The Idle American: Faint Memories of Civility

  Time was, folks engaged in pleasant conversations, quick to smile and slow to judge.

“You can look it up.” Late sports writing giant Blackie Sherrod was fond of using this quote. He repeated it often in a half-century of columns, attempting to keep sports in the context of a larger world.

He died years before the “Google Age,” but if he were still clacking out journalistic brilliance on his old upright typewriter, he’d take his observations–and bluffs–even further.

Yep, old Blackie would have enjoyed field days of “fun-poking” at today’s “holier than thou” assertions, his tongue rubbed raw from repeated wallowing in his cheek….


   Sherrod kept sports in perspective–even for most heralded games–loosening us up with observations that tickled our funny bones.

He delighted in calling baseball’s end-of-season finale “The World Serious,” and he often lampooned the magazine Sports Illustrated as Sports Elevated.

Countless times he quoted Dallas Cowboy Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson’s great line poking holes in the worldwide “ballyhoo” amassed for the Super Bowl. He mused, “If the Super Bowl is really the ultimate game, why do they play it again next year?”….

Don Newbury

Blackie would have taken a “bulldog bite” out of a new study about biases. Biases are “circling the bases” these days, with some in Washington, DC, running totally amuck.

He’d probably wonder why the Gallup people decided to study biases. How many of them really warrant “hot button” status? One point studied is whether we’re plagued more by biased consumers of the news, or by the agencies that produce it.

My 106-year-old uncle thinks that when Gallup’s surveyors pry into the “why’s” of our biases, they’ve “done gone too far.” “Expression of biases is one of the few rights we have left,” he fumed….


  Uncle Mort, during a serious moment, said, “Biases allow us to express opinions, factual or otherwise.” He believes they provide release valves on topics that may explode if we don’t spout some steam occasionally.

Mort, sounding like a Sherrod clone, reminds us that we can “Google it.” ‘Course, Blackie’s line would have been, “You can look it up.”

Either way, one who takes time to delve into the Gallup findings about biases may want to skip down to a single paragraph near the end of the New York Times piece.

It reads, “In contrast with political views, demographic characteristics of the reader–including gender, age, education, and race/ethnicity–provided little explanatory power in explaining bias.” You may now uncross your eyes….


  I’m pretty sure biases can be held in check–at least, those that need to be–if some “small talk” is included with all the serious stuff. Time was, folks engaged in pleasant conversations, quick to smile and slow to judge and/or offer correction.  Memories of such civility grow faint.

Coming to mind is a recent visit with Everett “Bunny” Martin, a friend of some 65 years. We covered “bottom-feeder” items far removed from today’s grave topics. He recalled a long-ago time when his primary church staff duty was to visit the sick. About the same time, he was learning sleight-of-hand card and coin tricks. During one hospital visit, a 94-year-old patient asked Bunny to perform a few tricks. Bunny, long proclaimed the “yo-yo champion of the world,” quickly produced cards and coins. His performance was shaky.

Upon leaving, Bunny said, “I hope you are better soon.” The old man responded, “I hope you are, too.”…


   I countered, telling about myvisit to a hospice facility that was brightened by an “incurable optimist.”

An old fellow–86 and pretty much used up–drew me close, whispering, “I’ve been sent here as an undercover agent to see if the food is any good.”

He died three days later. I will long remember his optimism, and his determination to complete a life marked by good cheer. Bunny’s friend 60+ years ago–and mine the other day—were “load-lighteners.” Would that all of us try more often to make others smile…..


  Dr. Newbury is a former educator who “commits speeches” round about. Comments/inquiries to: [email protected] Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook: don newbury.

Don Newbury is the author of the humorous, inspirational, and autobiographical When the Porch Light’s on. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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