From free brunch to naked men: What I learned about sports reporting
Steve Ladurantaye has covered a lot of stories from flakey TV stars to competition in the real estate industry. But this was his first time covering a sporting event. Here is what he learned while covering last weekend’s Toronto Argonauts game.
By Steve Ladurantaye
Deep inside every beat reporter lurks a desire to try someone else’s job.
At least it’s always been that way for me – there are so many things to write about and I get a weird tightness in my chest when I think about the things I’ve never covered.
I’ve been lucky to try a bunch of things over the past 12 years or so. I’ve chased ambulances, done pickups after terrible accidents, flown in World War Two airplanes, been told I’m handsome by Gene Simmons and yelled at by Raffi.
But I never had an opportunity to write a sports story. I don’t mean sports-related news stories, I’ve done plenty of those (my first front page byline in a daily newspaper was for an Ottawa Sun story about former Ottawa Regional Chair Bob Chiarelli urging the country’s mayors to lobby for tax relief for NHL franchises).
I’d never covered an actual game, though, until last week when I volunteered to write about the Toronto Argonauts vs. the Calgary Stampeders—a game I was kind of considering attending anyway—after I heard that the sports department had a ridiculously busy weekend.
And while any decent beat reporter would tell you that everything that I’m about to say is obvious and common sense, I found it all relentlessly interesting.
So here are Four Things I learned about sports reporting while covering a Canadian Football League game, presented in the order in which I learned them.
They feed you: One of the solid reporting rules we are taught early on is to not take freebies, and that usually means taking a pass at the buffet table when you are covering an event.
There are exceptions to this rule – being really hungry is a good one. We were also well fed while riding buses during the Ontario provincial election– but we paid for our seats and that included some pretty great food (unless you were on the NDP bus, but that’s another story).
So after a decade of standing in the back of the room while everyone ate warmed-over plates of whatever, it was moderately jarring to notice a brunch menu featured prominently at the media check-in table. The day’s offerings were hot dogs, sausages, potato chips, salad and apple pie. Soft drinks and coffee were also available.
I had a hot dog and a glass of water. I’m moderately confident it didn’t affect my objectivity, but I was happy the Argonauts won because if they hadn’t I would have had to lie and say they did to save face in front of all the team staff who saw me eating.
They tell you everything: When I told The Globe and Mail’s Paul Waldie that I was covering my first game, he said I was lucky it was football because after every single play everyone stops and someone tells you what just happened.
This is true. In the Argos press box, there is a dedicated announcer who tells the reporters what just happened after each play. He’s not the same announcer who tells the audience what just happened, either. He’s a special, dedicated person who knows everything about everything.
After a Stampeder ran a missed field goal back some 125 yards for a touchdown, for example, he told us that it was the third longest touchdown in franchise history and then gave the date and distance of the longest (1991, 126 yards).
I was also given dozens of pages of stats for every possible thing you can imagine. Averages, comparisons, player bios, weather patterns. Did you know that the shortest Calgary Stampeder is Larry Taylor, at five foot six?
Neither did anyone else, until they read it in the section of the guide called “Stampeders Extremes.”
Things move fast: I thought I knew a lot about football. I played all through high school, and I watch at least one CFL game a week during the season. But being a casual fan doesn’t prepare you for the pace of the game when you’re watching as a reporter without a colour commentary track to help you along.
Within a few plays I realized I wasn’t tracking the action in a way would help me when it came time to write. I knew the score, but didn’t keep track of when the scoring happened. I knew which player crossed the line, but didn’t mark whether it was a running or a passing play.
This became a problem late in the third quarter when I tried writing a draft of the story, because crucial details I was sure I would remember were already gone from my head. So I had to write a first draft that was big on generalities (not that it mattered—the game was decided on a last second field goal and I had to trash the entire draft I had written anyway).
Naked men: Ever try to interview someone while a huge naked man toweled off his genitals just a few feet away from you? Me neither, at least not for work. But post-game interviews take place in the locker room, and in the locker room people are naked.
This is obvious to absolutely every sports writer ever, and I guess I knew about this on some sort of level. But nothing really prepares you for the experience of being pushed against a naked 6’3” linebacker who is eating a slice of pizza.
I didn’t see any women in there with us that day, but that doesn’t mean it never happens. I checked with one friend who spent a lot of time covering professional sports in the city, and her advice applies to equally to men and women who find themselves surrounded by nakedness: “Keep your eyes down.”
Which is actually good advice to any reporter covering something new, whether there are penises involved or not.
Steve Ladurantaye is currently The Globe and Mail's media reporter, though he occasionally tackles stories outside of that beat, as this story attests to.