I’ve been in the sports journalism field for about 15 years now and I’ve had the good fortune of being able to interview some of the best athletes in the world during that time.
Some were simply a few questions in the locker room, some were rapid-fire questions in front of dozens of other reporters in a press conference format, others were of the one-on-one variety and others were handled over the phone. But no matter the type of interaction I was afforded, I always got a little more excited on a day of an interview than I would for any other.
Through the years I’ve been lucky enough to interview: Brett Favre, Mike Ditka, Deacon Jones, Ken Griffey Jr., Tony Hawk, Mario Andretti, Rollie Massimino, Michael Vick, Barry Bonds, Julius Erving and Jerome Bettis. Some of them were accommodating and genuine and some others, not so much. I won’t get into the specifics on who falls into which category, but let’s just say some of the guys exceeded my expectations while several others had been correctly profiled as arrogant, self-absorbed athletes. Alright, since I know you’re dying to know which guys are which, Jones, Bettis, Erving, Hawk, Massimino and Vick were all money, while Favre, Ditka, Griffey Jr. and Bonds (who knew, right?) were all chump change.
I realized early on that shattered expectations and tarnished images would be the norm in this business. I quickly understood that today’s athletes get paid far too much and get hounded far too often to do anything other than basically tolerate the working media. The hope that a star athlete would sit down for an interview with a nobody reporter like myself and we’d hit it off and it would lead to an actual friendship doesn’t seem as believable as it once did. Sure, it could still happen but I don’t see myself clubbing with LeBron anytime soon and those type of dreams seem infinitely farther away now than they did during my Journalism 101 days in college when I first conjured them up.
Despite being the cynical creature the profession and my limited experiences have molded me into, every once in a while I revert back to my early days in the business and remember why I so desperately wanted to become a sports writer in the first place. Not to go clubbing with LeBron, not to hit the links with Tiger and not to play catch with Favre. The reason behind choosing this particular career path was hoping to somehow manage to ask the right questions, break down the walls of today’s athletes, get to know the real people behind the barriers and ultimately share that experience with other fans. As any reporter will attest to, the premise is easier said than done. The best in the business are able to penetrate those barriers on a regular basis while us minor-league guys are still waiting for a breakthrough.
I added Cal Ripken to my interview list recently. Seemed like the genuine article most believe him to be. He was classy, respectful, insightful, polite and intelligent. My interaction with the Hall of Famer was brief and far shorter than I had hoped for. I likely didn’t unearth any startling revelations, no profound breakthroughs were made and I doubt our conversation will lead to a day at the ballpark together anytime soon. But in a world where athletes continue to shatter our dreams and burst our bubbles with actions unbecoming of a villain much less our beloved heroes, it’s nice to know that some of the protagonists we admire truly fit the role.
The interview with Ripken will appear in the September issue of Tuff Stuff’s Sports Collectors Monthly. Check it out and see for yourself.
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