May 18, 2007
Both A Disappointment And An Inspiration
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
There are a lot of writers out there who have lots to say, but don't possess the correct skills to fully get their message out.
Teaching young people to write in schools is a noble skill, but it is a skill which involves more than an average person might think. Organizing paragraphs, finding appropriate topic sentences, making the entire body of work cohesive and sensible, and leaving the reader with a feeling that what they just read was a "must read", these are elements to writing which are difficult to teach but so important for young people to master and master early. There is nothing more stupefying than to see an adult try to write a paragraph and discover that their writing skills are no better than a second grader's.
Many people out there have tried their hand at writing since the Internet became mainstream last decade. All those people out there, amateurs in the truest sense of the word, often times enter into this sort of thing blindly, writing thoughts for all to read that come off as rambling instead of organized, impulsive instead of thoughtful, and partisan instead of balanced. They may actually succeed on occasion in getting a point or two across, but they do it in a way where you won't exactly find their byline in The New Yorker.
You expect the professionals to be letter perfect in everything, without even thinking about it. They are like offensive linemen in that you only notice them if they screw up but don't pay much attention when their writing skills are in perfect working order. And we're talking about putting together articles in the abstract; you obviously can't help but savor an article that seems destined for a Pulitzer or an article which turns out to be a major news breaker. In these cases, you most definitely know by whose pen, typewriter or word processor the delicious prose came from.
In the case of Ron Borges, who on Friday retired after many tumultuous years at the Globe, his is a most unique case of being both a marvelous model for writing, one of the best models out there in the entire nation, and a journalistic enigma. He is someone who broke the sacred code of journalistic trust, as well as a coming off constantly as a generally angry soul who wields one of the most outrageous fits of bias against a major sports figure. It is those episodes of plagiarism and bias which make Borges more disappointing that he was an inspiration, though he may always continue to be the latter in some way.
When this writer began his journalistic endeavors about ten years ago, he was as amateur then as he continues to be now. The Internet became available to me about 1996, and being able to read the works of Borges, Dan Shaughnessy, Bob Ryan, Will McDonough, Larry Whiteside, Bob Duffy and Michael Madden once again like I did in my youth felt too good to be true. I soon became acquainted the writings of Nick Cafardo, Jackie MacMullan, Gordon Edes, Michael Holley, Peter May, and thanks to the Herald being online also, Michael Felger, Steve Buckley, Michael Gee, Kevin Mannix, Michael Silverman, Tony Massarotti and Karen Guregian. They were all a daily read, and for the next 9 months or so it was like coming into a feast after starving for a few months or so.
When I decided to write in the fall of 1996, Shaughnessy and Ryan were my early role models. I wanted to be a "wise guy" like Shaughnessy and a "court jester" like Ryan. I soon learned that, while I have several of his books memorized, Shaughnessy's wise guy act was basically unpopular with readers, and I will simply never be as clever as Ryan with respect to his ability to generate powerful prose with a quick wit. Ryan is the only person on the planet who talks faster than I, but I am no match for a man who can throw out the word "Brobdingnagian" as easily as Tom Brady can hit Troy Brown on a quick slant on third and six.
Eventually I looked to Borges as my writing model. This was during the dark days of Bill Parcells greasing the skids for his exodus to Gang Green (it's tough calling a Super Bowl year "dark days"), and a lot of material came out that year which was both difficult to read but brilliantly written. It's one thing to break a story like McDonough did in January of 1997 by telling everyone Parcells was going to resign after Super Bowl XXXI, but it is quite another thing to convey the compelling story of going from Bill Parcells to Pete Carroll like Borges did.
Borges' strong point then, as it is now, is in raw organization of material and in efficient and precise usage of words and basic grammar. Manifestly speaking, he is a gifted wordsmith who is a master at presentation; if this were a kitchen, he would be the one to finalize the meal and present it to your table (once Parcells has cooked it, of course), and it would look like you were at a five-diamond establishment. It comes down to gathering information, disseminating it and then presenting it to the reader, and in raw terms, Borges has few peers in this area. He is the author of some of the most cleanly written articles in the business.
But content is quite another story. Whereas Borges possesses a good knowledge of football in general and has the insider element amateurs don't have (locker room access, for example), he will at times misuse the great talents he has and use them as tools for an odd vendetta against Bill Belichick. Borges has been feuding with Belichick ever since he replaced Drew Bledsoe with Brady as Patriot quarterback in 2001, with Borges making the rather outlandish claim that he more or less coached Bledsoe up in his attempts to win his starting job back once his chest injury had cleared up.
Since then, Borges has been the author of generally unbalanced articles which will usually slant against Belichick. The articles have angered Borges' reader base, who don't exactly like him continually railing against a coach who has elevated himself to coaching heights achieved only by Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs and Chuck Noll. Most nationwide experts might think that of that list of coaching legends, you might cross off all but Lombardi when discussing Belichick comparisons.
Borges possesses a deep dislike for Belichick, and he lets that dislike color his writing. You don't need to be a medium to figure this out when you hear things like "Belichick was the kind of kid who would always get his lunch money stolen...If he and I went to school together, I'd've had all his quarters", or when Borges warns everyone about what he might say about Belichick when he presents him some day at the Hall of Fame (Borges would be the one to do so as head of the Boston chapter of NFL writers). Mannix once wrote that Belichick was "duplicitous pond scum", but his incidents of anti-Belichick writings were far less prevalent. Borges would crack off a couple of such articles each month.
In the end, it was plagiarism which brought him down, like it did Mike Barnicle. He was caught copying material from a Tacoma sports writer named Mike Sando. He was caught by a journalism student at Bledsoe State U, in a nice ironic twist. It was strange that someone as intelligent as Borges could allow this sort of thing to happen, breaking a code that every journalist has to know that such breach leads to a pink slip somehow.
To call all of this "disappointing" is understating things. When you base your body of work after a writer who subsequently becomes unpopular thanks to personal bias and then being seemingly forced into retirement because of copying someone else's work, it is somewhat akin to that little boy who allegedly said to Shoeless Joe Jackson many years ago, "Say it ain't so, Joe! Say it ain't so!" For someone who has such outstanding command of the English language, who can be such a craftsman at writing prose, it is a shame that all Borges will be remembered for in these parts is a vendetta against one of the greatest coaches in football history, and getting caught being a copycat by some college kid surfing the net.
So, what next, Bob G? Shop around for a new source of inspiration? Shaughnessy and Ryan are still alive and kicking. Nobody blogs better than Mike Reiss. No one is more erudite than Sean McAdam. No one is more exhaustive and comprehensive than James Lavin. I guess I could look to the sky and think of folks like McDonough, Alan Greenberg, Ray Fitzgerald and David Halberstam (I treasure the two books of his that I own).
Nah. Time to take off the training wheels. From here on in, we just do what we do.
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