Four words you never thought you’d see together?
Try these: “print journalism” and “boot camp.”
Twenty-three former and current NFL players took part in “The NFL Sports Journalism and Communications Boot Camp” at Bowling Green State University in Ohio last week. Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson was one of them and for three days, he basically lived the life of a print journalist, except for the Marriott points and the $4 million he will earn over the next two years, of course.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” Henderson said. “It’s long days. We hit it pretty hard last Tuesday, so you knew you were in a boot camp.”
As part of the program, Henderson and the pack of jackals, er, “journalists” conducted mock interviews with Bowling Green football coach Dave Clawson and Toledo Mud Hens General Manager Joe Napoli. They wrote a news story off their interview with Napoli and covered a Mud Hens home game. They had two hours to write a column on one of five topics they had to choose from. Then they had to condense the column into a two-minute opinion piece for radio.
First, the interviews. How’d that go, Erin?
“We prepared the questions for [Clawson] the night before,” Henderson said. “I started out asking him about spring ball and recruiting and what a player could expect from him as a head coach.”
“I snuck in a question about a possible quarterback controversy because they got more than one out here who has a chance,” Henderson said. “I asked him, point blank, who the starting quarterback is going to be. He kind of chuckled and ignored me.”
Been there, done that, big fella.
Sports and tragedy
Henderson was one of only three NFL players under contract to take part in the boot camp. Four former Vikings — Ralph Brown, Byron Chamberlain, Denard Walker and Ellis Wyms — also participated, as did former NFL linebacker Jay Foreman of Eden Prairie.
The instructors included Associated Press NFL writer Barry Wilner, longtime Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Steelers reporter Ed Bouchette, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and former NFL-players-turned-journalists Solomon Wilcots (CBS, NFL Network) and Matt Bowen (Chicago Tribune).
Now, about that column, Erin?
“There were topics like, ‘Is Chip Kelly going to be a success in the NFL?’ but I wanted to choose something that would take me out of my comfort zone,” Henderson said. “So I chose the topic, ‘Should we discontinue sporting events after tragic events like the Boston Marathon bombing?’ ”
“I didn’t feel we should cancel anything,” Henderson said. “As tragic as that was, you can’t give the people who commit terrorist attacks any more power over us than they already have. Going on with sporting events sends a message that no matter what happens, we’re always going to get back up.”
Henderson had two hours to write that in 500 to 800 words.
“I was good,” he said. “By the end of the two hours, I was just going back over and changing just a few words here and there. I was the first one out of the room. But I am kind of a genius, though.”
The other side
Henderson also has a better appreciation for the ink-stained wretches working night games or first rounds of NFL drafts on strict deadlines.
“That stuff does put a little bit of stress on you all, doesn’t it?” Henderson asked. “There’s no time and you still have to turn your work in. That’s tough. Maybe I’ll be nicer to you guys in the future.”
Henderson’s chances of taking a print journalism job are roughly the same as a print journalist landing a linebacker job in the NFL. But Henderson, who earned a degree in communications at Maryland, believes last week’s experience would be helpful to the many athletes who choose to go into TV journalism. “What I learned is everything is based off of print journalism,” he said. “The writing, the outlines, the preparation. There’s a lot more that goes on besides just sitting in front of a teleprompter.”
Last week convinced Henderson to restart his blog “50 Free Pep Talks.” Apparently, it also pushed him to give even better answers than he typically does.
Asked at the end of an interview what he thinks will happen at middle linebacker for the Vikings, Henderson didn’t flinch. Despite coach Leslie Frazier’s hesitancy over discussing the possibility of Henderson moving from weakside linebacker to the gaping hole in the middle, Henderson said: “I’m going to be the starting middle linebacker. There’s no question. That’s where I belong.”