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Sports

Ward: Sports should be less serious and funnier

| Wednesday, February 17, 2021

I’ve only legitimately been writing about sports in this paper for around two and a half years now. But I’ve loved sports for a long time, and they have always seemed to have had a presence in my life. Not to get soppy in the wake of Valentine’s Day, but no matter what stage of life I was in, sports always seemed to be a constant companion. 

Whether it was rooting for my Colts on Sundays, heading to cross country practice and then playing in a rec league basketball game during the winters in high school, sports were always there. I’ve only been asking coaches and athletes questions in a journalistic manner for a short time, though. It has really broadened my views on sports and has sometimes yielded some rather awkward and funny moments. 

I admittedly have no memory of my first encounter with a real athlete at all. The year was 1999. I was still a baby and my parents had moved in with my grandparents while our house was being built. My mom was pushing me around in a stroller outside when she saw a tall man jogging past. I guess the man was jogging at such a steady pace that my mom was able to get a good enough look at the guy to decide that she recognized him, and she decided to chase him down so he could sign my Colts hat. She was correct in her assumption that the man running was Peyton Manning. I might vaguely remember sitting in a stroller when I was a child, and all those memories seem to blur together. But as a huge sports fan, this was a major milestone in my young sports life. 

One of my favorite hobbies when I was younger was collecting sports items or memorabilia. It got pretty bad to the point where I was actually causing damage to our house. My mom would offer me the sports section of the newspaper, and I would take it up to my room with a pair of scissors and tape and cut out all the pictures I deemed worthy enough of earning a spot on my wall. The paint on the wall was starting to chip and my parents weren’t thrilled about my antics. So I started saving money to buy NFL trading cards. Don’t ask me why I chose football cards over the more traditional baseball cards, but it might have had something to do with the sweet pigskin-styled binder of which I had found myself in possession. 

Now you might be starting to wonder why I’m waning on about just my sports experiences. Well, slowly I have come to the realization that sometimes sports, like anything else in life, can produce some terrific gaffs, moments that might be miserably awkward and tense in the moment, but can be looked back on with a smile and a laugh.

The next encounter I had with a big sports figure was with Brad Stevens before he would lose a nail biter of a National Championship game with Butler in 2010. I remember this encounter much better. I got a photo with him and stuck around for a bit when a small group of reporters started to gather where we were standing. I remember one of the reporters asking a rather strange question. The reporter asked Coach Stevens about a moment during a game when he had supposedly had no Black players on the court. This question kind of surprised me, and looking back I can see how strange of a question this was, but I admired how Coach Stevens handled it. He seemed to respond exactly the way I was thinking at the moment and brushed it off like that shouldn’t be something people should be drawing their attention to. It was simply a moment during a game when he had coincidentally made substitutions to have all white players on the court.  

Some people aren’t able to handle unusual interactions with the press as well. That brings me to my most recent, and probably my favorite sports story. Over the summer, a golf club in my hometown was hosting a celebrity charity event. My friends and I were hoping to catch a glimpse of a local sports celebrity, like Pacers play-by-play announcer Chris Denari. Some names caught our eyes more than others, one being former college football phenom and Heisman trophy winner, Johnny Manziel. 

My friends and I rather stupidly missed Manziel’s group as they rolled by. No other group we saw would have had the courage to roll up to the green blaring country music and ashing their cigarettes on the green as they bent over to mark their balls. When we finally realized it was indeed Johnny Manziel’s group, they were already teeing off on the next hole. We decided to grab a football to toss around with him and in the process of saying hello again, we completely glossed over another notable sports figure. Nick Sirianni, who was the Colts offensive coordinator at the time, was in the group behind Manziel, and he decided to pull up to greet him when he had the opportunity after we paused his play. 

When one of his playing partners pointed him out, we were quick to remind him of his beastly offensive line that he could run behind. My friends and I were high off of another great draft class by Chris Ballard and Frank Reich that we had to overzealously ask him about rookie running back Jonathan Taylor. Even this rather simple question about what he thought of the player seemed to throw Sirianni off guard and he said that he would need to get a better look at Taylor before putting him in any specific role. 

This little story was at the forefront of my mind when I saw Sirianni start to get grilled online after his debut press conference as the Eagles head coach. I started to look back on that moment with a smile when I remembered that I, too, was able to get an NFL coach to crack with a question. So when somebody asks you a question that makes you a little uncomfortable or you accidentally do the same to someone else in the process, don’t worry about it too much because it will probably be looked back on with a chuckle. 

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