OKLAHOMA CITY – It seems that all good things must come to an end. And, it is incontestable that the Oklahoma City Gridiron’s annual parodies (held between 1928 and 2015, with only a brief time off during the Second World War) were a good thing – and quite amusing to all who attended. Alas, the Gridiron members have taken their last bow, to the cheers of the attentive and those concerned for the Commonweal.
The curtain call for Gridiron came not with the band singing and the cast singing joyfully the annual rewrite of the words to “Oklahoma!” Rather, the finale came in the form of a press release circulated this week. Your kind attention, dear reader, is requested to the contents.
Upon conclusion, continue to read for your humble servant’s Benediction, or valedictory, upon commencement of a new era in the Sooner State.
Contents of the press release:
“The Oklahoma City Gridiron Foundation announced this week it has distributed grants totaling $128,171 to three state journalism programs.
“The journalism programs receiving $42,723.80 each are the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and the University of Central Oklahoma, Jim Palmer, chairman of the foundation’s board of trustees, said. OU’s grant will be for the Association in Women in Sports Media, Internships and the Student Experience Fund, which provides additional money for needy students to attend a conference out of state or go on an interview that could lead to an internship or job.
“OSU’s grant will be for the university’s investigative reporting efforts in both print and broadcast news, focusing on investigative enterprise by in-state Oklahoma journalism students.
“UCO’s grant will enhance a multi-media investigative course for upper level journalism majors at the school.
“The Gridiron Foundation was created by the Gridiron Club in the early 1960s to provide scholarships for Oklahoma journalism students. In subsequent years, thousands of dollars were granted to journalism students.
“The Gridiron Club, which had presented an annual political spoof of Oklahoma politics since 1928, staged its last performance in June 2015.
“Members later chose to have the foundation’s three trustees disburse the foundation’s money to Journalism programs in some of the state’s universities. The three trustees are Jim Palmer, chairman; Jon Denton, secretary, and John Greiner, member.”
Palmer was for decades one of Oklahoma’s most familiar radio journalists, greeting listeners with melodious voice, precise diction and comforting manner, even when the news was distressing.
The portly and pleasant Denton reported news from a variety of beats at the state’s largest newspaper organization, the Oklahoma Publishing Company, for many decades. Now retired and possessing an unconventional and deeply spiritual soul, he presented facts and information without prejudice or bias throughout his career.
Greiner has for a few years been retired from his decades-long position as the state Capitol’s most seasoned, reasoned and dutiful reporter, especially when the news touched the state Supreme Court. He has forgotten more than most legislators and journalists will ever know.
At the Gridiron’s sunset, this trio of worthies sent the organization’s resources forth unto entities they, and the members of the organization, believe will aspire to excellence in a time when their chosen profession is under fire. Some of the scorn is deserved, much of it is not.
In the annual musical parodies of politics and culture, the aim was, as Denton often remarked, “to singe, but not burn” national, state and political leaders and (quite often) journalists themselves. The humor was sometimes raucous, although no malice or long-term harm was intended or inflicted. Theirs was comedy rooted in humanity’s common condition, not in the spiteful and even brutal dismissiveness that often afflicts today’s punditry and partisanship.
As for this writer, deemed Publius, your humble servant will step back for a time, to relish memories of those performances in which local fans discovered all over again that at least some journalists could sing. Publius sat, in a far corner of the Gridiron’s show venues, watching final dress rehearsals in preparation for an old-school review aiming to put, as theatre people put it, “more butts in the seats.”
One day, Publius may return to this forum. He always will honor those who – for no compensation combined with frequent aggravation in the form of long rehearsals – walked the wooden stage to call out the arrogant, comfort the afflicted, tweak those who governed and, when all was said and done, yield a fruitful harvest: resources to provide support for the next generation of news people.
A note from the editor: Publius is the pseudonym of an Oklahoma City journalist. His reviews of the Oklahoma City Gridiron shows appeared annually from 2011 through the final show in 2015. Publius (“The public” or “the people”) was the pen-name used for James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in newspaper commentaries advocating approval of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights – including explicit protections for freedom of speech, and of the press, at the dawn of American history.