There’s a man named Greg Cosell who works for NFL Films and might watch more tape of football games and football players than all but a handful of people in the country. A couple of times this past season, I called Greg to get his thoughts on things pertaining to the Patriots, and he always obliged me.
I called him in January, at the start of the playoffs, and before we hung up, we promised to meet in person at the Super Bowl, to put faces to voices and chat a bit more about the game.
I’d be easy to spot in the media headquarters, I told him: I’d probably be the only tall, short-haired, light-skinned African-American chick patrolling the halls. When you’re part of a sisterhood that until recently numbered one, that’s just how it goes. (Full disclosure: I’m actually mixed; my father is Italian, my mother black. I’m proud of my heritage, but when most people look at me, they assume I’m African-American.)
This coming fall will be my seventh season as a beat writer covering the New England Patriots, and my third with the Globe. Before Newsday promoted Kimberley Martin to be its primary New York Jets writer in April, I was the only African-American woman in the country who was a full-time beat writer for a National Football League team.
How that came to be was not part of some grand plan. The Pats reporter at my previous newspaper was taking a different job, they couldn’t bring in someone from outside, and I was the only one who had any sort of experience being around the team. They asked if I was interested, and not knowing exactly what the job entailed, I said yes.
It wasn’t easy; it hasn’t been easy, not every day or every week. Some of that is just the stress and responsibilities of the job, part of the 24-hour news cycle and trying to get as much information as possible to pass on to readers and fans of the team I cover.
But some of it, well, isn’t. Some of it is the e-mails that pop up every so often, calling me an Affirmative Action hire or telling me I should be in the kitchen instead of the locker room. If I was hired solely for the color of my skin or my gender, would I really be given the job of covering one of the highest-profile teams in the country? Not likely.
Those are the worst days.
In between, I don’t think much about the fact that I’m an anomaly unless it is brought up or I’m asked about it. I have a job that on most days I enjoy; I love telling the stories of these modern-day warriors who sacrifice their bodies and well-being for this game of football. I am proud that my 9-year-old daughter is seeing her mother succeed in a male-dominated profession.
I rarely have problems with the players I cover. Sure, I’ve been around for seven years, so I’m a familiar face to many of them. A majority of NFL players are African-American, and the sad fact is that many of them were raised by single mothers who worked tirelessly to make sure their sons had what they needed. In some ways, I think I am viewed similarly. I am there to do my job, and I work hard at it; I’ve proven that I can be trusted. I talk to them about more than X’s and O’s - I learn about their wives and children, and what makes them tick off the football field.
Sometimes they’ll tell me things that they might not tell a male reporter, maybe because of some macho attitude or being afraid of being viewed a certain way, or perhaps I just asked a question a man wouldn’t think to ask.
Those often bring about the best days, when the trust I’ve built up leads to my breaking a story, or when I produce a profile of a player who’s been written about a hundred times before, but through my eyes, his story has new details and readers get a different perspective.
Those are my favorite days, when it feels great to be the only tall, short-haired, light-skinned chick in the room.