McGuinness: The power of great sports journalism
Andrew McGuinness | Wednesday, March 22, 2023
The music had faded. My parents had been called. Some 1,100 miles away, more champagne than any college student could fathom was about to be sprayed. The moment that had been 4,014 days in the making had already happened. But there was still one more thing I needed to see for it all to sink in.
Then, my phone buzzed. I half-walked, half-floated out of my room, and plopped down on the dated but cushy couch in the second floor TV lounge of Siegfried Hall. A couple of frantic clicks later, and there it was. A few simple lines of text, comprised of 13 beautiful words, staring back at me in big, white, Times New Roman letters.
“The Phillies’ postseason drought is over: Here’s to the memories, and the names.”
The headline hardly seemed real. And that is what made it so great. What followed the headline — and Matt Gelb’s byline — was 1,247 words of pure nostalgia and bliss. For years and years and years (over a decade at that point), all I wanted from the team that defined my childhood was something other than sadness at the end of the regular season. When the final out landed in Brandon Marsh’s glove in shallow center field to seal a postseason bid on their third to last game, it felt like I was once again nine years old — the age I was the last time the Phillies had clinched.
Reading Gelb’s article, on the other hand, felt like a slow motion roller coaster ride through not just the last 11 years of Phillies baseball, but my life. Whenever he referenced a scarring loss or a forgotten player’s name, it conjured memories of other Phillies debacles — and even a couple of triumphs — associated with them. But it also brought plenty of other memories to the surface.
There were anecdotes that happened around the time my two best friends moved away in middle school. A player’s name that took me back to pre-class conversations with one of my teachers during the darkest days of the team’s rebuild. Another that reminded me of the high school English class where I met a couple of my now best friends. Ones that took me back to the days of COVID-19 and the whirlwind that was getting into my dream school a week after the world stopped and going through one of the most unique years in the history of, well, the world. Things and people I had not thought about in years I suddenly recalled in vivid detail with remarkable fondness.
It was all so sweet and exactly what I hoped it would be. Until the ending. The last paragraph was merely two sentences. It barely reached a second line.
It might be the most powerful thing I have ever read.
“This was for enjoying the ride. This was for everyone who suffered, who laughed and who believed in something better.”
Reading it hit me like a ton of bricks. It stuck with me the next day, the day after and throughout the Phillies’ underdog run to the World Series. It still sticks with me today, but it is hard to explain why. Maybe all of this is stupid. In fact, it probably is. But there is something so simple and pure about those words: universal and specific to the moment all at once.
When you ask someone, “What is at the heart of sports journalism?,” you might get a few different answers. Some people might focus on the games themselves — previews, recaps, film breakdowns, those sorts of things. They are undoubtedly a core piece of the industry. Others might first focus on the people at the heart of these moments, and with good reason. Telling someone else’s story is one of the most important things any journalist can do. And as students at the University of Notre Dame, we at The Observer have a unique, up-front perspective that allows us to do that as well as anyone.
But to me, the best articles I have read, play-by-play calls I have heard and podcasts I have listened to are all so special because of the feelings I associate with them. Great sports journalism, whether through a microphone or on a deadline, can amplify the specialness of fans’ most cherished moments. They tug at your heartstrings and bring deep feelings to the surface with a pull that should not seem as dramatic for something achieved merely by reading, but is.
A Gelb quote from a different article of his sums up half of this: “There are certain feelings that can never be replicated and that is why they occupy a special place.” Yes, that is true. But there are certain ways to at least recreate the magic of a buzzer-beater or a field storming or the end of a drought that seemed to last forever. And lucky for all of us, a well-written article is one of them. There is just something special about journalism at its peak. It doesn’t just tell you someone’s story, but brings it to life. It tells stories that need to be told, even the difficult ones — no, especially the difficult ones.
As I prepare to begin my term as Sports Editor of The Observer, that type of content is fully on my mind. Of course, we will still have all the same offerings we did before, covering our tri-campus athletics wherever they may travel and however long their seasons may go. Everyone here has done a wonderful job with that. More importantly (if merely in my humble opinion), we have also produced the type of content that is powerful enough to stick with readers after the final whistle.
There are a lot of things I hope will happen over the next year. Some probably will. Some probably will not. And there will undoubtedly be a lot that I and the rest of the new Editorial Board do not see coming. But by building off the incredible work of those before us and our fervor for sports and the people that play them, I hope we will be able to tap into that special feeling reserved for those few, treasured moments. Only time will tell where the ride takes us. But I hope that you stick around and enjoy it with us.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.