Keeping the Passion Alive by Keeping Away
Sports books have given me so much: a love of reading; numerous examples of good writing to admire and emulate; a workout any time I’ve changed addresses. Some have also provided the following valuable lesson: It’s probably better to be eaten alive by wolverines than to become a full-time sportswriter for a newspaper or a magazine.
We [the beat reporters] knew the drill. Ask bland questions, receive bland answers, return to bland press box, write bland game stories, go home to bland lives. I was young enough not to get destroyed by this routine. Most were not as fortunate. The press box banter usually revolved around the dryness of the buffet chicken and the lack of satisfactory Ann Arbor strip clubs. The other reporters, at more established papers like the Peoria Journal Star and the Aurora Beacon News, looked defeated. Of all the emotions chiseled onto their faces, “enjoyment of an athletic contest” was in dead last, just behind “worry about whether or not the iron was left on.”
At the end of this story, Leitch’s face ends up inches away from a naked, hulking basketball player’s genitalia. “I thought a lot differently about sports journalism after that,” he recalls.
As a young teenager I would sit by the TV, glove in hand, and mimic Rafael Santana’s arching throws from short to first. Now, as an adult, the last thing I wanted was to emulate the men I covered. Baseball players just seemed so boring. How many times could I hear some second-rate shortstop ramble on about “First, I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who made me a baseball player and brought me to the great city of Houston to be an Astro and gave me the strength to dive into the hole and catch that grounder?” Even worse, why was it that glib conversation between jock and journalist has been replaced by corporate name droppings and meaningless clichés?
Pearlman still has little love for the sportswriter’s life, recently writing on his blog that the press box is “just a miserable place to observe a sporting event, generally alongside unhappy people who spend 80 percent of their time checking e-mail, downloading porn, calling so and so to complain about so and so.”
If you want to become jaded and bitter in the shortest period possible, become a sportswriter. You will spend your Friday nights trying to talk to high school kids who have nothing to say, and you will have to ask them questions until they give you a quote the proves it. You will spend your Saturday afternoons talking to college players who will earnestly talk about school spirit two hours before they rape the first girl unluckiest enough to chug a GHB kamikaze. And if you become really good at your job, you will eventually get to live in hotels for weeks at a time, alongside millionaire pro athletes who—if not for the ability to perform one socially irrelevant act—would quite possibly kill you and steal your car.
The best part about being a sports fan is distance, which allows your passion or hatred for a team or a player to remain pure. Becoming a sportswriter obliterates any essence of being a fan. It becomes a job, and one that’s usually pretty miserable. I’m sure there are writers and columnists who manage to maintain their love of sports while catching a red eye flight on their kid’s birthday. I know there are men and women who overlook the drudgery and the brusque answers to gain satisfaction from covering the New Jersey Nets. The number of good sportswriters proves that.