A lot goes into covering a professional sporting event for a major magazine. My work begins long before I leave my house. I have to research all the teams I will be covering. Since the lacrosse leagues I write about aren’t heavily featured on Sports Center, the players aren’t household names let alone household faces. These are players that actually play more for the love of the game than for the money. The average salary for a professional lacrosse player per season is around fifteen thousand dollars.
I go to team websites and do my best to learn the names and faces of most if not all of the players in the game I’ll be covering. I pay close attention to all the other teams in the league throughout the season. The teams I cover, the Rochester Knighthawks of the National Lacrosse League and the Rochester Rattlers of Major League Lacrosse have players that are easily recognized due to the fact that I come in contact with them often, but players on a team like the NLL Calgary Roughnecks or MLL Los Angeles Riptide are a much different challenge. There’s nothing that makes you look less professional then going down to the field or locker room after a game and having to ask someone to point out a certain player. What’s worse is to attempt to guess who’s who on your own without doing the proper research. Like any sport, these players have egos and never want to be confused with someone they aren’t.
At outdoor games, I park right next to the stadium in the press and player parking lot. When I cover an event at a downtown arena such as the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, NY, parking is not a guarantee. It’s actually quite a challenge to find a place to park due to the fact that the arena doesn’t own any of the surrounding parking garages. Somehow, I found a parking garage that is free on weekends, and I only have to walk 5 blocks in 10 degree weather to get to the arena!
If I don’t already have my press pass, I pick it up at the press gate and make my way into the bowels of the arena. If I get there early enough I might catch a player or two taping up a stick or chatting with someone in the hallway leading to the locker rooms. Most times, though, they are already on the field practicing when I arrive.
One of the biggest perks of a press pass–other then the ability to interview players and sit in the press box–is the fact that I can get into the arena or stadium long before any fan. It’s amazing to walk into a completely empty facility and see teams practicing on the field knowing full well that the building will soon be packed with thousands of rowdy fans.
Once I arrive at the press box and flash my pass to security, it’s time to check the sheet on the wall for my seating assignment. Normally, I set up my laptop and pray to the gods of technology that it still works even though I dropped it in the parking lot before the game, which seems to be a weekly occurrence. I find an internet signal and get to work. I open any documents that I have already started for the game and open the website of whatever league I’m covering. Usually by this point I’ve been rushing around so much that I’ve forgotten to eat anything so I go in search of food.
A magical bonus about sitting in the press box is the free food. At Blue Cross we get pizza and sodas. At Paetec Park (also in Rochester, NY) we get burgers, hotdogs, pizza that looked and tasted like cardboard, and sodas. I usually try not to pig out, but you almost have to eat five pieces of pizza just to show them you appreciate it, right? At the last Knighthawks game my younger brother called me from the stands to ask if I could get him some free pizza. Sadly, by then all that was left was a congealed mess of cheese and pepperoni.
After I’m all set up, I still have quite a while until game time. I can go down to the locker room and try to catch one of the players and get some quotes or I can do a little more research and write some of my article. On my left side are the off field officials. These guys all look like they are retired and love just sitting around watching lacrosse. Before games they are very talkative as well, but during a game don’t even try to talk to them–they are all business. Who else is going to count the ground balls and make sure there are no illegal hits?
In the Blue Cross seating chart I’m usually next to the away teams broadcasters in the front of the box. This is always fairly interesting because during commercials breaks many of these guys are quite talkative.
Last spring when I was covering the NLL Buffalo Bandits at the Rochester Knighthawks, I got a chance to sit next to the Bandit’s broadcasters. The color analyst was a former goalie for Rochester named Steve Dietrich. During most commercial breaks he would lean over and give me some piece of wisdom he had learned over the years. One was, “The Rochester cheerleaders are nothin’ compared to the Canadian girls. You gotta get up to Calgary and see the real women.” This was a guy I grew up watching on TV and he was telling me about whose cheerleaders are hotter. It was hilarious.
One of the coolest sports journalism experiences I have ever had was when I covered the Major League Lacrosse playoffs last August. Due to the fact that the magazine I wrote for had too many writers in attendance and the game was being broadcast by ESPN2, I, a lowly intern was forced to sit outside. I had no table, no roof, and it looked as if it was going to rain. Just as it seemed that this day was headed for a disastrous, rain drenched ending, someone came out and told me they had found a spot for me in the box. I was placed right next to the ESPN2 broadcasters. I went to school for broadcasting and it was an amazing thrill to be that close to them as they did play by play for the game.
After the national anthem, the game starts and I take out a notebook and keep track of goals, big plays, and anything that might help with my article or during a post game interview. During actual game play I’m more like a fan watching the game than a journalist. Between quarters and during halftime I type up what happened in each quarter. I can’t really do much writing while the game is going on unless I plan on missing out on a big play.
This brings me to the saddest aspect of sports journalism. If you are a fan of the team you are going to be covering get ready to lose all allegiance. It’s impossible to root for a team and write an article about the game. I find myself rooting for a story. Even if I like one team more than the other, I have to root for them to lose in overtime if it makes for a better story.
After the game, regardless of the outcome, I go down to the locker area or field to interview players. Since I write mostly game stories, I don’t need a lot of quotes so I usually stick to interviewing a few players on the winning team. They are always a lot more enthusiastic to talk to me.
During the MLL playoffs I had the chance to interview one of the most colorful lacrosse personalities of all time. Brian Dougherty is the starting goalie for the Philadelphia Barrage and he is known for saying whatever he wants when he’s being interviewed by the media. Even though his team had won he was so overcome with emotion that most of his quotes were full of swearing and gibberish. There was a legitimate reason for this though: during the game he had been hit in the head with a shot so hard that it dented his facemask, he got a giant welt on his head, and he had to leave the game. He gave me some great quotes about kicking holes in the locker room walls and crying at halftime.
The next day, during the championship, he was hit in the groin with a shot and had to leave again. He was seen throwing up on the sidelines and pacing around angrily. After the game when I attempted to interview him and all he said was, “I have to get an I.V.”
After the MLL championship game I learned one of the biggest lessons of my young journalism career. I made the mistake of interviewing a player on the L.A. Riptide just as they had lost to the Philadelphia Barrage 16-13. My mistake wasn’t interviewing the player; my mistake was the question I asked.
I asked the player this tasty little tidbit: “Even though you didn’t win, how important was it for the organization to get to the championship game?” In retrospect, I have no idea why I would ask such a silly question. It’s almost as if I wanted to push the envelope and see what I could get out of them. Nobody wants to answer that question minutes after they lost a championship game. I couldn’t even get a quote through the angry death stare he gave me and the relentless swearing that followed. I learned a valuable lesson there. When interviewing players on the losing side, I have to think much more about the questions I ask and the reactions that will follow.
After I get a few quotes, I return to the press box and finish up my article. I email it to my editor, hope I don’t have a lot of grammatical and statistical errors, close up shop, and head home. I’ve been a huge sports fan my whole life, and at the age of 26 I’m able to live a dream of writing about professional sports. When I finally see my article online a few hours later I realize how really special it is to be able to do this on a regular basis.
Chris Osburn is a 26 year old freelance writer. He’s currently a beer columnist for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. On top of that, he writes about professional lacrosse for insidelacrosse.com. He’s also written for Genesee Valley Parenting Magazine and ESPN.com.