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A Sporting Chance

Why has Mark Madden been sidelined?

Mark Madden is one pissed-off fired sports columnist. The Tasmanian devil of Pittsburgh sports reporters still has his ESPN afternoon radio talk show, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette decided his act was too crazy for them to continue his sports column. At least that's what I think. The official line is that they got rid of Madden and Stan Savran to save a few bucks. But there has been grumbling about Madden's over-the-top style for many years among the more faint-of-heart at the Post-Gazette.


What's over-the-top? Joking on the air that when a 10-year-old boy with Tourette's syndrome met with a Pirates pitcher with the same affliction, "That must have been some conversation." Questioning a caller as to whether he'd graduated from fourth grade and adding, "I bet your mother had to go down on the teacher to get you to fifth."


Of course, the caller had just called Madden fat. Such is the nature of the pro-wrestling give and take (Madden was once a pro-wrestling announcer) featured on Madden's show.


Big Sexy, as he's been known to call himself, once interviewed me on his show and asked if "Kobe Bryant's victim had it coming." I knew Mark didn't mean it and was just trying to get a rise out of me, but if you don't understand or appreciate his shtick, some of his comments can be a little shocking. That's why I like him. There are plenty of cookie-cutter sports commentators. I like a little Tabasco with my x's and o's. And for cryin' out loud, it's only sports.


But in a region where we worship football coaches and find it normal that high school football initiation includes genital-to-face contact called teabagging (boys will be boys?), you can't be too irreverent about the beloved athletes and coaches. Madden is SportsCenter meets Saturday Night Live, with a dash of the World Wrestling Federation.


Now that the P-G has removed the provocative prose from its pages, Madden is on a mission from God to insult the newspaper's management. He now refuses to call the Post-Gazette anything but "the Fishwrap."


"I got chastised by the two-bit editor of the Fishwrap for doing things that were distasteful. ... [I] never made fun of the death of a President," said Madden, chastising a P-G cartoon which poked fun at the idolization of Ronald Reagan after he died. He searches for material with which to denigrate the paper on a daily basis. But Madden's motives aren't purely vengeful, although this is a man who clearly enjoys vengeance. He has complained on the air that the P-G wanted him to be kinder to the Pirates, that they have officially adopted a more supportive attitude in the coverage. This would be an anathema to a journalist who wants to call 'em as he sees 'em, and that would definitely describe Madden.


I can hear his detractors cringing at using the term "journalist" to describe the big-mouth radio brawler, but Madden spent many years as an ink-stained wretch (print journalist) before learning how to bark into a microphone, and as his colleague and rival Stan Savran concedes, "He knows sports."


Mark's off-the-wall writings included a satirical advice column, "Ask Mark Anything," in which he would ask himself questions or send himself comments under pseudonyms.


A sample: "Mark: G487O0GDsjdjsEEEEEEEEEEE!


"-- D. Ellis during the no-hitter."


That's only funny if you know that Pirate pitcher Doc Ellis is reported to have pitched a no-hitter while high on LSD.


I've seen Madden courageously deride racist homophobic Pittsburghers over their treatment of Kordell Stewart, stuff I rarely see elsewhere. I'm going to miss his column, although you can still read Madden at ESPNradio.com.


Is this the handiwork of newly installed P-G assistant sports editor Jerry Micco, or does it go all the way to the top, to the recently installed big-league Pulitzer Prize-winning editor/columnist David Shribman? Shribman declined comment on a personnel matter, saying, "Gentlemen just don't do that."


That could be the problem: Shribman is a gentleman who plays by the journalistic equivalent of Marquis of Queensbury rules. He is a New Englander. Whatever else you think of him, Mark Madden is a Pittsburgher.

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