Advice for aspiring sports writers
I get requests for interviews from college students from time to time. They're usually pretty similar: they have a project to interview someone in the field, they want to know what the job is like, and they want to get a little guidance as they jump into what they believe is a dream job.
I never give them the advice they're looking for.
That's because every young man and woman in that class is going to get the same micro-focused advice: do your research for interviews, look at your subject in the eye, make sure you're reading other people's work, accept critiques... blah blah blah.
First of all, that's not the best advice we can give these kids. That's just repeating what the damn classes are trying teach them. Secondly, those aren't the hardest part of the job.
Sure, there will be some early jitters when a college reporter walks into a scrum and realizes "holy shit that's LeBron James." There's an early "wow" factor to the whole thing. But one thing I'll tell everyone is that there are strong similarities between the sports we cover and the jobs that we do.
There are only so many spots available, and everyone wants yours
Things are going move fast at first, but soon things slow down for you
There is no loyalty. This is a business.
The game can pass you by as you get older, so be prepared to adapt
It took me a long time to break into actual sports reporting. For a long time, I thought just blogging and podcasting would be enough for people to say "hey, come work for us." It took a while for me to learn how to advocate for myself. And that's really where my first bit of advice comes in.
Always advocate for yourself. You have to stay humble, but you have to stay confident. Just like a shooter, confidence in your abilities and the work that you put in will fuel your ascent into the journalism field (this stuff doesn't just apply to sports, by the way. It applies to all media). That's especially tough in this field.
To me, getting to a good mental place in life means trying like hell to reach the magical level of zero fucks given. Very few people exist in a realm where they can live their lives without truly caring what people outside their inner circle thinks. I have my family and good friends who will keep me in check. I don't care about anyone else's opinion.
However, I work in a field where I need people to like what I do. I need people to keep reading my stuff and listening to my podcasts and watching my television appearances. If you guys stop, then I'm out of work. I have to care about your opinion.
The line between opinions of your work and opinions of you is going to get blurred. Keep it as focused as possible.
Advocating for yourself extends into the business side. This is incredibly important. You need to understand what you're worth. Just like a player who is negotiating with a team, you need to understand that media outlets will want to undercut you however they can.
Their goal is to save money on a budget. As much as some may preach loyalty and family, in the end, you are a number in a ledger. When things get tough, you will get brought in and told "we have no choice but to..." and you'll just have to accept your fate. Be it a pay cut or a termination, word will come from on high that your life is going to be disrupted for the greater good of the company.
That's something you should always keep in mind. When you're weighing your options about whether to stay or leave, loyalty to the company should be last on your list. This is your one shot at life, and it's your one shot at doing what you want to do. ALWAYS do what's best for you and the people you care for.
Don't do it in a way that burns bridges. Grand fuck-you's out the door are probably not a good idea, no matter how much you want to go out in a blaze of glory. Just like sports, those are reserved for the older stars of the industry who are too good to go jobless for too long.
But even they face hurdles. As you get older, you will be asked to do things that are out of your comfort zone. Something is going to come along that makes you say "is this what they're doing nowadays?" You have to be open to the new ideas or else you will be left behind. Rigidity, especially as you get older and make some more money, is a bad thing.
Again, this is a business and it mimics sports in a lot of ways. At some point, just like we ask of some 33 year old athletes, it will be asked if you are worth what you're being paid. You stand a very good chance of working your whole life to reach the top, just to get pushed off because now you make too much money.
This business really is like a pride of lions. You have to get lucky along the way. Sometimes circumstances will work against you and people who are good at this job won't make it. Eventually you get to the top and you have to constantly fend off younger challengers until one day one of them wins. You just have to hope you get go out on your own terms.
Here's my last, and maybe most important advice for people getting into this business: take care of yourself. Physically and mentally. Take care of yourself.
We sit around a lot. We sit at games. We sit in press rooms, at home, and on planes. We sleep at weird times and too often we don't sleep enough. We are constantly on the go so our meals often come wrapped in cellophane, or are handed to us through a drive-through window. Most of the time we eat whatever is handed to us at whatever road team's home arena. Our exercise often consists of little more than the mad dash from the final buzzer to the coach's press room.
It's easy to gain weight. It's easy to get down on ourselves. And it's easy to let those two things feed a perpetual cycle of unhealthiness.
You want to become a sports writer? Great! It's a great gig where we get to talk to athletes and write cool stories and do fun podcasts. We get to type instead of lift heavy things. We get to pretend someone's shooting percentage is the worst thing in the world at the moment instead of dealing with the actual worst things in the world.
It's also a grind of constant battles over money and struggles with self doubt and physical health. Everything in life comes with the battles.
Advocate for yourself.
Take care of yourself.