From the Sidelines
"Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them." - Epictetus, Greek philosopher
In last Sunday's Empire, a letter by Ken Coate conveyed an attitude toward local athletic activities, and the coverage of those events in this paper, that readers ought to think about.
Coate's letter criticized a photo that appeared in the Nov. 21 Empire in coverage of the Brandon Pilot Invitational wrestling meet - a photo that showed Juneau wrestler Chad Carson in the heat of a match he ultimately lost to Sitka wrestler Torin Lehmann. I chose the photo to run secondary to another, larger wrestling shot.
As with most local photos that appear on the sports pages, the image was selected because it's a compelling shot of a decisive moment at a significant local event.
Coate - a friend of Carson's family who said he didn't attend the meet - wrote that the Empire, simply by running the photo, "highlighted this young man's defeat." In an unpublished note that accompanied his letter, Coate further stated that we "misrepresented" Carson, and implied that we ran the photo to "make negative press to sell."
The photo shows Lehmann on top, trying to pin Carson - who, at the same time, has his arms locked around Lehmann's right leg, trying to reverse his position and gain the advantage.
The match didn't end in a pin. In fact, it went on for the full three rounds, with Lehman advancing because he had accumulated more points for various moves during the match. The photo caption read:
"Juneau's Chad Carson tries to escape from Sitka's Torin Lehmann on Saturday during their 130-pound semifinal. Lehmann won 4-0 and went on to win the title."
Carson, as was duly noted in the accompanying story, won his final match to claim third place.
I haven't been able to figure out what is so offensive about the photo. When I look at it, I see two kids who are in the middle of a grueling season, who have reached the semifinals of a tough tournament, who are working their hardest, and who aren't giving up. I see a tournament champion - Lehmann - at a critical point on his title run. And I see a challenger - Carson - who fought valiantly against an opponent who was, on that day, better than everyone else.
When Coate looks at the photo, he apparently sees something very negative. That's unfortunate, and it's sad that he's probably not alone in his pessimism. But seeing the photo in a negative light is an issue of perception, and it falls entirely on the shoulders of the viewer.
Maybe people like Coate don't realize that winning and losing are not absolute. While he came up short at the end, Carson won many small battles in his match - including escaping the precarious position shown in the photo. Conversely, Lehmann had a chance for a pin and lost it - though he won the match in the end.
Or maybe, in this case, there just is dismay that a Juneau kid lost - a dangerous attitude that, no doubt, would amuse - or anger - athletes from smaller towns in Southeast. At the Empire, we don't dwell on losses, and we don't ignore them. We report the facts, whether they be cause for celebration or reflection on what might have been. It would be mind-numbing to compete, to report, to live in a world without adversity.
In the same paper as Coate's letter, farther back in the sports pages, the Empire reported that the Gustavus coed volleyball team beat Yakutat to win Southeast's sole berth to the state tournament.
Gustavus will play in Anchorage later this week. Yakutat's season is done. But after matches with such finality for the losing squad, I was pleased to hear - and report - that kids from both towns joined as one team after the competition and kept playing, just for fun, against their coaches and fans.
Were the Yakutat players disappointed not to make state? I'm sure they were, and understandably so. But they realized that, at the end of the day, what really mattered was the effort they gave, the friends they made and their love of the game.
Thankfully, I've found that to be the prevailing attitude in Southeast sports - especially among the competitors themselves. Coate would do well to take off his win-or-lose blinders, follow the athletes' example and fully appreciate the true meaning of sports.
The photo in question can be found on the Web at juneauempire.com/stories/112104/spo_20041121022.shtml.
Andrew Krueger is a sports reporter at the Juneau Empire. He can be reached at email@example.com.