At last month’s USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson came into the mixed zone and said, “I’m coming to speak, not on just my behalf, but on all athletes’ behalf, that when you guys do interviews, y’all should respect athletes more. Y’all should understand them, coming from whether they’re winning, whether they’re losing, whatever the case may be, athletes deserve way more respect than when y’all just come and throw cameras into their faces.
“Understand how an athlete operates and then ask your questions. Then be more understanding of the fact that they are still human, no matter just to the fact that y’all are just trying to get something to put out in an article to make a dollar.”
I’ll try and keep my response simple. First, if my primary concern was money, I wouldn’t be a journalist. With the exception of a few high profile columnists, this isn’t what you’d call a lucrative profession.
Second, I won’t dispute that there are some rude and thoughtless reporters, but they are small in number. Most reporters want to tell an honest story. Sometimes, the moment is a great victory and sometimes it’s a bitter loss. Our job is to capture the moment—often that’s what gets people interested in following a sport or its athletes. If we sugarcoat our questions, we are not telling the stories of the athletes, thus doing them a disservice.
Third, it’s not a reporter’s job to celebrate when you’re winning and handhold when you’re losing. Competition is an athlete’s job, and truthful coverage is a journalist’s job.
Recently, a former WNBA player told me she always appreciated how I saw the players’ humanity. If that’s what Richardson wants, I’m happy to give it, but in return I deserve mutual respect. I don’t believe she speaks for all athletes, but it’s not the first time I’ve heard an elite athlete say reporters are callous people just out to make a buck. We too have a craft we practice and pour our hearts into. A good journalist asks and a champion answers the hard questions.
All this said, I do owe one person an apology. Back in my early days of covering the WNBA, Sheri Sam of the Miami Sol shed tears while graciously answering questions after a playoff loss. My instinct was to offer her tissues, but I didn’t for fear of being seen as unprofessional. I’ve always regretted that.