When it comes to teams, what can and can’t a sports journalist do? Can he or she accept a gift from the booster club? Partake in the hospitality room before the game and get a free meal? Wear a team’s logo while at a game or in the newsroom?
A journalist is supposed to be impartial, covering each game as honestly, accurately and spin-free as possible. But when it comes to accepting gifts, there’s no hard line after which a journalist is considered officially compromised.
As a reporter, I’ve eaten my fair share of free meals on various teams’ dimes — a phenomenon widespread at both the collegiate and professional levels. And I’ve been given a couple of team T-shirts and hats, which I refuse to wear while working but have no problem wearing outside of work.
I’m also one of the only people in my newsroom who never wears his black McAlester News-Capital shirt, which has our logo on the back but a gold buffalo, the McAlester mascot, on the front. So far, I don’t think anything I’ve done has compromised my integrity nor led me to dishonestly report a story.
But now I face a new dilemma: pickup Ultimate games.
By now just about everyone ought to know Ultimate (a.k.a. Ultimate Frisbee) is really the only sport I play well, and it’s certainly the sport about which I’m most passionate. For about three months I’ve been playing with a group of (mostly) adults in Quinton, but last week I discovered a group of players in McAlester who play pickup games multiple times a week.
Some of these players are on McAlester sports teams and are kids I’ve written about. I haven’t yet written about them playing Ultimate — though I might at some future point — and I kind of think making them more comfortable with me will make it easier to interview them later.
I might have to hear it from one of them if I write something negative, but one of my bowling teammates sent me a very angry email six months ago, and we get along fine now. Were I to write something disparaging about a player, I might get yelled at (or possibly kicked out) at an Ultimate game, but I don’t consider that a big enough risk to justify avoiding a game I dearly love.
I’ve learned that the more you write about a team, the faster you can change the story and get people talking about something other than a bad article. But I could be wrong.
So how about, readers? Do you think I’m compromising myself? What should I do?
While you ponder that, here’s everything I wrote last week.