Another look at the demise of Jim O'Donnell's column

June 9, 2010

Tuesday's post here about the disappearance of Jim O'Donnell's sports media column from the Chicago Sun-Times drew spirited responses from readers -- including Sun-Times sports editor Chris De Luca and O'Donnell himself.

De Luca, whom I'd quoted in the piece citing space limitations and O'Donnell's reassignment to the Bulls beat as reasons for the withdrawal of the weekly column, took issue with my assumption that he'd grown weary of catching flak for some of O'Donnell's incendiary writings.

"For the record, I fielded ZERO complaints about Jim's column," De Luca wrote in an email to me. The rest of what he wrote was off the record, but the gist of it was that I had gotten the story totally wrong.

I pointed out to De Luca that I was aware of a specific meeting he'd had with an executive of CBS Radio sports/talk WSCR-AM (670) --  the target of O'Donnell's harshest attacks --  at which time the subject of his column came up and questions were raised about ongoing projects between the Sun-Times and the Score. De Luca said he "didn't take it seriously" because the Score executive had made his comments "with a laugh."

Laugh or not, immediately after that May 20 meeting, O'Donnell's column suddenly vanished with no explanation to readers. Draw your own conclusion.

O'Donnell, whom I've known for almost 30 years (and with whom I share a birthday), also wrote to set me straight. He asked that I not quote from his email directly, but in a friendly, respectful tone, he acknowledged that his column was always intended to be a lightning rod for readers, and that the stronger his opinions were expressed, the more pronounced the reactions would be -- both positive and negative. By that measure, he succeeded brilliantly.

But he flatly refuted my recollection that he'd had multiple sports media columns "yanked" from the paper over the years. Neither Bill Adee, his first sports editor at the Sun-Times, nor De Luca ever was less than totally supportive of his work, he insisted. In each case, he said, the decision to stop writing the sports media column was O'Donnell's alone.

So if it wasn't because of outside pressure or a lack of support from his bosses, why did O'Donnell choose to stop writing a column that he clearly relished? And how long will it be before the column comes back again? If I find out, I'll let you know.

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