By: Michaela Gilmer
Robert Klemko is a pro football writer at Sports Illustrated (SI). Klemko also writes for an online publication covering the NFL, Monday Morning Quarter Back (MMQB). Klemko’s coverage does not focus on following teams and individual games exclusively. He often reports on issues of sports in society such as race and sexuality and its impact within the sport and the game.
MG: What made or inspired you to become a sports reporter?
RK: I went to high school in Silver Spring, Md. I had a journalism teacher who was very good and gave us a lot of freedom as well as guidance. In addition to that I played high school football and a little college. I stopped playing after my freshman year because of a collapsed lung and a shoulder injury.
MG: What inspired you to write about sports in society specifically?
RK: I wanted to write from a unique perspective, write about more than just the individual game. I remember falling in love with the idea of sports journalism while watching Kerri Strug perform her routine in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics despite having a broken ankle. That’s when I really started thinking about athletes as people, not just superstar figures. When I was growing up, baseball was the main sport but I also got to see the rise of the NFL and watching guys such as Kurt Warner and Brett Favre.
MG: What’s the best thing about writing for SI and the MMQB?
RK: First off, the name recognition. It’s been a big, important brand [SI] in this business for a long time. The MMQB started up within SI of such a small brain of people who I really respect. An ambitious group of people I trust contributing to my ideas and refining my stories.
MG: What, in your mind, are the biggest issues in sports in society?
RK: In football, there is a split along racial lines of who is what. First, it’s been predominately African Americans who have come through the sport since the 1970’s and 80’s. Although there are more black coaches than previous years, there are individuals, ex-players who are much more qualified for general manager and coaching positions, but are not involved. I’m fascinated to see how fast this change comes. We just had a black quarterback win the super bowl [first time since Doug Williams in 1988] and no one really addressed it. I think it was Obama who said something about how significant it was when the Seahawks went to the White House.
MG: If anything, what is being done to address and end these issues?
RK: I think people will follow someone like Michael Sam. I mean coming out before the draft is significant. There are people who say he was just another seventh-round pick but how can any one say with a straight face; that he was just another seventh-round pick. Things are changing. Everything we are doing now, as journalists, is normalizing these issues. We see how big of a deal this is even though it may not seam like anything to other people.
MG: As a reporter, what are the challenges you face covering issues in sports in society?
RK: You can’t just jump into these topics. While talking to all these athletes, you have to show your vulnerability. You have to really talk to the players and allow them to trust you; that you are not going to twist his or her words into something bad. Building a relationship with the player is a challenge as well as the fun part of the job.