Editor’s note: The responses below have been condensed and edited for clarity.
by Jadyn Watson-Fisher
Alex Prewitt is a staff writer at Sports Illustrated, in his fourth season covering the National Hockey League for the publication. He is a graduate of the Chips Quinn Scholars Program (Summer 2012) and the Sports Journalism Institute (SJI), in 2010.
Prewitt, a graduate of Tufts University in Medford, Mass., got into journalism during college, when his mother told him to get off the couch and ask if their local weekly paper, the Falls Church (Va.) News-Press, had any assignments he could cover. It did. Since then, he’s worked with USA TODAY, NCAA.com, ESPN, Minnesota Star Tribune, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post and now SI.
Prewitt shared thoughts on his career, beat and sports journalism.
Q: How did you get into covering hockey?
A: I did one game in my life before my boss called me in and said, ‘You’re covering the (Washington) Capitals now.’ I told him, ‘I don’t know s*** about hockey.’ He said, ‘Ah, you’ll figure it out.’ It’s a really good learning beat. If you’re going to start covering a professional beat, hockey is not a bad place to start.
There’s a lot of lingo and nuance to hockey if you want to write about it from an educated standpoint. There was a pretty steep writing curve. But it’s a good training ground because, relative to other sports, there’s not as much exposure and that makes players a bit more accessible. I won’t say necessarily more open — there’s a culture in hockey where players put the team before self. Therefore, they’re kind of unwilling to open up or make things about themselves, or even give that perception.
I covered college sports for two years, so to start out on a pro beat where I was the only one on it, I had to take charge. I had to travel all the time. I had to actually worry about cultivating sources and breaking news on a national level. It was a great start and here I am, still here.
What stories or projects are you particularly proud of?
Probably my favorite one at SI is the brainchild of Adam Duerson, the editor who runs the ‘Where are they now?’ issue. He enlisted me with tracking down as many kids as I could find who were named after (former NBA player) Shaquille O’Neill. There was a big boom between ’92 – so right when he got out of Louisiana State University – through his days with the Orlando Magic. Parents left and right were naming their kids Shaquille — thousands upon thousands in the U.S. That was a couple months of searching ‘Shaquille’ on LinkedIn and Facebook, seeing what turned up.
A couple of them ended up being professional athletes — one guy who plays for the New England Patriots and one guy who plays for the Carolina Panthers — but also they included a guy who works for the New York Transit Authority. They were teachers, student leaders and a guy who plays the tuba for the University of Tennessee marching band, and on and on.
At the end, the original Shaq ended up being in Cleveland for the NBA Finals. He was working for TNT, I think, doing his ‘Inside the NBA’ thing. Another Shaquille who is a producer for NBC News was in town to cover the game, then we found another Shaquille who was two hours away with his uncle, so we did a little photo shoot with two Shaquilles and the original Shaquille. Then we ended up FaceTiming the first Shaquille, this woman who lives out in, I think, Utah, so we had a little Shaquille summit. That was pretty cool. It was just something totally different. It turned out pretty well.
What impact did CQS and SJI have on helping you launch your career?
I did SJI after my sophomore year. I was waitlisted at the start but they ultimately accepted me. That was everything. The connections you made that week — the connections you make for life, really — are still helping me in my career. One of my classmates actually got hired at SI, Shemar Woods (CQS Summer 2011). It was just like that week we were down in Florida for our class when I saw him again at the SI offices. I owe a lot to SJI for our class. The fellow journalists who helped me through SJI and the opportunities I’ve gotten are why I am where I am today.
I did Chips Quinn after my senior year, and that was just more reinforcing for me. I’d already gotten The Boston Globe internship at that point, but again, it was just fortifying, making sure I had the right structure in place and was learning the right things and meeting the right people. Just like SJI, to be immersed in that environment with similarly driven people is, at the very least, an incredible motivator and at most, part of the reason that I’ve gotten where I am so far.
Why should sports journalism get the same respect as hard news journalism and not be considered solely entertainment?
It’s always super amusing to me on election night when metro and political reporters start tweeting about how they have to get pizza because they have to file on deadline after dark one night a year, which is obviously something sportswriters have to do all the time. You’re constantly under the gun. You’re constantly having to file a runner at the buzzer and then update with quotes later. You’re scrambling at 1 a.m. to get that in the paper.
I guess a lot of it is entertainment. A lot of journalism probably is, because it’s stories. You’re learning about people. You’re learning about their lives. It’s getting increasingly less legitimate to make that argument as the intersection of sports and politics, and sports and society, has blurred, especially in light of protests against injustice that are happening in the NBL, NBA and WNBA, and the way the current administration has used sports to divide the country. It’s certainly not just entertainment to some sets of people. To suggest you can’t do meaningful work about extremely important issues in that space is wrong, because you can do that anywhere in journalism. There’s always power that you have to hold truth to in any walk of life, and there are always people’s stories that need to be told.
Jadyn Watson-Fisher (Summer 2018) is a reporter at the Times Record in Fort Smith, Ark. She participated in SJI in 2018.