Bob Ryan’s life as a ‘fan’ in the press box

My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center is on Bob Ryan, who wrote about his career in a new autobiography.

From the column:


Bob Ryan interrupted our interview for a moment.

“What did Sports Illustrated say about me again?” Ryan said.

Ryan shuffled through the pages of the magazine. Once a print guy, always a print guy. He finally found the page where there was a short review of his autobiography, “Scribe: My Life in Sports.”

The blurb offered praise, saying the book was an entertaining read. Then Ryan read the kicker:

“’…Even though (Ryan) blurred the line between journalist and fan,’” Ryan said.

Ryan paused for a moment about a rather insulting characterization before firing back in his distinctive rapid-fire tone.

“I plead guilty,” said Ryan, his voice rising. “I am a fan. I’ve always been a fan.”

Wait a minute? The great Boston Globe “scribe” would seem to be violating the grand sportswriter’s credo. Jerome Holtzman’s famous book, “No Cheering in the Press Box,” is named that way for a reason.

Since forever, sportswriters were taught to be objective chroniclers of the games other people play. While the crowd below erupts at airliner-decibels, the press box is supposed to be as quiet as the congregation in silent prayer.

Ryan’s long time Globe colleague, Dan Shaughnessy, addressed the issue earlier this year  when he told readers:

“I don’t care if they win. I don’t care if they lose. I love sports. I love football. I love the story. The story can be great, win or lose. But I am not emotional about the outcome.”

Yet here is Ryan in his book declaring openly that he is a fan of the Boston Celtics, a team he covered and the foundation of his journalistic legacy. He is a long-time season-ticket holder to the Boston Red Sox and wants them to win as well.

So what gives?

“I don’t see any problem,” Ryan said. “You can have an allegiance in your heart for the team you’re covering. When the game is over, you put on your journalist’s hat and write the story. I never saw that contradiction. I always wrote for the fan and try to emphasize the fan’s point of view in my stories.”

Ryan also says he has a practical reason for his rooting interests. “It makes for better stories when the home team wins,” he said.

To be clear, Ryan never sat on press row wearing a No. 33 Larry Bird jersey. He didn’t thrust his arms up in the air like that Boston policeman when David Ortiz hit his famous homer against Detroit last year.

Ryan never has pulled any punches on the teams he has covered. Let the record show, he has come down hard early and often in his career.

“I don’t think anyone has ever complained that I ever was too soft on the Celtics,” Ryan said. “Boston College (where Ryan attended school) thinks I’m Mr. Negative. ‘How dare I question things that happened there through the years?’ My bosses never complained about my reporting. All I know is that whatever I did through the years seemed to work pretty well.”


Also if you are in the mood for more Ryan, he talks about his career at length in the latest edition of “Still No Cheering in the Press Box” from the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at Maryland.


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