One of the many delights of sports is that legions of people care about them, often passionately.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the delicious e-mails you devotees of The Sporting Scene bull's-eye into the computer of Your Humble and Obedient Columnist (YHAOC).
One of the many striking aspects of some of your communications is how you might be a trifle rough on YHAOC. But you routinely demonstrate your fairness, your conciliatory nature and, sometimes, you even apologize.
Steve Woolsey, who lives near Rushville, N.Y., zinged: "Since I am a 12-year-old kid, you probably won't care what I say."
An e-mail was sent to Steve disputing his observation. He responded: "Sorry for saying all that stuff at the beginning of the last letter. I'm not really like that."
Never suspected it for a minute, Steve.
In Ottawa, Dorothy Milburn-Smith, originally groused of a column that "it almost seems as if you wanted to make your article a little more R-rated by your hyperbolic statements."
Your Humble and Obedient Columnist wrote back, naturally disputing portions of what Ms. Milburn-Smith had to say. After all, YHAOC may be an idiot and a fool, but he is not a wimp.
Ms. Milburn-Smith replied: "Yes, we may disagree, but it is good to share disagreements in a civilized and considerate manner. It seems to me that discussion and disagreement isn't about winning, but is about informing, listening and learning - even when one feels one is right, keep up the good and thought-provoking writing."
One reader, who could not be contacted, bristled at a soccer column: "Your position as senior sports columnist of The Christian Science Monitor has to have been a result of tenure or age. It could not be the result of an unbiased, world-class sports intellect. You come across as the spoiled child. I apologize for the shallowness of this correspondence, but I am attempting to compete with you, at your level, as a writer."
A few days later came another e-mail from the same critic: " 'Four things come not back - the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity.' - Arabian proverb. Today, to this list, need be added e-mail."
The writer went on to tell of how a family tragedy involving his son - a soccer player and lover of the game - had made him sensitive to criticism of his son's favorite sport.
"This is not being offered as an excuse for the content of my earlier e-mail because some of my remarks were inexcusable. I offer only the reasons and my apology."
Is there one among us who doesn't understand - and empathize with - this reader's anguish-based fury?
Daneen Roth of New London, Conn., writes, "Thanks for sending me a far more even-tempered reply than I sent you about your figure- skating article.... I apologize for taking a couple of cheap shots at you."
YHAOC got an entire family on his case - Ed Specht and Family from Carlsbad, Calif. They grumped, "Did you forget that the Jazz would have won that game had the officials been honest in their calls?"
Naturally, your YHAOC columnist disputed this and other contentions. Ed sans The Family wrote back: "I sometimes get bent out of shape with sporting events as I see them as taking the thought of the people into avenues not conducive to individual spiritual progress. So I tend to go overboard in my criticisms. Keep up the reporting."
Sometimes, readers spring to the defense of YHAOC when they sense injustice.
An example is Fred Bauer of Laconia, N.H. He saw a critical communication about YHAOC and shot back, "I thought the letter was more than a little silly and the editor of the Monitor was very silly for publishing it. Keep your temper cool and your computer dry."
Thanks, Mr. Bauer, although YHAOC thinks the editor of the Monitor is a borderline genius. Strike borderline.
But others are not so easily charmed. Irate e-mailer Hugh Walton of Boulder, Colo., a cyclist, wrote of a column on the drug-plagued Tour de France, "Maybe, by shining the light on the situation, you can help, in your own incredibly insensitive way, to help clean up the sport."
Trying to be conciliatory, YHAOC suggested Mr. Walton's view was just as valid as the one expressed in the column, to which Walton responded that "my opinion is in fact more valid than yours."
* Douglas S. Looney's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org