On Tuesday, Orange County Register sportswriter Mark Whicker used Jaycee Dugard's 17 years of captivity at the hands of a sexual predator as a premise for a light-hearted sports column. The result may be the most astonishingly tasteless thing I've ever read in a newspaper. Here's how Whicker starts:
It doesn't sound as if Jaycee Dugard got to see a sports page.
Box scores were not available to her from June 10, 1991 until Aug. 31 of this year.
She never saw a highlight. Never got to the ballpark for Beach Towel Night. Probably hasn't high-fived in a while.
She was not allowed to spike a volleyball. Or pitch a softball. Or smack a forehand down the line. Or run in a 5-footer for double bogey.
Now, that's deprivation. ...
The column runs down the sports events, figures and trends that Dugard might have missed while she was being held captive, repeatedly raped as a young child and gave birth to two children by her abuser. Whicker ends with a play on words about her escape:
And ballplayers, who always invent the slang no matter what ESPN would have you believe, came up with an expression for a home run that you might appreciate.
Congratulations, Jaycee. You left the yard.
In the 48 hours since publication, the column has drawn widespread outrage from bloggers, Twitter users and readers of his newspaper.
"This is quite possibly the worst sports column ever written," Matt Welch declared on Reason.
"I can't decide what's worse about this column, the premise or the kicker at the end. The thing is, Mark Whicker is one of the most underrated columnists in the country. Not sure what he was thinking with this one," Boston Globe sportswriter Chad Finn wrote on Twitter.
Greg Simons, a commenter to the weblog Shysterball, claimed he got a response from Whicker to his email complaint. Simons called the column the "most revolting hook I've ever read" and asked Whicker if his next column would be about 9/11.
According to Simons, Whicker responded, "The revolting thing is that you would equate a column that celebrates the release of Jaycee Dugard, and tries to put the length of her 18-year kidnapping in a context that everyone can understand, with a terrorist attack that killed 3,000 people. And then you draw a value judgment about me based on such a preposterous parallel."
Whicker, a sportswriter for more than 27 years and a longtime columnist at the Register, describes himself as a "wary refugee in tech-land" on his Twitter account mwhicker, where his updates are protected from view.
Jason Fry, author of the Reinventing the Newsroom blog, says of the column, "Sometimes we all need to be told, 'This isn't running. One day you'll thank me.'"
Update: Whicker has apologized.