By Rixon Lane
In case you missed it, two writers who run Texas and Texas A&M websites got into a Twitter war on Monday.
Of all the responses to this mud-slinging, the one I found most interesting came from the Twitter account of a media personality who covers South Carolina. The tweet read "Aren't the writers/reporters for college sports sites fans of the school they write about? Let us be honest here."
I'd like to respond. No...I'm not.
First, a little background info. I attended my first South Carolina football game when I was two years old. My dad had season tickets and he took me, diapers and all, to the 1994 home opener against Eric Zeier's Georgia Bulldogs. From that night on, going to Gamecock football games with my dad became a tradition. For the next 16 years, I missed fewer than 10 home games. I had a routine. Sit with my dad during the first half, right beneath the over hang that protects those few lucky fans from the threat of rain in the south end zone, go down the row and sit on the steps next to my uncles for almost all of the second half, return to my dad for the final minute of the game.
Every home game for 16 years.
I applied to attend the University of South Carolina (the only school I applied to, by the way), and enrolled in the fall of 2010. I sat in the student section with my new friends and cheered Marcus Lattimore and Stephen Garcia as the Gamecocks won the SEC East. When football ended, I faithfully attended basketball games as a member of the "Garnet Army." I made the trip to the College World Series in 2010 and 2011 to watch South Carolina compete for a national championship. I was as faithful to the Gamecocks as I could possibly be.
During my freshman year at USC, I began hosting a sports talk radio show on the campus radio station. I discussed all Gamecock sports, but I had to rely on local media personalities to find out what had been said at press conferences and media outings, which hindered my ability to have the type of show I wanted. When the 2011-12 school year rolled around, I had a wild idea: I would request media credentials for football season.
I made my request and was approved by the media relations department. I sat in the press box during football season, where I quickly learned proper press box etiquette: no wearing Gamecock colors and no cheering. Terrified of losing my credentials, I strictly adhered to the rules.
From there, my media work snowballed. I worked with Garnet Report and The Daily Gamecock, traveling to the Capital One Bowl and the College World Series to cover South Carolina athletics. I began to feel more like a reporter than a college student. I was asking questions of Steve Spurrier and Chad Holbrook, writing stories that were read by fans instead of scouring the internet looking for information about the Gamecocks.
I can't tell you when the shift officially happened. Maybe it was when I was still a student and stopped wearing South Carolina colors to class because I didn't want people to think I was biased. Maybe it was when not cheering while watching sporting events became second-nature to me.
Regardless of when it happened, it was becoming obvious to me that I was no longer a fan.
This realization became crystal clear last November, when I traveled to Death Valley to cover the South Carolina-Clemson football game. The Gamecocks were humbled by the Tigers, losing to Clemson for the first time since 2008, my junior year of high school. I had grown up in a Clemson town, always verbally sparring with my friends and neighbors. I had crowed proudly when the Gamecocks beat Clemson in my senior year and had taken delight in the five-game winning streak. I had never asked to cover a South Carolina-Clemson football game before because I didn't think I'd be able to control my emotions. Now, here I was in the press box at Death Valley watching South Carolina lose.
And it didn't bother me one bit.
Don't get me wrong, fans in college athletics are what make the sports so much fun. However, there are plenty of fans who can be irrational when it comes to to their college teams. Those people are difficult to converse with and nearly impossible to reason with if their team is struggling. Trust me, I have Gamecock and Clemson fans in my family and have seen them both have their issues over the past several seasons.
I'm thankful that I was able to cover the Gamecocks in a professional environment and had to refrain from cheering for them. Every fan should have to at some point. You see things more clearly when you no longer are rooting a team. It's not my job to hope for certain results, it's my job to break those results down. I have a responsibility to be honest about South Carolina athletics and I have always believed that I can not do that to the best of my ability if I am actively pulling for the team. Rooting for the Gamecocks makes me emotional, which affects how I perceive the way games play out, which would affect my thoughts about the results of those games.
All of this is why seeing people acting like fans when they work in the media bothers me. I was the biggest Gamecock fan there could be and I adapted when I became a media member. If I could do it, I'm confident that others can.
Also, please understand that I have absolutely no issue with fans who write about their teams in non-professional settings. Some of the most entertaining things I read come from fans who have created websites devoted to their thoughts and feelings about their favorite teams. When people who are paid to cover teams behave like fans, however, is a different story.
There are plenty of colleges that I actively pull for. I'm a fan of Lander University, where I'm employed as a play-by-play announcer for the baseball team. I'm a fan of Wofford, where my cousin played baseball for four seasons. I'm a fan of Converse College, where my fiancé played soccer and was part of the most successful senior class in program history.
But I'm not a fan of the South Carolina Gamecocks. I cover them.
If I'm ever lucky enough to be employed by USC, which has always been my dream job, I will once again root for their success in athletics.
But until that day comes, everyone else can have their fandom, can have their days and moods affected by the performance of 18-to-22 year olds.
I have work to do.