What it take to be a Sports Photographer
Ya think it would be great to be a sports photographer down there on the field, close to all those great jocks, close to the “real” action? Well, here’s how it goes bunky …
You’re down there on the field and the crowd noise is so bad you can’t even enjoy the sounds of players breaking each other’s bones. And the players suddenly are so huge you can’t see half of what is going on. And stadium “security” spends most of the first half asserting their authority by stopping you to check your credentials every three minutes. And the players bust their butts to knock you on your keester. And when they do, they do it in such a way as to break you in half without drawing blood, denying you the proof that you were brave (a euphemism for “stupid”) enough to be there. And then some monstrous, no-neck jock notices you, and comes up to let you know in no uncertain terms, “If you don’t make me look good, I’ll break you in two.”
So you look for the brighter side.
Aha! The cheerleaders. Who beg you to take a gazillion photos of their glorious whatevers, and you do, trying not to fog up the viewfinder, until you realize they lust only after the grunts out there in uniform.
And then it’s halftime on this half-frozen field of ferocious fun.
While the dudes up there in their heated press boxes wolf down chilli, hot cheeseburgers and premium beer, you’re down there “eagerly” devouring two cold meat sandwiches and an ice-cold Coke.
Thankfully, the third quarter commences and soon with it, the air of frustration and desperation. Every time a great play happens before you, a ref walks in front of you. Or some rookie photographer yells at you, asking what exposure you are using. Or some stupid bystander grabs you by the arm JUST AS YOU ARE SHOOTING to ask, “Hey! Didja see that? Didja get that?” Or, and I swear this always happens, you are about to make the most incredible sports action shot of the century … and you get bonked by a half-full can of beer thrown by some idiot fan trying to hit a player twenty yards down the field. Or a snowball thrown by some snot-nosed kid trying to hit you cause he’s too smart to tick off a player. And then it happens.
The game is coming down to the wire, you’re exhausted, beginning to lose the calm aloofness of a pro … and you are getting involved in the game.
If you are smart, you head back to the bleachers. But pros aren’t necessarily smart, they are dedicated. They hang in there.
Which is what brought me to near destruction on an ice-cold field at the Minneapolis Metropolitan Stadium eons ago.
The fourth quarter … Vikings are behind by four points but driving to the goal line … the ball is snapped … I watch the QB’s eyes and see where he is going to throw the ball … and the ball spirals straight into my lens. Instinct and experience tell me that the receiver is coming right at me and I’d better get the hell outta the way. I drop the camera and start back-pedaling.
I see the receiver about to catch the ball on the sideline. A defender races up, grabs the receiver by the facemask and yanks him away from the ball. A referee is standing right there but doesn’t make the “facemasking” call.
Suddenly, I hear someone screaming at the ref, “Facemasking, ref! Call it! You chicken *$%#, call it! Goddamit, call it!” And I realize the screams are coming from me.
The ref stops, looks at me, glares right through me. No, he’s looking beyond me when he growls, “I’ll tell you what. Officer, remove this photographer from the stadium.”
I look behind me and see a huge, uniformed, armed state trooper, glaring.
I am a dead duck. My knees start to shake, my whole world is crumbling, I am about to be shackled and drummed out of sportsdom because of some chicken #$^@ referee who didn’t have the guts to make the right %$*#ing call.
“Officer,” I hear the ref yell, “Remove this man from the stadium.”
The crowd goes silent, I am messing my pants, and the trooper is glaring back at the ref. “Why?” he says, “Looked like face-masking to me.”
Vikes win the game. Ref walks off the field, slump-shouldered. I’m alive for another day.
God and I love an honest cop.
These recollections are, according to my beer-fogged brain, as honest as can be.