The traditional role of journalism is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

With the intrusion, and maybe rightly so, of legal concerns, medical concerns, business concerns, maybe some of that might be changing sports journalism a little bit - and maybe should change. The sports reporters of today - the good ones, anyway, working for good news organizations - shouldn't be held to any less stringent professional and ethical standards than any other journalist.

Maybe athletes and others in sports got a free ride for too long. Maybe it's good that they're being treated like everyone else in the world. One of the major roles of journalism is to be a watchdog of big business and big government and big celebrities. Why should sports be any different?

But sadly, the grim realities of life have started intruding into the fun and games - as is true in other areas, for example, the entertainment business, music, art, TV programming, movies. It's the same kind of issue for reporters in those areas. Entertainment reporters operated with some different standards as well up until fairly recently.

That's probably a valid observation - that people who work in the sports department, whether it be at a newspaper or a radio or TV station, probably operate under some different expectations, if not guidelines, than do the more traditional hard- and soft-news reporters.

Now the playing field is getting leveled for all reporters. If you're a sports reporter, you're very likely to be covering legal, ethical, business, health issues - as often as your colleague covering the courts or city government or the political beat.

The name recognition of the people involved has long been a factor in deciding what's news. I tell my class, 'If all of us go to a party on a Saturday night, and Tony Gwynn, the president of San Diego State and President Bush's daughters are there, and we all get stopped by the police, who's going to get the news coverage?' It's going to be the people who are well-known.