By Kate Casey
Since baseball was conceived, the time from the crack of the bat to the time you learn about it has dwindled down to almost a single second. Thanks to the growing internet platform and social media takeover for sports reporting, those who make a career out of it, such as sports reporter John Feinstein, have had to adapt to rapid changes.
Feinstein turned to journalism after finishing his swimming career at Duke University.
“I was a failed jock, basically,” Feinstein said.
Feinstein began his career as an intern at The Washington Post, where he still works today. After being hired straight out of his initial internship 40 years ago, Feinstein became a metro reporter, working under Bob Woodward for about five years. He then took up a position as the national college football and basketball reporter for the Post.
“If they had offered me a job sweeping the floors, I’d have probably taken it,” Feinstein said about working at the Post.
When Feinstein was offered the opportunity to cover sports for the Post, he said Woodward, his boss at the time (and the leading journalist in covering the Watergate scandal), told him he would never be impactful if he switched back to reporting sports. Feinstein reflected on the day he made his decision: he’d just sat in his car for 10 minutes in his driveway, listening to the end of a hockey game.
“When I got out of the car, I said, ‘What the hell were you just doing?’” Feinstein said. “I had an epiphany, and I said, ‘If you’re that crazy that you’d sit there listening to an end of a November hockey game, you should be a sports writer.”
Since 1986, Feinstein has written 35 books, primarily sports related, with 23 of them on the New York Times best sellers list, including two No. 1 bestsellers: “A Good Walk Spoiled” and “A Season on the Brink.” Despite leaving the political journalism world, Feinstein said he feels it is important for young writers to write about more than just sports if they hope to pursue sports writing as a career.
“Politics and sports have been intertwined forever,” he said. “After the whole thing with Trump and the NFL, when people were saying ‘stick to sports,’ because I disagreed with Trump, I said, ‘why don’t you tell Trump to stick to politics and stay out of sports.’”
Rachel Hirschheimer, a sophomore reporter for The Left Bench at this university, said she has already seen how apparent politics are in the sports world. She reflected on a soccer game she covered in October, where she watched a young ball boy take a knee, paralleling the recent NFL protests.
“No one really made a big deal of it, but for a little kid to kneel and engage in a political statement was a big deal to me,” the broadcast journalism major said. “Politics are a big part of everyone’s life regardless, but sports are almost equally as influential on our country, and it’s interesting to see it become an outlet for political expression.”
Feinstein shows the interlocking of politics and sports in his coverage of the Army-Navy football game in his 1995 book “A Civil War: Army vs. Navy,” where he follows members of both teams throughout the season leading up to the legendary game.
Sophomore sports communications and political science double major at Marist College, Lily Caffrey-Levine said the connection between sports and politics stems from the influence social media has had on both fields. With both political and sports figures being pressured to tweet about the conflict between the NFL and the White House, the two have become intertwined according to Caffrey-Levine.
“In terms of content, I think sports journalism has become more about sports and our culture,” Caffrey-Levine, a Boston Sports Museum assistant, said. “With twitter and blogs it is also much more interactive because anyone can put their take on things out there as well, which adds another dynamic too, which can be good – but also comes with its problems, like people saying things that are untrue or harmful.”
Along with the “explosion of technology,” Feinstein says it is easier for sports reporters to criticize athletes than when he first started reporting.
“A lot of guys who are on sports talk radio have never been inside a locker room,” Feinstein said. “They sit there and lob bombs at people who they never have to face. My whole thing as a reporter has been: if you criticize someone in a specific story, you better be there to face them the next day and let them have their say.”
Feinstein holds integrity within his field as critically important.
“The lack of responsibility today in the media bothers me immensely, especially with the use of anonymous sources,” Feinstein said. “If you’re going to take a shot at someone, you’re going to do it on the record.”