Krapitz: the likeability factor

Dateline: Mon 04 Aug 2008

A favorite and somewhat overused definition for a reporter, coined in the 1970s by a keen observer of the Washington press corps, is "shy egomaniac."

You know the type: big butch on the surface, all swagger, swill and sting, but scratch the facade and you find the baby: hypersensitive, tentative and craving approval, while almost unable to make the necessary eye contact to get it.

Ah, but to capture that dynamic in print, let alone get it to expose itself, that's a chore and a talent. So it is with Tony Rehagen's very honest profile of Star sports columnist Bob Kravitz in the August issue of Indianapolis Monthly.

Here's Rehagen's gist: everyone hates Kravitz's guts -- he's an equal opportunity offender, an outsider (non-Hoosier) with gall enough to come into town (to billboard fanfare) and slam first Bob Knight and later on, Tony Dungy -- and he knows it, the freak, knows he's hated, even despised.

But no more Mr. Tough Guy.

The profile reveals what Rehagen calls, in an email, Kravitz's softer side. I prefer fragile.

Hence we learn that Kravitz is by turns neurotic, insecure, physically unhealthy (a heart attack at age 46), a failed Sports Illustrated writer, reclusive, depressive, and, at various times in his life, a serious drinker. We also learn that he does a lot of what he does for money, but big deal -- so would plenty of others, if they could pull in six figures from Gannett. That is in addition to whatever he's making on an afternoon ESPN radio sports show that, Rehagen indicates, has not really taken off. (Note: the radio AM station is owned by Emmis Corp., which also owns the Monthly magazin, as Rehagen reports.)

Somehow, these personal revelations provide dimension and yes, empathy, to the guy critics call (Rehagen reports) "Krapitz" and "Captain Obvious."

Reader response, so far, has been "very positive," says Rehagen.

"Most readers were surprised to see the softer side of Kravitz, although I will say I think the radio show has gone a long way in doing that already. But even those who still refer to him in a muttering tone as 'Krapitz' have told me they came away with a better understanding of the man, and almost all said they now found him more likeable or at least more accessible," says Rehagen in an email.

The profile also reminded me of an earlier Monthly story written, not about, but by another Star sports figure: Bob Collins. The former Star sports editor in effect penned his own obituary for the magazine when his alcoholism was getting the best of him. "By the time you read this, I'll probably be dead," was how Collins began his darkly humorous piece, some years back. (He died a few months after it ran of cirrhosis of the liver).

This is not to say that Kravitz will go that route, God forbid. And in fact Rehagen reports that Kravitz, a husband and father as well as a two-bit celebrity, is now working out under doctor's orders and has emerged in the last couple of years from his self-imposed shell. Good for him.

Nonetheless, the story's fascination is in part that it comes at a time when we are bemoaning the passing of newspapers and therefore newspaper people. Kravitz, in many regards, is old-school -- he has lived hard, pursuing scoops and awards with zeal and talent, but at what personal cost? Perhaps there's a hidden message here that it's not really all worth it. The paper will go on, or not, but at what cost to the occasional over-sold and very sensitive personality who helps produce it?


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