Wick Communications

Conduct unbecoming

In Ethics on 25 Mar 2011 at 8:26 am

Earlier this year a guy named Trevor Bayne won a car race causing another guy named Tom Bowles to wreck his career.

Bayne is the talented NASCAR driver who became the youngest driver ever to win the Daytona 500. Bowles is himself a young guy, a budding sports reporter who made the mistake of cheering in the press box when Bayne crossed the finish line. Acting like a fan in the press box is an acknowledged no-no and has been for as long as anyone can remember. Despite breaking the spoken and unspoken rules, Bowles was incredulous … and I think he has a right to be. After all, it was his very fandom that SI.com coveted.

Bowles was a journalism graduate who was blogging for the racing fan site frontstretch.com when SI.com – Sports Illustrated, for crying out loud – came calling. The iconic sports magazine offered Bowles a job covering the sport he loved and Bowles was in stock car heaven…

When word got back to SI HQ about Bowles’ behavior in the press box, editors there were shocked – shocked! – that the kid acted like the fan that they knew he was when they hired him.

Bowles was wrong to cheer in the press box. SI.com was wrong-er to have hired him in the first place. No one hires a city government reporter because she is a fan of the city government. You don’t hire an editorial writer because he is the mayor’s speechwriter. Some conflicts should be obvious.

If you are a Wick sportswriter, please don’t cheer for the home team in the press box. It’s OK to wish the team well, to write glowing columns about local players, to engage in a little “homerism” from time to time. Sports are supposed to be fun. But I ask that you act like a professional at the events.

I know, I know. Clay, you old fogie, no one’s really objective. What’s wrong with letting everyone know how you really feel?

Well, since you asked:

You are supposed to be working. The extraordinary access given to sportswriters requires a certain decorum.

Readers have a right to expect you to tell the truth, not a truth filtered through the fan’s rose-colored lens. Some of Bowles’ readers weren’t rooting for the No. 21 Ford the day it roared to victory.

If you openly root for one team, how are you supposed to interview the other team members? Can team B expect fair coverage when you just spilled your popcorn jumping up and down on press row cheering for team A?

Sportswriting is a profession. Treat it that way.


  1. Clay,

    Since my career began in sports, I know exactly what you are saying. I always looked at reporting sports, whether in the pressbox or on the sidelines, as the fact that I was there representing the newspaper and Wick Communications. I know several of my friends and relatives who have become exasperated with me because I do not show emotion when reporting on sports. Neither should the SI reported have cheered. Recently, I have had the good fortune of filling in for sports when we have had a full slate of events. As well, my alma mater has won several state championships in the past six years. Though I was filled with excitement on the inside, the fact that “my” team was winning never showed on the outside. That’s the way it should be, I feel. At one of the events, a reporter from another newspaper was cheering for her team, along with yelling at officials. When she asked my opinion, I simply said, “That’s the official’s call and that’s how I will report it.”

  2. Thanks, Larry. I think that’s the right policy.

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