I didn't know Drew Sharp. In fact, I only briefly met him. Yet the news of his passing hit me hard. Harder than it should have, you would think, for someone I didn't know. Perhaps it was because he left the world too soon, at only 56. Or because I'm getting older myself. Or more likely, because after reading his work nearly every day for what seems like most of my life, he had become a part of my life. Whenever I opened the newspaper or went to the Free Press online, his was one of the columns I never missed. I'll certainly miss it now.
The longtime Detroit Free Press columnist gained a well-earned reputation for being somewhat of a contrarian. A local writer not afraid to be critical of the home team, not afraid to admit the emperor had no clothes. Not surprisingly, his writing didn't always endear him to the home crowd. But as I have often told people over the years, the man spent most of his life watching or covering the Detroit Lions, is it any wonder he wrote with such a critical voice?
Sharp's reputation was such that even fans of Michigan and Michigan State found common ground in his writing, both equally critical of him for not viewing the world through the same shade of maize or green colored glasses that they did. Some Michigan "fans" went as far as to label him a traitor, for, in Sharp's words, a Michigan alum, "not signing off with "Go Blue" following every Michigan column."
But Sharp was miscast, if not misunderstood. He wasn't the only sportswriter to have developed a reputation for being critical or negative, but most writers of that ilk develop their reputations through displays of pettiness and penchants for personal attacks, neither of which was true of Sharp. Sharp was never negative for the sake of being negative, never hurtful or hateful, never angry or arrogant. He simply wrote what people didn't always want to hear, or read in his case.
Perhaps Sharp said it best himself, when he wrote, "Detroit's home to many championship teams and devoted fans who emotionally rise and fall with the fortunes of their favorite teams. But they're also very knowledgeable and hard-scrabbled enough to appreciate the necessity for factual reporting and honest commentary that goes against convention when warranted." Sharp did that as well as anybody.
As I said, I didn't know Sharp. But whenever I was at an event and would see his name on a seating list or would see him wandering about, I was instantly reminded that I was with the big boys that day. At one such event, I approached Sharp, introduced myself and said, "I'm sure you don't hear this very often, but I really like your work," hoping he would take it for the compliment I meant it to be. He did, at least I think he did, as he responded with a laugh, thanked me and added, "And no, I don't hear that very often."
He was probably just being modest, but if in fact that was the case, it's a shame. Because Sharp was a great writer who not only had the courage to not always toe the company line, but also the insight to be right more often than not. Over his 30-plus years at the Free Press, Sharp became a trusted, if not always well-received voice, and the Detroit sports landscape won't be the same without him.