augusta free press news

I, for one, don’t root for blowouts

chris graham uva basketballIt’s obvious among those in the sports journalism profession, according to ESPN’s Jemele Hill, that our focus isn’t on who wins or loses, but rather “what gets us home faster, and what creates less work.”

Hill tweeted this as a reply to a question thrown out on Twitter asking folks generally something that people in different professions know, but the general public might misunderstand.

Came as news to me, I have to admit, that this was obvious.

Then Hill doubled down.

“These replies illustrate that a lot of fans don’t get that just because sports is your entertainment doesn’t mean it isn’t work,” she tweeted in response to critics on the thread.

“So, yeah, some are rooting for a blowout. Sorry.”

Scanning the thread, it wasn’t all critics. Several folks identifying as sports writers piled on in support of Hill’s theme, telling stories of extra-inning and five-overtime games that kept them on the job past midnight, woe is us, basically, being the message.

Reminds me of a story from early in my sports journalism career, back in 1995. I was a stringer at a small daily, making fifteen bucks a game, trying to work my way into the business full-time.

R.E. Lee had just lost to Harrisonburg in two OTs, 98-95. The gym had been packed and loud from the opening tip. The energy was such that there were points late in regulation and during the OTs that I could feel my heart pounding through my chest.

I had no dog in the fight, in a manner of speaking, no rooting interest, but, damn, it was fun.

Waiting after the game to speak to the coaches, I was standing outside the locker room with another reporter, who had a few years on me.

Trying to make small talk to fill the dead air, I muttered something to the other reporter about what a great game we had just seen.

“Well, when you see as many as I’ve seen in my career,” he talked down to me, obviously, since that’s the word of the day here, “they all seem to run together after a while.”

At that moment, I resolved to not ever think that way about being paid to write sports, whether it was fifteen bucks a game, or millions, if I’d ever make it to ESPN.

Writing sports, and broadcasting sports, which I now get to do, quite fortunately for me, sure beats working a real job.

And I’ve worked plenty of real jobs – unloading trucks at a grocery store, bundling trees at a forestry center, working construction, flipping burgers.

I will admit, working those jobs, I was always rooting for what got me home faster, and created less work.

When I’m sitting courtside at an ACC Tournament final, though, play five overtimes, please.

Broadcasting a summer-league baseball game one night, we went 15 innings, past 1 a.m., and I was a one-man booth that night, meaning: no bathroom breaks.

I got paid twenty-five bucks a game for that gig.

More, please.

I was solo for an ESPN college baseball broadcast this spring because my tag-team partner had a speaking engagement, and I was down with a cold that resulted in me having horrible nose bleeds, to a point where I had tissues sitting on the desk that looked like they’d come from a murder scene in a slasher movie.

I wasn’t rooting for a blowout that day, for what it’s worth.

Maybe it’s just me, judging from the comments from other sports folks on this particular Twitter thread, but for me, when I’m covering or broadcasting a game, time stands still.

I joke with my wife that global thermonuclear war could break out when I’m working a game, but if the fallout hadn’t reached the stadium during the game, I wouldn’t know about it until I looked at my phone when we were done.

And unlike those folks rooting for the blowouts so they can get home earlier, I mean, damn, to me it’s obvious that I hope it’s as entertaining as possible while I’m there, so that what I say during the game and write afterward has a chance to be entertaining along with it.

Here’s a dirty little secret about those blowouts: I hate ‘em. When I’m writing about a blowout, the story is finished, except for the final score, and I’m just waiting to hit publish as the final horn is sounding, and I’m assuming that folks have already tuned out, that the clicks aren’t going to be strong, and that’s not good, from a business perspective.

Broadcasting a blowout is tougher than broadcasting a close game. When you’ve got a close game, you’re talking about the game, the matchups, the play calls, the strategy, and everything changes from instant to instant. In a blowout, you know that every second that passes means fewer people are listening or watching, and you’re trying to come up with whatever you can to entertain whoever is left, and it can be draining.

But then, I’m trying, and it bothers me to see that there’s a sentiment out there that, ah, whatever, it’s just a job, we’d rather mail it in, who cares.

I get it, that it’s just sports, but, folks, if you’re getting paid to write about or talk about sports, maybe consider yourselves damn lucky that you get paid to write about or talk about sports.

I mean, that was obvious to me when I was getting paid fifteen bucks to cover high-school games. If it’s not obvious to beat writers for dailies and ESPN personalities who make a living doing jobs they obviously don’t enjoy, maybe find something else to do, would be my best advice.

Column by Chris Graham