Last month at a rehearsal dinner, aka booze cruise, before the Florida wedding of a cousin, an uncle said to me, “I still think you’d be the best sportswriter.”
Flattery and blood-alcohol levels aside, I couldn’t help but think of the time when I viewed sports writing as the greatest job in the world.
Being a huge sports fan with a burning passion for the teams that represented my school and city was par for the course. Then add to that the ultimate access to the people and places that make up that exciting, dramatic world. And to top it off: collecting a paycheck at the end of the day for pursuing and documenting my sporting passion! Where do I sign up?!?
As the years passed and my journalism school days shrank in the rear-view mirror, I enjoyed some really memorable freelance sports-writing assignments, but also came to realize the significant trade-offs. For starters, the deadlines are tough, the pay is meager (at best) and the newspaper industry, as you may have heard, is not quite in its heyday.
“The whole sports writing thing didn’t seem as appealing because it seemed like you had to write an essay every night,” Jim Powell, the radio Voice of the Braves, told me. “An essay everyday — what’s fun about that? The broadcasters just got to talk about the team, and when the game was over they got to go home.”
Missing much-anticipated holidays to relay the usual coach-speak or athlete clichés to readers was not so appealing either. Also, sports writers get complimentary food in the press box, but enjoying the tailgate scene with friends & family is not part of the job description. That reality was about as appetizing as warm beer.
There are some real-world, non-epicurean concerns as well.
“Unfortunately, in sports writing you’ll be writing negative stories, and dealing with the same people you just thrashed in a column can get very uncomfortable,” said a friend and former j-schoolmate, who now covers the New Orleans Saints. “But you have to do it if you want everyone to take you seriously. The truth hurts, but it also builds respect.”
“Also, you’re never really told or taught about how to deal with angry readers. And in sports, there are tons,” he added. “One thing you always hear and end up laughing at is that you’re always wrong. And you’re an idiot. And you’re a bunch of other things I’d rather not put down in writing.”
Nifty technological tools like Twitter only bring the hate and insults closer to sports writers… as in around the clock. How dare these professionals have an opinion or even a story angle!
Yes, I’ll take my occasional contract assignment, and leave to the pros the sports-writing headaches and that woeful wave of critics from the Web, whose reflex is to denounce upon disagreement.
Keeping the tailgates, college roadtrips, beloved holiday traditions and other leisurely and passionate sporting pursuits — I’m a fan of that.