It was easy for me to become a sportswriter. I was a sports fanatic from the age of 7 and realized pretty early on that I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete. I was always a good writer and my dad was a journalist so I grew up around the business.
Like politics, sports has deadlines and winners and losers. And unlike Hollywood stars, athletes aren’t acting when they react to victories and defeats.
But unlike reporters who cover local news or serve as foreign correspondents, asking strangers how they feel about their relative’s death isn’t a typical part of my week. Talking to players who have been cut or coaches who have been fired can be traumatic, but not tragic.
However, I truly resented former San Diego columnist Tom Cushman when his final piece was about his exit from “the toy department.” Writing game stories and columns on deadline and asking angry athletes and coaches questions after agonizing defeats are about as tough as it gets in journalism excepting those colleagues working in war zones.
Of course, although late Redskins coach George Allen declared that losing was like death, sportswriters basically operate in their own universe. Governments don’t fall and people usually don’t die in our stories.
But then there are times when the sports world seems all too real like four years ago this month when Redskins star safety Sean Taylor was slain at 24 in his home in South Florida.
This morning the big local news is that Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, also 24, was kidnapped last night near his home in Venezuela. As of now, neither Ramos’ family nor the Nats have been contacted by the kidnappers regarding a ransom. Who knows if the promising player will be allowed to live out his career?
And this morning’s major national story is Penn State’s board of trustees firing the legendary Joe Paterno during his 46th season because the winningest coach in major college football history and the head of the seemingly most straight arrow program didn’t go to the police when he learned years ago that longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky had allegedly molested boys.
Paterno leaving Penn State in scandal instead of as a beloved icon was unfathomable just last week. But it happened and sportswriters have been on the story risking the wrath of the passionate Nittany Lions faithful.
A shooting death. A kidnapping. A coverup of sexual abuse and pedophilia. It doesn’t get more serious than that.
So the next time that some non-sports fan says something like, “It’s only sports,” remind them of such events and that the games we watch are played by real people who, despite their fame and fortune, can be as touched by tragedy and scandal as any politician or average Joe.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.