Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Fan Section

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Sports fans in the DMV – the well-known sports handle for the D.C., Maryland and Virginia region – are well acquainted with the legendary Sports Junkies.  For over 20 years, the quartet of Eric “E.B.” Bickel, John “Cakes” Auville, John-Paul “J.P.” Flaim and Jason “Lurch”/”Bish” Bishop have been cutting through the commuter blues and offering a distraction from the daily grind with unique humor, goofy contests and sports analysis geared toward the average basement-dwelling, recliner-occupying fan.

The Junkies have bounced across radio stations and formats over the years but their core business model remains unchanged.  They poke fun at each other, rib staff members, scoff at D.C. sports buffoonery and generally behave like four buddies sharing cocktails at the local pub.  It’s a simple formula that has turned the DMV’s Fab Four into a media institution.

I have always felt a kinship with The Junkies.  We are of similar vintage – they are two years my elders.  E.B., like me, is an unapologetic D.C. sports homer.  The ‘Skins, Caps, Bullards, Nats and Terps are in our bones.  Cakes attended Towson University, my alma mater.  Bish grew up in Lanham where I scored my first job out of college supporting NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.  And their rise to stardom in the late 90s, coincided with the start of my career and need for a daily sports breather from the real world’s descending pressures.

So there was nothing unique about The Junkies being on my radio while commuting to work last week.  The show, however, was anything but routine. 

Bish wasn’t in the studio.  Coming out of a break, J.P. announced he would be calling in to address a personal situation; it was clear from his tone that it wasn’t good.  Bish, feeling the need to clarify his situation given today’s social media rumor cesspool (another article for another day), cut to the chase.  His mom is dying.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and her health has declined dramatically in the last month.  Her time is short.

This hit close to home.  My mother-in-law passed away in 2007 after a long battle with breast cancer.  The powerful memoir she kept during her struggle is what inspired me to start this column and to do something positive with the written word.  I have thought about Bish much in the days since and have contemplated the loss of my mother-in-law and, more recently, my grandfather.  As Bish and his colleagues said, death is something we all have to deal with.  But it…it just sucks.

I have this odd, recurring visual in my head.  I’m playing a basketball game at my high school gym.  In the stands is my fan section – a small group of mostly family members who have loved and supported me, unconditionally, my entire life.  These are my cornerstones, my foundation, my most cherished humanoids.   

When I picture the section now, there are empty seats.  New members have been added – my wife, my kids – but the seats of those I’ve lost remain unoccupied.  My interpretation: Even the subconscious understands irreplaceable love.  Their death – and the loss of their love (at least in this life) - leaves an unfillable void in your heart.      

Jason Bishop, as many of us have and will again, is preparing to lose a precious member of his fan section.  His mom’s passing will leave him forever changed and with the challenge of forging a new normal.  Part of that significant task, I think, is accomplished by being a member of someone else’s cherished fan section.  In that way, you keep your loved one’s spirit alive by returning to the world the unconditional love their death subtracted from yours.  There is comfort in knowing that, while death is inevitable, love can be perpetual. 

But for anyone going through such a loss, the immediate challenge is much more basic – surviving the next hour, the next day, and eventually restarting and finding solace in your routine.  For Bish, that’s the show, one that has provided a psychological escape for countless listeners for two decades.  Here’s hoping it does the same for a struggling Junkie in his time of need.     

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