I’ve not generally been a fan of the ombudsman/public editor phenomenon that took hold in the wake of the Jayson Blair controversy of 2003. Though its ostensible purpose is to hold media organizations accountable for their mistakes and missteps, the effect is more one of dorky killjoyism–some gray-haired eminence of mild temperament is brought aboard to uphold Eisenhower-era standards of rectitude and emit the occasional harrumph.
But I have to admit that I loved the April 12 post by ESPN’s new ombudswoman, Le Anne Schreiber. On paper, she seems like yet another of the species, almost an ombuds-caricature: 61 years old, formerly employed as an editor at The New York Times and its Book Review, sensibly coiffed and wardrobed, self-described in her introductory post as someone who has “a reputation among friends as a fair-minded person of sound judgment. For that reason, I am often asked to weigh in on their decisions about everything from choice of mate to choice of career, coast or coffee maker.”
Yet Schreiber goes about her ombuds-business with a welcome drollery, not hiding how enervated she is by all the fratboy shouting that goes on during SportsCenter and the network’s various sports-yak shows: “The yelling, especially during rapid-fire basketball highlights, felt like the aural equivalent of a tall guy jumping up out of his seat and blocking my view of the action at a crucial moment,” she recalls of her inaugural ESPN-watching binge in January. Of the network’s pregame analysis on NFL Sundays, she writes, “[I] remembered a favorite saying of the day that had once been posted on the farm stand where I buy tomatoes: ‘Certainty is the place you stop when you are tired of thinking.’”
I doubt that Hootie, the Blowfish, or any of the brothers at Kappa Sig will ever read Schreiber’s column–or will ever read, period–but for those of us who love sports but dislike being shouted at, Le Anne’s worth checking in on.