The Business of Sports Reporting
by Jerry Azar
Bloomberg Information Radio

"What is it like to cover a professional sports team?" That's one of the questions you get most when you are a sportscasters or sports writer. So. What is it like to cover a professional locker room? Well, in some instances, not much fun. Post-game settings are often a war zone, a minefield of bruised egos who have undergone rejection, dejection and in some cases, ejection. And after all that, they have to answer the who, what, where, why and how it all happened. This while many are half naked and exhausted.

It's part of the turf of professional athletes. Interviews are part of the game, part of the process. The sports triangle has always been the players, fans and media, even though the pay scale of one totally dwarfs the other two. The press of media is there to get the scoop, the story and quotes so that the fans not present can "read all about it." What you do see and read in the finished product of post-game interviews and one-on-ones, are edited and watered down, if you will, for time constraints and content. While many of the quotes are not gems, for equal time, neither are some of the questions.

Some players talk to the media, a few don't. Some who do talk don't say anything, giving you a kaleidoscope of cliches just to fill the time. They don't want to blow you off, but again they don't want to say anything meaningful or controversial. And the sad part of this process is that many teams are coached on how to do this.

Obviously, it's safer to go into a locker room after a victory. The atmosphere is more upbeat, and the stories and players are more accessible. However, after a bitter loss, watch it. There is a funeral-like dirge around the cubicles. The wrong question or follow-up can set off fireworks. On some occasions, violence is in the air.

Players feel bad enough about a dropped pass. or a strikeout and then they have to relive it in front of hot lights, microphones under their noses and people hanging on their every word. But it is a two-way street. They may not like your take on a story or report, questioning your abilities like you questioned them about the botched play. I guess the feeling is mutual.

One of the most tension-filled locker rooms was the Yankees' under Billy Martin in the early 1980's. At that time, Billy and the Yankees outlawed television cameras inside unless you had permission. With all that was going on back then, they could deny any incident or quote, but if it was on tape, there was evidence. It was a battle to get a camera in back then. Even on July 4th, 1983, after Dave Righetti pitched a no-hitter, special permission was needed to come into the clubhouse.

A dangerous locker room? The Mets of 1993, with swinging golf clubs, bleach showers, firecrackers and Bobby Bonilla giving you a Sonny Liston stare down and offering to show you the Bronx.

A depressed locker room? How about the Buffalo Bills. Losing one Super Bowl is bad enough, but to instant replay it four times gave it a Rod Serling Twilight Zonesque feeling. It was like the Bill Murray Groundhog Day movie, trapped in a time warp, only this time with no happy ending. Or how about covering Game Six of the 1986 World Series, the Red Sox being one strike away from the World Championship. The plastic was hanging over the lockers to protect them from the Champagne. Then Mookie Wilson's ground ball, which triggered the joke: How do you get to Logan airport? Go up Storrow Drive, through the Sumner Tunnel then right through Bill Buckner's's legs and you're there.

As for the art of the interview, sometimes you can't win. I knew a player who wouldn't talk to the media, then complained he didn't get any publicity or commercial endorsements. To answer the original question: What is it like to cover a pro locker room covered with towels, tape, two kinds of jocks, wires, cameras, pressurized deadlines and adversarial relationships abounding? Well... it beats getting a real job.

©1999 American Sportscasters Association, Inc.