As a young reporter, you expect to make mistakes. You expect to be corrected, and even ridiculed. But you don’t expect to be dragged through the mud by your readers before you write your first story.
Growing up in Arkansas, the football team from Fayetteville was a staple of my childhood. Most memories — whether for birthdays, holidays, etc. — have some connection to that team. I remember eating Thanksgiving dinner in 2008 and then hurrying to the television to watch the Razorbacks upset top-ranked LSU in triple overtime. I remember the “DUN-NUH-NUH, DUN-NUH-NUH” alert from the ESPN app that went off on everyone’s phone during my brothers wedding because the Hogs scored against Texas A&M. At the reception, everyone huddled around a radio to check in on the action.
I grew up in Jonesboro, in the shadow of Arkansas State University. I went to games from a young age. I still remember the nail-biter against FAU that went into overtime with a 0-0 score. That had never happened in NCAA history to that point. I remember upsetting Army as fans rushed the field to tear down the goalposts. I was much too small, but I hoped to be a part of something like that one day. I remember the monsoon that postponed the Memphis game. I remember watching Corey Leonard throw the Bluff City Miracle while I was in the stands at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
I never saw an issue with growing up a fan of both schools.
Arkansas State always held a place in my heart. It’s where I wanted to go to school. There was never really a second option, in my mind at least. When I got my ACT score back as a senior in high school, I was qualified to go anywhere I wanted. And Arkansas State was the easy choice. I never even toured another campus. Arkansas State was home.
Fast-forward a few years. I’m a sportswriter. I start my own sports blog covering the Razorbacks and the Red Wolves. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m excited to be writing about my two favorite teams. The teams I grew up with.
As I continued, I started gaining some steam. I started to get noticed. Eventually, a site covering the Group of Five conferences wanted me to write for them as an unpaid contributor. I accepted the position, giddy with excitement to be writing about Arkansas State. Until that excitement was shattered.
In a conversation on Twitter with Daniel Gafford — now a center for the Chicago Bulls, but a Razorback at the time — the comment was made that “Arkansas is still my team, I just cover Arkansas State now.” What I meant by that was that I was no longer covering Arkansas for my blog, just watching from afar while I covered Arkansas State. That isn’t the message that was received by Red Wolf fans, though.
Soon, during my sister’s birthday celebration, my phone started going crazy with texts from other writers. I had no idea what was going on. Then I opened the Twitter app. I had hundreds of notifications from livid Arkansas State fans calling for my job, and trying to tarnish my credibility.
I had become the topic of the A-State message boards. A new reporter was working for Forgotten 5, and he hates Arkansas State! He’s one of those pig lovers! I can’t believe he’s getting paid good money to cover a team he hates!
The message boards then flooded over to Twitter. Instead of defending myself while spending time with my family, I simply made my account private and blocked all those who were sending hate toward me. That just added fuel to the fire.
Over time, the flame settled into small embers, and I had to make a decision whether this is something I really wanted to do. I kept going, but the hate had taken a toll on me. I fell in line and took it all, trying to be a better A-State reporter in the aftermath. It was a hard first year as an actual reporter. I felt trapped in a box of who I should be and anything outside would bring that negativity right back.
Over a year later, I finally decided to read the message board topic about me. It was free press, after all, and boosted my reputation in the sports writing world, even if it did attempt to destroy a 20-something reporter, still in school.
And in that board, I found a new sense of confidence and motivation.
According to them, I was only going to A-State because it was easiest for me. I probably didn’t get accepted at Arkansas. I just had rich parents that spoiled me and never had to work for anything in my life. Or, the opposite. I was poor and A-State was the only school I could afford. If I loved Arkansas so much, why not just move there?
I earned my way to Arkansas State. I earned the highest scholarship the school offered. I earned my spot at the table in sports writing. I earned all of my positions. And in that moment, I realized it for the first time. I truly reflected on my accomplishments that day. I became proud of where I am based on where I came from.
In the days after the initial incident, I hid my Razorback fandom as much as possible while covering Arkansas State. I ended up being discovered by a new site, and got my first paid gig as a writer. I virtually pretended the school on the hill didn’t exist. But a year later, I decided to just be myself.
I wouldn’t let some irritated fans dictate who I am. I wouldn’t let them tell me how to shape my life. Even afterward, they read my coverage. They just wanted someone to take their frustrations out on, and I was fresh blood. If they don’t want to read my coverage, that’s their own problem. I’m going to keep being myself.
I hold no animosity toward those people. I pity them, really. But I also needed them. In this field, people will always look for a reason to hate you. You just have to keep moving. If people want to spend their precious time dragging down a college student that attends the school they think he hates, go ahead. I just wish they would realize they could be a lot happier if they focused that energy on bettering their own lives. Maybe they’ll learn that lesson the next time around.
As for me, I’m going to keep grinding toward my goals and dreams.
A Change of Perspective
An Arkansas State fan, tired of people in his own hometown — the home of the Red Wolves — supporting a school across the state is looking for some form of escape. After a long day at work, he just wants to watch sports and discuss them online. His Red Wolves don’t get much coverage, even by the local media. The team from Fayetteville gets all the attention, even if they’re terrible. At least he has a few places that will cover them.
Come to find out, a new reporter is covering his team. However, he soon discovers the reporter is yet another Razorback fan, cloaked as an A-State fan. Why would he do this? What, he couldn’t get a job covering anyone else? He had to bring his HERE of all places?
Surely there are hundreds of young writers that either like the Red Wolves or have no dog in the fight that qualify for the position. Surely there’s at least ONE person that could do this job that doesn’t love that school that has done so much to hurt mine.
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