I’m home in Louisiana. Momma is crocheting. Daddy is writing his new book, Tiger Beat. He says it will be the bestseller on Graveyard Island which has a population of 3 people, including Daddy and Momma. I was trying to decide what to write about since it’s been an uneventful day, but I’ve been planning on writing about being the daughter of a sportswriter for some time. That time has now come.
I ended up marrying a sportswriter in no small part due to the fact that it was the life I knew. Ask any wife of a sportswriter about being married to a man in that profession. It is not an easy life. First of all, contrary to popular opinion, sportswriters are generally poor. Yes, there are a few that make it big and make a lot of money, but it’s only the top echelon that make the money. The rest of them – beat writers, local columnists, sports editors – do not make the big bucks. And, in today’s world of dwindling newspapers, the job market is becoming very unstable. My Dad raised four kids on a sportswriter’s salary, but our food budget was subsidized largely by my Grandfather’s garden. He grew everything, and my Mother and my Grandmother spent summers canning, freezing and cleaning vegetables. My Dad fished, and that was our primary meat source. He supplemented his salary by writing free-lance at the Denham Springs News which he affectionately called the Dinky Springs News. His pen name was Rick O’Shea. For the longest, I didn’t know that writer was him. He also had a radio show, and he’d trade advertising for perks for our family. Those were times when conflict of interest wasn’t an issue. We made it, but we weren’t rich even though he worked his tail off.
You can tell from these pics that it was difficult for Daddy on the road all the time. 🙂
The work hours are brutal. Both my Dad and my first Husband were columnists, so they covered every sport. That meant that in any season – golf, football, basketball, baseball, track, even soccer – they were gone on nights and weekends. My Dad even wrote about the Outdoors, so he was working during the off-seasons and in between games writing stories on fishing and other outdoor activities. I asked Momma what she thought about being a sportswriter’s wife. She said, “Oh God, don’t ask me.” After she laughed, and I told her I was serious, she said, “Well, you go everywhere by yourself because you are always alone. You can’t go to the doctor because as soon as you walk in, they ask what Sam thinks about those Tigers.” I heard the same stories over and over and over throughout my years growing up with Daddy and my 12 year marriage to John, my ex-husband. They are considered “in the know” about the local athletic departments, and they do get to hobnob with all of the key local athletic figures. So, anywhere we went, people would ask Daddy or John to tell them about…Coach Brown, Coach Fulmer, Bert Jones, Peyton Manning, etc. And, instead of socializing with friends and talking about our lives and personal fun stuff, the topic was always….always…always….the same stories…over and over again. I knew the stories by heart. When I started working at Whirlpool in Knoxville, I didn’t tell anybody who my husband was until about 3 months had passed. I wanted to be me. I wanted for people to get to know me instead of my being a conduit for UT inside information.
One of the perks of being a sportswriter’s daughter was that my Dad was always gone. Yes…as a teenager, it was great for Daddy to be gone. He was the disciplinarian. It took some of the pressure off. Of course, he was always coming back, so I’d catch it when he got home, but it’s always easier to fool one parent than two. The other issue was Daddy’s work hours. If he was home, he would work from 4 AM – Noon. This put him getting up to go to work around 2:30 AM. That was prime-time for me to come home from an evening out when I was of drinking age. So, I would come in, and we crossed paths more than once. I wasn’t always in the best of shape to be visiting with a parent.
Another perk was that we got perks. People wanted to schmooze Daddy, so we got to do things that other people didn’t get to do. There was a charter boat captain in Destin that wanted Daddy to write good things about his charter service during the year, so we got free fishing trips. I met Pete Maravich, got tickets to LSU basketball and football games (in the old days). When I was married to John, we had great trips because I’d fly in just after a Super Bowl, a big fight in Vegas or a basketball tournament at some nice city. We’d get a nice vacation after he covered those events.
I know one of the local sportswriters here in Memphis because he was best friends with my ex, and he worked with my Dad in his younger years. Sportswriters move around, and they take their connections with them. I know sportswriters and their wives all over the country. And, the wives know each other, because we have plenty of time to talk while spouses are spending hours and hours covering events. There is an annual Southeastern Conference Meeting in Destin in May every year. That meeting has been going on since the 1980s at least. I know because my ex-husband and I went every year. He’d work. I’d lay on the beach with my family because my Dad was working the meetings, too. The wives would all hang out and complain about all the travel, waiting, broken plans and the loneliness. It’s not easy to be in relationship with a person that is constantly away from home. In the spring, my ex would cover the Super Bowl, March Madness and the Masters. He would literally be gone for three months. And, if a story breaks, forget whatever we had planned. Just forget it….it’s non-negotiable. News is always more important.
My ex was controversial. My Dad was controversial at times. I had to hear people talk about my Dad and my ex with venom. My ex, especially, was hated at times by readers. He could be very sarcastic and was particularly adept at uncovering bullshit. My sister ran into someone in the Pasttime (a local bar in Baton Rouge) that lived in Knoxville. She told him that her ex-brother-in-law was John. She said the guy turned around and wouldn’t talk to her anymore. I can remember as a kid enduring bad talk about my Dad when he wrote something negative about our local sports teams. It did not make me popular with the other kids. It is a great way to make connections with people, though, for the same reason. When I meet somebody from Knoxville or Baton Rouge, I always ask if they read the sports section. If they do, they know who I am.
There is a different rhythm to the life of a sportswriter. Football means no fun on the weekends. Basketball means weekdays are caught up, too. Summers are usually free and great times to have fun and travel. If you work a regular 9 to 5 job, you don’t get much social time with your spouse. I ended up trying to get jobs where I worked on weekends and at nights. It made time together possible but certainly not common. Writing on deadline has its own rhythm, too. I remember reading that journalists have one of the most stressful jobs because of the deadline pressure. When my Dad or Ex was on a deadline, DO NOT BOTHER THEM. Period….I remember a typewriter click, click, clicking away at a furious pace. I remember the clack, clack, clack of computer keys. Most of all, I remember the shut doors. Can’t talk now. I’m on deadline. But, unlike other jobs, when the story was done and sent to the copy editors, the work was done. There was no paperwork for the next day. There is no ongoing project. The game happens, they watch it, and they write. Project over. All in an 8-16 hour day.
One of the best things for me is that writing was just a part of our life. I, for one, never really thought about whether or not I would be good at writing. We read a lot, and writing was just a way of taking care of business. I always wrote. I wrote poetry when I was young. I was a sportswriter for my college newspaper and covered high school football as a free-lancer for extra money. It was the job I knew, and it seemed really normal. Now, that I am single and blogging, I’m the only writer in my family. For the first time, I’m not playing second fiddle to a professional writer. It feels really different, but, then again, it all just feels so normal. My brother Sammy is a professor and is published. My sister Susan is a Creative Writing teacher, and I wish she would write. She’s a much better storyteller than I am. It’s like the families who spawn a whole line of doctors. Our family has spawned a whole line of writers. It’s just the way we are.