The Competition of the Former Athlete Turned Analyst and Sports Journalist

More than a year removed from earning my degree in journalism, I’m realizing how truly difficult it is to get my feet wet in the real world. My aim, in particular, is to get a job covering sports. Now I realize that you don’t get handed the sports beat for your favorite team, right after they hand you your diploma, but I also didn’t think it would be quite this hard to break into the field altogether.

I should preface this all by saying that I have a pretty extensive knowledge of sports. I fell in love with the sports world when I was in third grade, and it’s been a non-stop affair ever since. I couldn’t tell you the amount of hours I’ve spent watching games, reading articles, and digesting analysis across a platform of networks. I’m confident that I could hold my own in a conversation with anyone regarding any of the major sports.

It’s my love of sports that led me to pursue a degree in journalism. I know that I would thrive positioned in a sports career. I’ve had success at every job I’ve ever held, and those jobs held no importance with me at all. And yet I feel like I’ve been trying to squeeze water out of a rock in regards to breaking into the field. Maybe I’m being impatient, or maybe I’m doing something wrong, but I’m left looking for someone to blame.

And because of that, I’m placing the blame squarely on the “former athlete turned analyst” (some sarcasm). Look around at sports network employees from ESPN to Fox Sports to even the local sports affiliate stations, former professional and college athletes are dominating a lot of the most coveted positions in the field. For example, ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown show consists of six main panelists, four of whom are former NFL players, and one a former NFL coach. College Gameday, my personal favorite pregame show, consists of five main members, and only one of them is not a former player. I could repeat so many examples of this practice, but if you’re a sports fan, you don’t need me to, because you see it all the time.

Now I’m not trying to knock the former players by any means, because I think some of them are actually very insightful and entertaining. They’ve obviously played the game at a high level, and know what goes on behind the scenes because they’ve lived it. But at the same time there are droves of young men and women earning degrees at the end of every semester vying for these coveted positions. We’ve accumulated thousands of dollars in debt and spent years in classrooms learning and mastering the craft of being journalists, meanwhile the most sought after positions are being handed to former athletes. The same athletes who got full scholarships to go to school, the same athletes who either have, or at least, had the opportunity to earn millions of dollars by playing professional sports.

I’m not completely naïve, I know that in the grand scheme of things there a lot more sports writers in the world that never played professional sports. However, it’s hard not to feel a little jaded when I flip through my ‘favorite ‘channel list and see former player after former player living my dream. What makes Brock Huard more qualified to discuss college football than me? The guy played in college for the Washington Huskies, and washed out of the NFL in a half a decade, with only 109-career pass attempts. I’m not trying to diminish anyone’s accomplishments, I just wonder why networks insist on giving a majority of their analyst positions to former players.

I know that I just sound bitter because I haven’t gotten the break I’ve been wanting so badly, but this is something I’ve was pondering before I even went to college. I’ve seen countless analysts who have made me wonder, “this is the best they could get?”

I think that it speaks to a bigger issue in today’s society. The issue I’m referring to is the American obsession with celebrities. Everywhere you look today from magazines, tabloids, TV shows, and even the news celebrities are everywhere. Kids can more easily identify the likes of Beyonce and Justin Bieber than any historical figure or government official. The sports analyst profession has become much the same, in that people want to see familiar faces. They want to hear names they’re familiar with, and that has continued to fuel the fire.

People are more likely to listen and believe something if someone in the public spotlight says it. It makes me recall the Pizza Hut commercial with country singer Blake Shelton, where he says something along the lines of “you know it’s true cause I’m saying it, and I’m a celebrity,” in an attempt to push a new pizza. That commercial is a perfect example of how the American people think, and it’s a dangerous cycle.

But I digress, it is simply my hope to see more of the regular, average college graduates get a fair shot at their dreams. Just because someone has played a sport at a high level, doesn’t mean they’re more qualified than someone who didn’t and vice versa. I just want everyone to have a shot. It’s easy to say that the world will never be fair, it’s easy to accept things the way that they are, and do nothing to try and change them because the task seems so daunting. But it is my belief that you have to start somewhere, and like many professional athletes have learned, if you want something bad enough, you’ll work for it and get it. I know I’ll get there someday, because I won’t stop until I do.

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