Why I didn’t cheer at the end of the Daytona 500

krustyThe finish of this year’s Daytona 500 on Sunday was one of the greatest upsets in the history of NASCAR, a stunning story that brought an entire sport to its feet in appreciation of a 20-year-old kid seizing the sport’s grandest trophy. I was not only at the track, I was close enough to feel the thrum of Trevor Bayne’s engine in my chest as he whipped out of Turn 4 and down that final straightaway. All around me, nearly 200,000 people cheered in unison. And you know what I did?

Not a damn thing.

Okay, that’s not quite true. I smiled to myself at the kid’s good fortune and good driving (and the thought of getting to write a great story)…and then I turned around and tried to cadge a decent quote out of the wrecked-and-out-of-the-race Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Worked well enough, as you can see here.)

It wasn’t until later that I found out the race’s finish had caused a mini-controversy in the media center. (I was in the garage area and watched the end of the race on one of the Jumbotrons.) Apparently, much of the press corps in attendance broke out in applause.

If you don’t understand why that’s a problem and you’re not in the media, I can understand that. If you don’t understand why that’s a problem and you ARE in the media … well, that’s a bigger problem.

You don’t cheer in the press box. You just don’t. No matter how fascinating or astonishing or holy-crap-did-you-see-that, you keep your mind on why you’re there, and you keep your mouth shut. I won’t go into the ethical reasons behind not cheering; USA Today’s Nate Ryan did a fine job of that right here, and Chris Jones laid down some immutable rules about press-box cheering right here. An excerpt:

Cheering in a press box is the moral equivalent of shitting on the floor beside a delicious Chinese buffet that’s hosting a children’s birthday party and then going outside and killing a kindly, mystical hobo and using his stiffened corpse to derail a speeding locomotive, spilling a tanker filled with toxic chemicals into the world’s last pristine river and killing all the fish, including the aged and orphans among them.

Still, the applause at the end of the race, I can almost excuse as spontaneous, the equivalent of an “OHHHHH!” which often happens during a wreck. What really galled me was the cheering after Bayne finished his press conference. The kid did a fine job; I said as much on Twitter. But to cheer him as he left the stage? To rush up and high-five him, as some did? Come on, what the hell are you thinking?

Look, it’s very simple. When you’re paid to do a job, or (in the case of some of NASCAR’s “citizen journalist” unpaid bloggers) when you’re invited into the media center, your loyalties are to that job first and foremost. Can you be a fan and still do the job? Of course. It’s helpful, in fact, to give you insight into the mind and heart of the fans, the people who expect you to bring them the news and accounts of the day.

But there’s passion and there’s professionalism, and if you have your priorities as a journalist in order, never the twain shall mix. Nate, NASCAR.com’s David Caraviello, my Yahoo! colleague Jenna Fryer and I tried to make this point after the 500 on Twitter, and we got absolutely hammered by some. I can understand why people like the many Twitter followers who tweet-yelled at us (twelled? whatever.) would do so–what are we, heartless bastards?

More annoying was this column by Bryan Davis Keith, in which he figuratively waved the bloody firesuit of Dale Earnhardt in our faces in an oversimplified straw-man argument. To that, I’d respond with this: when Ed Hinton, perhaps the finest NASCAR journalist still working, learned that Dale Earnhardt had died, he turned out this classic in 40 minutes. Forty minutes. He may have been crying, his heart may have been broken, but he was enough of a professional to put emotion aside and do the damn work.

Hey, let’s be honest: it’s a great gig we have here. I’ve gotten to ride around Daytona Speedway, walk fairways next to Tiger Woods, sit in the Braves dugout and talk baseball with Bobby Cox, goad Shaquille O’Neal into ripping on Kobe Bryant, stand on an NFL sideline as holycrapMarshallFaulkiscomingrightatmeandhe’snotslowingdown…amazing moments, times I wouldn’t have had if I had done what I’d initially planned out of college and gone to law school. And everyone who’s ever had a media pass to cover even a high-school football game gets that kind of access and insight. It’s okay to enjoy that. It’s almost okay to name-drop like a fiend, like I just did there.

And I’ve had my own ethical slip-ups; I related my asking-Penny-Hardaway-for-an-autograph incident here a few months back.  And at one of the first Braves games I attended as a member of the working press, Chipper Jones fouled a ball up that nearly smashed my laptop. I picked up the ball, looked it over, and tucked it into my laptop bag … for about two seconds, until at least three writers virtually yelled at me to throw it out. (I tossed it to a kid below, and nearly hit him in the face with it. Sorry, kid.)

But all the benefits come with a price: you put on the credential, you leave fandom behind. No excuses, no rationalizations, no ethical just-this-once’s. There’s a line, and it’s not hard to see.

One other note on why I didn’t cheer: I carry a stigma/burden/scarlet letter that Nate, Jenna and David don’t: I’m a “blogger.” And while we all know that now encompasses (or at least, I MAKE it encompass) actual visits to actual sporting events where I have actual conversations with the actual people I write about, the “mother’s basement” stereotype still persists. I go whooping and cheering, it makes me look like a total amateur and cements the perception of bloggers as the text equivalent of sports talk callers. It’s hard enough for us to be taken seriously — my travails with some in the golf media are a whole other issue — but why make it harder on myself and my colleagues by cheering?

Reporters: enjoy the moment, appreciate it, but don’t get caught up in it. That’s what the after-filing bar blowouts are for.

[Photo courtesy Hammer_Hands]

30 thoughts on “Why I didn’t cheer at the end of the Daytona 500”

  1. Txs for the pic credit but I just ripped it off google images. Got my first NASCAR credential over 30 years ago and was told the “RULES” when it was handed to me. Nothing has changed. While 30 years ago many things were understood to be overlooked or not reported, cheering was never acceptable. I’ve heard reporters complain that editors cut lines from stories they deemed to “friendly” and others that got clipped for “we don’t talk about that”, but there is one universal line that should never be crossed.

  2. Well, some of the media. Some are bought and paid for by the Republican party, but the point is still the same.

  3. Jay –

    While I entirely agree with you, can you clarify if the “cheering” was applause, or more the “Holy sh*t” variety of amazement?

    The first I see as verboten; the second seems difficult to stifle. Maybe not in NASCAR, where you can often prepare for the result (especially over the last year or two, when the winner was a foregone conclusion with ten laps to go).

    But what about in, say, a basketball game when a ridiculous shot goes in at the buzzer, or a sick golf shot sinks?

    Do the same rules still apply?

  4. You can say “shit” in here. We’re not on Yahoo. But since I wasn’t in the press box at the checkered flag, I can’t confirm. I was there at the end of the media conference, and yes, that was enchanted applause.

    I’m perfectly cool with spontaneous moments of emotion in the press box. I stand during the National Anthem, and I think I stood during the Earnhardt lap 3 tribute. (I think.) That’s fine. But you snap yourself back to professionalism as fast as you can, you don’t revel in being a fan. Same rules apply no matter what event you’re covering.

  5. Thanks, Jay – the * was more concern for my work filter.

    That makes perfect sense. The key word you said was “spontaneous”. And given what is still said about DeLana Harvick not removing her hat, I would hate to see what some might say if you DIDN’T stand during the National Anthem.

  6. I agree. I don’t trust a media person who writes or calls a race with clealy favouritism (see DW who never seems Mikey do anything wrong EVER). My BIL was a sports writer for a long time at a Niagara Falls paper, and even in the living room at my ILs house he wouldn’t tell me who is favourite driver was/is. To this day I couldn’t tell you. I respect that, although I am a little curious.

    I jumped up and down and got my boys all riled up b/c of the end of the race, but I don’t expect media to do that. I love when they say “well that was a hell of a way to end the race, and good on the kid.” But to cheer and I could almost over look the clapping in the media centre when we couldn’t see, but high-fiving after the interviews – tacky.

    Also as a blogger, I get how you don’t get respect. I am a mom blogger, and everyone thinks i am just in it for free stuff, clearly someone who has never done this. If you want to make a living at blogging it isn’t all just fun and games. It is a lot of hard work, keep it up! If you ever want to be interviewed as part of a feature I do on my blog, I would love to. You can just email me at the email provided :) I can direct some of my sports loving Mommas your way.

  7. I think there’s a way to approach things like this and jumping on twitter and calling people out may have been the wrong way to do it. Like I told Utter today maybe a sign needs to be put up to remind people of the rules. You shouldn’t have to do that, I get it. They should know. But in all honesty here we were as fans really celebrating something we felt was great for Nascar and here were a group of journalists fighting over cheering in the press box, ruining our feel good moment.

    Here’s my thought. I think its inappropriate to cuss at work. Actually its pretty much an unwritten rule to not speak like that at work. When my boss does it in front of a group of people I’m not going to immediately point out how that’s inappropriate to the whole group. No, I’m going to pull my boss aside and tell him privately. Why? To avoid embarrassment and potential conflict.

    Its really all about how a situation is handled and I think the mistake was in how those who felt it was inappropriate handled it.

    Anyhoot. That is my say, I could be 100% wrong.

  8. @Patti: Well-reasoned comment, though I think you’re letting the actual “offenders”–bearing in mind that this is at its heart a really silly issue–off the hook by placing the burden on the people who called them out.

    I get your point, and I sincerely regret making myself part of the story, but we’re in a different world here than before with social media. I’d venture to say that some of the newer media members who didn’t realize they weren’t supposed to cheer calmed down and didn’t celebrate quite as much once they saw that others were calling them out.

    Anyway, great response, and thanks for writing.

  9. Great piece Jay. And I use the term “piece” since the term “post” is used with blogs and “article” or “editorial” is used with traditional media. While you may be a blogger in the eyes of some journalists, the fact is that in today’s world, the distribution method and how news reaches an audience is irrelevant given the myriad of options. The fact remains that you do a great job of providing news and commentary on the sport, regardless of how us users choose to get the information. However, if you had a column in a print newspaper, I would not read it since I cannot stand getting the ink on my fingers.

  10. Thanks so much, Mike. I’m with you; using old (even just a couple years’ old) definitions for new media just doesn’t work any more.

    No danger of getting ink on your fingers from the Internet, though you may end up with scars on your soul.

  11. He may have been crying, his heart may have been broken, but he was enough of a professional to put emotion aside and do the damn work.

    So…it’s okay to cry in the pressbox? Just no cheering?

    I’m really not asking to be snide (please forgive me if it sounds that way), but that sentence really jumped out at me as an example of why I find this issue so fundamentally confusing. Is outward grief really a less unprofessional emotion than outward joy?

    I’m not a reporter, nor do I aspire to be, but I do write about hockey almost every day. If I ever found myself in a press box I would of course abide by the accepted press box rules, if only so that I don’t wind up looking like a moron. But I have to admit, I don’t understand how the absence of outward emotion makes someone a better, or more polished, writer. I DO understand that cheering is hugely unprofessional (because those are the rules of the profession), but I just don’t get this rule as it pertains to the quality of the work. Why does sitting there quietly make your writing better?

    I read Nate Ryan’s explanation, and it was helpful. A professional reporter’s first obligation is to the writing, not to the subject. But… does that it necessarily mean the writing is better as a result? Maybe it does.

    To me (a total journalism outsider), this issue always just seems to boil down to “Well, that’s just not how it’s done. No cheering in the press box.” Which, is actually not at offensive to me, but it’s not a very intellectually satisfying justification.

  12. @Kate: Thanks for the note. Here’s how I break it down: we’re human, all of us. We can’t control our outbursts in moments of supreme joy or heartbreak; what we can do is put those aside and do our jobs. I agree with you–there shouldn’t be a total absence of emotion. I laugh in disbelief or admiration all the time. What I don’t do is carry that to the next level, standing or cheering or clapping.

    The point I was trying to make wasn’t that Hinton was unprofessional for crying (if indeed he did), any more than the people who were surprised by Bayne’s win were unprofessional for having an exclamation or two. It’s what you do NEXT that matters. Does that make sense?

    Believe me, anyone who’s so locked down that they feel/display zero emotion even in the greatest moments of sport is probably not the kind of person you want writing an article about it.

    I hope that explains it a bit better. Checked out your site, btw, and it makes me wish I understood hockey AT ALL. Wyshynski has pretty much given up on getting me into it, the poor bastard.

    Thanks for writing, and best wishes to you.

  13. I love writers who respond so thoroughly. Thank you!

    I don’t think that reporters are emotionless at all- and that’s kind of my point of confusion. The “no cheering” rule just seems like its primary function is to hide something that most people would agree is there. Reporters are humans, with feelings and allegiances, and the concept of journalistic objectivity in sports seems like an illusion to me. The whole POINT of sports is to pick a side and cheer for it, right? But to be clear, I’m not *offended* by the idea of not cheering, and I certainly understand the desire to keep a workplace professional.

    Annnyway, thanks for a great read, and MANY thanks for peeking in on my blog. I’ll make a deal with you, I’ll start watching NASCAR when you start watching hockey. :D

  14. Jay’s right: your reward for keeping your shit in check is getting to be the guy who tells the story. Not only in print, where hopefully you convey all that emotion to the reader, but also one hundred times thereafter in bars.

  15. See my thing is this, and I’ve had this conversation on twitter before. There’s commentators and then there’s journalists. Commentators have bias and don’t necessarily play by the same rules that journalists have to play by. My expectation of a journalist is that they report the cold hard facts with no opinion.

    So I asked someone if they allow bloggers/commentators in to the press box, and I believe the answer I got was yes.

    While I’m not sure who the offenders were this may be a point of contention. Because allowing someone who has clear bias and doesn’t operate by the same set of rules as journalists to co-mingle with journalists can be cause for conflict.

    Anyways. It is what it is and it’s done, all we can do it learn and move on. It’s been interesting for me to learn about these nuances. That’s what I like about the sport, knowing the little kinks about it, journalistic ethics and all.

  16. Extra P nails it, as always.

    Patti: there’s a difference between work product and work conduct. Even if you’re a commentator–and I veer far more in that direction in most instances–you still need to conduct yourself in a certain way.

    I’m with you. Time to move on.

  17. Cheering. You’re cheering? There is no cheering in the press box!

    Sorry for that. I think the no-cheering-in-the-press-box (a pretty good book btw) “rule” came about to avoid conflicts in game-type situations where you have reporters who cover two different teams mixed in. Cheering for one team could lead to conflicts between writers, especially if one tells another to shut-the-hell up. Plus the noise can be extremely distracting.

    I have seen very few such cheering incidents in my 40 years or so of visiting press boxes, mostly on the college level, and most of those involved guests of the athletic department of one of the competing teams who should not have been there in the first place.

    I’m not really sure that a burst of applause at the end of the race won by Trevor Bayne falls into that category. Probably some writers were applauding for the opportunity to be covering a great story with a fresh interview and personality than the usual NASCAR winner. But it still shouldn’t be done. Ever.

    Back when I was in college but working for the local Bloomington paper, I had a friend tell me he had watched me up on press row during a basketball game and couldn’t believe I just sat there through the entire game with my chin in my hands. (He exaggerated just a tad.) I still pretty much do the same thing even when I’m at home. I do “root” for certain teams to win, but mostly that is because of personalities involved, not so much for any fan adoration. (I root for good guys.)

    Chris Jones has some damn good guidelines. “Watch the game” cannot be understated. I just recently was on a press row where three guys chatted about everything but the game that was going on in front of them, and it was extremely distracting. It was a close game, too. I once sat just outside a college baseball press box and found at the end I had more insight into what had transpired and was able to ask better questions than if I had sat inside and exchanged quips and one-liners with fellow reporters for the afternoon.

  18. So, from interactions with another reporter and reading your article, I find one unanswered question. The people who cheered….are they trained, hired by a boss who has expectations, and knowledgable of restrictions placed on those in the media? I expect that this would be something taught in classes in college, but how would a newbie to the profession, a blogger who got started because he or she was a fan, know the ropes? This isn’t a NASCAR rule, is it? From what you and other pros have written, it appears to be an expectation of the professional journalist and it certainly is not something someone not involved in the profession would know. I didn’t know it until I exchanged tweets with another writer who was kind enough to fill me in.

  19. As one of the first woman to write sports in the 70′s, I always reserved my emotion for the story. Yes, my heart would pound or leap. But I channeled that into my stories and sidecars. (See, I told you I was old.) Anyway, all journalists should keep in mind what you’ve written. Yes, we are human, but as journalists we should recognize our higher calling.

  20. WHAT A LOAD!!!!! I’m not a Bayne fan, but the guy did something special and there is nothing in the world, especially not “professionalism,” that should supercede congradulating him on his accomplishment. Sometimes the world around us needs to have an elated response, all of us at once, to get the feeling of defeat that permeates our daily lives, off our shoulders. Even if it’s for just a few moments.
    Journalist DO NOT have any “higher calling” than anyone else, they just like to see how creative they can be at persuasion without be recognized as having a point of view.

  21. @JB: Nice initials. If you’d read what I wrote, though, you’d note that I’m just fine with a few moments of “elated response.” And I also noted that I do have a point of view. So, pretty much, I actually agree with you. Still think it’s a load?

  22. Now I know why I hate all sports, thanks I have often wondered why, and now I know.

  23. Well, I read your defenses to your piece and its hard to argue with some, but isn’t emotion what we are all in this for? Listen to the call from the announcer of Wayne Ronney’s bicycle kick goal against Manchester City two weeks ago( I know, soccer, but its the world game.). There is emotion and appreciation in his commentary and the viewing was made all the better for it. Is not clapping for a 20 year old pulling off an enourmous acheivement somethng that should be appreciated and celebrated. Hard to argue that anyone in the press box was somehow pushing Bayne’s agenda at the start of the day. Did you not appreciate Cal Ripken breaking the streak? How about Nicklaus winning the Masters in 1986? Aren’t these acheivements that deserve at least polite applause in recognition? Maybe it is a stretch to compare Bayne’s win to those, but certainly it is a unique accomplishment. And assuredly not worth Tom Bowles’ job…….

  24. I am in the “He wuz robbed!!” camp re this incident. But I’ve read several articles and I understand the opposing viewpoint. I see why some of the established sportswriters would vigorously protest any display of emotion in the pressbox. I doubt that few if any of them wanted someone to lose their job in defense of the point. I think that that the offending party should have been pulled aside and put on suspension, much like a mischievous crew chief, rather than being terminated. I assume that the problem was not the original action but the continued protest of the guilty party. Every company has its rules. You can be reprimanded for not following them, but trying to change them can bring about much more serious penalties.

  25. “Cheering in a press box is the moral equivalent of shitting on the floor beside a delicious Chinese buffet that’s hosting a children’s birthday party and then going outside and killing a kindly, mystical hobo and using his stiffened corpse to derail a speeding locomotive, spilling a tanker filled with toxic chemicals into the world’s last pristine river and killing all the fish, including the aged and orphans among them.”

    Umm…Is it just me, or does this comment show a serious lack of perspective? If you kill a hobo, you could (and should) get the death penalty. I’m sure the writer was tongue-in-cheek, but the comment reflects the self-importance all too prevalent among “journalists”. Personally, I would rather the media were more upfront about how they feel. I find preferable to the more deceptive manners of forwarding their bias usually employed.

  26. I went to the CAA championships this week. I’m an ODU grad, and a friend of mine, who was sitting next to me, is a Hofstra grad. During the game between the two teams, we would give each other a grimace, shrug, tiny fist pump when something big happened. It was understated enough so as to be unobtrusive, but we still got to have a little fun with the game on press row.

    In other words, don’t be a FANBOI and you should be fine.

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