Piece of Mind: Be careful, words do matter

Our sportswriter Andrew Shortall stood at my office doorway Tuesday night looking worried. He told me he had been retrieving team reports from the La Cañada Baseball/Softball Association website so that we could run them in this week’s paper when he came across something that disturbed him.

What he came across was this, written by LCBSA volunteer coach Scott Comstock:

“The White Sox put up a good battle against the Red Sox for 3 innings before the roof fell in, but don’t feel bad for us. You should feel sorry for my poor dog. I wait until I get home to vent my frustration and give my dog a good kick every time we lose. After each game he has this concerned look on his face and he can tell the moment I pull up the driveway how our game went. He’s a big lab and they have a really high pain threshold but he still can’t wait for the season to end. I told him we probably have one playoff game left and that seemed to cheer him up. Everyone needs a good dog like him.”

Comstock continues with a completely acceptable and warmly-written report that ends with the unfortunate sign-off, “Coach Dogkicker.”

Andrew wasn’t waiting for me to tell him the offensive words would have to be deleted from our published report. He knew that. He was worried about the coach’s dog. He also wondered aloud if the writer, who knows that all reports are picked up by the local papers, was trying to push the envelope. And his third question to me: “Are kids seeing this?”

The report is edited for today’s Sports section. The offending paragraph is here because I can’t let it pass. This is a junior sports team filled with 7-year-olds. Is it not reasonable to believe there is at least a possibility — especially if it’s accidentally published in its entirety with the other team reports in a newspaper — that someone who is not an adult and who does not know Comstock’s sense of humor will read it and get the mistaken idea that an adult he admires is given to animal cruelty?

Karl Bathke, president of LCBSA, vouches for Comstock’s good character. When reached at his office Wednesday, Bathke assured me he knows Comstock and his tongue-in-cheek nature very well.

Bathke, who had not read the report first-hand, listened as I read the pertinent section over the phone. He agreed that comments about animal abuse were not appropriate and said that the inappropriateness would be relayed to Comstock.

“The guy’s a gem” Bathke said of the White Sox coach. “Everyone who knows him knows his sense of humor. He just went a little over the top on this one.”

My next call was to Comstock. He explained he’s been coaching for 10 years and has always written humorous game wrap-ups; he sees them as creative entertainment. He said he counts on the papers to edit out anything that’s inappropriate.

“These [reports] go out to [the players’] parents,” he said. “They know that I love my dog. The problem is that you can’t read sarcasm. I never mean any harm. [The parents] understand my humor. When I step a little over the line of good taste it’s because I like to do that. This is all done for fun.”

Comstock worried I was writing this just to “stir up the pot,” since the LCBSA had received no complaints about the report. He commented on society “getting so politically correct,” and said, “If you take it too seriously, it’s because you’re looking for something.”

No, I’m hopeful that this serves as a cautionary tale to others: If you’re writing something that might be published, think it over carefully. By all means, go ahead and make us laugh. But please know that to use animal (or human) cruelty as a metaphor for disappointment shows a basic misunderstanding of how the world works today. It just can’t be done.

Before we ended our conversation, Comstock stressed again to me how much he loves his brown Lab and can be found walking her around the neighborhood most nights. He assures me he would never harm any being, human or animal.

I take him at his word.

CAROL CORMACI is managing editor of the Valley Sun. She can be reached at ccormaci@valleysun.net or carol.cormaci@latimes.com

Copyright © 2019, La Cañada Valley Sun
EDITION: California | U.S. & World