Do Chicagos sports reporters really care about Derrick Rose?
  • Paul Beaty/AP
  • Do Chicago’s sports reporters really care about Derrick Rose?

A couple of seasons ago, the Tribune assigned two reporters to chronicle every basket, sneeze, and backfire of the team bus as the Simeon varsity pursued its fourth straight Illinois state basketball championship. Jabari Parker was the star of that team, and Derrick Rose, who’d led Simeon to three two championships a few years earlier, was the standard of excellence. The Tribune called its coverage “Simeon All Access,” and no story angle was missed.

Except one. The Simeon roster was packed with Division One prospects who hoped to follow in Rose’s footsteps—to college (in Rose’s case one year at Memphis) and then the NBA. But those were troubling footsteps: some unknown party at Simeon was accused of inflating grades on the transcripts Rose and some teammates sent to colleges. And the NCAA believed strongly enough that someone else took the SAT for Rose that it forfeited the entire season he played for Memphis.

These accusations never gained much traction in the Chicago press, where Rose was celebrated as the modest hometown hero whose vigilant big brothers had made sure he grew up safe and sound in Englewood. In 2011, four years out of Simeon, Rose was the NBA’s MVP; but as Parker led Simeon to the 2013 state title, Rose sat out the Bulls’ season with a knee jury. The sidelined star remained a heroic figure, his struggle to return to the court a crusade, his social values irreproachable. Arne Duncan, the nation’s hoops-crazy secretary of education, called him an ally in the struggle to reduce gun violence in our cities.

That February I wrote one of the Tribune reporters assigned to Simeon. Maybe, I said, it’s time for a more complex portrait of Rose. Given his virtues, given his success, given that apparently he graduated from high school and got into college by hook or by crook, maybe you could write something about the effect of his example on current Simeon seniors ambitious to join top-flight Division One programs.

“We’re hoping to get into the subject in the future,” the reporter wrote back. Maybe I missed it.

Unmissable was the media’s obsession with Rose’s return. I compared it to the second coming of Christ, who like Rose refused to say when He’d be back even though He knew we were all dying to find out. But in the two years since, we have waited a second time for Rose to return, and now a third time. Our patience has worn thin.

“Who knows?”‘ Rose said the other day, when asked when he’ll be back in uniform. “Whenever I feel well, that’s when I’m going to step back on the court.” This season? “I think so. That’s the plan. So whenever I feel right, that’s when I’m going to step back.” To be sure it wasn’t missed, he made the same point a third time. “Whenever I’m ready to come back, I’m going to come back.”

Scribes are beside themselves over Rose’s refusal to give the role of wounded warrior a conventional interpretation. “This could be a blessing in disguise,” Rose told the media. “Just trying to take my time, listen to my body, cheer on my teammates while I’m out, just try to better myself as a person, basketball player, businessman and as a teammate.”

Businessman! Even if Rose actually meant what he said it was an insane thing to say, Rick Morrissey declared in the Sun-Times. “He’s a basketball player who happens to be worth tens of millions of dollars. Where are his ‘people’ to save him from himself?”

“What people wanted to hear,” wrote Rick Telander in the Sun-Times, “is: ‘Four weeks. Then I’m full-tilt boogie!’ Or five weeks, six weeks, whatever. Something definitive, fiery, passionate.”

The coverage of Rose reinforces an observation easily made about our sports pages: the athletes we meet there don’t actually seem to interest the reporters who cover them. Chicago sportswriters have been covering Rose since he was a high school sophomore in 20082005, and surely some by now would have a fairly sophisticated idea of who he is—if they cared enough to form one. But if the job is to either hail or lecture—why bother? Rose is always presented as something simple: as Chicago’s own, fierce but virtuous. or as broken in body and spirit and in thrall to the entourage that once kept him safe in Englewood. Morrissey wrote a recent column about the Blackhawks’ Patrick Sharp that gets at how “responsible journalists” covering sports write about everybody:

“Sports fans should fall in love with athletes’ images at their own risk. My advice? Love the competitor, but steer clear of the off-the-ice version. . . . What I keep coming back to is a simple question, a question most responsible journalists ask themselves: How are we better off because of this story?”

That’s not bad advice. But the off-the-court version of Derrick Rose is the only Rose we’d had for most of the past three years. No one’s steering clear, but no one’s digging in. Which responsible Chicago journalist cares enough about Rose to try to present him whole?