Emotion or invasion?

Being an up-and-coming sports journalist, one of the first things you learn is that it is your job to know everything about an athlete’s life and report it to the masses.

And when I say everything, I mean everything. But how much information is too much information?

Last week, I wrote a story about marijuana residue discovered in the apartment of men’s basketball player Yusuf Baker.

Eventually, no drugs or drug paraphernalia were found, but it was a story that, as a journalist, I felt compelled to run.

Baker, among other scholarship athletes, is paid to play basketball. While many of us struggle with one or two jobs to get an education, athletes are playing their game without the constant stress of wondering whether to have the chicken or beef Ramen noodles for their single meal of the day.

Besides earning scholarship dollars to play a game, they are also representing the school or city for whom they play.

It may be unfair to compare a basketball or football player to a congressman or president. Nevertheless, as politicians represent a nation or state, any misdemeanor is highlighted as a flaw in their character. It should be the same for someone representing a university that you take pride in.

But how much does the writer and the public need to know?

Friday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Joe Jurevicious and his wife Mary conducted a press conference where they discussed and answered questions concerning the death of their 10-week-old son.

Michael William passed away in March from a rare neurodegenerative disease called fetal sialidosis.

It is the media’s job to report on the toddler’s passing because it is part of what makes up the Bucs’ wide receiver off the field. But should his every feeling and emotion, particularly at such a distressing time, be laid bare to the general public?

I don’t feel that 2.8 million people need to watch mourning parents speak of the tragic event while using their hands to cover their tear-filled eyes.

When we start poking into the private lives of people and it becomes drama instead of news, newspapers and broadcasts start to resemble one of the things wrong with America today: reality television.

The Jurevicious press conference was not the only example this past weekend of a journalist investigating a sports figure’s life. The St. Petersburg Times ran a story about USF’s men’s basketball coach Robert McCullum, but the first-year coach of the Bulls would not comment on anything concerning his wife and child.

“I’ve always tried to be a very private person,” McCullum said in the story. “Having said that, I understand that there’s a side of my job that puts me in the public light. I understand that. But having said that, I am not a politician; I am not running for an office. I don’t need to be treated like I’m running for public office.”

I have not yet had the chance to establish a relationship with McCullum, but by reading his interview, I can at least say I have respect for him.

I cover sports because I feel it is an amazing thing to see an athlete physically doing something that makes your jaw drop, whether it be making a no-look behind-the-back pass or breaking four tackles for a 60-yard run.

When I started this journey into print four years ago, I didn’t expect that I would be scouring police reports and wondering if an athlete’s personal life was headed the way of a toilet flush.

But I have had to accept that the population that I write for has the right to know if a public figure is doing drugs, and desires to see if another figure has a heartbreak worse than theirs.

My favorite emotion in sports is when a team wins an improbable game, and the walk-on benched player is among the first to give his teammates a chest bump.

The emotion I never want to share with my readers is heartbreak, because the last words an athlete said to his ex-convict father were, “You mean nothing to me.”

Week after week, watching and reading about the personal lives of people playing a game has taught me that, as a journalist, I should keep my own personal life in perspective when reporting.

Hopefully, the world of journalism and those who need it for information and entertainment, realize this as well.