My identity crisis as a former sports writer

The blog has suffered my neglect since the NFL Draft, but there is a legitimate reason for that: I’m having an identity crisis.

My entire life, I was a sports writer. My Saturdays and Sundays were eaten up with nothing but football. I voted in polls. I recorded games I had seen live to watch them again. I watched every highlight, scoured the internet for stats, for insight, for anything I might have missed. I went to high school state tournaments, looked at Scout.com every day, read message boards.

When I wasn’t being a sports writer, I was being a sports fan. I studied up on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft picks. Hell, I even studied up on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ draft picks. I went to games I didn’t have to cover for fun. I made everyone at the Super Bowl party be quiet so I could listen. I paid bartenders at sports bars to turn specific games on specific TVs – with the sound, thank you very much.

That was me for a long time.

Recently, I realized that anyone that meets me now will never have known that Molly. Shoot, even the person I fall in love with and maybe spend the rest of my life with will never know Molly the Sports Writer.

Right now, it is not hard to be angry at sports. With two major professional leagues mired in ugly labor disputes and college athletic programs unable to maintain any sense of order, it is easy to be pissed off. But I’m not pissed off. Nor am I disgusted. It has hit me of late that I’m experiencing none of the emotions a sports fan should be experiencing. So, what the hell is going on?

This is the new Molly and I’m on a mission.

First, what is wrong with being a fan? Absolutely nothing – as long as we maintain our processes of critical thinking.  But, let’s face it. Sports writers like I used to be are complicit in pulling the wool over fans’ eyes. If pop culture is the opiate of the masses, what is sports? The strongest and purest of the opium, perhaps?

How can we shrug when rogue governors like Scott Walker and John Kasich make it open season on public employees, but become impassioned to defend millionaire football and basketball players who want more from billionaire owners of sports franchises?

How can we applaud university presidents and athletic directors for extending football coaches’ contracts and hiring quarter-million-dollar-a-year women’s basketball coaches all while raising tuition and cutting academic programs?

How can we bitch about affirmative action and celebrate Jackie Robinson?

How can we be so callous toward Mexican immigrants while rooting for Cuban defectors in pinstripes?

How can we really consider a “Heartbeat Bill,” defunding Planned Parenthood, repealing or amending Title IX and still root for the U.S. women in this riveting World Cup?

For the majority of my life, Sports Writer Molly was complicit in providing the masses their opium. For example, I covered high school sports in Seattle and some University of Washington men’s basketball game. I had been told there were problems at Franklin High School, specifically with the boys basketball program. I couldn’t get enough hard evidence to run with a story. I didn’t keep after it. Instead, I probably wrote some stories about that defensive sparkplug off the bench, the local product who helped the team win. I should’ve been more diligent. I should have kept after it. Maybe then I could feel a little less responsible for these kinds of stories, now being written about Venoy Overton.

During spring quarter, I taught a Sports Writing class filled with people who reminded me of Sports Writer Molly – fans, optimistic and hopeful kids who believe in the spectacle of sport without distraction. I realized my job wasn’t about teaching them the ins and outs of a lead, but to provide the distraction.

I assigned Rick Telander’s “The Hundred Yard Lie” and the classic expose of BALCO in “Game of Shadows” by former San Francisco Chronicle scribes Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. Why? Not to make them dislike the games, but to think critically about them.

We talked about asking tough questions of powerful head coaches who could deny our access. We discussed what happens when fans only want good news (ala Columbus Dispatch), corporate conflict (ala ESPN), public relations, fluff pieces, and balanced coverage.

I will always love sports. The Women’s World Cup has been riveting and, as much as I despise ESPN right now, I will be tuned in Sunday afternoon. If the NFL lockout ends, I hope to be in Pittsburgh on Sept. 18 for the Seahawks-Steelers game. I’ll play fantasy football. I’ll pray that the Pirates stay above .500. I’ll get goose bumps watching the Women’s College World Series, chills when seeing Husky Stadium on TV, and sweaty hands in the fourth quarter of a tight game.

But I will never look at these games the same. I will never see the press box through the same eyes. And I will do everything I can to make sure my students find intelligent criticism through their love of sports.

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