By Victor Flores
Bob Welch is a columnist for The Register-Guard. He writes about sports, the outdoors, war, and much more. He writes a blog for The Register-Guard, called Close to Home, and is the author of several books. His personal website can be found here and his Twitter handle is @bob_welch.
Talk about the beginning of you career in journalism.
I grew up in Corvallis [Oregon] and always wanted to be a reporter, a sports reporter, in particular. My mom said I needed to go to the University of Oregon to get my journalism degree. Of course, in Corvallis, saying that is like saying you have to sell your soul to the devil, but I immediately fell in love with the Ducks. I graduated from the Oregon journalism program in 1976. I worked for three years while I was going to college as a part-time sports writer at The Register-Guard, which was an invaluable experience, being able to see people actually doing the job. I also worked at the Emerald as the sports editor my senior year.
How long have you worked at The Register Guard full time?
I’m going on 24 years, in August, 14 of those as a columnist.
You used to be an adjunct professor at the U of O, and one of the classes you taught was Reporting 1, correct?
Yes, I taught Reporting 1 in the ’90s and taught some sessions of an interview course in the mid-2000s. I’m hoping to teach a writing class soon, maybe even next year.
You’ve lived in Eugene for multiple decades. What changes have you noticed in regards to race, racial attitudes, etc. over the years you’ve been a Eugene resident?
I’m not sure that I’ve seen any major changes. Eugene likes to pride itself as a pretty tolerant place, and yet there’s evidence over the last few decades that maybe we’re not as tolerant as we think we are. In the ’90s, there was something called the “eXit Files,” in which African Americans would track those who left Eugene because they felt they were treated coldly here. There was also a case where a black man was arrested when he was just riding the bus. The man filed a lawsuit and won. It was a hot-button issue when Centennial Blvd. was in the process of getting it’s name changed to MLK. I just think, in the Pacific Northwest, we often assume we’re better than we actually are.
I read that the African American population in Lane County is around 2%, so there isn’t much potential for conflict. I have a black friend in Seattle who thinks racism will go away sooner in the South than in the Northwest because people at least have to deal with race down there. It seems like people who talk about race up here are on one side of the fence and just lob grenades at the other side without being willing to consider the biased or racist tendencies they might have.
Last year, you wrote a story about your favorite 25 columns of all time, and #13 on that list was “There Ought to Be a Law,” by Langston Hughes. (The column is about a preserve for African Americans that would protect them from getting killed, like a game preserve that protects animals like buffalo from being hunted). What about that article stands out to you?
It was a gutsy column. There’s a good deal of sarcasm, which helps the story make a very strong point. It compares one thing to another and it makes you think, “Wow, there really isn’t much difference between the two.” Sarcasm, in a way, can shame people.
Do you remember much from the civil rights movement?
It was a little before my time. I was too busy playing sports and just being a kid. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot in 1968, when I was 14 years old and in middle school, and I was just starting to understand the bigger world out there. I probably didn’t embrace the upheaval for what I should have at that age.
Athletes like Jeremy Lin and Tiger Woods have often been spotlighted because of their race. Do you think focusing on the race of athletes like Lin and Woods has positive or negative effect?
Whenever a Jeremy Lin comes along, it always helps break down barriers. For Lin to succeed in a sport where, let’s face it, there aren’t many Asian players, is good because it gets people talking about these issues. Tiger Woods’ success got people talking about it, although, when you look at the PGA Tour today, did he really change anything? I don’t know. But I think it’s good whenever we start talking about these things. We need to appreciate where we’ve been and how far we’ve come, but to acknowledge that, no, we haven’t completely arrived.
How many books have you written?
Describe the process of writing a book and getting it published.
There’s a big difference between a dreamer and a visionary. A dreamer considers everything he or she can do, whereas a visionary considers these things and then goes out and tries to do them. It’s the same way with book writing. People underestimate how challenging writing is. I tell my students at this writer’s workshop I do that easy writing equals hard reading and hard writing equals easy reading. Writing should be difficult. I think too often people assume that writing is something where you sit down by a candle with a glass of Merlot and the words just flow from your fingertips. It’s more of a discipline than that. Sometimes you get up in the morning and writing is the last thing you want to do, but just like anything else, you have to do it.
I always say that book writing is like a triathlon; you’ve got research, writing, editing, and all that gets you to the point where you have to go out and try to find someone else who also believes in your product so that you can sell the book. It’s like running two triathlons (laughs). Column writing is more like a sprint.