in the game story and the lead to Rick Maese's column. If you saw the game, clearly the crying aspect was very visible. I always tell my reporters that I want them to capture the entire event, not just want happens between the lines. I want them to paint a picture and bring the readers to the game with their words. That's what we did with the story and the photo. I just wish we hadn't made it the focus of the headline. 

 

Now, of course, I could be wrong so I asked Dr. Mary Jo Kane what she thought.  

Kane is the director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota

"In research it all comes down to is it proportional and is it comparative,'' Kane said. She pointed to the Louisville men losing to MSU.

"Would that (tears) have been the lead for a men's game?," Kane said> "I find it hard to believe that it would've happened. In fact, it did not happen with the Louisville men. Same sport, same result, but not the same output (tears in the lead). And it should've been more exaggerated for the Louisville men because there were greater expectations.

"Why is tear-jerker the lead,'' Kane asked of the Maryland women's game. "The lead is that they got outhustled and out-coached. They were not prepared for what Louisville was throwing at them."

And I asked the decision-makers that night how they arrived at that headline. In brainstorming they first game up with "Crying game" but vetoed that because of the negative connotations. They came up with Tear-Jerker and here is assistant copy desk chief Steve Gould's explanation:

He thought it was appropriate considering how unusual it was to see a player tearing up at the foul line, as Marissa Coleman was doing, and then the outward displays of emotion from Kristi Toliver and Coleman as they were pulled from the court and embraced by Brenda Frese -- and the fact that the players remained on the bench crying as Louisville coach Jeff Walz came by to console them after the handshake line. Steve says he wouldn't have a problem doing the same headline had he been working the night Adam Morrison teared up at the end of his college career. He said nobody on the desk questioned the headline.

Sports copy desk chief Andy Knobel found several instances over the years where we've used "tears" on men's stories. Andre Agassi's loss in the U.S. Open contained "Tears, cheers" in the main headline. Andy was off that night but also said he had no problem with the headline. 

Sports columnist Rick Maese said he absolutely would've referenced puffy eyes if Maryland's Grevis Vasquez was crying after the Maryland mens' NCAA tournament loss. 

We have great headline writers on our copy desk and they write many gems. It doesn't happen often, but on this one I land on the side of not using that headline. There were many other possibilities that we could've come up with, especially considering how badly Maryland got beat in a game that it was favored to win and the fact that they missed the Final Four again.

I didn't get any phone calls or complaints so it's possible that I am wrong (doesn't happen often either). What do you think? Please leave your comments below or email me at tim.wheatley@baltsun.com.

 

Comments

Tim, I really didn't think it was that big of a deal and still don't understand why you do. I don't find it sexist at all, but I'm sure some ultra feminist would. dunno

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