Looking for 'inside information'? Best sports stories are in fan experiences | Rob Oller
Every sports fan I know wants the “inside story” on what’s happening with their favorite player and team. Or in some cases their least favorite player and the team they cannot stand. Schadenfreude, right?
From my 93-year-old mother to the college students I instruct — “Professor Oller” still sounds a tad pretentious for a sports writer — everyone wants the skinny on the thin-skinned coach, goofy-grinned golfer and … LeBron.
Well, sorry to disappoint, but you won’t find that here, in part because I learned long ago that members of the media really do not know the people we write and talk about, at least not beyond basic personality traits. We get just enough of a look at our subjects to accurately describe their surface, and sometimes catch a glimpse of what’s underneath. But humans are good at being chameleons, at compartmentalizing work and home and revealing only what we want others to see.
Generally speaking, it is smart to stick with what we observe happening on the field, court, ice and track. But not always. Sometimes sharing an athlete’s “inside story” helps outsiders connect through the shared experience of sports.
Most of us will never know what it is like to enter the Horseshoe to the cheers of 102,000, gloving a puck to deny Alex Ovechkin or burying a 3-pointer to win an NBA playoff game, but most can relate to the camaraderie built through winning, losing and — mostly — laughter that had nothing to do with X’s and O’s.
“Most people get to see the bright lights of college football, but they don’t get to see the absolutely best times, and those happen off the field,” former Ohio State wide receiver Dimitrious Stanley said in a text.
Stanley made big plays in big games for the Buckeyes, but the longest-lasting memories did not involve between the lines.
“The best times are Friday nights before the games,” he wrote. “Pregame bus ride to the dinner and movies. Some of the best laughs of my life happened during this time. The jokes, emotion and laughs created amazing camaraderie. This is where you created family for life.”
That sense of camaraderie, that "inside" story, is common to sports. So where did you create it? In high school that time you pranked the coach? In the dugout talking trash? In the locker room encouraging a crestfallen teammate?
Really what we’re talking about is bonding over shared experiences that build a sense of community. Ohio State football calls it “brotherhood,” but it is open to the entire sports-loving family. It is commiserating with your father after another Cleveland Browns loss and celebrating a Cincinnati Reds win — they actually do exist — with your sister.
At a recent college track reunion, no one talked about races run decades ago. Everything centered on behind-the-scenes stories. Emphasis on “behind,” like when an Ohio State sprinter who shall remain nameless mooned another driver through the window of our 12-passenger van.
Or the time we, er, other teammates taped one of our distance runners to his bed and stood him up on a wall outside the dorm.
Or the time the entire team gathered at the parents of one of our jumpers and things were going smoothly until an uncle told an off-color joke that killed the mood and led to an abrupt exit. Awkward.
Former Ohio State tight end Ben Hartsock won a BCS national championship in 2002 and played 11 seasons in the NFL, but his dearest memories involve the close friendships and comical fireworks that developed off the field.
“One time, I think it was with (tight end) Ryan Hamby, we used our cars to pin in Shane Olivea’s car so the only way he could get in was to climb through the back window and climb over the seats,” Hartsock texted, recalling the prank pulled on his friend, a 325-pound offensive lineman.
“Shane was a big dude, so it was hilarious to watch him try to contort himself to get in. His response was to let the air out of all of my tires … a complete overreaction, but he thought it was hilarious,” Hartsock wrote, adding “RIP.” Olivea died March 2 at age 40.
These insider stories tend to be universal in impact, if not detail. My brother and I still stew over the golf match we choked away and laugh about my dad’s ability to “see” his good golf shots but not his bad ones. RIP.
You don’t need to be “The Man in the Arena” to get the inside story on Tom Brady or LeBron. Just recall your own sports experiences and you’ll know at least a little about what makes them tick.