Sunday, December 9, 2012

On why I'm becoming a Panthers fan

The Panthers never seemed to catch on in Cary. Don't believe me? Go watch football at a Cary sports bar on Sunday afternoon. You'll see Steelers jerseys, Redskins jerseys and Giants jerseys. No Panthers jerseys. Except for maybe one guy watching the game on a corner screen at the bar.

Maybe it's because Cary (and the surrounding area) is filled with transplants, who have stronger ties to teams in other cities.

Whatever the reason, that's part of the reason why I was never a Panthers fan growing up. Not to say I ignored the team. I had one of those Panthers fake uniforms (Kerry Collins, I believe) complete with Styrofoam shoulder pads and a plastic helmet. I still have a Sam Mills jersey in a closet somewhere.

Growing up, though, I was a Dolphins fan, like my dad. I had multiple Dan Marino jerseys. That lasted until Super Bowl XXIV.

I was looking for a new team. The Dolphins weren't doing it for me. I always picked a team to root for in the Super Bowl, and the Tennessee Titans seemed as good a choice as any. They were new. They were in a neighboring state. They had pretty blue colors (yes, that mattered to me).

Then they came within one yard of tying the Rams at the end of the game, with Kevin Dyson stretching his arm out, trying to reach the end zone and coming up just short.

I was sold.

For the 12 years since I've been a Titans fan. I've never lived in Tennessee. I'd only visited the state twice before my wife moved to Memphis to teach for two years. It wasn't until 2010 that I saw the Titans play a regular season football game in person in Nashville. They haven't sniffed the Super Bowl since I've started pulling for them.

People always ask me why I pull for them, and I tell them the story of watching the Super Bowl. But it's getting harder to justify.

I moved to Charlotte in 2009 after I graduated from college. Here, the Panthers are everything, and it makes sense. You go to a sports bar here and you may see jerseys for other teams, but the loudest cheers come when the Panthers do well.

I read about the Panthers all the time in the Observer. I maybe read one story a month about the Titans in the Tennessean. I'm pretty sure I can name more Panthers players than I can Titans players. It's a chore to find a place that is playing the Titans game each Sunday. The Panthers are always on local TV, every week, no matter what time they play.

It's gotten hard to be a Titans fan.

Most fans would power through that, team loyalty overcoming the inconvenience. But here's the thing: I was never really that loyal to the Titans. I pulled for them, sure. I own the jerseys. But that's about it. They win? Yay. They lose? Eh. I love football too much to be the passive fan that I've become.

That's why I've decided to switch my allegiances to the Panthers, even though they're going through one of the worst stretches in the franchise's history.

I went to my first regular season Panthers game a few weeks ago. It was cold, the stadium was half full and the Panthers blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead to lose in overtime to the Buccaneers. I had a blast.

There's something special about rooting for (and griping about) the hometown team. You're all in the same boat. It's the same thing I enjoy about the Olympics and the World Cup: Almost everyone is pulling for the same team. You share in the joys of victory and the frustration of mediocrity.

The Panthers are my team. I'll be in Bank of America Stadium Sunday to watch them play the Falcons, wearing the one Panthers shirt I own. They'll probably lose. But when they do, I'll get to walk out grumbling with the rest of the fans instead of being the only one in the bar that cares that the Titans won. Or lost.

Plus, I still get to wear a pretty shade of blue.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A story unlike any I've told before

Jim Mueller. Charlotte Observer photo by Robert Lahser.
The chance to write a story like this doesn't come around often for a high school sports writer. I guess I got lucky.

Every year I send out an email to the athletic directors of the schools I cover. It's generic, just asking them to give their coaches my email for story ideas. Many don't respond, but I always end up with a few good ideas. This time, I learned about an incredible story. 

It's about Jim Mueller. He's 43. He is a first year boys' soccer coach at Butler High after moving to Pineville from Chicago this summer. And about six years ago he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease

Mueller and his wife, Michelle, were kind enough to open up to me about their story. I met with them at their apartment, saw Jim lead a practice with his team at Butler and saw him coach several games. The Muellers are an inspiring family. 

There's so much more I wanted to put in this story. It could have gone 5,000 more words, but I'm happy with the finished product. And I'm honored I could tell Jim Mueller's story. 

Jim Mueller writes his plan for Butler High boys’ soccer practices – what he wants to say, detailed descriptions of the drills to run – into a large notebook, which he references throughout practice.

On the sidelines during games, Mueller takes notes in a pocket-sized notebook about everything from how the referees are calling the game to what formation to run.

Mueller, whose Butler team has gone from the bottom of the Southwestern 4A to a No. 15 ranking in the state 4A poll, may be the most organized soccer coach in the area.

That’s because Mueller, 43, has to be. He has early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Diagnosed at 36, he is one of 5.4 million Americans with the disease. Only 4 percent are under age 65.

Read the rest of the story here

Monday, September 17, 2012

What I did at the Democratic National Convention

I temporarily left my duties as a high school sports writer for the first week of September to help the Charlotte Observer cover the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

It was crazy and fun. Some might even say it was crazy fun. But more than anything, it was a lot of work.

I'm not going to even pretend I did as much as some of my colleagues, but I was still amazed at what I accomplished in five days. So I decided to write it down.

Here, in Storify form, is what I did during the DNC. 

(Warning: It is really freakin' long.)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

An open letter to IKEA

I thought about writing a long ranting post about the service Courtney and I received at the Charlotte IKEA in July. Instead, I'm going to repost here the letter that I wrote to IKEA Corporate and also copied to the Charlotte store.

IKEA Customer Service
420 Alan Wood Rd.
 Conshohocken, PA 19428

To Whom it May Concern,

I meant to send this letter much earlier, but I’ve been busy getting married and moving into a new house this summer. That is what made the poor customer service I received at the Charlotte IKEA store so frustrating.

My new wife and I went to IKEA July 7, 2012, to buy a new bedside table and desk for our house. We found the table and found a desk we liked, but it was out of stock. We were told to come back later that week after a new shipment came in. On Monday, July 9, my wife called the store, where the system told her there were 19 desks in stock. We drove the 45 minutes to the IKEA only to find no desks in the bin. After talking to several employees, we realized that the desks were in the store, but on a wrapped pallet several shelves higher. We also learned about your store policy that doesn’t allow forklifts on the floor during operating hours.

While that policy is frustrating, we understand it. But we also didn’t feel that it was right for us to have to either make the long drive out to the store again the next day or wait around for several hours to pick it up after closing when we were told the desk was in stock. Eventually, a member of the store’s HR department (her name escapes us now) offered to ship us the desk, the next day, telling us it would arrive within the week. We agreed.

We paid for the desk that day, kept the receipt and gave the HR worker our physical address and email address so that she could send us the tracking number of the packages so we knew when to expect them. Nearly a week went by and we had no email and no package.

We spent the next week playing phone tag with the store’s HR department. We would call them during normal operating hours and be forced to leave a voicemail. At one point, we were asked to “confirm” our address and which desk we wanted. I take that to mean whatever employee we worked with lost all of our information. Finally, more than two weeks after “buying” the desk, someone at the store left us a voicemail saying the package had shipped and gave us the tracking number.

The desk arrived and was thankfully unharmed. But, again, it arrived more than two weeks after it was purchased. If we hadn’t been persistent, I doubt the desk would have arrived at all even though it had been paid for in full.

We both shop and IKEA regularly and have had overwhelmingly positive experiences. That’s part of the reason we were so appalled by the service we received with our last purchase.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.


Corey and Courtney Inscoe

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

@ESPN and how media outlets shouldn't do Twitter

I've used this space before to bash ESPN. I even think that they are ruining modern sportswriting. (I can't find that blog post for some reason, but it happened.)

But ESPN gets some things right. And, for most people, it is the first place to go for sports news.

So I was surprised at first when I saw the "Worldwide Leader" posting things like this on its Twitter account, @espn.

So apparently ESPN set up some sort of goofy Fan Hall of Fame. (I'm not going to link to it here out of principle.) That's cool and all. And as a media outlet on Twitter, you should use the medium to publicize it. I get it. But this?

@espn sent seven tweets in a row with that exact same wording to the Twitter accounts of seven different NASCAR drivers in a span of 37 minutes Monday. Earlier in the day, the account sent a spurt of the same message to other NASCAR drivers. Last week I saw the same message sent to college team and Major League Soccer team twitter accounts.

That's not something a "Worldwide Leader" media Twitter account should be doing. That's the kind of crap you see from a bad middle-aged realtor who heard that Twitter would boost sales and has no freakin' clue how to use it. Who runs this account?

It annoyed me so much that I unfollowed. I know I'm a drop in the bucket, but I really, really hope they read this @ message:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

[Tuesday Guilty Pleasure] "24"

I debated whether this qualifies as a guilty pleasure. I'm sure about the guilty part, but I can't say for sure that watching the "hit" Fox television show "24" brings me pleasure. I watch it anyway.

I remember watching one or two seasons of the show when it first aired. I remember liking it. So when I saw that all eight seasons were on Netflix Instant Play, I couldn't resist.

After three seasons and three episodes, I've concluded that this is a frustrating and pointless show, but I can't stop watching.

Never before have I yelled at a TV show alone in my living room. Never before have I hoped for the deaths of non-evil main characters and then cheered out loud when they are finally taken out. Never before have I laughed out loud when a main character is gravely injured.

All of those things have happened in just 75 episodes.

I cheered when they killed Jack's wife near the end of season one. She was helpless and whiny. How did Jack fall for that?

I cheered when they killed the president's ex-wife, Sherry Palmer, in season three, about three seasons too late, in my opinion. She was constantly backstabbing David Palmer, but he kept asking her back. And that voice ... don't even get me started on the voice.

Now if they would only do something about Kim Bauer. She does nothing but whine (like her mother), get herself in trouble and make Jack worry about her. In season two, she was never even a part of the main terrorist story line. She just kept doing dumb stuff to make Jack have to bail her butt out. (I'm happy to note that, other than an off-hand reference, she has not been a part of season four. Fingers crossed.)

I don't think I've seen another TV show with so many unlikeable characters, especially female characters. I don't know who writes this show, but I'm willing to bet money that it's not a woman. The female roles are all some version of these two stereotypes: conniving b**** or helpless damsel. Some are both at times.

Never mind that the plot requires some serious suspension of disbelief. Running around and shooting people after getting tortured and having your heart stop for several minutes? Come on, Jack.

The show takes itself so seriously when it is so utterly absurd. Yet I keep watching. And keep hoping that Kim will catch one in the chest.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

To the guy who brought me water when I passed out

Dear Kind Sir, 

I don't know your name, I never saw your face and I barely remember your voice. Hell, if Courtney didn't vouch for you I might even doubt your existence. But you know who you are. 

You saw a slightly overweight guy wander away from his girlfriend, stagger, bump into a handful of people and collapse on the grass, right near the Southern Comfort slushie machine at the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis. You could have, like so many around you, assumed that I was just another idiot who couldn't hold his liquor. Maybe you did. But you came over anyway. 

You didn't know that I had been pleasantly buzzed, yet far from drunk, when my right foot started to sting and itch. You didn't see when I rubbed at my foot or hear when I told Courtney. You didn't notice as the itch spread from my foot to my hand, then my chest and finally my neck and head. All you saw was that I collapsed. 

You bought me a $3 bottle of water. I tried to pay you back for it. Or at least I think I tried, I'm not really sure. Either way, you didn't take it. And when Courtney had to find her friends and bring them to me, you stayed and watched me. I'm sure that was fun.

You summoned the paramedics who, wrongly, assumed I was another drunk idiot. You helped make sure that, despite passing out, I managed to not lose my wallet, cell phone, watch, class ring and a key to Courtney's house. 

You did all this, and I don't know who you are. 

I just wanted to tell you that I am fine. They did a lot of tests at the hospital and everything came back negative. I've felt better over the past few days, except for on my arms where I was pricked eight times because the nurses struggled to get blood out of me. I want to tell you that it was confirmed that I wasn't just a drunken idiot. I had an allergic reaction to something. My guess: ant bites. 

Chances are you'll never read this blog, but I wanted to put this on the internet and give you a fighting chance to find it. 

To the guy who brought me water when I passed out: Thank you for being an awesome human being. 

P.S. I hope you enjoyed Girl Talk, because I sure as hell didn't get to see him .... 

P.P.S. Many thanks also go out to Courtney, who I yelled at to "stop touching me" several times while on the ground. And to her roommate, who was the collector of my things on the scene and came with Courtney to the hospital. You two are also pretty awesome human beings. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

[Tuesday Guilty Pleasure] IS BACK (maybe)

Longtime readers of my blogs (read: my mom*) will remember a series of posts I used to do called "Tuesday Guilty Pleasure." Like most series I have started, it petered out after a while.

I guess I'm not good at commitment. At least not when it comes to my blog.

I even broke out the old logo!
Anyway, the idea of TGP was to embarrass myself on a weekly basis with something from pop culture (usually a song) that I absolutely love that I really, really shouldn't. It started with Britney Spears and went downhill from there (click here for a full list, still on the old Noise Bazaar blog).

Well, faithful readers, TGP is back. Well, at least once. No promises on how long it will continue. (I mean honestly, it's late Tuesday night and I'm just now sitting down to write it. What is wrong with me?)

This week's guilty pleasure: "Call Me Maybe."

I realize that most of my guilty pleasures are girl pop songs. I'm not sure what that says about me. But this may be the best bubble gum pop song I have heard in a long time. I guarantee this thing will be stuck in your head all day at work. I look forward to the Twitter hate mail for that.

I listened to this song five times in a row once. I chair danced each time. I listened to it three times while writing this post.

The video is even cute, if you can hang on until the end.

The only thing that weirds me out a bit is that Carly Rae Jepsen is 26 and she's apparently tight with The Bieber. This song is a bit to high school-y for a 26-year-old woman, but whatever. It's still catchy.

Speaking of Biebs, you can see a video of him and other teeny-boppers I don't know lip syncing the song. The only reason I found that was because of a contest between the UNC and Duke girls' lacrosse teams where people voted for which video of "Call Me Maybe" they liked better. Ah, the black hole that is YouTube.

This post has gone on entirely too long. I'm up to four listens now. See you next Tuesday. Maybe.

*I'm pretty sure my mom doesn't even read my blog. This is a test. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

[The Corey Project] It's not the 13 miles that get you; it's the last .1

This seems like a fitting end to The Corey Project series.

If you've been following me on Twitter or Facebook for the past three months, you've probably been annoyed with my Runkeeper postings and running rants. That's because after 12 weeks of training, I ran in the Charlotte RaceFest half marathon in the SouthPark area April 14. 

It was my first organized race of any length, outside of my one year of track in high school. (Yes, I ran track in high school.) My goal was to run all 13.1 miles. I didn't accomplish that, but I'm still proud of finishing the race. 

Before starting the training, my longest run was four miles and I had only done that twice. I considered three miles a "long weekend run." The idea of running five miles during the second week terrified me. Now I can run five and six miles without too much trouble. 

The training went really well well until my 10-mile long weekend run. Whether it was mental or physical, I struggled with every training run more than 10 miles. My long runs for the last four weeks were really, really bad, which is why I was worried about the actual race. If I couldn't run 10 miles straight in a training run, how was I supposed to run 13 on race day? 

That's why, despite not completing my goal of running the whole thing, I'm happy with my finish. 

The weather was perfect: sunny but cool all morning.I started out running a 10-minute mile pace, slower than I normally do but it felt good. I made it nine miles without stopping, except for a quick pause to grab a cup of Gatorade at mile eight. 

After nine miles, things started to go downhill. Actually, uphill. The end of the course winds through the very hilly Foxcroft neighborhood. My legs were exhausted by that point and I had to walk on the first big hill after the nine-mile mark. For the last four miles, I alternated walking and running. I ran the last mile to finish strong. 

I finished the half marathon in two hours and 28 minutes, slower than I would have liked but still respectable. It averages out to about an 11:30 mile pace, including the walking. I was tired after, but felt good. 

I don't plan on running half marathons often, but I would like to go through training again and run an entire race. The best thing that came from my training is the ability to run for longer distances. I hope to keep going on three- and four-mile runs during the week and saving longer, five- or six-mile runs, for the weekends. I also want to improve my speed so that when I decide to train for another half, I will be at a faster pace and will be ahead of where I was when I started training for this one. 

I never expected to run a half marathon. At the beginning of The Corey Project, I hated running. I still don't love it, but it has become a part of my life. 

Since starting The Corey Project about a year and a half ago, I've lost about 65 pounds. I would still like to lose a little more, but I couldn't be happier with my progress. 

I will continue to update my fitness progress here, though posts won't come as frequently as they did at the beginning. Thanks to everyone that has supported me and offered advice during my project and my half marathon training. I couldn't have done it without you guys. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Non non-fiction: How much does truth matter in storytelling?

Be forewarned: This post will ramble, is made up of thoughts off the top of my head and will likely provide more questions than answers.

A couple of weeks ago, I learned about two things that happened about five years apart but deal with the same basic topic: how much does truth matter? Or, in strictly literary terms (which is mostly what we're dealing with here): when does fiction become nonfiction?

Let's start back in 2007. I found this article from The New Republic about author/storyteller David Sedaris. If you don't know Sedaris, he's the author of many books of short, supposedly true, and mostly funny stories about his family, growing up in Raleigh, his adventures during and after college and dealing with his homosexuality. His books are usually labeled "nonfiction."

I've read two of Sedaris' books - Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day - and loved both.  I'm willing to give some license to a memoir when it's about a time many years earlier. The dialogue isn't going to be exact and the timeline of events may not be perfect.  But some of the stories seemed too good to be true.

Apparently Alex Heard at The New Republic thought the same thing. Heard went back and researched many of the stories and found that a good number were, at least, greatly exaggerated (read the article for specific examples).

Heard confronted Sedaris about it. Here's what he said.

"... he certainly doesn't see himself as a journalist. In interviews, he's groaned about the time Esquire sent him to cover life at a morgue in Phoenix. The problem: He had to restrict himself to what actually happened. "I couldn't exaggerate at all," he told an interviewer. "It gave me a whole new appreciation for people who can honestly tell the truth, because people just didn't always say what I wanted them to." For Sedaris, it's all about telling "good stories." During our conversation, he told me he wouldn't care a bit if he found out that Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes was written by "some guy in Montana who made the whole thing up," because the tale he spins is so beautiful.  
"OK, but last time I checked, you're supposed to call that fiction. Sedaris honestly doesn't see the difference, and his audience isn't complaining. Should that be good enough for the rest of us?"

To be clear, Heard and I are not comparing Sedaris to a James Frey or Jayson Blair. I still like Sedaris' work. He's a wonderful writer and storyteller. But now that I know some of his stories are, at minimum, bending the truth, I'm going to wonder about it with each story I read.

So my question is: Should these books be nonfiction? Does it change the stories if they are marked as fiction? If the reader goes in thinking the stories are real, does it change how he/she enjoys or understands them?

The same day, I heard a slightly different example of the same problem. The NPR radio show This American Life devoted an entire episode earlier this year to a story about factories in China that manufacture Apple products like iPads and iPhones. The story was adapted from a one-man show by Mike Daisey called "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs."

To sum it up, the story talked about poor labor conditions in these factories, where workers were being overworked, hurt and exposed to dangerous chemicals. Daisey went to China and interviewed workers. He supposedly did his research. It's obvious that this is a subject he cares deeply about.

A few weeks later, TAL retracted the episode citing "numerous fabrications." The show devoted another hour to finding out the truth by talking to Daisey's translator and Daisey himself.

(Both of these episodes are online and worth a listen.)

Daisey claimed in his show to see things first-hand that he didn't. It's not to say they didn't happen, but it was hearsay. Host Ira Glass said in the retraction show that the show's staff stressed to Daisey that they were fact-checking this story as if it were a piece of journalism. The fact checking fell short when Daisey lied about his translator and the show's producers were not able to get in touch with her to corroborate his story. Another NPR producer found her and his interview with her can be found on the retraction episode.

The points Glass spends much of the show harping on with Daisey may seem minor, but his point is that when a piece is being presented journalistically it can't have any fabrications. Fabrications, no matter how small, undermine the journalistic credibility of the entire piece.

But Daisey isn't a journalist and never claimed to be, which is what he uses as his defense. He's trying to tell his audience what is happening in the factories in an engaging way. Sometimes that means stretching the truth or lying about seeing something.

Daisey runs into trouble when he repeats some of these claims in news interviews and later apologizes for the way the story was presented.

The fact is that much of his story is true and it's an important issue. It was easily the most popular episode TAL has had in a while. So do the fabrications take away from the story as a whole? Would his story had been weaker if instead of saying he saw things he said he heard about them? At what point do those small fabrications tarnish the whole story? How will the revelation of the fabrications affect the way the show is received in the future?

How much does the truth matter in these situations?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Corey's Nuggets of Wisdom

Someone thought it was a good idea for me to talk to a journalism class at Queens University of Charlotte last week. Scary, right? Even more scary: my first contact with the professor was when she emailed me to tell me I misspelled her son's name in a football story I wrote.

Anyway, I ended up essentially teaching a class on profile writing, going through the process of how I find ideas, prep for interviews, conduct interviews and write.

It went pretty well, I think. No one fell asleep.

Since I only had one chance to talk to these kids, I wanted to also share random bits of knowledge that I've picked up in my 2+ short years on the job. I called them "Corey's Nuggets of Wisdom." Seriously. I printed out a sheet of paper with that in bold and underlined at the top of the page. It ended up getting copied and passed out to the class.

It's nothing earth-shattering, but I thought I would share. There are nine. I'm sure there are some I forgot. Is there something you would add? Throw it in the comments and I'll update it.

Corey’s Nuggets of Wisdom 

  1. Read. A lot. 
    1. The best way to become a better writer is to read other writers and see what they do that you like and don’t like. 
  2. Write. A lot. 
    1. Practice, whether it’s just for yourself or on a blog. 
    2. Always have a notebook and pen with you. 
  3. Be versatile. 
    1.  Journalism is changing and jobs are scarcer. Rise to the top by being able to do more: write, take pictures, design, shoot video. 
    2. You don’t have to be an expert, but have some knowledge and be open to it. 
  4. Get to know -- and love -- new technology. 
    1. Learn about blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Google+. 
  5.  Build your brand. 
    1. What comes up when you Google your name? 
    2.  Make sure it’s something that represents you. 
    3. Buy a URL, use your real name on social media and blogs. 
  6. If you get an opportunity to cover something, take it. 
    1.  Don’t be scared of new experiences. You might learn something new. 
    2. Plus, bosses might start to give you the good assignments. 
  7. Respond to emails/tweets/calls immediately. 
    1. If someone compliments your work, thank them. 
    2.  If they recommend an idea -- even if it’s the worst -- thank them. 
    3. If they hate your work, respond. Usually they don’t expect you to, so they might end up liking you before it’s all over. 
  8.  Own up to your mistakes. 
    1. If you did something wrong, apologize and correct it. Don’t try to blame someone else or make excuses. 
  9.  Spend as much time -- or more -- out of the office than you do in. 
    1.  It’s much harder to find stories at your desk.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The saddest promotion ever. Thanks, Bobcats

Just before tip off at the Bobcats game. Taken by Sergio Tovar.

I went to a Charlotte Bobcats game on Monday night. The reason I went tells you everything you need to know about the Bobcats exercise in futility this season.

There are the injuries, of course. There are the 15 straight losses, often by at least 20 points. There's the pathetically low attendance for most games.

Yet there's nothing quite as sad as the promotion that gave me the opportunity to go to the Bobcats game Monday night.

A friend and colleague went to a Bobcats game on Jan. 28. During the fourth quarter of that game, they announced this promotion: If the Bobcats make a three-point basket in that quarter, everyone gets free tickets to Monday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

I'm going to repeat that: if the Bobcats managed to make one three-pointer in the entire fourth quarter, everyone got free tickets. It didn't have to be a certain player, didn't have to be shot from a certain point on the court. And it wasn't that you got a voucher for a discounted ticket, the box office handed you free tickets.

That says three things to me:

  1. The Bobcats are so pathetic that there's a legitimate chance the team won't make a three-point basket in 12 minutes. 
  2. The attendance was so pathetic at that game that the Bobcats knew they had enough tickets to another game for everyone there. 
  3. The ticket sales were so pathetic for Monday's game that there was plenty of room to accommodate everyone. 
That just reeks of desperation. 

You might be thinking, "The game must have been pretty packed Monday, right?" 

Ha. Wrong. 

If everyone at the game brought a friend, it still wouldn't have been full. (See photo.)

Here's the kicker: I had fun. It was a good game. The Cats ended up losing by nine, but they were close most of the game, even getting within one possession several times in the second half. It was frustrating to watch them blow chances, but it was nice to watch a competitive game. 

Time Warner Cable Arena is a great venue (except for the $8 beer). We were on the top row of the upper level and they weren't bad seats. The halftime entertainment was a little weird, but funny. And it's nice see people gathering uptown.

I want to be a Bobcats fan. Every year I try. It's just hard to be a fan of a team that struggles this much. Charlotteans may be mad about the way the Hornets left and may not like the way the new stadium was  built, but if the Bobcats can manage some degree of respectability people will come out. (Saturday's game against the Clippers was legitimately sold out, from what I've heard.)

Charlotte can support and fall in love with a new NBA team, but something has to change. Someday, that promotion won't be possible. Maybe we will look back on it and laugh. 

Right now, though, I think the Bobcats would finish third in the ACC. At best. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Twitter for journalism: Is there a line?

This week I was working on a story about a high school athlete at one of the schools I cover. It was an athlete I had talked with and written about before and we followed each other on Twitter. We'd communicated various times on there.

So when I needed to get the student on the phone quickly at the end of the week before my story was due, I used Twitter. I said I'd like to talk if the student had a chance. The student sent me a cell phone number. We talked for maybe 10 minutes for the story.

An official at the school found out what I had done and called me on Friday. This is a school that likes you to go through administration or coaches before you talk to students, which I normally do. But when I was looking to get in touch with the athlete quickly, I used the best way I knew how.

The official wasn't mad at me, per se. It was more curiosity: Are other journalists talking to students this way? Is this something the school should be watching out for? Does the newspaper have a policy about contacting student athletes?

I understand the concern. The school doesn't want a journalist talking to a young kid who says something he/she shouldn't. But as a journalist, I'm going to use the best and quickest way to get in touch with a source that I can and social media makes that very easy sometimes. And the student agreed to talk to me.

I talked to one of my editors and he agreed with me. Even before social media, we would get students cell phone numbers to call them with questions about stories. If they agreed, we had no problem using them.

So here's the question: When it comes to high school students, should there be rules in how you should be able to contact them?

If a student-athlete I cover has an unprotected Twitter account, is there anything wrong with me following it?

Should schools (high schools or colleges) have policies that force journalists to go through certain channels to talk with students? If the student agrees to talk outside of those channels, should the journalist be punished?

Take this case study from last year at the University of Kentucky, when a journalist with the student paper approached two walk-on basketball players directly for an interview. The publication was banned from an upcoming press conference.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What if Andre Agassi had a Twitter?

Remember when Agassi's hair looked like this?
Agassi circa 1989. Courtesy of Carine06 on Flickr.
Well apparently he does now, but that's not what I'm talking about.

What if he had one back in the 90s? Back in his "bad boy" days?

I'm in the middle of Agassi's autobiography, Open, which is a well-written and incredibly detailed, look at the tennis pro's life, especially the early part. It's often not pretty, from rebellion to mental breakdowns to drug use.

Something Agassi discusses at length in his book is the way he is - often unfairly, in his mind -characterized by the sports media. It starts with his hair and bad boy attitude, then continues with his "Image is everything" persona and then goes to writers saying that he is dropping matches on purpose. It's not pretty and, at least by his account, it's largely not true.

When these events are taking place, in the early and mid-90s, the sports media controls the conversation. Agassi doesn't really have a voice of his own other than the few quotes reporters throw into their stories. Writers characterize him by the way he looks and by his actions on the court, whether it's fair or not. Agassi's thoughts and ideas were filtered through a camera lens or a reporter's notepad.

But what if he had the technology of now? What if he had Twitter? What if he could control the conversation, say what's really on his mind, explain to his fans and followers why he does things? How would that have changed the perception of him?

Obviously, part of the answer lies in how he would have used the medium. Would he have been open and up front, or would he hide behind an image and not put much substance out there? There's no way of telling. But I imagine, reading his book now and seeing how open he is, that the public would have gotten a view of him they wouldn't have imagined.

I imagine sometimes it would show a young kid who is doing everything he can to get used to this international tennis stage, trying hard to succeed but failing more often than not. Possibly followers would see that the hair and the outfits were just show. At the same time, I imagine there would be dark moments after tough losses, where he would rant about how he hated the sport, how he felt about opponents and officials and reporters.

That's the risk athletes take when they join social media. Yes, the fans can get a clearer, less filtered look at the people they see on TV. But some things need to stay hidden, at least for a while. It's just so easy for someone to punch a few keys on a phone and press send.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Why I'm sick of Tim Tebow (and it has nothing to do with his religion)

Tim Tebow is, at the absolute best, a very mediocre quarterback. If you don't agree with that statement, stop reading now because we live on different planets.

Everyone else still with me? OK.

If you watched ESPN at all this week, you would think Tebow was Joe Montana, Dan Marino and Steve Young all wrapped into one. You would have thought he was the second coming (pun intended). I wanted to tear my eyes out.

In an earlier draft of this post, I listed out all of Tebow's stats in his games this year, but that's not really the point. Suffice it to say that in the regular season he completed less than 50 percent of his passes, was sacked 33 times and threw 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. He rushed for 660 yards and six touchdowns.

He did win six straight games. It was crazy. It was newsworthy. Tebowing became cool. I got it. It was fun to watch.

Now for the last three games of the season, games that were crucial in Denver's bid for a playoff spot. The Broncos lost all three. But let's look even closer at the final game of the season against Kansas City.

If Denver wins this game, they win the AFC East. In that 7-3 loss, Tebow was 6-22 for 60 yards. He ran the ball six times for 16 yards. He had a fumble and an interception. If it wasn't for the Oakland Raiders losing to the Chargers, the Broncos wouldn't even be in the playoffs.

It seems we've all forgotten that now, that Tebow had some really awful games this season against not great teams.

The Broncos win in overtime, again, in the first round of the playoffs, beating a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that is normally very good. Tebow is King. He threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime. He still only completed 10 of his 21 passes.

Now I know you're going to say, "But Corey, he's a winner!" Sure, sure. He is. He has some intangibles. It was an incredible game.

Others will assume that I am tired of Tebow because of his religious beliefs. Completely untrue, though I was really scared of the people that made so much out of the 316 passing yards (John 3:16. Get it?!?).

Here's my gripe: The love fest that ESPN and many other sports journalists had with him over this past week has been absurd. I barely heard anything this week about the three other games that happened last weekend or the three other games that will be played this weekend.

You've got Drew Brees, who broke Dan Marino's passing yards in a season record this year, and Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, two of the best quarterbacks in the game, playing this weekend, yet they barely warranted a mention.

I didn't hear anything about the Denver defense, which has been so good this season and has been a huge part of the team's success. Did anyone even mention the receiver that had four catches for 204 yards, including the game winning catch (and stiff arm) in the playoff game? Quick,name him.

If anything, credit should go to the Broncos' offensive coaches, who confused the Pittsburgh D with option runs and passes that Troy Polamalu looked like a pinball running around in the secondary. It was a well drawn up gameplan.

But ESPN has deified Tim Tebow. The few times I watched SportsCenter this week, I kept track of how much he was mentioned.

And this.

The "Worldwide Leader in Sports" even did a "You Don't Know Tebow" faux game show. It was hard for me to not throw a remote at the TV at work.

My problem isn't so much with Tebow as it is with the way he's been covered this week, the way all other games have been pushed aside for him this week. Did you know there were NBA, NHL and college basketball games this week?

So I'm sick of Tebow. He's a good kid, so far he's a winner, but if I hear his name one more time when it's not warranted, I might just lose it.

Tebow photo credit to Jeffrey Beallon Flickr.