I have a problem. A big problem. You see, my entire life, I’ve been obsessed with sports. From the moment I began playing catch with my father, I was hooked. Every day of my youth was spent playing and watching sports.
It started out with tee ball and soccer, progressed to live pitching, football, basketball and moving up the ladder a bit in soccer, and once my official playing days were over in high school, it continued with pickup games after school, watching games all night long. Girls, booze, drugs — they never even really entered the equation on any sort of serious basis until college, if only because I found myself with a whole hell of a lot more free time.
So naturally, as I was mapping out life plans and settling on a major in college, I had to figure out some way to get involved with sports at the professional level. Since I had always managed good grades in English and never had a problem writing essays or reports, journalism was the logical choice. And wouldn’t you know it, my sophomore year, Penn State introduced a new program called the Center for Sports Journalism.
I joined the student newspaper’s sports staff, enrolled in the Center for Sports Journalism and was well on my way. I covered everything from women’s rugby to soccer to wrestling for the Daily Collegian, learned the trade and found my voice. And while professors and guest speakers would routinely tell me and my classmates, “Don’t get into sports writing because you love sports; get into it because you love writing,” I ignored their warnings.
I shouldn’t have. Not because once I entered the real world and became a sportswriter for a local community newspaper group I didn’t enjoy covering games and profiling young athletes — sometimes I didn’t, but most of the time I did. No, I should have taken their advice because, as Trible pointed out yesterday, being a sportswriter interferes with your own personal enjoyment of the game.
Trible is right: As a sportswriter, a free Friday night during any season is rare, and on the few instances that something like that arises, the last thing you typically want to do is take in more sports. I spent many a Thursday-Monday traveling around, covering schools and missing the action I grew up watching. Phillies-Mets three-game weekend series? I’m in the middle of Pennsylvania covering the state track meet. Flyers-Rangers Tuesday night game? I’m on deadline trying to lay out a newspaper, write a feature and a sidebar, and get all the scores in. Penn State-Ohio State at 3:30? I’m at a high school football game where one school barely has enough players to field a team.
It killed me. I loved being a fan too much. I loved watching the ups and downs the teams I’ve followed my entire life went through during a season. I missed sitting in front of the TV and yelling at refs, heading down to Broad and Pattison and taking in a game, making road trips to my alma mater, and staying up until 1 or 2 in the morning watching a Portland-Phoenix 10:30 tipoff. I missed being a fan too much.
So as much as the lousy pay and terrible hours played a role in my leaving the profession, it was my detachment from sports that really put the final nail in the coffin for me. I could deal with limited time with friends and family. I could even deal with getting paid chump change and living on a tight budget. What I couldn’t deal with was being away from the games and teams that had been a huge part of my life from the moment my dad taught me how to throw a ball.
I got into sportswriting because I loved sports; not because I loved writing. Thankfully, along the way, I discovered how much I actually do love writing, which is why it is still a profession and something I do for pleasure. Just not as a professional sportswriter. Because I love sports too much to do that to myself anymore.
So I guess the moral of the story is to listen to people with experience in whatever it is you may consider pursuing. Most of the time, you’ll find out they know what they’re talking about.