The One E-mail That Wasn't Insulting

Mr. Reilly,
I'm an aspiring sports journalist. I've been writing for a local paper for the past two and a half years, mostly covering my school's teams. This fall, our football team, which advanced to the state finals the year before, struggled, and I criticized the quarterback. The kid is my age, and I certainly would not like a classmate writing negatively about me. However, he doesn't just dislike me now—he accuses me of having such an effect on his mental game that I shortened their season. You've always been outspoken about certain individuals (Barry Bonds and Bob Huggins come to my mind). How do you cope with the knowledge that there are people that absolutely despise you, and how do you summon the courage to interview people you've previously criticized? Thank you very much.

—Andy Wagaman

It depends on how you did it. There's a difference between saying, "Milo Putz's arm this season seemed to be made of overcooked fettucini and his feet of Ready-Mix cement," and saying, "Milo Putz ought to be shot, quartered and then hung." Were you personal? Because no high school player deserves a personal attack. But if you kept your criticisms of the QB to what he did on the field, how he played, then he needs to either grow a thicker skin or back off and let somebody else lead. But, yes, he gets to hate you either way. And you still have to go up to him and try to get the day's story. That's part of this business. You criticize the people you cover. The people you cover get to criticize you. But no matter what, you have to keep writing in the most honest and fair way you can.

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