|Sometimes you WILL get handed a beer...on live TV|
Truth be told, it's one of the most exciting, challenging and downright fun career paths anyone can choose. You're covering games. You're interviewing All-Stars. You're traveling around the country, many times the world, to attend sporting events. You're doing things stuck-in-their-cubicle 9-to-5ers only wish they could do. Indoor sky diving with the Dallas Cowboys? Flying on a billionaire's private jet to watch his favorite football team play? Touring NBA players' mansions? Done. Done. And done. It's the coolest of cool jobs.
But it's not all jets, games and glam. A career in sports media requires more than just a passion for your favorite team, reading ESPN and trolling Twitter. It's work. Hard work. It also takes a fair amount of resilience because you will make mistakes, you will get criticized and you will get scooped on a story.
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I have learned a lot during my sports media career which started in 1994 as a media services intern with the Houston Rockets and included stops in Guam, Knoxville, my hometown, Dallas and most recently Los Angeles. From truths about myself and the nature of individuals considered icons to the rhythms of a season and how to pose a question after a terrible loss, sports media is very much a business about people and relationships. To that end, there are certain things you should consider if you want a career in this industry.
Here are 14 things you need to know
if you want a career in sports media:
1. Sports media is not as glamorous as it seems. For every World Series and NBA playoff series I have covered, I have also trudged 60 miles north of town to one-man-band a high school girl's basketball game or shoot a football game in 103-degree heat. Covering Spring Training, usually begins at 7am and goes nonstop until 10:30pm without a break for food. You will do a lot of work that gets little glory: editing, writing, research, developing relationships. All of that behind the scenes stuff you don't see, hear or read is vital to your success.
2. You will do more homework and research as a professional than you ever did in school. You have to be prepared. One more time: You have to be prepared. You don't want to walk into an interview or press conference with no idea of who you're covering or why this person is important. You don't want to be at a game without a sense of the matchup's history, the players' storylines, the relevant statistics, etc. You need to know your shit. If you don't, it shows. BTW, if cussing offends you, choose another industry. F-bombs are the norm. Get used to it.
3. You don't watch games. You cover them. Most of my friends think that when I co-hosted the Dallas Mavericks pre-and post-game shows I was drinking in the Platinum Club and chest-bumping Derek Harper. Hardly. I was usually monitoring the game on television, while also listening to the radio broadcast and taking notes in the media lounge or in the hockey press box just below the American Airlines Center rafters. Watching a game is work: looking for players trends, storylines and angles. You need to pay attention.
4. There is no cheering in the press box. Ever.
|No autographs. Ever.|
5. You do not ask anyone for autographs. It's actually written on our credentials that your pass can get revoked if you ask for autographs. The GM at one of my old TV stations once asked me to get baseball's biggest a-hole to autograph a ball for his daughter. I was mortified. I went back forth over this for weeks. My BOSS was asking me to do this. WTF do I do? Finally, I stuck to my guns and showed him the credential, indicating it was against club policy. Thankfully he was cool about it.
6. Many athletes, coaches and managers will think of you as pond scum. You will hear players cuss at you ("F-ing C&#T" comes to mind) and coaches will berate you for asking a dumb questions ("Did your boss tell you to ask that?"). Even team employees will come to hate you because you will, at some point, be critical of their employers. You just have deal with it. As a member of the media, your responsibility is to be objective when reporting a story and covering an issue. Many times that involves a question or working with a level of aggression that will piss off people. Your bosses will be even more upset if you don't get the story. It's part of the job. If that's not for you, then you might want to consider another career.
|Bowling with Cowboys safety Barry Church and linebacker Bruce Carter|
7. At the same time, relationships are important. You need to take the time to gain the trust of the people you cover. That means talking to them, understanding who they are, what motivates them, what's important to them. Your success depends on your ability to talk to guarded, tightly wound players, coaches, owners and athletes and get them to open up to you. Be human and genuine. When you need to be critical, do so respectfully. An intelligent player or coach will understand and appreciate the effort you make to be more than a robot reporter.
8. Your paycheck will be small, REALLY small, to start. Unless you're a former athlete or super-hot chick, you will not begin your career with ESPN or CBS Sports. You will start in a small market, one-man-banding and bringing home about $18,000 per year. Do your time. Learn every aspect of the business you can: photography, writing, camera work, editing. That knowledge will serve you throughout your career.
9. Big universities in college towns or towns with one pro team are the most challenging to teams to cover (although anyone who covers Bill Belichik might disagree). Large universities and towns with one pro team are the big fish in the small pond and flex their big fish muscle constantly. If you ask a coach or player a tough, yet valid, question you will likely have the sports information director say something to you. He might even threaten you. Happened to me. You could be a local reporter who wants to produce a story on a student-athlete but if that university has a preexisting arrangement with a TV network, the SID might decline and give that story to the network. It sucks but it's the media landscape we're in.
10. There will be a point when going to games is a beating. If you're covering a baseball team mired in a terrible 60-win season, a meaningless matchup in August is torture. If there's a rain delay? Shoot me. You will get to a point where covering boring games is an ass-whip, the players are beaten down and everyone is miserable. Again, part of the job. Covering a playoff series will make up for it. Promise.
|With the late, great Bum Phillips - one of the best!|
11. Media members are sometimes more arrogant than the coaches and athletes you cover. In every market I have worked, there are reporters, anchors and photographers who have the ego you would expect from a Hall of Famer. I once had a Cowboys beat writer tell me "I don't have be nice to anyone in this damn building!". He was making the point that being in the paper every day gave him the power that no NFL coach could wield.
12. If you're a woman, you will be judged more harshly than if you are a man. From your appearance to your knowledge, it all matters. I once made the same (dumb) mistake my male counterpart did during a sportscast. He didn't receive a single email. I got about 10, ranging from simple, friendly corrections to a "you dumb girl!". If you want to go into TV, your appearance matters. A lot. Think about it: do you see many women north of 50, heck, even 40 with sports TV gigs? Not really. You do see a ton of wrinkled men with nose hair and bad dye jobs, though.
13. You will see naked people, mostly men. A lot of them. I joke that I have seen more naked men than a proctologist. In the real world, there is nothing normal about that but in sports media, it's part of the job. You will interview players during their open locker room periods or immediately after a game. Your are not there to gawk. Your job is to be focused, respectful and act like a pro. You do not discuss what you see. You do your job and move on.
14. Forget sex, drugs and rock 'n roll. It's sex, booze and post-game parties. There is a lot of drinking involved, usually after a game. I generally learned more about teams I covered in off-the-record conversations over a drink. Drinking usually leads to...you guessed it: booty. The stories you see on TV about athletes and women are nothing in comparison to what doesn't get reported. I tell college students that part of my duties for one employer was to keep players' wives away from their girlfriends. They think I'm joking. I'm not. It's not just the athletes, coaches or team owners, either. Media folks are horndogs, too. I'm saving all these stories for the book.
If you want to work in the media business, internships are vital to your success. There's only so much you can learn in school. The university setting can't replicate the deadline pressure and sense of urgency media professionals experience every day.
Visit my internship page to learn all about getting the most out of your internship experience.
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