We in sports talk a big game and act as though we have a toughness that comes with covering athletes pummeling one another. We write about hits as if we’re the ones taking them.
The truth is we cover sports to stay away from real life. The hardest thing that comes with the job description is the interview after a loss.
The difference between losing a game and losing in life is there is always another game to play. There’s always another at-bat, always another snap and always another shot to take. There is no scoreboard in life. There is no touchdown dance. There are ups and downs, and the final down is unavoidable.
Mike Greenburg, known for his sports radio show on ESPN, wrote a book titled “Why My Wife Thinks I’m an Idiot.” In it, he talked about how he wanted to be a “real” journalist until he stood outside the house of Andrew Donatelli.
Donatelli was headed to college on a football scholarship and was the valedictorian of his high school class. On prom night, Donatelli and some friends were drinking beer and allegedly smoking pot on the beach. Somehow, Donatelli’s girlfriend ended up in the water, and he drowned trying to save her. Greenburg, an intern reporter at the time, was sent to the house to interview Donatelli’s parents.
“I couldn’t ring the bell. I had all my questions written in my yellow reporter’s pad but I couldn’t ask them; I knew it was my job but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t ask a woman I’d never met how it felt to go to Malcolm and Brothers Funeral Home on Worth Avenue at five in the morning with a football uniform and a navy blue Brooks Brothers suit because she couldn’t decide which her son would have wanted to be buried in. I have all the respect in the world for people who ask that question, but I can’t.”
After that experience Greenburg wrote that his adviser asked him if he thought about covering sports, and the rest is history.
We cover games. We write about athletes. What we do is not life or death. We don’t plan on ever having our hands shake profusely as we look up whether or not to refer to dead 5-month old as an infant in the Associated Press stylebook or take a deep breath before calling someone whose 20-year-old best friend just died in a car accident.
It’s part of the job, and it’s disrespectful to the deceased to avoid the story. Their voices have ended, but their story can be told through friends and family.
Without them, there is no story.
Those friends and family members who have lost someone, however, have all the right in the world to hang up the phone or slam the door before a reporter can even begin to utter what media outlet they are from.
I was lucky enough to write a story about Worthington 2010 graduate Mitch Benson, who died in a car accident on Aug. 3, thanks to Mitch Jensen, Kyle Hain, Gary Brandt and Dennis Hale not hanging up the phone on me.
They told the story. All I had to do was write it.
And I can never thank them enough.