The ultimate sport
Joe Tomlinson and his brothers, Kevin (left) and Scott (middle) attend a United States vs. Honduras soccer game at Toyota Stadium on Tuesday, July 7, 2015. (Scot Tomlinson)

As a kid, sports ruled my life.

On weekends, I played in competitive soccer tournaments. I played basketball games. Maybe there was a track meet during the week. I had practices every day. It was nonstop.

I always raced home to watch a professional game following a practice or game of my own. Maybe there was an Oklahoma City Thunder game on that night, or maybe it was college football. In elementary school, I used to beg my parents to let me stay up and watch Sunday and Monday Night Football, knowing I had school the next morning.

My love for sports is strong and always will be. Since I was a kid, I knew I’d work in sports.

And today, I do work in sports, sort of. As Mike Boettcher, my professor and advisor at the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord News told me, “Politics is the ultimate sport.”

When Mike first made that comment to me — at the time, an aspiring sportswriter — I strongly disagreed. Seeing how politics has torn apart so many people in the past few years, I did not want to associate politics with something I loved so deeply.

But one day in March 2020, like I had so many days before, I hurried home to watch a Thunder game. They were playing the Utah Jazz. I was exhausted after spending hours conducting door-to-door interviews in Norman’s Ward 3 for a class assignment, and I was thrilled to relax.

I got home around 15 minutes after the game’s scheduled start time. When I turned on the stream, both teams were still sitting on the bench. Referees and coaches convened at mid-court, and sure enough, the game was postponed because a player had contracted the coronavirus.

Hours later, the NBA season was suspended completely. That week, all collegiate spring sports had their seasons discontinued. As both a sportswriter covering the OU men’s gymnastics beat and a massive sports fan, I was disappointed.

Writing valuable stories

I began covering COVID-19 stories, as many sports journalists did around the country. I wrote stories about those who had lost their jobs and loved ones to the virus, and and I reported stories about relief programs helping those in need. Covering these issues prompted a deep sense of fulfillment that I had never experienced before. I realized these were the kinds of stories through which journalists pursue the public good for their communities. I never felt that while writing practice stories or gamers. I had always wanted to write important and valuable stories, and suddenly, during a global pandemic, sports did not fit that description.

This spring, I was able to continue writing important and valuable stories in Washington, D.C. for Gaylord News, in what was the most incredible four months of my life. Reporting on Capitol Hill during perhaps the biggest shift in political office in United States history was a complete whirlwind. I learned more about politics and the political journalism realm than I ever could have imagined. I was able to cover “the ultimate sport” on the biggest stage and write several stories pertaining to folks back home in Oklahoma.

Today, 14 months after that pivotal moment in March, I have converted from a sportswriter to a political and news reporter, and I am excited to begin a summer internship with NonDoc.

In the end, Mike was right. Politics is the ultimate sport.

Politicians give speeches and make public appearances to score popularity points with voters. Opposing candidates are pitted against one another during elections, and when it’s all over, we count up votes and declare winners and losers. Even the iconography of politics and sports is eerily similar.

I am so enamored with sports, politics and journalism because I am representing a team. As a reporting intern for NonDoc, that team is the Oklahoma public, and I’m competitive as hell.

During this editorial internship, I will never turn down the opportunity to go bat for my team, and I’ll do my best to write and report stories that will make Oklahoma a better place.

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