NOTE: New content was added to the end of this story Sunday night.
There is no justification for the bawdy headline in LSU’s student-run Daily Reveille this past week that characterized how the Tigers defeated the South Carolina Gamecocks. In some ways, the headline is titteringly amusing in a pre-teen sort of way. In many more ways, the headline is amazingly insensitive to readers.
Is this the first time someone thought, or said, that term in relation to a South Carolina team? No. But it apparently was a revelation to an unrestrained LSU headline writer.
Let’s be clear, though. This appears to be an anomaly. The LSU Reveille typically does an excellent job covering sports. I’d say the newspaper is among the top tier in the country among college sports staffs. So let’s not bury them for a single headline. Instead, let’s consider what can be learned from this.
More than anything, do not play off team nicknames. Otherwise, you’ll repeatedly write similarly vague and laborious headlines. Really, how many times can the ‘Tigers claw’ at an opponent, the ‘Eagles soar,’ ‘Yellow jackets sting,’ ‘Bulldogs get collared,’ ‘Pirates sail past,’ ‘Mocs strike,’ and boll weevils do whatever the heck those beetles do? Instead, focus on key plays and players, find connections to current and historical events, and address what the game results mean.
Also consider whether another professional newspaper/website would find the headline appropriate. Would you find this headline across a cover of Sports Illustrated? Here’s another approach: Think like a teenager and look for racy allusions and sexual innuendos, which would have prevented these blunders .
You know, LSU’s headline could have been worse. South Carolina or LSU, instead, could have been playing a club team at Rhode Island School of Design, whose risqué nicknames could have yielded far more juvenile headlines.
So is the Daily Reveille headline that mixes South Carolina’ shortened nicknamewith sexual innuendo a big deal? As a former college newspaper adviser, I know incidents like this happen all the time. That’s why I wrote that this was an ‘anomaly’ for the typically impressive sports coverage by the Daily Reveille.
Upon further reflection, I believe LSU’s headline jolted me because of where it was published. Had this been written at Deadspin, for example, I might have laughed, read the story, and moved on because the tone would have been appropriate. I did not expect this attitude in a student, or professional, daily newspaper.
This dissonance is probably what causes some readers of Sports Illustrated to cancel their subscriptions each February when scantily clad and partially nude women fill the pages of the swimsuit issue. One expects nude women in Playboy, not in Sports Illustrated – even if this special issue is now becoming a tradition for the sports publication.
One needs to match content with audience. I’ve read the Daily Reveille online for many years, appreciating its content and its innovative approaches to covering sports. I’ve talked with the newspaper’s editors and knew the previous adviser very well. The newspaper has usually offered mature coverage for what has appeared to be a mature audience. So maybe this is why I was jolted by the headline.
Not sure if non-traditional websites and non-mainstream bloggers have affected, or infected, young, inexperienced sportswriters. Unlike this writer, I do not think bloggers are getting cliquishly jealous and acting like the Plastics from “Mean Girls.” Instead, I believe these digital sportswriters have invigorated the profession.
Still, I’d also hope young sportswriters also read the Best American Sportswriting series, local daily news publications, and magazines like Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine in order to learn more sophisticated writing, to view new approaches – and, most importantly, to learn to write for a specific audience.