He’s Gregg Doyel. Sportswriter. He’s an amateur boxer, a Captain Morgan and Diet Coke drinker, and has been described as insensitive, offensive and rude. He’s so obstinate, he spells both of his names wrong. He speaks the truth about sports that we sometimes don’t want to hear. Blackheart.
Doyel, formerly a CBSSports.com writer, arrived in town from Cincinnati in 2014, punching verbal jabs as the feature columnist for the Indianapolis Star. He immediately ruffled some feathers with an article on the troubles of Indiana University’s basketball team and how coachTom Crean should go. He’s the real-life scribe version of Gene Hackman’s “Norman Dale”, riding into someone else’s town intent on doing it his way. He’s seemingly cantankerous and cynical, and sees the world through swollen, puffy eyes.
But I see something different. Peel back a layer or two and maybe, just maybe, you’ll see a heart.
I’ve loved playing and reading about sports my whole life, starting as a kid with the sports section after I finished my morning paper route. Like Gregg Doyel, this is how I learned to read.
Three writers-Si Burick, Ritter Collett and Hal McCoy-from my hometown of Dayton, Ohio have been inducted into the writers wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which is unheard for a city with no major professional team. Also, L. A. Times Hall of Fame writer Jim Murray, was syndicated in one of the paper’s. (He even signed a Johnny Bench article that I’d saved as a kid).
I suppose a lot of people in town cheered when Kravitz left the Star but I groaned, not knowing who would fill the Star sports page with great, quality writing. Then Gregg Doyel stepped in.
Whether it was Tom Archdeacon later of the Dayton Daily News or Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press, I always sought out this type of writer and their stories. That didn’t change when I came to Indianapolis, which has been home to many great writers over the years: the late Bob Collins (his great quip about NFL training camps-“the only people who should be cracking pads this time of year are cat burglars”!), Dave and Bill Benner, Steve, er, Conrad Brunner, Phil Richards, Mike Chappell, etc., on up to our last guy, Bob Kravitz.
I suppose a lot of people in town cheered when Kravitz left the Star but I groaned, not knowing who would fill the Star sports page with great, quality writing. Then Gregg Doyel stepped in. And I want to interview him.
I have interviewed literally thousands of people but never once has it been about sports. Always about crime. People who sometimes didn’t want to share their story but heroically did so anyway. And there have been plenty of people who refused to talk to me, so it wouldn’t hurt my feelings too much if Doyel decided not jump at this awesome opportunity . His is perhaps, the best interview I’ll never do.
I’m telling you this anyway because I think there is something special that separates Doyel from other writers. There is something that moves him away from Walter Matthau’s “Oscar Madison” character, to a more human type of being. So I have to tell ya, Gregg Doyel is one of the best things to happen to Indy sports writing since cigar smoked newsrooms. Yeah, peel back another layer. There you go…
Are you questioning humanity and feeling helpless against something bigger than you? Read his story about the small town of Dugger, In., and how its citizens saved a football team, saved a high school and saved a town.
Feeling a little blue and thinking that maybe life hasn’t been fair to you? Check out Doyel’s article on Arlington H.S. grad Karl Turk, and how he overcame huge physical obstacles through nothing more than hard work, to become a state championship high school basketball coach.
Worried that our new sports writer isn’t from Indiana and is not going to “get” us? Read the sentimental story of how a ghost of a basketball gym comes back to life at night, in an old dilapidated, brick, skeleton of a building just beyond downtown.
Or, you love your comedy mixed in with some brutal truth? How about Gene Keady’s combover. I am not making this up.
Seeing it now? Doyel won’t show it or let you know it because that’s not what sportswriters are supposed to do. They are supposed to be tough and yes, he is a tough guy. They’re also supposed to be argumentative, controversial, vitriolic ass-hole curmudgeons who write for the sheer joy of stirring something up, and maybe he is some of those things too, but I think he is different.
Writing about craft beer and trying to find something personal and positive along the way, I am a beer-glass-half-full type of person and I believe that deep down, Doyel is too, already capturing the essence of Indiana and its sports in just a few short months.
Now, I don’t really consider myself a “writer”, heck you need an audience, and by no means am I comparing myself to Gregg Doyel. That would be like comparing a third-grader’s painting to a Picasso. Uh, bad analogy…but, maybe we are a kindred spirit of sorts.
I would love to sit down with my beer and his rum and coke someday and tap into his soul, and hope that maybe some of his “magic”-that’s what his stories are-will rub off. Neither will probably happen. And that’s ok.
Just be sure to look up Gregg Doyel and hang on to his every word and though sometimes he will anger us, he will also bring us honest and refreshing and heartwarming personal interest stories that will sometimes cause us to shed a tear. He says Indianapolis is his favorite town in America. You can find him at the Indianapolis Star.
He’s Gregg Doyel. Hoosier.
You can find Rick Burkhardt on Twitter @Indybeersleuth and at firstname.lastname@example.org.