Writing about sports for money

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The Cid
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Writing about sports for money

Post by The Cid » Thu Aug 18, 2016 2:56 pm

Or: "Mamas, don't let yer babies grow up to write columns"

So this March I made the decision to try and pursue sportswriting as a real career. Two things spurred this decision on: First, I've come far enough as a video editor that I can charge a true video editor's hourly rate for it, which means I can make enough money to pay my bills and then some in limited part time work. Also, I had already been writing for a website that is far more organized and serious than anyone who's published my stuff in the past. One of our people got picked up by ESPN around the same time, which was what alerted me to the opportunity I have right now. She was then replaced by a longtime newspaper guy who suddenly found himself without a paper. So this is a serious company, unlike some fly-by-nights I've found myself with in the past.

I am the national baseball writer for Sports Talk Florida. Here's the most recent thing I've written, weekly power rankings. The piece I'm most proud of thus far is this one about Hall of Fame induction weekend. There is a podcast in the works as well.

There are plenty of pros and cons to this career decision. On the "pro" side, it's a damn cool thing to say you do for a living. There have been a couple of times this year when I've been on a golf course, answered "sports columnist" when someone asks what I do for a living, and ended up getting a beer for just telling people what I think of the Red Sox this year. Also, the word "columnist" kind of matters to me, as most of my own favorite writers have held that title over the years.

Of course, it's also a job that I have to supplement with video editing to keep the lights on. Also, having a high view of a number of columnists means I've set the bar so high for myself that I'm never going to clear it.

The big difficulty, of course, is being noticed. Three things make this tough:

1: Everybody and their grandmother's horse can start a blog, and in the umbrella topic of "sports" there is a lot of such noise. So everything you write early on is just a drop of water in a sea.

2: Certain places on the internet that claim to champion the little content provider trying to make it, such as a certain massive website that drives a lot of traffic to anyone linked within, actually have little time for anyone who's not a celebrity or already on a well-known site. When I go to reddit with a column, I do so begging permission with shaking knees. "Please, sizable community devoted to baseball in which I actively participate, allow me to provide you with more baseball-related content." This is not a feeling I enjoy.

3: Forget the above paragraph, because this entire profession is about Twitter now. At least, people move upward in the field because they succeed on Twitter. Yes, a writer still has to be "good" (whatever that means, and in my opinion it is not up for the writer to say) and getting a website a spike or two in traffic is always good for business, but Twitter is in many ways the true metric of success. I am still very much a novice to that world, exacerbated by the fact that I am a longform writer trying to spout out thoughts in 140 characters.

See, there's a funny paradox here. I write longform in large part because there's not that much of it out there. You can find hundreds of takes in under 800 words, but far fewer that go long, giving me a much better chance of reaching that audience than the blogger-oriented "hot take" crowd. Unfortunately, that also puts me at a disadvantage on Twitter, which is all about brevity.

My strategy to combat this will be oriented in networking. The old-school kind, not the newfangled social stuff really, though Twitter will of course be involved. With a podcast upcoming and a company that has some long-established writers, I can start to develop relationships with people who have their own followings. That, in theory, would leave everything in the hands of my work.

Really the long and the short of it is, I've done this for years as a sort of advanced hobby. I have the opportunity to pursue it much more heavily now, and I've opted to take that opportunity rather than do the safer and presumably smarter thing. I have to know. I'm excited and ecstatic for the opportunity to find out.
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Hirschof wrote:I'm waiting for day you people start thinking with portals.

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Re: Writing about sports for money

Post by Deacon » Thu Aug 18, 2016 6:34 pm

Wow, that's an interesting set of choices and the background behind them. While I grew up reading voraciously, I never did so reading about sports. I didn't know sports that well. I played basketball, but I was never a student of the game, never had access to the people back in my formative years to learn from. I watched football sometimes (Cowboys) because my dad did, but I never read about them and never really knew the game that well. I got into hockey a little because a friend of mine grew up in Detroit, could skate before he could walk, and was all about it. But I never read about it. These days I enjoy F1, NASCAR, and soccer (especially international play), but again I don't read about them. I got lucky when the only pro ball game I'd ever been to was when I watched from the stands as a 5th grader in Arlington as Nolan Ryan pitched his 7th no-hitter. It was electric, incredible, insane. But I never really played or was all that interested in baseball. And I definitely never read any columns about it.

But I hear the reverence with which some people seem to discuss certain sports writers who've been influential to them. And Ray Romano played a sports writer in his sitcom. I know it's a thing, and it's something important to some people, but as an outsider it's hard for me to relate.
The follies which a man regrets the most in his life are those which he didn't commit when he had the opportunity. - Helen Rowland, A Guide to Men, 1922

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Re: Writing about sports for money

Post by The Cid » Thu Aug 18, 2016 7:18 pm

Deacon wrote:But I hear the reverence with which some people seem to discuss certain sports writers who've been influential to them.
Well I should take this opportunity to point out that "sportswriter" is a term you would use to describe the late Hunter S. Thompson. His best work has nothing to do with sports, but he also put together sports columns all the way up until the end. Also, when I personally talk about many of my favorite writers being columnists, a lot of those columnists aren't sportswriters. Mike Royko wasn't (though he had some thoughts on the Cubs), Dave Barry isn't, I'm not sure I'd call Chuck Klosterman a sportswriter.

Grantland Rice is the writer that most people who cover sports wish to be, an old legend from a time gone by. Death of a Racehorse by W.C. Heinz is a classic sports piece that is still powerful all these years later. Baseball people like myself all wish we could be a tenth as good as Peter Gammons. These days, Bill Simmons sets the standard for a lot of people, and he opened the door for those who aren't old newspaper guys or former athletes to give interesting opinions on sports.

For those of us trying to make it from nowhere on the internet, the people to look up to in that regard are rarely sports guys. Simmons of course, but there's also Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation fame, Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade, Nate Silver (okay, he's a Sabermetrician, so he's a sports thought leader, that's kind of cheating), some of the older Cracked writers. These are all people whose writings and other work I enjoy very much, and they're all examples of people who made it to various heights while starting out at a keyboard in some otherwise empty room somewhere.
Deacon wrote:I know it's a thing, and it's something important to some people, but as an outsider it's hard for me to relate.

To me the fact that sports are decidedly not important are why I would rather break down their minutia and play to people who hold importance over it. See, I believe we're all wired with an "us vs them" mentality that is one hundred percent useless in most walks of modern society. I don't think we need to take that mentality into things that matter, like politics or interpersonal relationships or anything else where we usually end up picking sides and getting entrenched. We have, quite literally, hundreds and hundreds of teams the world over for you to choose, in any sport you'd like. I get into sports because, for three hours a night, the team the Red Sox are playing can be the Bad Guy that is ruining everything, and I can get that energy out, and then the game ends and I go on with real life.

Even if my real life is now analyzing sports. I'd rather take that mentality out there than, say, at the voting booth.
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Re: Writing about sports for money

Post by Deacon » Thu Aug 18, 2016 7:33 pm

If you don't hate the other side you're unamerican.
The follies which a man regrets the most in his life are those which he didn't commit when he had the opportunity. - Helen Rowland, A Guide to Men, 1922

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Re: Writing about sports for money

Post by The Cid » Thu Aug 18, 2016 7:46 pm

If people insist on treating politics like a team sport then I should be able to tailgate outside my polling place this November.
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Re: Writing about sports for money

Post by Deacon » Thu Aug 18, 2016 8:27 pm

I agree! Woo! Fights in the parking lot!
The follies which a man regrets the most in his life are those which he didn't commit when he had the opportunity. - Helen Rowland, A Guide to Men, 1922

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Re: Writing about sports for money

Post by The Cid » Thu Aug 18, 2016 8:57 pm

Seriously though, people who take real life events with the same Us and Them mentality as sports fans are insane to me. So many sides to pick that are fun to argue over and some people choose the ones that matter, despite having about as much control over that as I do over the decisions of John Farrell.

If we all need to pick a side, pick a sports team. Hell, lots of sports out there, pick teams in all of them if it helps. Or pick DC or Marvel, or Kirk/Picard, or Star Trek/Star Wars, or console/PC, or Nintendo/Sony/Microsoft, or any other meaningless "argument" that people have for fun. It's where that energy is supposed to go.

Discuss important stuff. Argue meaningless stuff. And while we're at it, if you are going to argue meaningless stuff and that meaningless stuff is something I write about, feel free to use my talking points. Yes, sports are silly and the energy we devote to rooting for teams is even sillier. If it's how we're wired though, as I believe, better sports than politics or work or gossip or religion.

But what would some crazy sports fan know?
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Hirschof wrote:I'm waiting for day you people start thinking with portals.

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Re: Writing about sports for money

Post by Deacon » Thu Aug 18, 2016 11:04 pm

Some would suggest it's the same thing, underneath, that the us v them aspect we enjoy in sports applies equally well to politics (and religion and whatever else for that matter). So sports wouldn't be a purging catharsis that allows us to approach other us v them areas more reasonably but instead are simply another part of the same picture.
The follies which a man regrets the most in his life are those which he didn't commit when he had the opportunity. - Helen Rowland, A Guide to Men, 1922

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Re: Writing about sports for money

Post by raptor9k » Fri Aug 19, 2016 1:59 pm

Maybe that's why I've found so little interest in both sports and politics. I enjoyed playing sports as a child but I can't grok spending huge chunks of your life watching others do so, especially, given the often irrational rivalries between teams and the stupidity bred from them. I vaguely follow politics because it directly effects my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

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Re: Writing about sports for money

Post by The Cid » Fri Aug 19, 2016 2:28 pm

Yes, it's stupid and irrational energy. It's stupid and irrational no matter where you let it out, so to me you pick your camp of choice in some walk of entertainment and let it out there so it doesn't get in the way of things that actually matter. It's counterproductive in the real world, but it's the very thing we have sports (or any number of other things you can have fun with in this way) for. That energy has to go somewhere.
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Re: Writing about sports for money

Post by NorthernComfort » Sun Aug 21, 2016 5:50 am

Congratulations on getting paid for writing what you want to write about! That's living the dream buddy. I'll follow along for sure. Stay true to longform format.

Team rivalry is silly but natural. I'm a Braves fan. (RIP Bobby Cox) ... Not a good season for me. But I know I will stay true, even if it takes decades for them to become competitive again.

And I hold these truths close to heart:

F the Yankees,
F the Red Sox,
F Philly the hardest.
The Mets are only acceptable when playing the Yankees (or playing as insanely well as they did last year, if they keep it up...). Otherwise, they are annoying Mets fans.
It's fun watching the yankees fans melt away lately though. I feast on their tears. (and you know what, a HUGE fuck you to A-rod while I'm at it, he's a total piece of shit.)

My favorite "sports" piece of all time:
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2 ... n-man.html
"I guess I have a gift for expressing pedestrian tastes. In a way, it's kind of depressing." -Bill Watterson

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