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Wednesday, Apr. 1, 2015

Here's to hoping we can carry the banner

Posted Monday, March 26, 2012, at 1:11 PM

Here's to hoping we can carry the banner

Sad is about the best way to describe my feelings when I learned of the passing of sports writing legend Burt Randolph Sugar.

The fedora-wearing, cigar-smoking icon of both sports journalism and the sport of boxing passed away at the age of 75 this past Sunday in North Westchester, N.Y. Hospital.

Sugar had fought a battle with lung cancer, but finally succumbed to cardiac arrest with his wife Suzanne at his side.

Just for a little background for those of you who do not follow boxing or are just too young to know who I'm even talking about, Sugar was about as much like the movie image of a sports writer as Oscar Madison, the fictional character in Neil Simon's play and later the television show "The Odd Couple".

Madison was the stereo-typical sports writer probably molded in Sugar's image in some way by the playwright.

Sugar was always seen wearing his gray fedora and chomping on a cigar as he spun tales and retold the history of the sport that became his passion.

He was an editor of Boxing Illustrated, editor-in-chief of The Ring Magazine and founder of Fight Game Magazine.

He authored more than 80 books, including The 100 Greatest Boxers of All Time.

He also penned books about Harry Houdini, baseball and of all the counters to boxing, professional wrestling.

Whether it was on TV, at the arena or in the several movies in which he appeared, Sugar was an omnipresent figure in the world of the "Sweet Science" and one that will truly be missed by a generation of sports fans.

He earned his permanent place in boxing and sports writing history when he was named to the Boxing Hall of Fame in January of 2005, was honored with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2010 and was a recipient of the Boxing Writers Association Nat Fleisher Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism.

As I was making my way to work on Monday morning I heard the tribute of ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike in the Morning on the passing of Sugar.

At one point in the conversation Mike Golic, the more often than not dispenser of manchild comments, noted that the type of sports writer that Sugar epitomized was quickly disappearing.

That immediately drew my attention and had me talking to the radio. While I realize on the national level, his words may represent more truth than his own belief, on the local level Golic was wrong.

We lucky few who get to do this for a living are far from separated.

Golic referred to the spirit of cooperation, togetherness and connective air that used to be a trademark of the profession.

The former Notre Dame football star intimated that sports writers are now nothing more than a bunch of computer users tied to a keyboard and to a sport by nothing more than a paycheck -- or even worse -- by a desire to just be read.

He seemed to imply that we no longer intermingle with each other on a personal level and know each other on a one to one basis.

Well, I for one took offense to Golic's thought process and beg to differ with him.

We who are lucky enough to do this for a living share a kindred spirit and a common bond. We also share a recognition and sense of sharing that was developed in the time of Burt Sugar, Red Smith, Grantland Rice and the rest of those magic purveyors of sports news.

While my counterparts today are not known far and wide as some of those names, they still pass along information in a way that only a sports writer can.

My colleagues such as Daily World sports editor B.J. Hargis, Brazil Times Sports Editor Carey Fox, Suzanne Crabb of the Clay City News, Andy Amey, Tom Reck, Dennis Clark, Todd Golden, Craig Pearson and Dave Hughes at the Terre Haute Tribune Star, Andy Graham, Jim Gordillo, Lynn Hauser and Jeremy Price at the Bloomington Herald-Times, Tom Graham and Dave Staver at the Vincennes Sun-Commerical, Bill Richardson at the Lawrenceville (Ill.) Daily Record. newspaper, Pete Swanson at the Princeton Times-Herald and stringer Steve Fields who writes for more than one paper -- just to name a few -- all continue to carry the banner for the sports writer, a banner that was so eloquently and proudly hoisted upon the shoulders of Burt Sugar and his contemporaries.

I think Sugar would be proud of us if he were to enter any hospitality room or local venue and see all of us, from different papers in different cities, passing along tidbits between us to make our own stories better.

I think Sugar would light a stogie, push back his fedora and marvel that the profession -- the one he chose over being a lawyer and advertising executive -- is not as dead as Golic voiced, nor is the camaraderie and intertwined lines that once kept the entire world informed as to the happenings of sport.

Granted, the way we do it has changed somewhat from the days Sugar and his contemporaries sat around barrooms after events and slung the stories as eloquently and distinctly as the liquor they consumed and the cigar smoke they delivered to the air around them like the lines on the typewriters they used back then.

But we still are of the same mindset, still of the same bond.

While my place in the grand scheme will never be as large nor as endearing as Sugar's, it will certainly be one that tries to achieve the stands he set, the levels he achieved and the marks he left behind.

But I hope at the very least I won't be the one that lets the bar he raised drop too low.

Rick Curl is a sports writer for the Greene County Daily World. He can be reach at (812) 847-4487. He can be reached by email at rcurl@gcdailyworld. com.

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