ATLANTA—The Atlanta Falcons dominated the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15 in a 40-14 win. Sunday’s game ended the Falcons’ 2018 home schedule and their second season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It also puts a lid on my time as a credentialed media member at Falcons games…at least for now.
At 22, I’ve had the privilege of coming to Atlanta’s multi-billion-dollar stadium to cover Falcons home games for two years. Now as a newly minted graduate of Georgia State University, it’s time to move on.
Just like the Falcons, I have two games left in the 2018 season, so I’m not done yet. But I want to share my experiences at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with teens and young adults, who dream of being an NFL writer.
For starters, coming to an NFL game as a media member isn’t remotely close to attending games as a fan. There’s no cheering allowed in the press box. If you’re caught, you can be kicked out. I’ve been a die-hard Falcons fan since I was 5, so it was a challenge, but I kept my mouth shut. Also, dress professionally. You never know who’s watching you. Your next boss could be sitting in the row behind you, or right next to you. At my most casual, I wore jeans, a dress shirt, tie, and sweater. Other times, I’m in a full suit. I once saw a guy around my age come to the press box with Falcons merchandise on. He worked for a Twitter page, so he didn’t feel the need to dress up. I was told that it’d be his first and last game for unprofessionalism. Remember this: dress for the job you want instead of the one you have.
Secondly, the NFL locker room is a beast. After every NFL game, media gains access to each teams’ locker room for a specified amount of time. There will be about 4-6 players that most of the media members want to interview. These guys don’t have large lockers, so get comfortable being uncomfortable, because you’ll have to fight for space to hold your microphone or recorder near the player’s mouth. That space doesn’t come easy. Everyone wants the best camera angle and the best sound. Some media folks like to claim their spot early to get the best shots. They want it so much that they’ll even stand behind a player who just got out of the shower and wait until he’s dressed to start asking questions. So what should you, the young reporter, do? Be aggressive. You’re there to do a job, so do that job.
While I’m on the topic of asking questions, let me give you some tips. Former Falcons linebacker Coy Wire told me that football players hate hearing the same questions every week, and they really appreciate original and creative questions. Asking a boring question like “How does it feel to get the win?” will get a boring answer. A better question is “What does it mean to score two touchdowns in your son’s first time watching you play?”. You will get an interesting and unique response to that question and other questions like that. Once, a Falcons defender recorded six sacks in a game and, instead of asking how it felt to get six sacks, I asked him what he ate for breakfast. Another thing, “talk about [insert moment from the game]” is a statement, not a question. Don’t say it.
Imagine this: “Coach, talk about the running game in today’s game.”
Embarrassing, right? It’s a true story. Avoid that phrase.
If you’re like me and get the chance to cover games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, you’ll really like the media food. Yes, media gets free food, and nobody cooks better than the folks in the MBS kitchen. At my first game, they served us honey mustard crusted chicken, mac & cheese, roasted potatoes, and a roll. I washed it all down with sweet tea and went back for seconds. There’s also a dessert station that’ll bring out the kid in you. It’s stocked with brownies, cookies, cupcakes and an ice cream machine. Good luck trying to ignore it.
I know that I’ll return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a media credential one day. But for now, I’m leaving this stadium with eternal memories and a hope that the next NFL game played here doesn’t include the New Orleans Saints playing for a Super Bowl championship.