Do I miss being a sportswriter?

When I see someone I’ve known for a while, but haven’t seen lately, it usually doesn’t take long to get a version of one of these questions:

Do I miss working at the Star Tribune? Do I miss being a sportswriter? Do I miss covering the Gophers?

The answer to the first of those three questions is that I truly miss some of the people at the Star Tribune, but there are very few days when I wish I was still there. I’m very happy with my move out of journalism and I have a new job in which I’m both challenged and feel like I make strong contributions on a regular basis.

The answer to the last two questions could not be clearer: Absolutely not.

The past two weeks have shown crystal clear examples of why I don’t miss covering the Gophers. I simply don’t have the patience to deal with some of the nonsense that happens in the sports world and how the job is pretty much all consuming.

Last week, Gophers guard Devoe Joseph decided to leave the team midseason and transfer. He’s a fine player and his departure certainly hurts Minnesota as the Gophers weren’t exactly overflowing with quality depth in the backcourt.

Players transfer and covering it is part of the job, but this was more challenging than a simple transfer. Joseph had been suspended for several games to start the season. It wasn’t exactly a state secret why for anyone who is at all close to the team, but it would be close to impossible to get someone on the record to say why.

So then you have to figure out what really happened. Was the kid going to be suspended again? Did he get a raw deal from the coach? And I’m sure the beat writers were getting people on both side tossing mud. I would gather the kid was considered by the staff to be a bad kid and a quitter. And I’m sure the parents/AAU coach/posse were putting some of the blame on the staff. Try figuring out the math in that equation. The answer is that it is probably a little bit of both and if you do your job right, both sides probably don’t like what you write.

Last night and today, however, blew me away.

I was sitting at home watching the BCS National Championship game. I might have been enjoying a beverage. Then I heard the news that Trevor Mbakwe was in jail after violating a restraining order. To say I was thrilled to not have to chase that story was such an understatement.

So you have a guy that missed all of last season as felony charges against him were being sorted out AND he has a restraining order against him. My guy Gary Parrish from cbssports.com tweeted today that the kid can’t be THAT unlucky, can he?

It is a totally ridiculous story. If you have a restraining order against you, what makes you think it is even an OK idea to contact that person via Facebook? Really? And what exactly did the guy do to get that restraining order placed against him? I don’t really know Trevor. I talked to him a couple of times when he was still in high school, but I can proudly say that there are no players left on the Gophers who I covered in college.

Because I can’t help myself, I did go on gopherhole.com both last night and a few times today. I know the people who run the site, I know a few posters in real life and I always find it interesting to see what the pulse is.

This story, like the Joseph story, is going to be a delicate balance. There’s going to be people near Trevor who are likely to say that he was just trying to be nice and didn’t mean anything about it. But from past experience, I would be also stunned that if the beat writers didn’t hear from people via email who were killing Trevor and the U because of the alleged actions against women part of the equation. And also like the Joseph case, both sides are probably somewhat right.

The staff knows that winning games would be more difficult to do without Mbakwe so they are fighting for him. A lot of fans feel the same way. And the people who say that a guy was charged with a felony for allegedly breaking a woman’s jaw and who has a restraining order against him might not be the model student-athlete certainly have a point as well.

I’m just glad I’m not playing traffic cop on this story. Because it probably isn’t going to go away. Will he be charged? Does this impact his settlement in Florida? What will the media-phobic head coach say about this? I’m glad this isn’t under my watch.

Maybe I’m crazy, but it certainly seems that college sports teams harbor more knuckleheads than ever. And it isn’t just a Gophers thing. Also this week, an unnamed University of Washington basketball player may be under investigation for a sexual assault. The same thing happened at Michigan State earlier this fall. And don’t even get me started on college football.

While I do cover a few games a month as a freelancer (often in more of a support role than a full responsibility role), I guess I am still kind of a sportswriter. But it is the perfect amount. I do it enough that it isn’t foreign, but also enough to realize that my new life is better for me in so many ways.

I guess the fourth question that I get asked fairly regularly is whether I still follow college basketball? The answer there is also no.

I will watch the Gophers if I’m around. It is my alma mater, I have seen games in Williams Arena dating back almost 30 years, I do still have a little bit of interest there. But I certainly won’t fit my schedule around their games. I’ve watched at least part  of all of the Big Ten games (though the Indiana game was while I was on the treadmill at the gym with no sound). I will probably watch at least some of Thursday’s game against Purdue.

But I watch very little beyond that. I won’t watch random national games, I don’t know which mid-majors are truly good. I know close to nothing about recruiting. That is a huge departure for a guy who could name pretty much every scholarship player in the Big Ten and could break down lots and lots of teams.

I covered the Gophers for seven seasons and missed two regular season games during that span. One was when I was at the Insight Bowl (Mason’s last game). The other was a game at one of the Indiana schools late in the 2007 season. That game was covered by our women’s basketball reporter, who was in Indy for the Big Ten Tournament at that point. I did miss a couple of NIT games because neither I nor the bosses were too excited about them.

Throw in two exhibition games a year and that’s 223 Gophers games. In 99-00, I covered 38 North Carolina games (36 real, 2 exhib). And the two years before that, I covered 68 of 69 University of Cincinnati games (missed one while covering the inaugural Humanitarian Bowl). That’s a total of 329 games in 10 years as a beat writer, a total that doesn’t include random games I saw while working on other stories for the Strib or espn.com or NCAA tournament games as a neutral writer (probably 29 Final Four games alone, plus the early rounds).

That, frankly, is enough. I’m glad I’m done.

These days, I’m way, way, way more likely to watch an NBA game than a college game. There’s a blog post that needs to be written about this topic, but the short version is that I just think the basketball is so much better. After watching enough lopsided college games in which a big conference school plays a hyphenated or a directional team, that’s a nice change. I also grew so weary of games that ended 58-54 that I wanted to poke my eyes out.

To say that I’m happy with the turn my career has made is an understatement. I’m learning a lot, I have a clearer career path, I like the change. It is all good.

And other people can deal with the knuckleheads. And I didn’t even write about Royce White.

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11 thoughts on “Do I miss being a sportswriter?

  1. Jeff: I actually write about high school sports for a community newspaper. I used to think sportswriting would be fun and easy. I did not even know how much this is work. I agree with all of your points. I like the job, but it’s work at the end of the day. There’s so much drama you have to cover. I have to wonder what I was thinking about doing this, but I need to make money and I need to start having a career, so sportswriting it is for me.

  2. Life is easier in a non-journalism position. Nights off, weekends off, bigger paycheques.

    But life can be less interesting. I miss telling the good news stories, I miss hitting a deadline every day, I miss the inside scoop, I miss being chummy with the athletes, I even miss seeing my name in print.

    The benefits are many but so are the sacrifices.

  3. I still think I enjoy watching college basketball more than the NBA. The quality of basketball is better in the pros, to be sure, but I think there also seems to be an air of indifference for so many of the players on the floor. The low-scoring games in college don’t bother me because I think you often see two sides that really genuinely want to win the game.

  4. I’m still doing sports for a newspaper, but I don’t miss covering Wisconsin as much as I thought I would. Being constantly on call wears you down. I do wish I could still cover the Final Four, but being prep editor is fine with me now. It’s a ton of work, but the hours are more predictable and you don’t have to stick around on Christmas and Thanksgiving because the football or basketball team has a game the next day. And I’ve gotten away from my regular visits to the courthouse for nonesense.

    • Mark, Didn’t know you were working as the preps editor now, that’s cool. And the lack of nonsense has got to be a huge relief.

  5. Oh, quit your griping, Shelman. Everybody knows sportswriters get to watch games and get paid for it, get to be friends with all the high-profile athletes we see on TV, get invited over to famous coaches’ homes for supper, get to go clubbing with all the hot ESPN TV chicks, get a bottomless expense account. It’s a jet-setting, celebrity lifestyle and for you to complain about it is embarrassing.

  6. Emptying my brain « Jeff Shelman

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