My First (Paid) Sports Gig: A Memoir

John McCloryAnalyst IJuly 5, 2008

Post-college life is anticlimactic, that's for sure. How cruel is it that college life is comprised of complete freedom, total relaxation, and just as much—or as little—responsibility as you had in elementary school?

Here's why this is such a cruel twist of fate:

The "real world," as it's so commonly referred to by condescending older folk, is the exact opposite of everything you knew during your college years.

So, the idea as I understand it, is to fill the void in any way possible. Rather, don't just fill the void, but make sure the void overflows like a neglected bathtub at full pressure.

Specifically, follow "that adult's" advice.

You know, the one that looms over you and maps out your future piece by piece. (Note: I only say adult because age twenty-three feels nothing close to official adulthood, even though it legally is and then some). No, not the adult that spews the "real world" comment in your face, forget him/her. I'm talking about the one that gives you the "do what you love" advice.

See, they're onto something. Although the advice is vague and possibly easier said than done, it makes perfect sense.

"Do what you love."

So, essentially, I shouldn't do what I don't love? Gotcha.

I've always had a deep interest in the sports world. Hell, I had a deep interest in it before the notion of morphing it into a job became a possibility. Basically, I had spent a significant portion of my life living and breathing sports and now—post-college—I wasn't going to place something sports-related in my "Jobs I Might Thoroughly Enjoy" file?

The opportunity arose when a friend of mine notified me of a possible opening in the Orange County area where I reside. Put simply, he works for the parent company (I think) of the company that opened in my neck of the woods, if that makes sense.

My friend said that one of the things his company does is cover local soccer games of all levels. The company branched out to O.C. to do the same, and that's where I would come in. So, he provided me with the email of the editor, and I was on my way to possibly do some freelance journalism.

(Admittedly, soccer is not my sport of choice. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy it to an extent, but I can think of at least three or four sports I would prefer to cover instead. My entire encyclopedia of soccer knowledge consists of a few English Premier League games and last year's World Cup. Oh, and I caught a couple of those Euro '08 games as well. Spain won, right? But gotta start somewhere, as they say.)

Anyway, I shoot the editor an email, complete with just the right amount of schmoozing, and sit and wait.

About a month later, I was still waiting. By this time, I was assuming that receiving a response was a long shot and perhaps there wasn't a need at the moment.

Just when I had lost hope and began to move on to other things (nothing), I received an email. It had been so long since I inquired about the position that the email address appeared unfamiliar and a tad suspicious. Was this another rip-off offer from the good people at the Dell headquarters in India?

Upon putting two and two together, I promptly answered and I was given the general rundown of freelancing and hired on the spot. After a few meaningless pages of paperwork that seemed longer than the Declaration of Independence, I received my first official assignment.

The assignment entailed covering a semi-pro women's match, West Coast FC vs. San Diego WFC. The match would take place at a local high school and the editor provided me with some key information.

From what I can recall, the two most important pieces of info were:

1.) I will not be required to pay for parking since I'm with the "press." As far as I know, I was the only "press" there, but I'm not complaining. Thanks for the free parking, monopoly man.

2.) I am to speak with West Coast FC's coach, whose name now escapes me. I think it was Coach McElroy, or something like that. Anyway, find McElroy and maybe get a few postgame quotes for my soon-to-be award-winning article.

Being my first day on the job and all, I arrived about a half-hour early. I awkwardly explained to the parking attendant that I was with the press. This likely would've been a problem with anyone else, but luckily the attendant didn't seem to be up to date on the English language.

So, I parked for free in the end and only managed to confuse one person.

As I strolled down to the field from the lot, I noticed a small crowd was already gathered. A girl's soccer game was in progress and I became paranoid that the game already began without a key member of the press. Was I going to have to inject some good, old-fashioned B.S. into my first article?

Nope, false alarm.

I had stumbled across a high school game at the end of the second half. This was a high school, after all. Plus, I was ridiculously early.

In case you're wondering, I came equipped with the usual sports journalist paraphernalia: pen, notepad, camera (big bonus if I snap a decent picture), and an unusually long attention span.

I decided to leave my tape recorder behind and jot down postgame quotes by hand. Of course, I anticipated difficulty reading the notes when it came time to write, but I was prepared to squint and appear illiterate.  

The pregame festivities consisted of a pre-recorded national anthem with no words (the scent of patriotism was in the air) and the starting lineups, delivered by an announcer who made Stephen Hawking sound eloquent.

The game was soon underway and the bleachers had filled in nicely. It soon became apparent that I was inadvertently sitting amongst the San Diego cheering section.

Referring to these people as the "cheering section" is a lofty compliment, considering the only words they spoke were to the kid who repeatedly offered them candy for a dollar, to which they declined several times (come on, one friggin' dollar for some peanut M&M's! Keep the kid off the streets!).

By the way, parents always seem to be hesitant to bring their young children to something that might be long and boring. Well, not the family sitting behind me. They schlepped their entire offspring with them, and it became apparent that I had chosen the worst possible seating section.

The gist is that one of these snotty adolescent, no-good kids wanted to go do something more fun elsewhere, and the Mother of the Year wasn't having it. So, the harsh words flew back and forth and presumably ended with a silent car ride home.

Isn't this how the relationships between Lohan and Spears and their mothers got started? Just shut the hell up, both of you. Stop the bickering before mother goes gold digging and daughter decides snorting coke off a toilet seat in a sleazy Hollywood nightclub might be a fun option.

To make matters worse, I unknowingly picked the creepiest guy to sit next to. Like, Hannibal Lecter creepy. At first I thought he was with a local publication, until I regrettably asked. Turns out he wasn't, and he just enjoyed taking pictures of the players. Did I mention each team had about a dozen good-looking girls?

And that's not even the creepiest part. He knew everything—repeat, everything—about both teams and individual players. Upon discovering this, I decided keeping my distance might be to my advantage. I've seen way too much Dateline NBC to trust this guy.

The game itself, on the other hand, featured some exceptional athletes. San Diego's best player (last name was Zhang I think) was the captain of the Chinese national team supposedly. I have to say, she was one of these girls who appeared a little on the, um, man-ish side, and she imposed her will for the most part.

Remember Danny Almonte from the Little League World Series a few years back? That was Zhang. I felt obligated to request some identification and perform a thorough background check after the game.

Something wasn't adding up with this girl. She had some crazy skills and stood out like a sore thumb. I don't think she spoke a word of English, and, at times, she appeared disgusted with the play of her teammates, as if they weren't up to her level. She made the Williams sisters look dainty in comparison.

Regardless, West Coast FC blanked Team Zhang, 2-0 in the end. It had come time for my first journalism interview and I had to make sure this McElroy character didn't skip out without me snatching a few quotes.  

It would've helped a great deal if I knew what the mysterious McElroy looked like in the first place. Even worse, I didn't know if I was looking for a man or woman. Should I aimlessly shout the name McElroy at the top of my lungs and hope someone answers?

Eventually I worked up the nerve to approach one of West Coast's coaches, who looked and acted like a head coach would. She had just finished giving her squad a pep talk and was all smiles after the win. This had to be McElroy because there was clearly no other coach in sight. Now would be my window of opportunity.

"Hi, Coach McElroy?"

Upon the name McElroy hitting her eardrum, her smile was wiped away from her face.

"Who? McElroy?"

"Yeah, are you Coach McElroy? Head Coach?"  

"Umm, no. There's no McElroy here. Maybe that's a coach for the other team."  

Off to a great start. Turned out this woman was the goalkeeper coach and McElroy was completely non-existent. Boy, am I glad my editor made a point of instructing me to talk to the imaginary Coach McElroy. Thanks a bunch.

The slightly insulted goalkeeper coach was kind enough to give me a few quotes on the game and also provided her real name, which was helpful. I got some info and additional quotes from San Diego's coach and that was that.  

The final article was chopped down to size and posted on the company's website. They felt my paparazzi skills were decent enough and made use of my Sports-Illustrated worthy, action shot (it sucked).

I was promptly told by my editor, via email, that the final draft was, "VERY short" and to stretch it out in the future.

Sure thing. I felt like answering with, "And if you could get your friggin' names right in the future, you'd be doing me a favor," but I held back in order to keep my job.

Suddenly, the post-college life seems welcoming, as I found something that I could grow to love. The first outing was rough around the edges, but I guess that's the "real world," right? Can't say for sure if I'll still have this gig in a month or two. Certainly, if anyone mentioned in this memoir reads it I might not.

Working—and making a comfortable living—in sports is not easy, and I don't think I expected it to be. Turning a beloved hobby, like writing about sports, into a paid job is pretty ideal, and the opportunities are out there.

My first sports journalism experience could be the start of something great or the end of something that was never meant to be.  But hey, at least I got free parking out of it.


    Iconic Sports Illustrated Writer Deford Dies at Age 78

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    Iconic Sports Illustrated Writer Deford Dies at Age 78

    Tyler Conway
    via Bleacher Report