One of my friends learned a hard lesson about sportswriting recently. He’s a young guy, worked for the University Daily Kansan last year, when the Kansas football team went to the Insight Bowl.
After the Insight Bowl, Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing was in a terrible mood. It’s hard to say why. He played well and Kansas won the game. But on the way to the postgame press conference, he loudly wondered why he had to go talk to the media*.
*Answer: Because you’re the quarterback. If you don’t want to be a star, don’t be a quarterback.
So he comes into the press conference in a bad mood. Somebody — I don’t know who it was — asked him a question about how he completed 14 passes to Dezmon Briscoe. Now, maybe you and Todd Reesing don’t find it remarkable that one guy caught 14 passes, but I think most people do. It was an Insight Bowl record, actually, and a career-high for Briscoe.
This was the exact exchange:
Todd and Dezmon, you guys — Todd, you have obviously really zeroed in on Dezmon and Kerry today. Did you have that in mind coming in? Just talk about the way you guys were able to hook up. After the first few series, you guys really were hooking up.
TODD REESING: Here’s what happened: Is they call a play and Briscoe gets open. If I can throw it to him, then it works out. And it seemed to work out a whole lot of times. And the same thing to Kerry. So we just kept doing it you know? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Things were going pretty well and we just kept with it.
For some reason, people seem to have a hard time understanding what happened there, but Reesing was trying to belittle the guy. It was obvious to everybody in the room. There are a hundred decent ways to answer that question, one of them being to actually answer the question, “Did you have that in mind coming in?”
“Yeah, we knew they would be playing a lot of man coverage, and we feel like Dezmon is going to beat man coverage almost every time. I don’t know that we expected him to catch 14 passes. That’s a huge day, but we thought he’d be open quite a bit.”
“No, we didn’t expect this. We usually like to spread the ball around a lot, but there’s no reason to do that when one guy is open all the time.”
“Man, what a game by Dezmon today. He’s had some huge games this year, so I guess you can’t be totally surprised, but after the first quarter, I pretty much expected he’d be open on every play.”
Instead, he chose to take a story about a teammate’s big day and make it about him and his irritation with having to speak. Maybe the question could have been more concise, or more precise, but I’ve been doing this for eight years, now, and I’ve seen athletes who’ve been treated a lot worse by the media than Todd Reesing answer questions much worse than that one with a lot more decorum than that. You don’t have to like talking to reporters — I don’t think I would, either — but you should at least offer some level of respect for another person who’s never wronged you.
I tell you all that to tell you this: Nobody, and I mean nobody who wasn’t there, sees it that way. Coach Mark Mangino made a vague allusion to the Insight Bowl thing at a press conference recently, when without solicitation, he mentioned that Reesing isn’t a big press conference guy. Again, it was pretty clear to everybody in the room what Mangino was referring to. He realized that Reesing had been a little distasteful. So one of the beat writers did a note about this, and brought up the Insight Bowl exchange.
You can imagine what happened next. KU fans started insulting the writer, and bashing sportswriting as a profession. Virtually none of them, of course, had any problem with Reesing’s answer. They all ripped the question, and started making generalized statements about the state of American journalism, and insulting the writer some more, and defending Reesing, and insulting the writer some more.
Then my friend, in a risk, pretty much outed himself on the message board. He wrote that he was there working for the UDK, and he tried to explain why Reesing was out of line. My friend, and the media in general, got whacked pretty good.
- “Let’s cut right to the quick here people: the media are one rung below lawyers on the totem sh*t pole.”
- “I guess that 20-23 year old kids can’t be immature anymore?”
- “My wife’s cousin is a sports reporter and a good and decent guy, but honestly, I’ve never really read any of his work and don’t want to talk to him about it either because deep down I don’t want to lose respect for him.”
Things like this are the reason guys like Reesing sometimes act like this. They know that their legion of fans will defend anything they do. It’s religion.
The lesson my friend (hopefully) learned is that it’s pointless to try to convince a fan of anything he doesn’t want to believe, especially in matters of athlete vs. reporter. These athletes are their heroes. There are grown men who walk around wearing the jerseys of 20-year-old football players. That should be totally humiliating — a grown man whose heroes are football players? — but for some reason it isn’t. Reporters, on the other hand, aren’t even human. We’re some kind of slime that occasionally makes these heroes uncomfortable, and we all suck*.
*Sportswriters, local government, stop lights, the other side of the fence and the girls at your school are all things that nobody is ever satisfied with. Everybody always thinks the ones in their location are clearly worse than the ones next door.
Have you ever heard a parent of a high school kid say, “You know, I think the local paper covers our school adequately” or heard a high school kid say, “I think there are an acceptable number of hot girls at our school,” or “I think our stop lights change at the right time compared to other towns”?
Everybody thinks their sportswriters stink, and that all the other schools get so much better coverage. This will never change.
All of this is why I never wrote anything in the paper or on our Web site about Reesing’s Insight Bowl press conference. The public response was all too predictable. I knew nobody who wasn’t there would understand what had really happened, or even want to understand what had really happened.
A lot of the people who bash the sports media make good points. Most of the postgame press conferences are pretty banal. A lot of the question are the same. A lot of the responses are the same. I mean, there is nothing new under the sun, but we don’t get to write that. We have to write about relatively boring 42-21 wins in low-level bowl games. That’s (a small part of) the job. The irony is that we get the most public criticism when we do our greatest work. The real reporting that explores real issues, the stuff that afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted, is the stuff that makes people the most angry.
- Talk to everybody in Florida and find out that Frank Martin’s story isn’t as cut-and-dried as everyone wanted it to be, and people are Photoshopping your face into elephant poop (that actually happened).
- Expose a program, like the Seattle Times did with the Washington football program, as a place where local judges are sweeping rapes under the rug, and watch the vitriol spew.
- I’ve been called a racist, and that’s just for reporting that Brandon Rush got arrested, something I didn’t even have to work that hard to get.
Ultimately, you just have to know all this, and not care. I used to be easily irritated by reader comments and responses. I’d fire back. But then I figured out that’s like arguing with an automated recording. You’ve got to just be glad they’re reading.