I still dream of being a sportswriter, and the dreams are always bad. Most often they’re deadline dreams where I can’t find my computer or I’ve lost my game notes. Where I show up for a game long after it’s over. Where someone is yelling at me over the telephone and I hang up and quit. Trust me, they’re awful. It’s been twenty-two years since I wrote my last newspaper story and I still have the dreams.
Most of my dreams have one foot in reality. Contrary to popular belief, being a sportswriter is hard work. You work late and get up early. You work on holidays and weekends and spend a lot of time on airplanes or waiting for one. (A friend of mine joked that she knew it was time to retire when she went to a friend’s house for dinner and reached for her seatbelt). Also, you don’t get to turn off the TV when the game gets ridiculous. You have to sit around long after the carnage is over and figure out how to frame a compelling narrative for an awful game.
I can’t speak to how the profession is now, but it used to be a lot harder for women. There was the locker room thing, of course. The doors opened grudgingly, often as a result of legal challenges, and once inside, I learned to follow a code of etiquette in order to survive. I learned to look up, never down, at a gigantic naked man. After skidding off a piece of wet tape and nearly falling, I learned never to wear heels. I learned, as poor Lisa Olson evidently did not, never, ever to sit and be idle, lest I be accused of peeping. And I learned from a Now-Famous Veteran Reporter how to deal with a gigantic naked man who insisted on flashing me whenever I came within whiffing distance. “Tell him you’ve seen better burritos on a Chihuahua,” NFVR counseled me.
I started thinking about all this after reading the “Fifth Down Blog, ”a regular interactive feature in the online edition of the New York Times. In this particular blog, readers posed questions for Judy Battista, the paper’s beat reporter for the Jets. “K in MD,” for example, wondered whether clock management “is a quarterback issue or a coaching issue? I ask this after watching Chad Pennington’s problems in the last two minutes last week.” Ian, meanwhile, asked Ms. Battista’s opinion of rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, whether he can replicate “the success of Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan in their rookie season.”
Not surprisingly, her answers were comprehensive and thorough. The real surprise for me was the implicit level of respect accorded to her by her questioners. And yeah, okay, I realize the blog is refereed by NYT editors to circumvent the occasional nutball who might believe a woman’s place is in the home, not the press box. But I wager to say that if blogs had existed a quarter century ago when I covered sports, there would have been a lot more “It’s back to the kitchen for you, girlie,” instead of a mutually respectful dialogue between reporter and reader.
Novel Issues. . . .
Unstuck again. Full speed ahead.