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Does it matter if sportswriters played the game?

“We are inclined to think that if we watch a football game or a baseball game, we have taken part in it”

- John F. Kennedy

Texas high school football - Lone Star Gridiron played it, lived it, love it!

When sportswriters criticize an athlete, one of the first thing that comes back from the offended players is, "try being me" or "all you do is sit on the couch - what do you know?"  Can someone who hasn't fought those battles have anything worthwhile to say?  Is there some merit to the belief that if you played the game, you have a better understanding and thus, are a more credible source when writing about it?

As a sportswriter, I think it comes down to what you are writing.  I mean, if you're reporting scores or compiling schedules, no experience is necessary.  Even when you are just repeating a quote from a coach or player - there is very little that having "walked a mile in his shoes" can add.    But what about the questions you ask?  You can certainly ask things like, "Coach, what was your plan coming out in the second half?" or "Lynx, how does it feel to know your team has scored more points in a season than any in history?"  There is no credibility gap in this type of sports coverage.

When writers jump on the opinion bandwagons touting things like "two-a-days is barbaric and should be outlawed" or "player A is not working hard," view that with a skeptical eye.  If they never suited up in 100 degree weather and ran wind sprints in two-a-days and never played a 16 game season followed by spring football and  7 on 7, their opinion isn't worth much on those subjects.  There was a reason George Washington became our first president.  It wasn't because he watched from Valley Forge and wrote his opinion - its because he LIVED IT!

Unquestionably, it helps to have experience in the field you are covering.  Whether you are former combat veteran writing about war or a former high school football player writing about the game, you have a better grasp of the situation than someone who's only involvement with their subject comes from Xbox, Playstation or a journalism class.  That said, game experience alone is NOT enough to make you a good writer.  Those journalism classes come in pretty handy in that respect.

In summation, don't condemn the sportswriters covering Texas high school football that never played a snap in a real game.  They have talents and experience in other areas that certainly have helped them achieve their current success.  I count many of them as great friends and defend to the end their right to talk about anything that interests them, or their publisher.  They will go off on some subjects that are better covered with relevant experience and they will make valid arguments for their opinions - many of which I agree with completely.   Just remember that opinions are like asses - everyone has one, and if I want to know something about any subject, I will put more value on the opinion of the guy that has done it.  What are your thoughts?

by Chris Doelle
Lone Star Gridiron
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