I woke up Thursday morning and it was like coming out of a haze that had enveloped the last few years of my life. I realized, maybe a little too late, that the profession I love isn't slowly dying, it's already dead.
I'm of the opinion that sports can change the world. Athletics have the ability to break down barriers and shatter the walls of race, class, color, culture and language. They can change the way we see things, alter the fabric of society and edit the story of the American experience. The people tasked with relating those monumental changes, those great stories and why they're so important, are sportswriters. And there are too few of them left.
All I've ever wanted was to somehow be involved with sports. My entire life can be related to some sporting event or team. I vividly remember the first time I fell in love. It was 1992 and the object of my affection was a baseball team. I suffered my first broken heart on January 29, 1995 during Super Bowl XXIX.
Now all I want to do is write about sports as my profession and I may never get that chance. I'm a part of a medium that is being killed off by the advent of new technology and the most devastating economic collapse in decades. While those are certainly factors in the demise of my chosen profession, the real reason for the death of sports writing as we know it is sportswriters themselves.
With the new technological advances our world has at its fingertips, sportswriters have an opportunity never before afforded to them: they can become famous. Many have taken to the airwaves as guest pundits or commentators. Guys like Skip Bayless and Jay Mariotti soon realized that the more outrageous they were, the more they riled up the viewers, the more belligerent they acted, the more they were asked back. More appearances equal more fame, more fame equals more money. In short, they've sacrificed credibility for fame.
Their writing soon began to reflect their on-air personas and became filled with snarky commentary and outrageous statements. Readers took notice and in general, no longer take most of them seriously. They now speak at their audience, not to it. The problem is that as a whole, the rest of the sports writing world has followed suit.
Because of the declining status of my profession, many young writers are being encouraged to leave it, to return to school or find another way to use the skills they've acquired. I've been told countless times that I can do whatever I want, there are plenty of other options. But I don't want to do anything else.
Sportswriting used to be able to transport you to the front row of any event, with rich detail and brilliant color. Now we're encouraged to be "concise" and ever vigilant of word counts and inches.
Due to these new restrictions and the way "famous" sports writers present themselves, we will likely never see another Damon Runyon, Frank Deford or David Halberstam. Writers with the talent to reach those lofty heights may never get the chance to put them on display. I find that tremendously depressing.
Nationally, newspapers have tried to adapt to the changing world with more photos, shocking stories, so-called "gotcha" journalism and quick articles that reflect the perceived short attention span of audiences. Well, I'm tired of it. The world is changing but that doesn't mean that journalists have to dumb down their coverage because of it. In fact, in the new world we're needed more than ever. We've failed our readership, and I'm here to apologize.
If the medium is truly dying, then newspapers and their writers should go down fighting rather than slowly acquiescing to the demands of the new world. Reporters should be encouraged to do more journalism, not less. We should be giving readers what they can't get anywhere else: great, colorful, detailed, insightful stories.
The newspaper industry has underestimated its audience for far too long. The only way print journalism will survive is if managers, editors and publishers realize that.
I pray that sometime soon the rest of the business wakes up from the haze that's descended upon our profession over the last decade. I hope we can all wipe the sleep from our eyes and go back to doing what we do best.