By Vanessa Pinto—
While most people consider the Rutgers Journalism and Media Studies Department as the jumpstart to their career, Rick Warner takes a reverse approach. Instead, he has chosen to work at J/MS following his career as an award-winning journalist.
The former Associated Press reporter is teaching the popular course, Sports Reporting and Writing.
“I thought that would be an interesting new thing to try,” said Warner, who has covered the Olympic Games and interviewed athletes such Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali and Carl Lewis. “I’ve never taught in my life, and it’s been a real learning experience for me.”
He began covering hard news like crime, politics and local government. After a few years, the Old Bridge resident decided to switch to sports reporting. Warner attributes this change to his short attention span.
“If you’re getting into sports writing because you’re a fan and want to meet famous athletes, find another profession.” —Rick Warner
“If I cover one subject for a few years I’ll want to do something else,” he said.
Warner broke into sports just as steroid-use among professional athletes came to light. Warner’s coverage of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea, produced one of the first steroid scandals in professional sports.
One-hundred-meter sprinter Ben Johnson crushed Carl Lewis during the final race but then tested positive for steroid use and was stripped of his medals.
“He kind of went away in disgrace, and I covered that,” Warner said.
Though Warner has had the pleasure of meeting many famous athletes, he finds they give less interesting interviews.
“They get kind of jaded because they are asked the same questions over and over and give you kind of memorized answers,” Warner said.
Instead, someone who is not constantly interviewed tends to be fresher and really appreciates the media attention, according to Warner. He said covering an event like the Olympics opens reporters up to great stories that would otherwise never surface.
“The Olympics are a great place to get those kinds of stories because these are people that don’t get any attention ever. People like rowers and even gymnasts don’t get covered the way basketball players do.”
Finding interesting stories is not always about interviewing the right athlete. It can just be a matter of being at the right place at the right time. During the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Warner found himself fatally close to the terrorist bombing in Centennial Park. While working late at the Associated Press office he heard a loud blast that caught his attention. He grabbed his notebook and ran.
“I was one of, if not the first, reporter on the scene,” Warner recalled. “It was just chaos. There was blood everywhere, people sprawled everywhere.”
He reminds his students that not all sports reporters are able to cover events as prestigious the Olympics, Super Bowl and Wimbledon. More often, reporters cover season games, feature stories, and more recently, investigative work. Warner also recommends to students that if they want to be sports reporters they must have knowledge of steroids, human growth hormones and other drugs.
“There are drug stories, sexual assault stories – there are always athletes getting in trouble with that,” Warner said, “and scandals in college with athletes’ accepting money.”
Warner advised students pursuing careers in sports journalism to do it for the right reasons.
“If you’re getting into sports writing because you’re a fan and want to meet famous athletes, find another profession,” he said.