By Muhammad Elarbi
San Diego, CA
It was the opening weekend of the 2017 NFL preseason, and I found myself in the MetLife Stadium press box to cover the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans. One would assume that someone who has a seat in the press box would be knowledgeable about what is going on. But this time, that wasn’t the case.
Saturday marked my first time at a football game. Before I entered the stadium, I didn’t even know which state the teams called home. I was clueless.
I grew up in San Diego, surrounded by Chargers fans. But football has never been a must-watch in my household. My high school doesn’t even have a football team. Whenever I pass a crowded restaurant in downtown San Diego filled with people hovering around a screen showing “the game,” I’m mystified. What I see on the field is a cluster of large men tackling each other.
As I watched the Jets play the Titans on Saturday, I couldn’t help but wonder: What the hell is going on?
I looked on, confused, as players ran in every direction, endlessly stopping and restarting. I struggled to identify the quarterback. I could not fathom how the journalists around me could sit and take notes about players switching on and off the field or the indecipherable penalty rules that caused teams to move forward and backward based on the referee’s judgment.
How could anyone remain enthusiastic as play stopped every few seconds? Ten minutes on the game clock lasted far longer than 10 minutes of actual time. And all around, there were ads. It almost felt like the ads were a bigger focus than the game. Anytime I looked at one of the stadium’s many screens, I would see an ad. It was overwhelming.
The press box is a bit far from the field – it sometimes felt like I was watching the game from the window of an airplane – but it does have perks. It was comforting working in an office setting adjacent to professional sports journalists and team personnel, dressed in suits and Jets polos. I admired their professionalism. I also enjoyed the press box’s generous selection of free food. (At halftime, I made like a running back for the chicken tenders.)
Unlike the other reporters who knew to bring binoculars, I was using the live view feature on my Canon 70D, zooming in as I tried to track the action. My camera lens kept hitting the glass window. Holding five pounds of gear with no stabilization while trying to follow a single player was the hardest game of chase I’ve ever played. Any subtle movement would knock my framing way out of place. So that did give me some level of appreciation for football’s movement and pace.
I haven’t been converted to football fandom, but my experience shows the importance of preparation in journalism. Like any other subject, football isn’t something you can just learn in a day or a week. I have a lot of respect for sportswriters, as they have to commit to learning complex rules and tactics.
Sports journalism might not be in my future, but at least for one night, I experienced a classic American tradition. Just don’t expect to see me watching football on Sundays this fall.