The View from Writers Roost

NO ONE could reasonably argue football is not hazardous. Even in junior high school, pulled muscles, bruises, torn knee cartilages and broken bones are continuing possibilities.

But, would you believe that being a newshound and/or photographer on the sidelines at a game carries an “injury threat?”

Not so much to those covering major college or pro football, but if you’re a small town newsman — people with titles like publisher and editor — several things make you more susceptible to injury.

First, as publisher and/or editor, you may be the only person to do news and photography (in addition to a multitude of other duties).

As a young newsman, most of the time I was agile enough to get out of the way of running, stumbling, tumbling players coming out of bounds. Necessity — being the only newsperson — sometimes forces even older editor-publisher types into duty on Friday nights. And, while I was young, I was part of the end-of-play jumble on the sidelines on more than one occasion.

But, let’s face it — as you get older and slower, “violent” physical contact is more hazardous to your health. And, it just plain hurts more.

EVEN MINOR contact with a running or falling football player can bring about an injury that should be reason for medical treatment.

Once, in my advanced years, I was pressed into photography duty at a Jasper High School home game. An opposing player was chased out of bounds by a pair of Bulldogs. I snapped a photo and wisely turned and ran toward the fence. Alas, I was in the older-slower mode in those days and the “enemy” runner dipped his shoulder and caught me just under my shoulder blade.

Though I remained upright, the runner’s shoulder pads raised a significant bump on my back. The bruise lingered painfully for a week or so.

Such aches and bruises were not uncommon to those of us laboring at a small town newspaper.

However, a couple of years later, I had a “physical” scare that convinced me my football coverage days should be over.

JASPER, the last stop in my career path, was and is an ongoing winner in high school football.

In 2004, the Bulldogs made it to the Class 3A finals. This game was played at Homer Brayce Stadium in Nacogdoches. Since I was writing, not photographing, this game, I felt safe and unthreatened in the enormous press box. No players would have a shot at obliterating The Old Man in an out-of-bounds pileup.

That contest was the best football game I’ve ever seen, but a 49-47 loss for Jasper.

As the score indicates, it was an exciting game from teeing-up to kickoff to an agonizingly fast clock near the end.

It was in those nerve-shattering final ticks that I became aware of my physical challenge. I felt flushed and I could see in the glass front of the press box my face was red as the proverbial beet.

I managed to write down every play and to capture something of the ending of that sensational game but I was not altogether there in that press box.

AS THE press box emptied, I was mostly oblivious to the remarks of fellow journalists as they filed out. I seemed to be in another world and unable to extract myself.

I recognized my symptoms, later verified by my family doctor, and knew I had to be calm and still because there was no one to help me, save a custodian or two. As the doctor explained, I was in a “stroke mode” and I probably headed it off by sitting absolutely still until the flushed feeling was gone.

Recalling all the stories I’d read and heard about sports fans who’d had heart attacks and strokes, I counted my blessings and determined that if I had to cover football again, I might just take something to keep my nerves calm.

No more was necessary to convince me I should retire from covering sports. A couple of years later, I came to the further conclusion that, at 69, retiring from editing and publishing altogether might add a few years to my life.

Don’t let anyone tell you that working as a community journalist isn’t exciting….and sometimes hazardous to your health.

Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at
© 2012