This is not a complaint. It’s flattering that (some) people think this is an interesting job. I agree — otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it. And I’m almost always happy to talk about sports or the job.
The inevitable questions that come from working in the Star Tribune sports department are these two: 1) Do you know Sid Hartman? 2) Does being a sports writer mean you get to go to all the games?
The answers: yes, everyone knows Sid. I love listening to his stories, I don’t mind when he badgers me about the Internet and I grudgingly handed over a dollar after losing a bet about whether Adrian Peterson would play for the Vikings in 2015 (should have waited a couple of years, right?).
Do I get to go to all the games? Well, I do have a press pass for virtually every local team. That generally grants me access to any regular-season game for the Vikings, Twins, Wild, Wolves, Lynx, United, Gophers, etc. With just a dash of advance planning, like an e-mail to a public relations employee of each team, it means I will have a seat saved in the press area.
I bring this up now because of the convergence of the recently completed holiday season — which tends to bring with it a lot of questions about my job from extended family — and a strange scene that apparently played out in the home press box of the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
In case you missed it, an Eagles employee ejected the beat writer from the Philadelphia Inquirer in the midst of Sunday’s game. There is a pretty good rundown of what happened here. From what one can gather from that description, the writer was kicked out for “violating the fan code of conduct.”
Now: One of the most fundamental rules of the press box is that there is no cheering. This is pretty obvious when you think of the roles of the reporters, columnists and other staffers in the press box. We are not there rooting for either team. (What are we rooting for? I’ll try to answer that a little later). We are there to document what is happening and distill it for an audience.
This creates a bizarre, sterilized quality about watching a game in the press box. Imagine watching a game in which there are thousands of screaming fans around you, but your little bubble is behaving more like you’re taking a final exam. Or imagine all your neighbors are watching the game on TV with the sound cranked up, but yours is on mute. (If someone does cheer in the press box, they probably aren’t really members of the working media and shouldn’t be there. If you’re a chiropractor, try hanging out in a press box and documenting all the cases of whiplash from media members when they quickly turn to find the dreaded source of cheering).
What tends to happen — outside of snarky banter between writers — is that during the handful of exceptional or important plays in every game, there is some sort of reaction from the press. It’s not cheering. It’s not disappointment. It’s like a split-second of a loud gasp, followed by the grinding of mental gears as we all figure out (particularly if there is a deadline) how the twist will become part of the story.
This is not a wholesale complaint, obviously. Most media members (myself included) understand there is a great amount of privilege in being granted access to all these games and being able to count going to a game and writing about it as “work.” And 99.9 percent of the time, the interactions in the press box are positive (or at least businesslike and routine).
Also: the moments can still become memorable. Covering Game 163 in 2009 from the Metrodome press box, for instance, doesn’t change how great the game was. But you experience a game in such a different way than you do as a “fan” — which almost all of us were long before we were media members. In the press box, with no team to cheer for, you end up rooting for the story. The more drama, the better.
This type of reaction seems to have been what started the whole mess in Philadelphia (not cheering). Media members were debating a big penalty during Sunday’s game. An Eagles PR member told them they were being too loud. A discussion/argument ensued. After that, it’s a tale of two sides — writers saying it was an overreaction, Eagles employees saying they were justified.
Whatever really happened, it was a weird scene in the press box — which is already one of the world’s weirdest places to watch a game.