SALT LAKE CITY — Most of my clothes went out of fashion 15 years ago. I don’t wear a man bun, for more reasons than one. And I still think brown shoes with a navy suit is a terrible look.
But that’s not why I’m totally out of style.
It’s that I won't be cheering my heart out for Northwestern when it plays its second-round NCAA Tournament game on Saturday against Gonzaga. There are two reasons for this. First, I wasn’t smart or rich enough to get into Northwestern. And second, I still have the notion that cheering from press gallery is uncool.
The subject of journalistic objectivity arose this week after the Wildcats made their first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament. This brought a wave of support from a number of America’s best-known sports journalists, who graduated from NU’s famed Medill School of Journalism. Among them: Michael Wilbon, Christine Brennan, J.A. Adande and Kevin Blackistone.
Adande has been a writer at the Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, Los Angeles Times and ESPN.com. Blackistone has been at the Dallas Morning News and Washington Post. Wilbon, a former Post writer, is a co-host of ESPN’s popular “Pardon the Interruption.” Brennan is an award-winning columnist for USA Today and commentator for ABC, CNN and PBS.
All are widely respected in the profession.
None has been accused of cheering for teams they cover. But since this is Northwestern, all have decided it’s OK to go ahead and celebrate the team’s historic season. They’ve been taking pictures of themselves wearing NU gear and whooping it up.
On Sunday Wilbon showed up on Twitter wearing a Northwestern ball cap and holding a purple T-shirt that said, "Chicago is Dancin'." That was before the Wildcats beat Vanderbilt in a nutty finish on Thursday. Other social media sites have shown the aforementioned journalists posing together in Northwestern attire.
I blame all this line crossing on Bill Simmons. The former ESPN star was among the first to marry journalism and fandom. As a lifelong Boston Celtics fan, his argument was you can fairly cover a team you cheer. For most of my career, calling a sports writer a “fan” was the worst possible insult.
One problem I have with cheering for anybody’s team is that I know the team isn’t cheering for me. I have yet to hear an athlete or coach profess love for any news organization. Pro athletes and coaches regularly disparage reporters. I’ve heard obscenities muttered as I walked into a locker room, not to mention the time an NBA player started calling media members “flies.”
We’re cheering for them?
I understand fondness for a school that provides a basis for professional success. But a university’s sports teams and its academic pursuits are different things. I have no problem with Adande being the head of Northwestern’s revered sports journalism program, or that Blackistone is an instructor at the University of Maryland’s Merrill College of Journalism. The Miami Herald’s Michelle Kaufman teaches sports reporting at the University of Miami. Wilbon is a trustee at Northwestern.
All are doing a service for the universities and their students. (By way of full disclosure, I teach sports reporting at the University of Utah.) But teaching at a school has nothing to do with cheering for its basketball team, and everything to do with cheering for the students.
“Part of it is that the landscape has changed so much in that it is acceptable and allowable for sports writers to reveal their rooting interest,” Adande told the Chicago Tribune.
Wilbon told the Tribune, "Students at Medill have asked me if I consider myself a journalist the same way I did 20 years ago, and the answer is no. I am certainly part of media and I have no problem putting on my reporting hat, making calls, but most days that's not what my job is or calls for."
Meanwhile, there are online journalists who actually cheer at games they’re covering, having landed jobs working for fan blogs. What next, membership in the booster club?
I’ve always been more interested in an outcome that will help meet my deadline. Still, I know I’m out of step. But for now I’ll stick with my old suits, a half-inch of cuff showing at the wrist, with a break in the trousers at the ankle. The only thing I plan on cheering at a game will be the arrival of cookies in the press box. Goooooo, Mrs. Fields!