Yes, it’s been one of those weeks. Between Chip Kelly’s jump to the NFL and Manti Te’o’s girlfriend drama, headlines across the web have been hot and rampant in the sports world. But rather than commentate on the nature of the chaos or falter into another outraged rant, it’s worth taking a moment to instead consider the root of the news that currently fuel us. While these stories have peaked by interest as of late, they’ve also succeeded at reminding me of the ever tumultuous and changing job of today’s sports reporters.
Take Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey from Deadspin, the guys who broke the Te’O story. If you go to the website and read all the way through their article, you’ll find how many leads, contacts, and webs they had to weave in order to break perhaps one of the more shocking stories to hit sports news. From a journalism standpoint, it stands a dream investigative piece. It also reminds us that there is also more to talk about than just last night’s game or the latest stats when it comes to sports.
To start I should provide a disclaimer. I’m not expert in the field of journalism. I’m still in my second year of grinding through the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, scraping stories from the bottom of the sports barrel for campus radio and television. But I like to think that even this entry level experience as a broadcaster and reporter – especially at a sports savvy school like Oregon – gives me at least a little insight into sports journalism.
Last year I attended a talk from Craig Pintens, the University’s associate athletic director responsible for public relations. Pintens had a lot of good things to say and while I can’t recant all of them, one thing really stuck – sports public relations move faster than any other field of PR. I think the same could easily hold true when reporting sports.
Just look at Kelly’s stunning move. In Chip fashion, he pulled a fast one, sending reporters scrambling to press conferences, spewing out as much analysis and commentary as they could in a 24-hour period. This isn’t anything unique to sports reporting. The nature of news is that it can happen at any moment. But what is unique to athletics is the brisk pace. Players, coaches, and teams are always being traded, injured, subjected to scandal, and of course, performing. In other words, there is always something new to chase.
If that’s not enough to differentiate it, then there’s also this – people care about sports. Not everyone is a fanatic and there is plenty to be said about the merits of our country’s near obsession with sports but in the end, there’s a reason it’s a multi-billion dollar industry (bigger than the steel and railroad industries as of 1998). People want their games, their teams, and their players on the screen. For that, there is a certain pressure and obligation that is coupled with the game of catch up.
That’s why when a story like Te’O’s breaks, it’s awe-inspiring for young journalists for myself. It happens all the time in news, but in the world of sports these gems dug up from tedious investigation are a rarity. It’s easy to critique a strategy, follow a player, or breakdown the game but it’s a new art form to find another angle within the machine.
In sports, there is always a story within a story. In fact, it would be wrong, almost insulting, to think the story is the game or the score. That field and those numbers are only the stage. The true work, the true story, is always waiting. Whether it’s a piece deep and tangled like Te’O or a last minute break that inspires a scramble like Chip’s decision, a sports reporter is in a race no different than the ones they cover. This week was an inspiring one for sports writers, reminding us of the ability to go beyond what’s on the screen.