I was a sportswriter from 1986 until 2010. During that time, I worked primarily for the Tampa Tribune in Florida. When I was hired there in 1992, there were about 65 people on the sports staff. After the most recent round of layoffs, there are, by my count, seven sportswriters working at the Tribune today.
It’s as good an example of the demise of newspapers as you’ll find. Just 20 years ago, sportswriting was an invigorating career, tough but generally fair, relatively safe from the whims of the economy. Today, it is a dying* industry.
*Some might quibble with that characterization, preferring the term “evolving” to “dying.” I’m sure the folks who built horse-drawn carriages when Henry Ford came along made a similar myopic argument.
There is a lot I miss about the business.
The people, of course. Sports journalists are almost all adolescents at heart, with all of the quirks and charm of that species. This is not a knock on sportswriters. Far from it, in fact. I’m not calling all sportswriters immature (although many of them certainly were – and are), and I’m not calling all of them irresponsible pups (although, again, if the shoe fits, many of them will certainly chew it to tatters). I’m saying that as a group, the sportswriters I knew (and know) combine an endearing eagerness to please, an astonishing lack of self-awareness, outward confidence and a burning desire to know that makes them as energetic a professional class as you’re likely to come across. Sportswriters are not necessarily poets, but they care deeply about the written word. They are story tellers and historians. They are witnesses, and I was one of them for a while.
My sons know virtually nothing of my life as a sportswriter. They don’t know that I was fortunate enough to sit in press boxes all over the world, watch games, and write about it for a living. There’s a lot more to it, of course, like cultivating sources and breaking news and competing for stories. And on, and on. The heart of it, though, was being there when something happened that was worth writing about.
And one of the things I miss most about the business is the very reason I’m glad I don’t do it anymore: travel. There was nothing better than going places and seeing things. And, in my opinion, there is nothing worse for a sportswriting father than going places and seeing things that don’t involve his family. There are plenty of sportswriter parents who manage to meet the extraordinary demands of the career while rearing a family. Good on them for that. But it’s not the life I wanted. I didn’t want to miss my sons’ formative years. I wanted to be here for them. So, I asked off a pretty nice beat, covering a major league baseball team, and moved to general assignment sports at the end of the 2005 baseball season. I was laid off three years later. I managed to scrape along on freelance sportswriting work for 19 months before landing a full-time job with an Internet marketing company. And that was that.
And even though I want to be here for my kids and wife – have to be here for them – part of me misses the road. I look back now and think of all the places I saw, all the things I did, and sometimes it seems like a dream. The list below is just a sample of the opportunities the job gave me to broaden my horizons. I want my boys to know I did these things, saw these things. They’re listed in no particular order:
- I stood in front of the Aztec Sun Stone at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
- I saw snow-capped Mt. Fuji from the deck of a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter flying from Tokyo to Yokohama.
- I visited Monument Park by myself – just me and the ghosts of Gehrig, Ruth, and the rest – at old Yankee Stadium.
- I walked inside the Green Monster at Fenway Park.
- I saw the Chicago skyline at night from the 96th floor observation deck of the Hancock Center.
- I stood at the corner of Hollywood and Vine.
- I sat through a 5.8 earthquake in San Diego.
- I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and explored Muir Woods.
- I drove to the end of the road up Mt. Rainier.
- I stood in Times Square.
- I saw Queen Street in Toronto.
- I saw a forest of green and gold banners amid the smoky haze of hundreds of grill fires in the parking lot of Lambeau Field.
- I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
- I visited the Sixth Floor Museum at the Texas Book Depository in Dallas.
- I lost way too much money at the MGM Grand casino in Detroit. And at Harrah’s in New Orleans. And at the airport in Las Vegas. And at the Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee. And the Casino du Lac Leamy in Hull, Quebec. Sigh.
- I stood on the edge of the world, also known as the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where I didn’t notice I wasn’t breathing for at least a minute. That’s when I learned what it meant when something takes your breath away.
- I strolled through the Harvard campus during a bitterly cold spring morning.
- I stood under the St. Louis arch.
- I walked the length and breadth of the Manassas battleground in Virginia.
- I walked the corridors of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
- I got lost in the French Quarter.
- I saw a family of beavers waddling along the Ottawa River right in the heart of the Canadian capital.
- I saw Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains and the sunset from the top of the Space Needle.
- I breathed the sacred smoke and marveled at the ancient architecture of the Hexagonal Shrine at the Sensoji Asakusa Kannon Buddhist Templein Tokyo.
- I saw the Rosetta Stone behind its glass enclosure at the British Museum.
- I stood (reverently) on Charles Dickens’ grave at Westminster Abbey.
I saw all that, and I did all that, and much more, and met so, so many people, because I was a sportswriter for a time. Mind you, it wasn’t all a Rick Steves travel documentary. I managed to do most of these things because I made a point of playing the tourist when I visited all these places. It wasn’t the cool thing to do, I know. But I had to do it. It meant waking up early – really early – most of the time and getting out of the hotel room on limited (if any) sleep. It meant going it alone, more often than not. Then it meant grabbing a quick lunch and heading to work. I did it because I was almost obsessively curious about the world around me, and because I just … wanted to see what there was to see.
So, I’ve seen it now. And, yeah, I miss it sometimes. And I wish I could somehow upload those memories into my sons’ young brains. But I guess it’s OK that these are my memories, my experiences, because the boys will create their own. One thing I know. No matter how much I miss it, no matter how much I wish I could walk along Fisherman’s Wharf or browse the historic shelves at City Lights Book Store one more time, I know that I’m where I need to be. Where I want to be. I’m home.