High school sports may have the most passionate fans on the planet, and that’s not idle hyperbole; the absolute best advice I can offer new reporters sitting on press row of a state championship basketball game is ‘bring earplugs’. I have never attended any game – not the Final Four, not the NBA – where the crowds are more deafening.
High school basketball during the playoffs flaunts and audience that is a rare beast, because invariably, the games are played on neutral courts, and one side of the arena will be filled with fans from one of the participating teams while the other side is loaded with opposing fans.
The crowd noise rises as the game is played out on the court, until finally, when the clock is down to less than a minute or two and a state title is on the line, both sides of fandom are in a rabid frenzy; you cannot hear yourself think, nor can you speak to anyone around you. All you can hear is thousands of screaming voices at full volume. The first state title I attended, when it was over, I walked to my car and sat in silence for at least 10 minutes, my ears ringing.
It’s in those moments which truly illustrates the difference of being in the press box versus attending a game as a fan. If you look away from the screaming fans in any arena, in any game, the press row will be almost entirely silent, sitting calmly as the world explodes around them.
Allow me to elaborate.
How To Handle Yourself In The Press Box
If you are a new reporter or scout, the first thing you must understand is that you are not sitting on press row to root for a team or a player or help out the referees when they get a call incorrect (which they will do). You are there as an impartial observer, to chronicle the game as it actually unfolds.
I can always spot the “new guys,” especially in today’s reality, which is that new sports blogs and websites spring up all of the time. But fear not – I can help you avoid looking like an amateur and I can certainly help you avoid getting kicked off of press row. What follows is a quick list of how to handle yourself in the press box.
Rookie mistake #1 – Cheering
I alluded to this earlier, but you aren’t sitting on press row to root for your favorite team. Sure, the guy next to you might lean over and say quietly “that was a crap call,” but you won’t see reporters or scouts openly rooting for teams very often.
Part of this is because, as I said, you are there to be an objective observer. But there’s something else; if you cover any sport for very long, you may still love it but you will have to attend a lot of games where you have no vested interest in the outcome. You know those games on television in which two teams you don’t care about are playing, so you switch over to see what’s on HBO? Yeah, well, imagine you were sitting on press row for that game. It won’t be hard not to root for anybody, except you and the other reporters will be rooting against overtime.
Rookie mistake #2 – “Helping” the referees
I’ve seen guys on press row try to keep their own stat count, which is not a problem. But then trying to flag down a ref when there is a player in the game who has fouled out by their count is absolutely an issue.
Just because you are sitting 5 feet from the court doesn’t make you part of the game. Stay out of it. This is also a good way to get your press credential request rejected in the future.
Rookie mistake #3- Being loud or obnoxious on press row
Sit down, shut up and do your job. If you really take a look at press row, you will see a line of guys working – some writing on notepads, some typing on laptops, some even on their tablets or phones. But they are all working.
I sat next to a blogger at one basketball game, where whenever the ball came to our side of the court with a pass, he’d scream “Good Lord!” as he obviously expected the ball to bean one of us. Here’s the deal; the ball will come off of the court at some point and someone on press row will have to deflect it or toss it to the ref. It’s no big deal. It’s just a basketball. We just knock the ball back and go back to work. I would have to say that I’ve never been at a basketball game where the ball didn’t come to press row at least once; but I also have yet to see a reporter get clocked because he wasn’t paying attention. Fans get clocked; reporters are ready.
Rookie mistake #4 – Not showing professionalism
Depending on the game, you might suddenly find yourself sitting next to someone famous. I’ve had John Calipari, Roy Williams, Thad Matta, Jim Boeheim and scores of college basketball players or even NBA guys plop down in a seat next to me. Sometimes they speak, sometimes they don’t, sometimes I already know them, sometimes I don’t.
But I just treat them the way I would anyone else on press row – we’re all professionals here.
Being a pro means standing and showing respect during the national anthem, and it means sitting where you are supposed to sit unless you’ve worked out something with other press row members. It means if the venue provides lunch, you don’t rush back and cut in line. It means politely asking for stats and if you can carry back other copies of stats for reporters around you, why not?
Remember, this is part of your workplace, and while for fans it’s an exciting event, for you, it’s work – even if you love your work.
Don’t Be A Rookie In The Press Box
If you avoid making these rookie mistakes, you will not only look like a seasoned veteran in the press box or on press row, you’ll achieve the most important part of being a sideline journalist, which is to be thought of as professional enough to be invited back. This is something Former New York Times Editor Tom Jolly knows something about.
True professionalism still goes a long way! While there’s no guarantee of getting media credentials, follow these guidelines to help ensure that once you’re on press row, you’ll establish yourself for years to come.