Basketball, bias, and Beery


Sports writers have a rule: No cheering in the press box.

That’s surely easier for most of them than it is for junior Kyle Beery, the Collegian’s sports editor. Whenever he’s covering Butler University men’s basketball for the paper, he’s writing about a team he’s been rooting for since he was a little kid in Saugatuck, Michigan, where his grandparents own a restaurant called The Butler.

“I always thought, ‘It would be amazing to get to go to that school,’” he said. “Now I get to be the main man covering the team for the school newspaper. And with that comes the challenge of finding the perfect balance between being a fan and rooting for them but keeping that out of my writing, being fair and unbiased, being able to criticize when that’s needed and being able to praise a good game without being too rah-rah. I think I’ve found a pretty good balance of that this year.”

I’d say he’s right. His stories have been down the middle and fair.

This season, with the team having done so well, it has been comparatively easy to write positively.

But when he needed to write that the Bulldogs lost a game or suffered through scoring droughts, he did – objectively, though.

“Butler shot 39 percent on the night, its 12th performance under 40 percent this season,” he wrote in the story about the loss to Xavier University in the Big East Tournament.

Though he is not supposed to clap or cheer, Beery was able to channel his excitement by live-tweeting the games. “Not being rah-rah,” he said, “but finding a cool way to say, ‘Dunham just had two back-to-back threes. This place is crazy.’ Something like that. That takes away from the urge to want to get up and yell.”

He also used social media to point out the downsides, when necessary.

“Must be a near-sellout crowd tonight,” he tweeted during the senior night game against Georgetown. “Something else to hear 9,000 people sigh at the same time after missed FTs. Happening a lot tonight.”

Beery takes his responsibility seriously because when he applies for journalism jobs after graduation, he’s going to have to show work that demonstrates he can be as objective as possible, even when writing about players who are, in some cases, his classmates and his friends. He knows his role is to report the news, not to be a cheerleader or an apologist.

He said he thinks all sportswriters root for the team they report on a little bit, if for no other reason than the chance to get to cover that team on a big stage – like the NCAA tournament. Listening to ESPN (and former New York Times) reporter Buster Olney at a journalism conference this year in Nashville, Tennessee, helped crystallize Beery’s approach to sports journalism. Olney said he doesn’t root for the team. He roots for the story.

“I’ve heard that phrase so many times,” Beery said. “I’ve seen that in myself a little bit. I mean, obviously I’m rooting for Butler – I go here. But at the same time, I’m rooting for the Alex Barlow story – a walk-on who was Big East Scholar Athlete of the Year and is in the running for the Senior Class Award. I like to see when Jackson Aldridge gets in the game. I love that story – coming across the world to play basketball. I like to root for Steven Bennett. There are so many stories to be told about that team.”