Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2000: Don't wear sunscreen.
If I could offer only one tip as you embark on a career in sports journalism, that would be it. Instead, get so sunburned at your first spring training that several players address you derisively as " Chief Wahoo." It's a valuable early lesson, or was for me: You're not here to be the athletes' friend, and they're certainly not here to be yours.
"Sportswriters just want to be accepted as one of the guys," former CBA coach Charlie Rosen said. "I always tell my players, Call any reporter by his first name, and he'll eat out of your hand." Sports-writers should eat out of nobody's hands but their own. Even that should be done sparingly. Soup-contrary to what I have witnessed in the press lounge at Three Rivers Stadium—should never be eaten from one's hands. The same goes for spaghetti.
Act human. Better yet, be human. Tell the readers everything they know, but don't tell them everything you know. Take some secrets to the grave—or no farther, at least, than the corner bar. Never cite, to justify a story, "the public's right to know." The public's right to know is just a self-righteous phrase to mask the journalist's need to tell. Show some restraint.
But not too much. If a relief pitcher says race-baiting things to your tape recorder, write them. Save the hate mail you get in response, so your children will know what ignorance—and appalling sentence structure—looks like.
Some of you will become TV sports anchors. When an athlete is killed by a drunken driver speeding the wrong way on a divided highway, resist looking into the camera and saying (with mock Dan Rather gravity) of that athlete, "He was not wearing a seat belt." He was not wearing a condom or a nicotine patch or number 30 sunscreen, either. But he didn't deserve to die—and doesn't deserve, on the 11 o'clock news, to be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. Nobody wants a homily on safe living in the five minutes between the weather and David Letterman.
Some of you will go into sports-writing. If so, value the second half of that word more than the first. Any dink can give you the score, but it takes someone acquainted with the existence of books—Red Smith, Jim Murray—to reduce a reader to tears. Or laughter. Or both.
Speaking of which: Reduce a reader to tears. Or laughter. Or both. Good sports stories are full of emotions, and it's your job to convey them. Don't be afraid—and here I paraphrase Lisa Simpson—to pump the reader so full of sap he'll be blowing his nose with a pancake. Nobody likes a full-time cynic. If that's what you are, buy a baseball team.
Keep your childlike sense of wonder. Also, keep your childlike sense of appropriate business attire and your childlike sense of proper nutrition. Just yesterday, while on the job, I consumed an ice cream sundae from an inverted plastic batting helmet (game-worn, to judge by the taste). Know how lucky you are not to be working for a living. Never mention this fact when asking for a raise.
More important than your inner child is an outer child. Have one. If nothing else, he or she will allow you to pre-board airplanes.