Bill Steigerwald

Myron Cope is a hometown icon in Pittsburgh, where every sports fan over 12 knows who the colorful veteran journalist is and can recognize his nasal, usually excited voice and heavy Pittsburgh accent after two syllables. Cope, 78, spent 35 years as color commentator for Pittsburgh Steelers radio broadcasts until two summers ago, when he retired for health reasons. Despite his penchant for double negatives, in the 1960s Cope was considered one of the country's top magazine writers because of the long profiles of such superstars as Howard Cosell and Muhammad Ali he wrote for Sports Illustrated. I talked to Cope about the state of professional sports on July 11 by telephone from his home in Pittsburgh's southern suburbs.

Q: How have professional sports in general changed for the better in the last 50 years?

A: Of course they've increased in popularity tremendously. In one aspect, for example, multitudes of women are sports fans -- knowledgeable and all. That did not used to be the case that women were interested in sports. When I was young -- in my 20s or even 30s -- being the deep-thinker I am, aha, I thought that politicians used sports as the opium of the people. It kept their minds off more important matters, you know, while politicians could do what they wanted. But I have been less cynical about that as the years grew on. I think it's great now, and I have thought so for years because it's a very nice diversion. And hey, the people who don't care about more important issues aren't going to get interested in them anyhow. But it gives people something to take their minds off their troubles or whatever may be the case. Sports has done nothing but build in its fascination for Americans.

Q: What would be the biggest change for the worst in professional sports in the last 50 years?

A: I don't get into "worsts" or "mosts" or stuff like that. I don't give that a lot of thought. I never give milestones a lot of thought. I never realized even that I was approaching my 35th year in the radio booth with the Steelers until it was practically there. I don't count those things and I try to live in the present.

But it's an obvious thing. The athletes and others in sports, as well, but the athletes principally have become such spoiled brats. Not in all cases, of course. But in too many cases. This Sidney Crosby, the way he signed that contract with the Penguins and didn't try to milk the last dollar out of it. That was so refreshing that I wish you could turn Sidney Crosbys out on an assembly line.

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald, born and raised in Pittsburgh, is a former L.A. Times copy editor and free-lancer who also worked as a docudrama researcher for CBS-TV in Hollywood before becoming a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Bill Steigerwald recently retired from daily newspaper journalism..