PARTING SHOT: Exposing The Fan Hiding in Press Row

On Senior Night for the women’s basketball team in February of 2006, a freshman covered her first live game for The Harvard Crimson’s sports section.

I took my seat on press row alongside the then-chair of the Sports Board, excited by the crowds that were (slowly) filtering into Lavietes Pavilion and the Harvard and Princeton squads exchanging high-fives in their layup lines.

Noting my wide eyes, my fellow reporter said, “Remember, you can’t cheer.”

I had my pen and pad, my tape recorder, and my eye for basketball at the ready. But at that moment, I realized that sportswriting would require more from me than I ever anticipated—and more than I could ever really deliver.

The Crimson holds itself to high standards of journalism. One of its more sacred rules is its conflict-of-interest policy, which prohibits writers from covering blockmates, close friends, and significant others (poorly-masked man-crushes are apparently fair game, as the cross that multiple male members of the Sports Board carry for star hoopster Jeremy Lin has demonstrated).

While this policy is an essential component of the Crimson’s ability to provide unbiased coverage, it clashes with what sports are meant to deliver: pride, personality, and a connection between teams and fans.

My four years covering sports for The Crimson have only confirmed what I suspected at that first women’s basketball game: that I, a sports fan once and for all, won’t ever be able to separate myself from the personalities, the excitement, and the stories that make sports great. Just like my mother, who insists on being told whom to root for whenever a sporting event is on in my home, I find it difficult to watch a game—especially a Harvard game—without my allegiances shining through. Every game I’ve covered for The Crimson has been an exercise in maintaining neutrality, in walking the fine line between knowing the Harvard teams the best I can and realizing that I’m a fan of those same teams.

I’ll admit it: more often than not, I’ve failed in walking this line. My experiences covering sports for The Crimson have been anything but detached.

Like the sporadic e-mail correspondence I’ve kept up with a graduate of Harvard’s Class of 1944 and grandfather to a member of the women’s basketball team; he follows The Crimson’s coverage of the team because his age keeps him from traveling to watch his granddaughter play in person. Like the interview I conducted with the baseball team’s hearing-impaired student manager, whose enthusiasm for his teammates and life showed me the best that sports and Harvard have to offer.

Stories like these have made it impossible for me—and, I suspect, the other writers whom I’ve been lucky enough to call friends—to cover Harvard sports with complete objectivity. Far from interfering with our coverage, these connections strengthen it. I don’t cover Harvard teams because it’s my job (it’s not) or because these teams are the best in the country at what they do (though occasionally, they are). I cover them because sports and college are about making connections to people, places, and events. Sports and its fans—writers included—would be far worse off if these connections were avoided, and perfect neutrality maintained.

For me, the Sports Board—and The Crimson overall—has been many things. It’s made me a better fan, and a better writer. It’s been a free trip to Fenway, a place in the press box, and a lesson in watching three-win teams alongside league champions.

I’ve seen my sports knowledge expanded by covering teams like volleyball and sailing along with my better-known favorites.

But inevitably, my experience at the Crimson has gone far beyond the coverage—and, in so doing, gone far beyond neutrality. No one who follows sports can maintain that the joy they find in it is just about sports: it’s about family, friends, lasting memories, and unforgettable moments. College, unsurprisingly, is the same way.

Covering sports in my four years at Harvard has led me to unexpected people and places, and even made me reconsider my career plans. Most importantly, it has included me in a group of people who unabashedly love sports, Harvard, and each other. I won’t apologize for my bias—I embrace it.

—Staff writer Emily W. Cunningham can be reached at ecunning@fas.harvard.edu.

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