The column, which was written as if to inform Dugard about the sports events she's missed over the last 18 years, was decried on Twitter as the "worst sports column ever" and referred to at the Huffington Post as "The Single Most Tasteless Sports Column In The History Of Written Language."
You can read the column and judge for yourself, but this afternoon I e-mailed Whicker to ask him if he came up with the idea for the column or if an editor assigned it, whether he thinks his words run the risk of trivializing the kidnapping of Dugard, and what he thinks about the response.
Whicker's reply to my e-mail is below, in full:
1. It was my concept, which was to (1) celebrate the release of the girl and (2) show just how long 18 years in confinement really is, in the context of sports, which is something sports readers understand, presumably.. If you say "18 years" that's a little abstract and incomprehensible. If you say "Michael Jordan hadn't won an NBA championship yet," that's a little easier to fathom.If there's anything you can give Whicker credit for in this, it's that he takes complete ownership of the idea for the column. When I first read it, it struck me as the kind of piece that was written at an editor's direction, but no: Whicker says it was his idea, from concept to execution.
2. I don't think writing about something in a sports context "trivializes" it at all. The idea that sports writers should ignore the outside world went out a long time ago.
3. I am quite surprised by the angry tone of the reaction. Some have asked me why I didn't make light of the 9/11 attack or the Holocaust while I was at it, ignoring the fact that this woman is alive. For 18 years the family didn't know if she was or not. Obviously I mis-read the emotional component of this story because the reaction really has been quite extreme. I think the intent of the column was still valid. I could have changed some ways of expressing it to make it more palatable, I suppose.
But if Whicker is surprised by the tone of the reaction, he shouldn't be. The Dugard case is a shocking, horrible story, and it's not at all surprising that people who read Whicker's clumsy attempt to use it as fodder for a sports column are shocked and horrified.
Update: Whicker has published an apology. He also e-mailed me after this post was published, saying, "Thanks for ripping me. I'm really happy I devoted part of this very hectic day responding to someone who had as little interest in my viewpoint as the crazies out there."
What did you think of the column? Tell me on Twitter @MichaelDavSmith.