Wednesday, October 7, 2009
What is MLS? A Boon for Local Sports Journalism
Colin Smith's (author of keepie-uppie.blogspot.com) email about the opportunity Toronto FC gave him as an aspiring sports journalist speaks mostly for itself, so I've included it in full below. I would only add that, while I'm proud of what I've done here on AMSL, I was struck reading Mark Bowden's piece in the most recent Atlantic in which he describes newspaper columnists who sit at their desk writing columns about whatever news lands on it instead of going out and finding the story, "thumbsuckers."
The football blogosphere is packed with us "thumbsuckers," often by simple case of necessity; we can't all get press accreditation and get in a minivan to follow the team bus to Dallas. But I think about what some independent football writers have been able to do (see Inside Minnesota Soccer's work on the recent USL-1, Team Owner's Association dispute), and I think of how Big Paper-Neglected Major League Soccer lit the fire under other writers like Smith to go out and get their first real story, or even me once long ago, to do some digging around Toronto's soccer history, and I feel good about the future. Anyway, here's Colin:
I was just starting a job as a copy editor at the National Post when top-level professional soccer returned to Toronto in the form of Toronto FC. On a personal level I was absolutely chuffed that I was going to be able to watch and support a professional soccer team alongside a number of other passionate soccer fans in the city I have come to love (I'm originally from Calgary, C'mon Calgary Kickers). On a professional level I saw Toronto FC as an opportunity to work—albeit mostly on my own time and for very little monetary gain—as a proper soccer journalist. You know, not a soccer blogger (no offense!). I was sent to cover Toronto FC games by the National Post sports editor and on my own volition borrowed/stole The Guardian's minute-by-minute format and began live blogging games from the pressbox at BMO Field. Few people read them, no body commented on them, but I didn't care. I always had a great time doing it. And I apologize for sounding a bit like your great uncle telling you that he invented gravity but... to my knowledge I was one of the first reporters at any major media outlet in Canada to live-blog a sporting event.
In Toronto FC's first year I remember one media scrum with then-coach Mo Johnston specifically. It was the start of the 2007 season and standing in front of a group of reporters at BMO Field Johnston tried to quickly gloss over the fact that Ronnie O'Brien had hurt himself during training and would miss the first four games. Laying into an easy target I asked Johnston if his injury had anything to do with the turf (which was a huge issue from Day 1) and Johnston immediately defended the surface to keep his bosses happy before pausing and saying, "Ronnie did something silly in training. He lashed out and kicked one of his teammates and he hurt his knee doing it. I've talked to him and he's been punished." I felt a little buzz that every journalist feels when they get a bit closer to the truth and watched as all the other reporters around me perked up and began scribbling in their notebooks as a result of my question. Good old fashioned reporting.
As I spent more time at TFC matches and followed the Nats more closely I began writing for Soccer360, Canada's only half-decent soccer magazine (new issue out now at Chapters/Indigo!!!). I have since written for the FourFourTwo web site and The Glasgow Herald and I'm now working on a documentary on soccer in Rhodesia during the 1970s. All of this work focused on the sport I have always loved would likely never have come my way had it not been for Major League Soccer's expansion to Toronto. The soccer media landscape is, like MLS, only going to grow and hopefully improve.
So I suppose MLS, specifically Toronto FC, has helped build a respectable community of professional and amateur soccer journalists in Canada and I'm glad I am a part of it.