I asked a former editor today for advice about sports writers. He’s one of those rare creatures who crossed over from sports into news which, in my experience, results in rather excellent news guys. He had some thoughts, but he said he wasn’t going to pass them on. He thought I owed the sports fans of Greater Grafton an apology for admitting, during the soccer playoffs, that I generally do not like covering games.
I haven’t written for this particular editor since 2001, but old habits die hard. For some people, the only response to “jump” are the words “how high?” In this relationship, my response to “write about this” is “when’s deadline?” And it may be the surprise factor as well — I may link Greater Grafton on my Facebook page, but it just never dawned on me that he ever bothered to read it, never mind remember it.
I grew up disliking sports. My first pair of glasses, obtained just after second grade, were bifocal lenses and, suddenly, gym class took on a whole new level of dangerousness. I could never get my teacher, forget about my classmates, to understand that when the ball was coming toward my head, I was seeing two balls. I guessed which ball I should be going for only half the time and my natural klutziness guaranteed that I only made contact half the time I guessed correctly. If you don’t enjoy playing the game, you generally don’t enjoy watching it either.
Yeah, funny thing about that. I went to Boston University, just around the corner from Fenway Park and my friends and I would occasionally buy Red Sox tickets off street scalpers after a game had started. I always got misty-eyed when I would get my first glimpse of the field. Always. And I enjoyed the heck out of those games. I even, it must be confessed, started picking up the sports pages to follow the Sox, especially when they were making their 1986 run. So at a certain point in my life, it became “I really don’t like sports, but how ’bout those Red Sox?”
I married a guy who loved football. I like the Super Bowl for the commercials and snacks. Steve’s tried to explain the game to me many times. My eyes glazed over much like his does when I come home from a meeting and try to tell him, in detail, about neighborhood opposition to a cell phone tower or a 40B filing or a violation of open meeting law. When I cover a community, local politics are my sports.
But let’s get to the sports. I’ve noted before that, during my newspaper career, my byline appeared in every section except the sports pages. My first sports story (that didn’t involve an athletic injury or health issue) was actually written for GraftonTimes.com and I’ve written about my pleasure at discovering I could do it. Early readers of Greater Grafton may recall that I spent my first summer writing about the ball fields of Grafton. Heck, I’ve even written about my unexpected love for sports photography when covering the softball season opener. And, let’s not forget, I stayed up all night to write about, and edit video, the night the lights were turned on in memory of Kevin Vulter.
But if you look at the few times I’ve covered games, you’re going to notice something, and it’s really the reason why I posed the question about sports writers in the first place: when it comes to writing about games, I’m really not writing about the game. There’s a score. There are quotes from the coach. The game itself…
I’m watching it through my camera and cursing the Greater Grafton camera’s weaknesses, which come into high focus during night games. I’m distracted by the players on the sidelines, by the coaches yelling (I could watch the assistant football coach at Grafton High School all night — he gets airborne sometimes in his enthusiasm), by the crowd. At heart, I’m a features writer. I want to focus on why the soccer team is singing “Lean On Me” before the game, the guys who sit on the hill for every game, the guy who is sitting sadly on the bench with a broken leg and a football uniform, the little kid with the painted face who is clearly designated team mascot. I want to take a picture of the look of pride on Jim Pignataro’s face when one of “his” kids, who refers to him respectfully as “Mr. Pig,” scores a goal. I want to chat up people in the stands. It’s a people buffet, and it’s hard to tear myself away from it… unless Obi Melifonwu has the ball, of course.
So really, when it comes down to it. I love sports coverage.
I’d just kind of like to have someone else watching the game while I eat at the all-you-can eat people buffet.