Larry Merchant vs. Tom Jolly in the New York Times

The online New York Times is running an interesting exchange between Larry Merchant and New York Times sports editor Tom Jolly. Merchant first takes a few jabs at Jolly, whose disinterest in boxing, Merchant claims, "is palpable in the sports pages of the Times." Citing Tom Hauser, Merchant provides a useful overview of the Times' spotty record covering boxing as of late and really takes him to task for covering other non-mainstream sports, like horse racing, much more than the sweet science. I found myself cheering as Merchant made his case. He is both passionate and on-point, and I believe Merchant does boxing fans right here with this article.

Jolly makes some decent points in his counter-argument, too, but mainly he pursues a few red herrings loosely related to the phrasing in Merchant's original letter. His biggest contention about why the NYT doesn't cover boxing--that major fights often end after midnight on Saturdays, too late to squeeze into the next day's paper--is belied by the fact that this doesn't stop the Times from covering late-running baseball games or tennis matches. Still, at least Jolly wrote a cogent reply, and at least the Times put their conversation up for use to read.

They give Merchant the last word here, and his response to Jolly is polite but uncompromising. It's a fun read. Go check out the original. Oh, and in case you're interested, my reply to their comments section is below the fold.

Ding! Ding! And the winner is … Larry Merchant. But of course I feel that way. I’m a boxing fan.

The maddening thing about Tom’s response is that he seems to imply that outside of immediate results and fast-track commentary, boxing has little to offer for the public as a topic for the NYT. This view lacks imagination and doesn’t resonate with reality. Just look at the huge impact boxing has made on American culture, from our cliches–”down for the count,” “a knockout,” “on the ropes,” etc.–to our movies, to our history. Isn’t there room for more boxing human interest stories in the NYT? Even people who don’t watch much boxing are fascinated by the culture of boxing–its history, its tropes, its smack talking, and its lore. And as for not having time to squeeze results into the Sunday paper, why not expand online coverage of boxing from the NYT, if that's the case?

Tom is right that the Times must adjust to the times. One way it can do this with respect to boxing is to tap into the deep seated fascination Americans have for people who make their living fighting one-on-one, risking bruises and brain cells for their moment of glory. It’s an inherently dramatic sport, and its ongoing history continues to hold allure, if only the stories are told.

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