So you want to be a journalist, huh?

Being a journalist is a tough, gruelling, pressure-filled racket that can only be done by people who are one card short of a full deck.
It takes a person of some intelligence, some street smarts, some personality, some writing ability, and lots of patience.
And that’s just for a “real” journalist. Ones who cover politics, law, health, agriculture, and other issues dealing with a community. Then you get your sports reporter like me whose job—as my editor (a former sports scribe himself) makes sure to point out every so often—“can be done by a chimpanzee.”
In many ways this is true.
On the scale of evolution, sports writers are somewhere in the middle. But hey, at least we’re evolving.
Over my four or so years as a sports writer, I have gotten letters from people who hate me, people who think I should run for office, and people who think I should run for cover.
I get idle threats, veiled threats, and once even got a death threat (from a cheerleader, who dotted the ‘i’ in ‘die’ with a little heart). I have received letters in pen, pencil, Magic Marker, calligraphy, crayon, blood, and magazine cut-outs.
Whenever I go out to a sporting event, I get at least a few young people who ask what it’s like to be a sports writer. They ask—“Would writing be a rewarding career path for a young person such as someone like myself?”
I always give the same answer, which is . . .
Depends.
For every unforgettable Edmonton Eskimos media lunch, there have been at least a dozen sports functions where the closest food is a vending machine and once you put all your change in, you’re a nickel short.
For every stomach-flipping, jaw-dropping, last-minute winning drive (like the Muskie football team did this past season against the Kelvin Clippers), there’s been at least a dozen lopsided losses, in which the best quote came from an Italian-born University of Alberta volleyball player with the look in his eye of a comatose goat, who said, “Uh, I’d say we’ve got our backs to the driver’s seat.”
A few people have asked if I ever get recognized?
Sometimes. I was at the bar one night here when a guy of considerably larger proportions than myself came up to me and said, “Hey, aren’t you the guy from the paper?”
“Why, yes,” I said, feeling famous.
“Yeah, your articles really stink!”
(Gulp)
A few people have asked why I chose sports writing.
Mostly because I wanted to get out of the restaurant business. Like many of Greek descent, I have the vaunted Z-chromosome, which entails an individual to work their entire lives behind a grill.
I began in the restaurant racket when I was 13, and after spending too many nights taking orders from 20 drunken Germans in Jasper and not enough nights watching Sports Center, I decided a change of lifestyle was due.
The only thing I could do is write. I had a couple of poems published in the high school yearbook (though I didn’t put my name to them because they were a little on the flowers and blue skies side of things) and decided to head to college.
I won a national sports writing scholarship, headed to Toronto to get a cheque, and got introduced into the profession by Don Goodwin, who is the vice-president of Sports Media Canada and my mentor.
Did a stint at the Edmonton Journal as an intern, where my skills as a server kept me on everyone’s good side (You said a BLT on whole wheat not white, right?”) and started to learn the tricks of the trade.
I’ve learned much, but still have much to learn. But the one thing I learned that always keeps me laughing, as I’ve got my editor breathing down my neck while I need to write an 800-word story in 20 minutes, is one (actually two) things that Mr. Goodwin told me over a beer when I asked what he’s learned during his long and illustrious career.
“There’s no city bylaw that says they gotta read you. Make them want to,” he said as he took a sip of his beer.
“But remember, if there’s a nuclear war, we’ll be as useful as a chia pet because there’s not gonna be a big call for emergency metaphors.”
I love my job. In journalism circles, the sports department is referred to as the toy department. And I take my job seriously, but not too serious where I’m checking when the Pulitzer Awards deadline is every year.
Sometimes my job can be taxing on the membrane and gut (the Eskimos’ media box had pizza and nachos and other goodies for every game, which turned my six-pack into a keg).
But there are times, like this past Friday, where my job can introduce me to new things that I wouldn’t get a chance to do without my job title.
I was asked (or tricked) by a fellow journalist to compete (or try to survive) in the OSAID Ultimate Fear Factors Week, which was run by students at Fort High in conjunction with Drug Awareness Week.
Along with seven other participants, ranging from cops to ambulance workers to high school students, we tried an array of challenges testing our skills like dress the drunk dummy, impaired baseball (don’t ask), dam walking (a little wobbly at times), Fear Factors poker (I hate pickled eggs, but now enjoy pickled herring), and The Challenger (I have newfound respect for firefighters).
My arthritic knees are still burning from the extraordinary amounts of Ben-gay I have spread on them, but it was fun and memorable.
And I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I wasn’t a journalist.

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