I grew up a sports fanatic.
My parents still tell tales of how as a toddler in my birthplace of Chicago, I would watch televised football games with steely intensity. While donning a diaper and food-stained shirt, I would imitate the action in the instant “earplays,” as I called them, all with high-stepping and bouncing off of furniture to simulate broken tackles.
At age 8 and while living in Oakland, I received a football dice board game that I played endlessly for years. I’d play out entire 14-game seasons for the 28 NFL teams and even track individual statistical leaders. I must repeat that this was on a dice game. (I also had the vibrating electric football game but didn’t like it much because the little men wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do.)
I did the same with the Mattel electronic football, baseball and basketball games, pretending that the little blips on the screen were players like Tony Dorsett or Walter Payton, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird. My parents thought I was nuts. When I wasn’t outside playing sports with my friends, I was inside playing imaginary sports by myself. It was one thing for me to play the games — most of my friends did — but to have stacks of paper in my room with imaginary statistical data certainly made them wonder.
It didn’t stop there. By age 12, now living in Portland with my dad or in Arizona with my mother, I began keeping my own stat sheets while watching major sporting events, especially NBA playoff games. One year, while parked in front of the television screen with my self-made stat sheets, my mom asked me why I kept my own stats when the commentators provided throughout the game already. I replied that it was fun and it forced me to pay closer attention to the game. I then innocently wondered if there was a job out there that paid people to watch sports and keep statistics.
My mom scoffed at the notion, but I knew that someone had to be keeping statistics somewhere … right?
What I did know for sure was that I wasn’t going to play in the MLB (my diamond career ended in Little League when I got beaned and could no longer stand in the batter’s box without bailing) or in the NBA (I got cut as a sophomore at Grant High School in Portland) or the NFL (I made it to the small college ranks at Portland State and Pacific U.).
But I had to have a career that revolved around sports. My parents rarely, if ever, enjoyed the jobs they had at any period of my childhood. They always seemed to hold them out of necessity, not out of passion for the work. This reality sparked my biggest fear: having to get up every morning to go do something that I didn’t really want to do only because I had to in order to pay the bills.
What I discovered instead was sports journalism, where I would get paid to watch sports, report about it and — a mega-bonus for this argumentative and opinionated person — offer my analysis.
I realized this dream at The Oregonian, where I began putting together one of the more wide-ranging backgrounds for any sports reporter in the nation. (Yeah, I said it). I spent seven years being forced to cover news: crime, courts (homicides and murder trials included), education and city and county government — all of it kicking and screaming. Then I finally moved to sports, where I covered every prep sport imaginable, college football, basketball and soccer, professional indoor lacrosse, minor-league baseball, NFL, MLB — and I’ve dabbled a bit in the NBA.
My journey has provided me with the opportunity to cover four Super Bowls, including Seattle’s most recent two appearances, a Final Four, many, many bowl games, including a couple of national title game losses for Oregon. I believe I’m the only person alive — outside of maybe a few employees at the University of Oregon — to have witnessed all 41 of Marcus Mariota’s college games.
Along the way, I broke some stories — including the suspension of UO receiver Darren Carrington for the 2015 BCS National Championship Game, the firing of Ducks coach Mark Helfrich and the hiring of current coach Mario Cristobal — but even more rewarding was getting to know players and coaches, and their families and friends, while working on long-form features. Some can prove to be sad, like the backstory of former Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla. Others are more triumphant, like the rise of Seattle rookie safety Marquise Blair. The most fun I’ve probably ever had reporting a story was for a series of articles and an Emmy Award-nominated documentary on former Oregon coach Willie Taggart’s journey from Palmetto, Fla., to becoming the coach at Oregon.
As much as I didn’t enjoy covering news at The Oregonian, I have found the positives in the experiences gained during those formative years. As a news reporter, I learned the value of remaining objective, diligent and honest while reporting on or analyzing any situation or event. When I cover academic issues regarding a college team, I put on my education reporter’s hat. When an athlete is in trouble with the law, I view the situation from the perspective of a crime reporter, always contemplating different angles because I’ve covered many cases that were flipped upside down based on new information that comes through reporting. In the social media era, many choose to readily venture down the irresponsible path of expressing instant outrage without forethought. Unfortunately, many journalists are forced to do the same in the quest for the clickable headline.
So off I go on my third big adventure in this business: Covering the Seattle Seahawks and Oregon Ducks for The Athletic. Change can sometimes be difficult, but just as it was with my move from The Oregonian to NBC Sports Northwest, I couldn’t be more excited about this new path.
I’ll get to cover my favorite sport in my favorite league and do so alongside Michael-Shawn Dugar, a bright, young journalist I got to know last season. And I’ll still spend some time covering the program I’m most familiar with while working with Tyson Alger (who somehow survived having me as a mentor when he interned at The Oregonian in 2010).
I’m looking forward to juggling both endeavors while trying to help capture the ups and downs of both teams through features, analysis, opinion pieces and news.
I looked at both teams’ schedules the other day and realized that I’ll likely attend about 25 football games this season, from Eugene to Seattle to Cleveland to Atlanta and more. On one hand, that seems like a lot. But for that little boy inside me who loves watching, covering and simply being around football, I couldn’t ask for a better lot in life.
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