Before I take over as editor of "Journal of Sports Media" in February, a few things you need to know about me.
I don't like "softies," which are questions that sports media types toss at sports sources just to stay in good favor. Got a tough question? Ask it. You may not get another shot. Just ask Bonnie Bernstein, who did that to Roy Williams after his Kansas squad lost in the NCAA championship basketball game to Syracuse. She jumped all over him, asking if he was leaving for North Carolina, as rumored. He got so sick of it he used nasty words which I won't repeat here but the initials were "bullshit."
Or remember when Jim Gray did the same to Pete Rose after the MLB all-time-team celebration during the World Series? Asked him straight out if he'd finally admit to his gambling. Rose reacted surprised. Hey, what was Gray supposed to do, ask how thrilled "Charley Hustle" was to be there among guys who played the game with no money riding on it. Two nights later, Chad Curtis walked away from Gray after hitting the game-winning homer in game 3 and told Gray the Yankees wouldn't talk to him because of what he did to Rose. Gray was chastised mightily in the media for it. Rose came off a good guy. Yeah, right. Gray subsequently sold himself out for LeBron James' "Announcement," but again, who's counting? And the Miami Heat were 9-7, having lost three of four as I compose this. Nyeh nyeh.
Rose not long thereafter admitted his gambling. It only took him three autobiographies, but who's counting? And Williams shortly thereafter announced he was taking the North Carolina job. Good thing Bernstein bothered him with that "bullshit," huh?
That's what I like, reporters who aren't afraid to ask the tough questions. I tell my students to do it in my Sports Reporting class at Columbia College Chicago. I tell them in all my classes. Don't let the chances slip away, regardless of how hard the source tries to dodge you (see Patriots head coach's remarks to media in immediate wake of "Spygate" scandal).
Most sports organizations and athletes have disdain for the media that doesn't coddle them, that doesn't worship them, that doesn't bow to them. I have disdain for athletes and organizations that use their web sites and Twitter accounts to spread lies, or at least not tell the entire truth.
Being a sports reporter isn't about rubbing shoulders with the elite and getting in free to see great games (or not-so-great games if you're a Detroit Lions fan). Sports Reporters, stop kissing ass and start kicking ass. The media industry is in enough trouble as it is, financially. Don't exacerbate things. And don't use big, overrated words like exacerbate.
Don't blather over sports heroes and don't kick goats of sports performances - they're suffering enough as it is. Tell us what they did, tell us why, go beyond what the viewers saw on TV and tell them how it happened, capture that moment that caused their emotional hiccup and fans' ultra-emotional indigestion. That's your job. Do it well. Find the intangibles. That's what separates you from the TV coverage and what separates you from your competitors covering the event. And keep your opinion out of it. That's what blogs and columns are for. No one cares about your opinion. No one.
Especially the athlete and/or coach you're dissing. Save the "dis" for someone who deserves it, like the fans who misbehave, curse, get personal, run on the fields, set bad examples for their kids, get drunk, start fights, throw sharp objects, etc. But enough about European soccer fans.
I'll give you a JSM you can love if you give me material with which to fill it. Get fired up. Light people up without giving them a hotfoot or being a hothead.
Till then, see you at the ballpark, the arena, the stadium. And send a round my way, will ya'?
Associate Professor, Journalism/Columbia College Chicago
Sports Correspondent, Daily Herald, Arlington Heights, Ill.
(312) 369-8904; firstname.lastname@example.org