Column: The fine line between journalism and fandom

Alex Eisen

Before I begin, a shoutout is needed for winter making a return in April and making this column a last minute thing.

I’m a little annoyed, however, that my original assignment this weekend, covering the Grand Valley State softball team, had to be rescheduled because I would have thoroughly enjoyed watching Lakers play in the snow, but we can’t all get what we want.

So, on short notice, here are my thoughts out of left field on the balance of being a sports journalist and also being an avid fan of certain teams—something I struggle with daily.

Chances are, if you’re a GVSU student reading this, then you spend your weekend partying. At least, that’s what I’ve been brainwashed into believing.

Even if you weren’t out having the time of your life, I’m still willing to bet my remaining FanDuel balance that whatever you were doing was more satisfying than me screaming at a television screen.

Between channel-flipping from Andre Drummond bricking free throws to Mike Green carelessly giving away the puck, I lost my temper more than a few times watching as the Detroit Pistons and Red Wings tried to throw away their playoff chances, and I might have said some words I can’t repeat here in print.

Those who know me around campus would probably call bull… (nope, can’t use that word, either) that the kid who barely talks in class could have a Tommy Lasorda-esque tirade watching grown men play a kid’s game.

Well, it’s true—except for the swearing, I was too sheltered as a child and Stan Van Gundy usually takes the words right out of my mouth during a Piston’s timeout anyway.

Fandom changes a person. It’s why I mainly watch sports in isolation now and form a wall between myself and society.

The general rule of thumb as a journalist is to be objective (and to avoid clichés like the plague), but that is getting increasingly difficult in sports journalism as fandom is taking over.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m guilty.

I wrote columns about the Red Wings for two years, which provided more opinions than facts. I occasional let off some steam or cheer for my favorite teams on Twitter (@AEisen13, shameless plug). I have never interviewed an opposing coach or players who played against a GVSU team I was assigned to report on.

While I obviously don’t have a lot of experience in the industry and continue to reevaluate my life every time 19-year-old Dylan Larkin lights the lamp for the Red Wings, I think it’s naïve to believe professional sports journalists don’t have favorite teams or, likewise, a college student doesn’t know the rules to beer pong.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. There is, however, a fine line.

I’m a diehard Detroit sports fan and also a proud GVSU Laker. Has that affected some of the work I’ve done? Sure, probably. To the extent where I’m bashing the opposition and being unreasonably biased? Of course not.

But, that’s just the nature of the job and how sports journalism is changing. We are moving further away from standard game recaps because readership is dwindling. Who reads a game summary when you can watch the highlights?

We, the media, are all fighting for your attention. Those that stand out tap into the fandom and express their opinions within that: Bill Simmons, Collin Cowherd, Scott Van Pelt, etc.

So, hopefully shouting “GOOAAAL” or “Ball don’t lie” as I sit on the couch in a dimly lit room can only help my future.

That said, I’m not paid to be a cheerleader nor a critic. I’m paid to report the facts.

I will continue to do so no matter where I end up after I graduate in a few weeks, regardless of the absurd amount of Detroit and GVSU memorabilia I have accumulated over the years.

I would have loved adding a picture of a snow-covered dugout to my collection.