No time for play at sports journalism ‘boot camp’

By Brian Gomez

PHILADELPHIA – So much for a weeklong vacation. An extended stay at the Sheraton usually spells rest and relaxation. Being just blocks away from Philadelphia’s historic district usually means there will be lots of sightseeing. And downtime with nine other college journalists usually translates into some lively nightlife.

That’s what usually happens.

The past week at the Sports Journalism Institute, a minority program tied into the annual Associated Press Sports Editors convention, was anything but a fairytale.

It was like being in sports journalism boot camp, and the only break came when my head hit the pillow for six or seven hours each night.

I looked forward to going to Philadelphia after experiencing the grind of covering high school tennis for four straight days during the second week of my summer internship at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Little did I know my week would be filled with guest speakers, impromptu story assignments and quirky things called “sports checks.”

The guest speakers brought an entirely new light to the world of sports journalism, claiming the brief reprieve we enjoyed while covering Philadelphia Phillies games over the weekend soon would be replaced by chaos and competition among ourselves.

“The fake ones never survive,” said Stephen A. Smith, who works as an NBA analyst for ESPN and is a sports columnist at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“If you’re not about the blue-collar approach of putting in the work, you’re not going to survive. You can’t smile your way to the top. You can’t talk your way there either.”

Claire Smith, an assistant sports editor at the Inquirer, talked about the obstacles that minorities face in a White-dominated industry.

“Being a minority, you just always have to be prepared for the ugly,” said Smith, who gained national popularity in 1984 when she was physically forced out of the San Diego Padres clubhouse during the NLCS.

“You have to work hard, and you have to carry yourself professionally, maybe more so than your peers.”

The sudden story assignments weren’t that bad, considering that most of the sports editors we had to profile were attending workshops at the hotel during the week.

It was the sports checks, often conducted by New York Daily News sports editor Leon Carter, that did me in.

The questions sometimes were so obscure that it was impossible to pass, especially when Carter changed the grading scale from day to day.

Here are a couple examples:

Question: Who was the first Black golfer? Answer: John Shippen.

Minus one on my paper.

Q. What was the back-page headline of the June 20 New York Daily News? A. “Goose chase.”

Another zero where a plus should have been. We were in Philadelphia, not New York City.

How many All-Star Game appearances has New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter made? Five.

Finally got one right. Call it a lucky guess.

Through everything, including the mandatory memorization of the poem “Invictus,” the Sports Journalism Institute surprisingly made me stronger.

It caused me to realize that you’re not always going to get what you want from this job, but sometimes you just have to suck it up.

Tracking down sources isn’t easy. Then again, neither is life in general.

And, like Smith said, in order to be a sportswriter, you must have “alligator skin.”

Maybe it’s starting to show.

Reach the reporter at brian.gomez@wranglernews.com.