Being Prepared Applies to Sports Writers, Not Just Boy Scouts

Jeff DickinsonCorrespondent IMay 28, 2009

Bleacher Report is obviously a site that devotes itself to sports fans, but the time has come for some breaking news that doesn’t involve things that are played on a field or in an arena.


Do you want to know the hot news that doesn’t really relate to sports? Here it is: The Boy Scouts ripped off their famous slogan “Be prepared.” How do I know this? Because the Boy Scouts of America was formed in 1910 and came up with “Be prepared” sometime after that.


A sports writer’s motto is also “be prepared.” Sports writing was part of newspapers as early as the 1890s in North America, so that proves that the Boy Scouts “borrowed” this important motto. Well, perhaps sports writers didn’t really create that famous motto, but they should have.


This scandal aside, sports writers should truly be prepared in order to properly cover their particular beat. Sports writing and other types of writing really are like apples and oranges.


At any major sporting event, there are dozens of reporters watching the same action involving the same athletes. So how is one reporter going to distinguish his or her story from the rest?


By being prepared and asking the right questions.


In my 19 years of covering sports for newspapers, magazines and websites, I have learned (several times the hard way!) that the only way to make your story better than the rest is by being prepared for interviews.


When you are assigned to a sports beat, not only are you supposed to write about what happens on the field, but you also need to dig and prod to find out what’s being said when the cameras and microphones are off. Too often, I have found that reporters only want to get the easy quote that is handed to them by the media relations staff so they can get their stories filed and call it a day.


That’s why, if I am fortunate enough to be the Atlanta Falcons correspondent for CBS Sports, my interview questions are going to set me apart from the rest of the writers covering the team. Take Matt Ryan, for instance. He’s the face of the franchise right now. Ryan came out of Boston College and stabilized Atlanta’s quarterback position, presumably for many years to come.


Falcons’ fans want to read about Ryan, but I don’t think they want to simply read about what was going through his mind when he threw the game-winning touchdown pass. I don’t think they just want to know what Ryan thinks about an upcoming opponent.


If I had a one-on-one interview with Ryan, I would have a list of the standard questions that would need to be asked, such as:


  • How long have you been playing football?
  • What is your proudest accomplishment on the field?
  • What went through your mind right after you were drafted last year?
  • What was the most difficult part of the transition from college to the NFL?


However, I would also have some questions designed to (hopefully) give a glimpse at the person who is Matt Ryan instead of just focusing on the football player. These questions would be:


  • If you could meet one living person and one deceased person, who would they be and why?
  • When your playing career is said and done and you’ve moved on to pitching Nutrisystem on TV, what do you hope football fans remember most about you?
  • Who is the first non-family member you called after you were drafted and what did you tell them?
  • If you weren’t playing in the NFL, what would you be doing and why?
  • If you could trade places with anyone in the world for one day, who would it be and why?


Now, I obviously know that my “special” questions are not ones that you can ask when you’re in the locker room after a tough football game. Those are questions that are designed for feature stories that aren’t tied to a live event.


Even in post-game interviews, though, I think your questions can help to set up your story and make it more interesting to readers. If you pay attention to your five senses, sometimes you will stumble upon questions that you never would have thought to ask otherwise.


It’s important to remember that these professional athletes we write about are still people when it’s all said and done. And, in the words of my former college Journalism professor many moons ago: “Every person, no matter whether they’re a CEO or a janitor, has an interesting story to tell if you take the time to ask the right questions.”