Smile Politely

Skip my speech and drink beer

Wright Thompson is a senior writer for and ESPN The Magazine. He also is a television reporter for Outside the Lines and E:60. Thompson has been the recipient of many awards, including an Emmy, and is a National Magazine Award finalist this year.

He’ll be on campus tonight, April 30th, to give a talk to students entitled “How to be a Great Sports Journalist Today and Tomorrow”. It will be held in room 66 of the Main Library from noon-1 p.m.

Before his trip, I talked with Thompson about his career and his upcoming lecture. Over the course of our conversation, his quick wit, colorful sense of humor, and to-the-point responses made the reasons behind his success as a journalist clear.

Photo by: Ball State Athletics

Smile Politely: What made you want to enter journalism as a profession?

Wright Thompson: I’ve always been fascinated by stories and different places and people. I thought this was a way to try to understand them.

SP: In your bio, you mentioned you were most proud of the Ernie Pyle Award. What exactly did you win this award for?

Thompson: It was a for a series of stories I wrote, two or three years ago. I think the stories are on their website. It was for dispatches from around the world, and I like that it wasn’t just for one story. Most contests are sort of jokes.

SP: Were the stories connected?

Thompson: No it was just for a year’s work.

SP: What is the best perk of being a sports reporter?

Thompson: I like to travel. I get to go to a bunch of different interesting places and meet interesting people and try out their lives.

SP: Do you get to go to a lot of games?

Thompson:I don’t go to as many games as I used to, but I’ve been to pretty much everything there is to go to. I get to see all that stuff: the world’s great stadiums.

SP: What is your favorite sport to cover and why?

Thompson: My favorite sport to cover is probably horse racing because the horses can’t lie to you. My favorite sport to watch is golf because I can fall asleep on my couch.

SP: Who is your favorite golfer?

Thompson: You know, there is just Tiger Woods. I don’t think there really are other golfers. I like the courses more than the golfer. Honestly, I’m not kidding, I just like to fall asleep watching. Naps are great.

SP: The reason I’m asking is I always wonder how sports reporters handle bias. For example, if you love Tiger Woods and you have to write a piece about the Masters, how do you handle bias?

Thompson: It’s not that serious. Anytime you really like someone, just spend some time around them, and then you won’t like them anymore. I think the opposite of bias is more likely to be a real problem. Any Yankees fan who has actually met the Yankees would hate the Yankees. Be careful about meeting your heroes because they are probably douchebags.

SP: Did you make a March Madness bracket? Did you do well?

Thompson: Actually, I was in South America for all of March, and I actually forget the tournament was happening. I didn’t fill out a bracket for the first time ever. Although, I ususally do pretty well.

SP: Why were you in South America?

Thompson: World Cup stuff.

SP: What was your favorite part?

Thompson: I’ve been there a lot over the last year. I’ve been to Brazil three or four times. This trip was Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. My favorite part is red wine steaks.

SP: When your abroad, what is your role?

Thompson: I’m on profile, so it’s mostly interviewing athletes and people who know them. I only went to one game, and I was down there for a month.

SP: What made you want to come to Champaign to give a speech?

Thompson: Walt Harrington. Walt Harrington is a god among men. Everybody I know who writes magazine stories thinks that Walt is just the absolute father of the genre. I’m on the road so much I don’t ever get on an airplane to do something like this. But if Walt calls, you answer.

(Walt Harrington is a Journalism Professor in the College of Media)

SP: Do you know him personally?

Thompson: I know him. I’ve known of him for much longer. I mean everybody knows Walt. Walt’s a legend truly. A guy like that picks up the phone and asks you to do something, you just do it.

SP: What will the lecture focus on?

Thompson: I have no idea. I’m not going to write it. I’m just going to talk, and I hope that people ask questions. It shouldn’t feel like Grandpa lecturing; we should just sit around and have a conversation.

SP: What is the main piece of advice you would have for journalism students?

Thompson: Work harder than the person sitting next to you. Hard work, that’s it. There is no secret. You don’t actually have to really be that smart, just work hard. I work as hard today as I did twelve years ago. It doesn’t ever stop.

SP: Is there any article you are most proud of?

Thompson: I really like a profile I wrote of a wrestling coach named Dan Gable that I wrote last year. There is nothing I would change.

SP: When it comes to profile pieces, is there a key to getting the details of a person?

Thompson: Just watch and be curious. There is no black magic, just be interested.

SP: Why should people come and hear you speak?

Thompson: No, you should totally skip my speech and go drink beer.

SP: At 12 in the afternoon?

Thompson: Yes, especially at 12 in the afternoon.

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