A lot of people think that sportswriters have no hearts. Hell, some — many? — probably don’t. I’d say that my heart has been as much of a detriment to me over the years as an asset and it’s also made me realize, though it took a hell of a long time, that frankly I’m a crappy reporter because I DON’T like tackling “the hard stuff.”
Many years ago, early in my career, my editor read a feature that ran in a newspaper elsewhere in our state about an individual who had just recently joined our “local sports community” the day before. To say that this young man had gone through experiences as a teenager that no one should ever have to go through at any time in their life would be an understatement.
Needless to say, when my editor read the story, I was assigned to interview this young man the next day and also write a feature about him. I understood I needed to do this, but sitting down with him (no less, the first time I’d even MET him) and asking him to talk about what he’d gone through was one of the most harrowing experiences of my own career (though child’s play compared to what he’d been through himself).
Writing it was tough, as well. I focused as much as I could on his athletic accomplishments and prowess, and what he had done with his life in the few years since, but told his story … or let him tell it.
I am still in touch with him to this day … and one day I apologized to him for having asked him that day to rehash everything yet again (unprofessional as that may sound).
I can’t remember his exact words, but he said basically that from the moment we started talking he could see in my eyes how much I was hurting with him and for him and that meant a lot to him.