You may possibly remember Alan Partridge's original incarnation as a sports reporter - crass, insensitive, possessed of a myopic obsession with sporting trivia, totally lacking in perspective or a sense of appropriate behaviour.
Steve Coogan's inspired creation may have found his match in veteran US reporter Mark Whicker. Whicker, who writes about sport for the Orange County Register, filed an amusing little column in Tuesday's edition recalling some of the sporting highlights of the last few years. He had the perfect peg on which to hang his retrospective. After all, as he wrote, "It doesn't sound as if Jaycee Dugard got to see a sports page".
He went on:
She never saw a highlight. Never got to the ballpark for Beach Towel Night. Probably hasn't high-fived in a while. She was not allowed to spike a volleyball. Or pitch a softball. Or smack a forehand down the line. Or run in a 5-footer for double bogey. Now, that's deprivation.
Indeed it is. As Whicker noted, even prisoners "at least get an hour of TV a day". How long, he wondered, would it take until Jaycee "fully digests the world she re-enters?" Happily Whicker was on hand to fill her in on some of the sporting action he assumes she missed while held captive for eighteen years by a deranged pervert and his equally sick wife. But it's unlikely Jaycee will have found the column especially informative. For example, among the "many odd things" that have happened since she's been away:
- Football players, who had cornered the market on most of their drugs, began driving drunk, slapping their wives, selling drugs, and killing people. The baseball players caught more grief.
- Yeah, this golfer really is named Tiger Woods.
- John McEnroe became a respected television analyst, just as tennis adopted a replay system that eliminated the need for McEnroe to argue.
- A guy from East L.A. named Oscar De La Hoya now makes boxing contenders rich and famous. Just as he did when he was boxing.
And so on and on for quite a while. It's pretty uninspired stuff, even considering that US sport doesn't export well, and US sports-related humour even less. But Whicker saved the best till last, finishing off with a punchy "Congratulations Jaycee! You left the yard!"
For some reason, many readers thought this last line in rather poor taste. Indeed, the whole idea of hanging a lighthearted look at some of the sporting absurdities of the past two decades on the prolonged imprisonment and sexual abuse of a young girl attracted a fair amount of adverse comment. It wouldn't, I suspect, have happened in Austria. Whicker has now apologised. It was not his intention, he says, to write "a column that clearly offended and outraged large portions of our readership". He had "miscalculated". I'd say:
For 22 1/2 years at The Register, I feel like I've had a good and direct relationship with our audience and I think most of the regular readers know how I go about reporting and commenting on sports.
This column appears to have disconnected that bond with at least part of our readers. For that I apologize.
It's not much of an apology. But then Whicker must share the blame with the editor who okayed the piece for publication - or didn't bother to look. And he's very far from being the only person in the media looking to exploit the world's fascination with the case. Oprah Winfrey has been telling everyone just how desperate she is to get Jaycee on her sofa. "I want that interview," she says. "It's the first time I have ever called up my producers and said, 'Are we on this story? Because I want that interview!'"
If Jaycee is properly advised, Oprah may have to settle for Mark Whicker's own tragic tale of how he wrecked his career.