I spent about an hour Saturday night listening to the men’s basketball game on the radio. We sports columnists live exciting lives.
Despite trailing all game, the Bulldogs captured the lead for the first time with 1:29 to play. The Big Red went up by one on a pair of free throws with 32 seconds to play, but Casey Hughes drove along the baseline and got fouled with two seconds on the shot clock.
The crowd got loud. The first free throw … a miss. The second free throw … ditto. Game over.
(For those keeping score at home, I’m 2-for-2 in recent weeks. Last week I ranted about home court advantage and free throws. Before that, I called Colts 29-17, pretty damn close to 27-17. Booyah.)
This column is not about Casey Hughes. Given what I wrote last week, I don’t think I can really blame him for missing two free throws on the road in that kind of a situation. Admittedly, I did want to choke him with my headphones at the time.
Nope, this column is about Matt Eisen, a freshman sports reporter for the Yale Daily News. I ran into Matt at the men’s squash match against Brown on Saturday. My original intent was to write about squash this week, but as soon as I showed up I remembered that, well, I don’t know anything about squash. Once I gave up on trying to analyze actual matches, the only thing that really stood out was that Miranda Ranieri is like the squash team’s Rasheed Wallace; apparently they don’t give technical fouls in squash for talking back to the ref all the time.
Matt was watching the final men’s matches. I try to keep tabs on my old reporters, so I asked him how the YDN was treating him. He said he was enjoying himself, and he liked covering squash, but that he was frustrated. The articles seemed to always come out the same, and he felt as if no one was reading them. And why not just work for Sports Publicity and actually get paid to write?
I can’t even remember how many times that last question came up while I was an editor. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of checking www.yale.edu/athletics nearly daily for three years, Yale Sports Publicity provides recaps and box scores for every Yale athletics event.
Fortunately, in this instance, Sports Publicity shot itself in the foot for me. The day after my conversation with Matt — and Casey’s late-game anti-climax — the recap of the basketball game went up online. I quote:
“… Yale took a one-point lead, 59-58, when Caleb Holmes made two free throws with 1:29 left. Cornell’s Ryan Wittman, though, was fouled after getting open on a back-door cut with 32 seconds remaining and made both free throws to cap the scoring.”
Anything missing? Um, that would be Casey’s free throws. You see, Sports Publicity is effectively a cheerleader. Every loss is a heartbreaker and gets explained away in some blah quote from Coach Bob about needing to show more effort next time.
But this column is also not about Sports Publicity. Their job is to be cheerleaders. I don’t want that job, but that’s not their problem.
Because I didn’t want that job, I wrote for a newspaper. And now the point of this column, and a serious problem: People who come to the YDN to be journalists are often willing to switch to Sports Publicity. Money plays a role, to be fair. I write with the caveat that I am fortunate enough to not have to hold a job at school. But an equally important part of the issue is the actual experience of covering Yale sports for the YDN; for many who have departed, that experience doesn’t cut it.
Most of you reading this are not sportswriters, but bear with me for a moment. For those who are: You do not want to write sports as a rundown of scores and statistics with a few scattered quotes. No one enjoys that, least of all the writer. Reading between the lines, being colorful and asking the not-so-obvious questions is what makes sports journalism interesting both to read and to practice.
The rest of you have a role here too, just as important: Show some love. When a reporter gets it right, sportswriting is able to capture everything dynamic and heart-pumping about the actual sports themselves. But if a writer doesn’t know people care, why would he bother to keep going?
I still stand by my notion that the women’s swim team got me through the winter of my freshman year. Organic chemistry was ravaging my soul, and my creepy, long-haired, perpetually-stoned Math 120 TA was scaring the crap out of me. But I was able to really get into covering swimming. Once I started doing it pretty well, the swimmers let me know, and it motivated me to keep getting better. And when I wrote better, more people told me they liked reading my stories. And so on, and so forth.
Sportswriting in college is a pretty easy way to get gratification from journalism. In theory, when you’re doing well, the team you’re covering and its fans will let you know, and it makes you that much more motivated to write well. When writers feel isolated, they stop getting pleasure from their work, and suddenly no one’s writing good stories anymore.
This is a simple two-way relationship. Athletes, fans, parents, teachers, whomever — let sportswriters know you’re reading, give them feedback, make them know you’re there. The less it feels like no one’s reading, the more incentive a writer has to do his best work, and the more you’ll enjoy reading. Even about missed free throws.
Dan Adler is a senior in Pierson College and a former Sports Editor for the News. His column appears on Thursdays.