Ian Rapoport is a New England Patriots beat reporter, who has been with the Boston Herald for about 2 and a half years. Before the Herald, Rapoport covered coach Nick Saban and Alabama for The Birmingham News. He has also covered Mississippi State for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
Why did you decide to become a journalist?
When I went to college at Columbia University, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. Yet after writing for my school’s daily newspaper for three years, I could barely remember why I wanted to be a lawyer. It was so obvious that I would become a journalist, it wasn’t really even a decision. I loved writing, I loved report[ing], I loved seeing my name in print and walking around campus watching people read my stories. I didn’t quite realize what life would be like as a journalist — the travel, how to track down stories, how much it would take over my life – but I knew I loved collecting for a story, writing it, then seeing it appear in print. It was an easy call.
How did you get into sports writing?
I was an athlete in high school and all throughout college, and I knew two things. I liked to write and I liked sports. So when I decided I thought it would be cool to try to write an article for the school paper, I called up the sports editor and asked if I could join up. Sports was simply the first thing I tried to write about, and I never found a reason to stop. I could see myself writing about politics or news, but I think sports delivers the best stories. I like writing about games, but I like writing about athletes more. With the highs and lows, the wins and losses, the struggles and so many athletes coming from different places and having different stories to tell, I couldn’t find a better arena for storytelling. That’s why, when I graduated college, writing about sports was something I knew I wanted to do.
What’s the best part about being a journalist?
It sounds simple, but I like telling stories. I love sports, but I love writing more. There’s something special about telling someone’s story that only you and a few other people know about and sharing it with hundreds of thousands of people. We have access to people so few do, and it’s our job to communicate what no one else gets a chance to. So, I like using this access and helping the readers, the public, know who these people are they are watching by making the extra phone call and doing the extra interview. I like the games, too. No doubt. But it’s the storytelling that’s best.
What’s the most interesting part about meeting and interviewing athletes?
To me, the most interesting part is that athletes are rarely like you think they are. You see them on the field, all business, and you see their public appearances, and you think they are a certain way. Most of the time, at least in my experience, athletes are just like regular people. That’s always refreshing. I like to find out who these guys really are and tell the public something they don’t know. But learning about their intricacies and personalities off the field, and understanding what they are really like, is the part I like.
How do you respond to an athlete who doesn’t want to talk to you?
This is one of the most difficult parts of the job. No one wants to be turned down for anything. And not every athlete turns reporters down nicely, especially after a tough game. This is something that just comes with time. You learn it’s rarely personal. You aren’t yourself. You’re a reporter who will take comments and make them public. A person may be OK talking to you as a person, but not as a reporter who will report his comments. Very different. You just learn to have tough skin. So, I respond with a shrug. Often, I’ll explain to the athlete why it may be in his best interests to talk, but you can’t make anyone do anything. So, you ask, offer the chance to respond and have their say, then move on.
What were your thoughts on the NFL lockout?
I hated it. It was awful. I love writing about football and the people in sports. But I spent an entire offseason writing on the business of football, often the ugly business of football, and it was miserable. No one knew if there was even going to be a season, so my experience was annoying. Players were all over the place, and it was tough to track guys down. It did allow for some good stories, but not enough to justify it. I understood both sides, felt the owners were asking for a little too much considering the previous system was something they agreed to, and didn’t understand why it took so long. But as long as it worked out OK, we didn’t miss any games, and this is a more fair deal, I’m simply glad it’s over.
Do you believe the perspectives of some athletes have changed with the new rules that have been enforced in the NFL?
The NFL has tried to make the game safer, and after the lockout there was a new focus on safety. The best thing it has done is make athletes aware of the damage that can be done by head-hunting and repeated hits to the head. That’s a plus. It has led to officials throwing too many flags, though, and that hurts the quality of the game.
How different do you think your writing would have been if the Lockout ended this year’s football season?
The entire writing experience would have been different. At some point, I would have run out of football stories to write, and I would have caught up with all the players. I probably would have ended up writing about baseball, but now that that’s over, who knows? College football, maybe? It would have been much, much different. Glad it didn’t come to that.
Why do you think audiences are so drawn to football?
It’s a great game. That helps. It’s fast and hard-hitting, and you can score at any time. That’s a big deal. But the best thing football did was turn Sundays into an event. It’s once a week, families can plan their week around it, and it makes you feel like you’re watching something special. And the TV broadcasts do a good job of not only explaining what’s going on to the casual fan but also developing personalities on the screen. All that contributes.
If you could give aspiring sports journalists one tip about this profession, what would it be?
The best advice I can give is to try to do something your competitors aren’t. Try to report in a way others aren’t, make a phone call others won’t, look for a new way to tell a story. Look to stand out with your reporting. Attention spans are getting smaller and there is more media popping up everywhere. It’s a fight for eyeballs, and being unique will lead people to read you, not a competitor. And also, if you love your job and you love writing like I do, don’t be afraid to show it. It’s a great profession, a fun profession, and you should enjoy the process of doing it. It makes the process of interviewing and writing better.