Sports columnist reveals inside scoop
By Kelley McLandress
J-School Web reporter
photo by David Erickson
Rapoport, a sports columnist who has been to nine Superbowls
and six Olympics, speaks to UM students on April 20
people call the newspaper’s sports section the “toy department,” but
it’s truly hard work, says Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Ron
Rapoport, who visited the School of Journalism last month.
his experience and style, Rapoport proved sports writing an art during
his three-day visit to Montana. In his second-ever trip to the state
(his first was a long-ago visit to Glacier), Rapoport addressed
aspiring sportswriters in professor Michael Downs’ class.
Sports writing has three parts, he said: game stories, features and columns.
have to put in a lonely plug for the game story,” he said. Remembering
the 1,500-word stories that include what he called “play-by-play
action, strategically-placed quotes and special sports language,” he
acknowledged that these stories have been mostly sidelined by competing
ESPN television coverage.
But while he still holds out hope for the game story, feature writing is Rapoport’s strength.
“This is where I think writers prove themselves,” he said. But not all good feature writers become good columnists.
big problem is the everydayness of column writing,” said Rapoport,
citing Rick Reilly as one columnist who overcomes this. Reilly, who
writes one column a week for Sports Illustrated, is what Rapoport calls
“head and shoulders above the rest.”
are two kinds of column writing,” he said: the “gee-whiz” columns that
cover the extraordinary and the “aw-nuts” columns that show the
proposed a third kind: the “isn’t it interesting” column.This
vast middle ground includes everything from humor to feature
stories, he said.
at his witty, yet blunt, humor, students in Downs’ class
were eager for more.
What is the
most important factor in a column writer’s success?
it how good they are at their best?” Rapoport asked. “Is it how often,
how consistent, their approach is at its very best? Or, is it
what columnists write when they have nothing to write about?”
One student guessed the latter, which brought a howl from Rapoport.
believe consistency is most important,” he replied. “I’m not saying
columnists need a home-run all the time.” But a consistent
approach to finding and telling the stories is integral, he said.
Many columnists are opinionated exhibitionists, said Rapoport.
“I call it ‘taking your pants down in public to see if anyone will notice,’” he said.
difficult part of learning to write sports columns, Rapoport
said, was including the personal pronoun. But once he got used
to it, he joked, he was able to use “I” three times
wanted tips on interviewing athletes.
best way to approach an interview is to try to make it a conversation,” Rapoport
said. Some situations call for quick-fired questions, others
for the casual conversation-style interview.
studied at Stanford and then at Columbia in New York City before going
on to work for the Associated Press. He later worked for the Los
Angeles Daily News and the Los Angeles Times. In Chicago, he covered
heavyweight championship fights, Super Bowls, World Series,
professional and college basketball championships, winter and summer
Olympics, major golf championships and much more.
Now Rapoport writes four columns a week, Monday through Thursday, for the Chicago Sun-Times.
His conversations about sports with Scott Simon on NPR’s “Weekend
Edition Saturday” are noted for their relevance, their light-hearted
approach, and their often hilariously wrong predictions.
has written three books, the most recent about famous 1930s
golfer Bobby Jones. This year marks the 75th anniversary of
of the Grand Slam of golf: winning the four major tournaments
in a single season, a feat that has not been repeated. The
book is called “The Immortal Bobby: Bobby Jones and the Golden
Age of Golf.” An interview with Rapoport can be heard
on NPR’s “All
at UM, Rapoport also discussed “The Immortal Bobby” in a reading and
book signing at the University Center Theater, met with local sports
reporters, visited with students from the Kaimin and UM’s student-run
radio station KBGA and met with Downs’ class a second time to critique
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