I’ve a confession to make.
I’ll admit now that it’s not the biggest of confessions; in fact, in the grand scheme of things it would struggle to make much of an impression on the Richter Scale of personal admissions. But here goes…
Sometimes, when asked what I study, I have been known to drop the word ‘sport’ from ‘sport journalism’.
Yeah, that’s it.
It doesn’t seem like much of a big deal when written down, but let me explain; when involved in polite conversation to whomever: taxi drivers, supermarket cashiers, friends of friends, it has always seemed more straightforward to wrap everything up into a one-word reply; of course, if the conversation is nothing more than small talk, it can be left at that, other times you find someone genuinely interested and you can expand further.
I can try and explain this further by using a similar example; one question I get quite often is people asking where I grew up. My answer, or better put, the specifics of my answer depends on who asked; because I grew up in a reasonably small commuter town in North Hertfordshire, the chances of people knowing it precisely is quite slim. (Oddly enough, it has happened to me quite recently; at a wedding on a remote Scottish island last summer, one other attendee had travelled from the neighbouring town. It is a small word after all…). So to save further questions like “where’s that?”, instead of naming the town, I generalise, almost like zooming out of Google Maps. All the little levers and cogs in my head working at a thousand miles an hour to sum up what answer will best resonate with whomever asked. Do I say its closest big town, which is Stevenage? Do I say ‘near’ its biggest city, which is London? Sometimes I opt for “halfway between Cambridge and London”; on some occasions I just say North London, which is close enough to a) what my accent sounds like to those not familiar, and b) answer what was only meant to be a straightforward question.
The same applies to simply saying ‘journalism’, when asked; but actually it runs a little deeper than that sole reason. If I were to preface what I study with sport, then more often than not the topic sways in that direction, rather than journalism. Not necessarily in a good direction, I may add. I “just write about sport, then?” Or I “just watch a load of football, right?” It irritates me, so I leave it out. Thinking about it, I’m not sure if this line of questioning is common amongst other professions: do dentists get “so all you do is poke about in people’s mouths?”, or “I bet you just sit playing solitaire all day” to the office sysadmin team.
This is slightly relevant to another reason for leaving it out; stuck at the back of my throat is that age-old cliché, that sportswriting is the toy department, the not-as-important, the also-rans of journalism. I don’t hold the belief myself at all, yet it’s enough of a stigma to stick. It is a worry that my career choice isn’t respected, and that people will use it as the stick to beat you with.
But I’ve realised recently, that by dropping ‘sport’ out of journalism, I’m doing nothing to help this assumption. I’ve nothing to be ashamed of, and any dismissive criticism that does arrive isn’t coming from anyone worth worrying about. In my head, I’ve always compared it to the “where are you from?” question; something that needs shortening for ease of understanding, but in actual fact, after four years of a sport journalism degree on top of two years of blogging regularly, it’s not something that needs paraphrasing any more. I am a sportswriter. I am a sports journalist.
I did not lean towards sport journalism because it is easier, less demanding, and a stress-free career, because it isn’t, at all, and anyone who suggests otherwise doesn’t have the slightest idea what they are talking about. I took up sport journalism because sport has always been a big passion of mine, and now journalism is too. Reporting on sport is no less important than war reporting, or financial journalism, I strongly believe that. I also believe that demand for (good quality) news, reports, analysis and opinion on sporting activity will never burn out. There will always be a story to tell. Always.
So the next time I’m faced with a retort such as: “is that all you do, write about sports?”, I will say yes, and follow it with…
I write about sports because they somehow manage to incorporate every aspect of our world: life, death, hope, disappointment, victories, losses, politics, rules, crimes, fair play, cheating, health, drugs, love, hate.
I write about sports because you never know how the story will end.
– J.A. Adande, American Sports Writer.