WE DON’T ROOT FOR THE HOME TEAM
Not the Colts, or the Pacers, or the Hoosiers, or the Boilermakers, or anybody else. Do you want to know who we—and by that, I mean most mainstream sports reporters—root for? We root for our story. We root for excellence, and drama, and emotion, and a juicy angle. We root for everybody to stay as healthy as humanly possible after spending the day bashing into one another at high rates of speed. Win? Lose? We don’t particularly care, or we shouldn’t, anyway.
WE HAVE OUR OWN AGENDAS.
If you’re a Colts fan, you were on your couch late on the evening of October 6, 2003, cheering like crazy for the Colts to somehow overcome a 35–14 deficit in Tampa with roughly five minutes remaining. And that’s assuming you hadn’t already gone to bed, sure that all hope was lost. I was cheering that night, too, but not because I was emotionally invested in an epic, historic comeback like you were. No, I don’t hate the Colts. But my column on the apparent Colts loss was 98 percent finished, and for once I was going to make an impossible Monday Night Football deadline without stress. And then the Peyton-and-Marvin madness began—remember Brad Pyatt’s kickoff return?—and the Colts somehow forced the game into overtime, eventually winning it all on a Mike Vanderjagt field goal. What joy! What pandemonium! What a disaster for meeting my deadline! A whole new column had to be written in 20 minutes. I don’t remember whether it was in English or not.
WE CAN BE SEDUCED BY ACCESS.
If you’re a coach, a general manager, or anybody in a position of power in sports, you can immediately curry favor with the local media by being accessible and, even better, friendly. That means picking up the phone when we call. That means sharing off-the-record information. This may come as a surprise, but sports reporters are human beings, and, as such, we favor those who treat us with a modicum of respect. Colts general manager Chris Ballard is a perfect example. He is marvelous with the media, always available and willing to share his thoughts on almost any subject. And for that, I think he’s gotten a bit of a pass for a seven-year tenure that’s included only one playoff victory and no AFC South titles. I don’t believe he does it to get positive coverage; I think he does it (and I might be naive here) because he understands and appreciates what we in the media do. And because he’s a good dude.
ATHLETES DON’T NEED US.
We don’t generally admit this publicly. In the old days, back when I had a luxurious head of hair, teams and athletes needed journalists. We told their stories. We drummed up interest in individual players, and we helped franchises sell tickets. They knew it, and we knew it. Now, athletes can do and say what they want on TikTok, or Instagram, or, as the general manager of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, once called it, MyFace. And they can do it and say it without it passing through the media filter. That direct pipeline between athletes and fans has rendered us journalists somewhat superfluous.
BEING IN THE LOCKER ROOM DOESN’T MAKE US THE COOL KIDS.
It must be awesome, right, hanging out with sports icons in their locker room? Not so much. I don’t love locker rooms. Am I alone? I don’t know. Ostensibly, locker rooms and clubhouses are where journalists develop relationships and glean information. Yet I always feel like an interloper, like I’m hanging out at a frat house that wouldn’t let me join as a member. This is the athletes’ domain. It’s where they bury their heads in their phones, play pingpong and pop-a-shot, and shoot the bull with one another. I’ll never know the secret handshake.
A LOVE OF SPORTS ISN’T ENOUGH TO DO THIS JOB.
Of course, we all enjoy sports; we wouldn’t be in this goofy business if we didn’t. But as I tell hopeful young sports journalists, you need to have an even greater commitment to and love for the art of reporting and writing. A lot of people know a lot about sports and can chew your ear off going on about the big game or that up-and-coming quarterback. But very few can write a well-reported, beautifully crafted piece about the game or that quarterback. So, if you’re a wannabe, here’s my insider tip: Read the classics. Read Styron. Read Faulkner. Read DeLillo. (Thank you for attending my TED Talk.)
WE HAVE THE COJONES TO COMPLAIN ABOUT FREE MEALS.
Yes, the Colts feed us. All teams do. It’s been this way for as long as I can remember. And yes, that’s a perk anyone would like to have at work. But sometimes, well, we all bitch about the quality of the food, especially on game days at Lucas Oil Stadium. The spread, akin to the free breakfast buffet at a midscale hotel, includes scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, and bread. In fairness, they added an omelet bar late in the season. I’m not proud of this, but we still griped. At halftime, they trot out sad burgers, dirty-water hot dogs, and the worst pizza ever.