I have been in the sports writing business for 40 years and I’m in my 37th of covering McPherson and the surrounding area. All-in-all, I cover eight high schools and three colleges, which means I never have a shortage of copy.
I’ve seen and heard of just about everything during that time, with the good fortunately far outweighing the bad. I’m probably one of the oldest sports writers in Kansas, as it’s become a young man’s game. Thank goodness people like Bob Davidson of Salina, Bob Lutz of Wichita and Rick Peterson of Topeka are still around or I’d really feel like an old fogey as many times I’m covering events with sports writers who are less than half my age.
I’ve been fortunate enough to not incur the wrath of too many of my followers as I’ve always tried to concentrate on the positive in writing about high school athletes and not tear down kids. They are doing their best and that’s all you can ask.
During my newspaper days, I would sometimes receive unsigned letters objecting to my coverage, being it favoring one kid too much or being too negative after a team loses. It hasn’t happened as much recently, so maybe I’m mellowing in my advancing years.
I always thought unsigned letters were so childish and cowardly. We are guaranteed free speech under the Constitution and I respect anyone’s opinion, no matter if I agree with them or not. For whatever reason though, some people try to make their point under the cloak of secrecy. To me, it’s kind of like sneaking up on a person and hitting them from behind. If you truly believe in your convictions, stand up and be held accountable. I would much rather have a person tell me to my face their dissatisfaction rather than somebody trying to sneakily make their point. I would have much more respect for the former than the latter.
I bring all this up because recently in the Southeast Kansas town of Parsons, which is familiar to me since I grew up in Independence and the Vikings were in our league, a sports writer named Sean Frye came under fire. I don’t know the man, but since he’s a sports writer, he’s kind of like a fraternity brother. If I ever needed some information about Parsons sports, I would contact him and if he needed info on the Bullpups, I would hope he’d contact me. Sharing information is commonplace in towns our size.
During a football game last month against Pittsburg, Frye was tweeting during the game, something that I don’t do or have any desire to do. His tweet was this:
“Vikings snap on a punt nearly goes over Cody Stephens’ head. Instead he gets it off and it’s downed at the Parsons 30. Pitt ball.”
That was it. Seemingly harmless, right?
Apparently the mother of the unnamed player who snapped the ball went after Frye following the game. To add insult to injury, the player’s father was an assistant coach for the Vikings. He reportedly said (and it was backed up by an eyewitness), “I will end you. Do you understand me?” He reportedly went on to say “I will destroy you” and “Let’s take care of this over there.”
Eventually the matter was settled. The assistant coach, as expected, lost his job. Frye, who I’m guessing could have pressed charges for terroristic threat but didn’t, received an apology from the school’s administration. The school has put into policy, however, that Frye is no longer allowed to interview players, which I have no problem with. I know in McPherson, we have coaches who cringe over the thought of their players being interviewed as they’re worried they’ll say the wrong thing that might be bulletin board material for the other side. How many film clips have you seen on TV where the athlete is so wired right after the game that he or she doesn’t make a whole lot of sense? I think sometimes they’re being put in a bad position to comment as they’re trying to come down emotionally.
I’m fortunate to have such a great working relationship with all my coaches. I only have had one coach in 37 years in McPherson (very early on) that really didn’t respect how I did my job and he was gone after one semester anyway. You have to build trust with your coaches. You trust them and they’ll trust you. If they say something is off the record, it’s off the record. It will never show up in one of my stories. If there’s something they haven’t liked in a story, they’ll let me know one-on-one. And I respect that and if I’ve gone over the line, I’ll do my best not to do it again.
In this age of social media, it’s become more common for coaches to be the target of somebody’s wrath. Facebook posts or Tweets can really be damaging and there’s no place for it. If a parent has a problem with a coach, it should be taken up behind closed doors. Same thing for a sports writer. I stayed away from Facebook as long as I could before I realized it could be a way to get my stories to a wider audience. Heck, I didn’t even have a cell phone until two years ago and I very seldom text unless it’s necessary. Texting for me is all about information.
Sports writing, while fun, is not an easy business. Judging by our burgeoning numbers on our website, I am writing to a large audience and of course, my stories can be accessed throughout the country with the click of a mouse. I know there are times when it seems like one kid gets more publicity than another, but you tell the story as it happens. If a kid played a major role in the outcome, it will be noted as such.
I can’t imagine how I’d react if somebody in McPherson or the surrounding area ever physically threatened me like Sean Frye was in Parsons. My first reaction would be to feel sorry for that person because these are GAMES, people. What happens on a Tuesday or Friday night isn’t going to determine what an athlete’s occupation later in life is going to be or the person they become.
Bottom line, people should be careful about social media. You never know who is going to see it or who is going to get hurt. I bet the kid whose parents confronted the sports writer is feeling pretty embarrassed right now. He’s going to be known as the kid “whose parents went after the sports writer.” I’m sure he’d like to be known for something other than that.
I’ve always said that sports writing is not a job for me, it’s fun. If it ever becomes a job, like being threatened, then I know it’s time to get out.