10. The guy next to you may be sleeping.
9. You're liable to spill beer into your laptop.
8. It's conduct unbecoming a professional tweeter.
7. Roger Goodell will suspend you for four games.
6. You'll be mistaken for Dick Vitale.
5. Or Chris Berman.
4. If the guy next to you wakes up, you have to catch him up.
3. Trevor Bayne will expect a standing-o for the next 20 years.
2. You'll get kicked out, and they charge $5 for hot dogs out there.
1. There'll come a day when you say, "This is the day I paint my face!"
The Esquire magazine star, Chris Jones, recently wrote of press-box cheering as the moral equivalent of a person performing a scatological act "on the floor beside a delicious Chinese buffet that's hosting a children's birthday party and then going outside and killing a kindly, mystical hobo and using his stiffened corpse to derail a speeding locomotive, spilling a tanker filled with toxic chemicals into the world's last pristine river and killing all the fish, including the aged and orphans among them."
Somewhere between my reason #6 and Jones's stiffened corpse lies a middle ground of common sense supporting the no-cheering admonition likely created when men in fedoras hammered on typewriters in wooden ballparks. The issue came up again in February when the Daytona 500 produced its youngest winner ever, the 20-year-old rookie Trevor Bayne. As Bayne passed over the finish line, there was raucous cheering in the track's press box and its media center. At a post-race press conference, someone told the giddy Bayne, "You were responsible for getting this entire room to explode in applause."
"No way," Bayne said. "Thank you, guys."
The big story of Bayne's victory produced a little story of journalism with the men and women of the media choosing up sides. In the ensuing Twitterstorm, some argued in favor of the press-box cheering as evidence of passion for the moment. Others said it violated a basic tenet of journalism by transforming reporters into fans. My position is, why can't I have both? I want the passion and I want the clear-eyed reporting. I want my guy to be thrilled by what he sees and write the hell out of it. Be a fan – of journalism, of reporting, of writing. And shut up with the cheering. It's a newsroom, not a sports bar.
Dustin Long of Landmark Newspapers, last year's president of the National Motorsports Press Association, was troubled enough by the goings-on at Daytona to send me a note. He thought today's "new generation of journalists" might need a primer on workplace behavior – as provided by Long's boss, Tom White, the assistant sports editor of theVirginian Pilot.
"First time I found out a reporter was cheering on press row or the press box, I'd give him a stern warning," White told Long in an email exchange. "Second time, I'd fire him."
White's rationale: "Everyone is going to have internal feelings about who they want to win a game, hit a big shot, win a race . . . But to openly ‘root' for that to happen is unprofessional. You are ‘covering' these folks, so to shamelessly support a driver or a team is unprofessional." Remaining silent doesn't mean you aren't pumped up by seeing a new guy in Victory Lane, a 20-year-old who pulled an historic upset. "But let that come out in your writing/reporting, not with a fan-like cheer from a place where, dare I remind folks, YOU ARE PAID TO BE WORKING!!!"
Let's make a pit stop here for a note about NASCAR's media rooms: they're home to more than legitimate media members. Like many professional sports organizations, NASCAR gives media-room access to team members, sponsors, manufacturer reps, corporate VIPs, and assorted green flies sniffing around the goodies. The cheering for Bayne surely included contributions from folks other than journalists. That said, a reporter who has been everywhere in SportsWorld told me, "Newspapers have cut down their coverage so dramatically that the few reporters still traveling the circuit think they better make the best of it while they can. So they're having a good time. NASCAR press rooms are basically frat parties."
After Daytona, the new Motorsports Press president, Rea White of Foxsports.com, sent a note to all the association members urging them to keep working-media areas relatively quiet during working hours. She wrote, "To that end, and to continue to present a professional image as journalists, we should all work to refrain from cheering or shouting in the media center and press box as events unfold during a race and during the interviews that follow."
Partly, it's my nature to run silent. Mostly, I had never seen Red Smith or Shirley Povich do it. So I've never cheered in a press box – not even at Lake Placid on a winter night in 1980 when the United States met the Soviet Union in an Olympics hockey game that would decide the gold-medal winner. David Israel, then a Washington Star columnist, stood in the press area that night and said, "We're going to suspend the rules tonight, everybody. There will be cheering in the press box." It was enough for me just to be there as witness to that miracle, to see Jim Craig with the flag around his shoulders, to hear Herb Brooks say he'd told his players they were born for that moment. Absolutely, I wanted the Americans to win. It's always more fun to write a victory.
One thing more. I've never cheered, but I did rise in applause the day Arnold Palmer wept. It was 1994. At age 64, Palmer had been given an exemption into his first U.S. Open in 11 years. It was played on his home grounds of western Pennsylvania, at Oakmont, where he'd first played an Open 41 years earlier. He played poorly for two miserable hot days and came to the press tent afterwards in one more affirmation of the truth that few professional athletes ever treated the media with more respect than Palmer did. As he'd done forever, he answered our necessary questions about one more farewell in his great and long career. Then he moved toward an exit, tears in his eyes. We stood and applauded, all of us.