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Christina Rivers, Independent Journalist Covering the Steelers

December 20, 2011

Christina Rivers, independent journalist covering the Steelers for Examiner.com and SteelersDepot.com

First, can you let readers know how you got started as a writer – what got you involved in sportswriting?

I have been a writer since I was young.  My grandmother, Gloria Elaine Richardson, was a writer and poet.  She published several things, and she was always introducing me to books, writing and creative outlets like art work. 

I have been an athlete nearly my entire life.  I was a student athlete from grade school through college.  I studied sports medicine (Exercise Physiology and Psychology with an emphasis in sports psychology) at Brigham Young University (from 1990-1993).  After three years, I was drawn to another calling.  I went to college and became a medic and worked for a private ambulance company, then in two major medical centers.  My medical career stalled in 2003 when I became seriously ill and could no longer work in the field. 

I decided that I wasn’t going to just let my new handicaps become just that, handicaps.  I went back to what I loved.  I re-opened my graphic arts business and I started writing.  At first, I was covering local news in Iowa.  Then my breakthrough to sportswriting happened.

I wrote a piece about Troy Polamalu for Examiner.com, and they enjoyed it enough that they asked me to sign on as the Pittsburgh Steelers Examiner in Pittsburgh.  I have been a die-hard Steelers fan since I was about five.  It’s a funny story, but one worth telling another time. 

I have been covering the Steelers for Examiner.com for almost two years now, and I can say it has been absolutely my dream to be able to meet not only fans, but people involved with the team directly.  Just recently, I joined the writing staff at Steelers Depot as well, and that is additional joy.

Who have been some of the most interesting interviews you’ve had, and what made them so?

I don’t generally conduct interviews with the players.  I do interact with them through social media however.  Erin Cox runs Ben Roethlisberger’s website, Facebook and twitter account.  She contacted me regarding an article I wrote, and it has been a great experience to get to know her and Ben through her. 

I think one of the best times with a player using social media was a live chat with rookie tight end Weslye Saunders.  He’s funny, personable, and I really expect him to be a breakout player for the Steelers soon.  One of the favorite interviews I have conducted is with Max Starks, a high school senior, who runs ProInterviews.com.  He is very mature for his age. He has his own business doing interviews with pro football players from all teams.

 What are the plans for your site?

I have my own web site that is being worked on, but my sportswriting is done for Examiner.com and SteelersDepot.com right now.  I don’t have plans to change that anytime soon.  My intention is to create the best Steelers coverage for both of those media outlets as an independently contracted writer.  In the future, that may change.  As for my NFL artwork, that will all be placed on my personal website for people to purchase at a later date.

 Have you had the opportunity to meet any of those players in person – how was that experience if so?

I haven’t met any of the current Steelers players in person yet.  I would love to, but right now I am sticking to contact with them through social media like Facebook, Tout, live chats and Twitter. 

In the past, I corresponded with retired Steelers kicker Craig Colquitt.  It was a great experience because he wrote me back and introduced me to his son, Dustin.  I had asked if he’d ever had a kick blocked while he played in the NFL and was surprised to find out he never had.  I understand Dustin and another son are now playing in the NFL – that’s great.  Following in their father’s footsteps.  Their family is a big University of Tennessee backers and alumnus, so go Vols!

 What would surprise fans most about the players you’ve covered so far?

I think that fans are surprised when they find out who I have contact with the most.  I got a tweet from a player one night, and the friends I was with were like “who’s that?”  When I told them, one of my friends said, “Yeah, I follow him on Twitter too.”  I laughed and said, “Yes, but do you get direct tweets from him?”  I think a lot of people have this idea that if you’re not a native of the ‘Burgh then there is no way you can understand the city, the people or the team. 

I think what I cover, who I cover…it shows that there is a stronger connection than people give me credit for.  In the future, I hope to have more access, but anyone will tell you that working with PR and agents to get interviews with players isn’t always easy.  I find that social networking makes it more personal for the players to be able to reach out…and I try not to be up in their faces like a lot of media types.  I know they have personal lives and they don’t want cameras or people begging for sound bites all the time. 

I have written several articles dedicated to a certain player – the most recent on Roethlisberger overcoming his ankle injury against Cleveland to lead the Steelers to a win.  I know that athletes like those kind of articles a lot better than ones that have headlines about how many mistakes they’ve made personally on or off the field.

What has been the hardest issue for you to cover personally and why?

Probably the two hardest issues for me to cover has been fines against James Harrison and players who ‘go rogue’ so to speak.  For example, it’s pretty hard not to be an outsider and look in and see why James Harrison feels that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is targeting him.  He was pretty verbal this week about a hit that another team’s player took on a quarterback … and how there was no fine handed out.  I think there is some legitimacy for his complaints. 

There is also legitimacy for the league saying that if he continues to play the way he has been – he’s going to keep getting fined and/or suspended.  I think it is a lot like Suh of the Detroit Lions.  Whether they like it or not, the league is going to pick people as examples.  It isn’t necessarily fair or just, but football isn’t really a fair or just game.  That’s why they need refs on the field, and even they don’t always make the correct calls. 

After Hines Ward won Dancing With the Stars, he was charged with drunk driving.  Although there hasn’t been any follow-up news as to whether or not he was convicted, it’s hard to keep telling people about his charitable works (which are many) and in the next sentence say, “Oh, and he was allegedly driving drunk”.  I try not to overreact like the main stream media when a player Tweets frustration (ie. Rashard Mendenhall over the death of Osama bin Laden) or gets attacked for expressing their opinions.  To me, they have as much of a right to express their feelings as I do – we’re all human.  Whether people get it or not, players are people with private lives off that football field.  I try to give them privacy and respect in that area.

Check out this article: http://www.examiner.com/pittsburgh-steelers-in-pittsburgh/the-nfl-should-be-embarrassed-by-the-sunday-night-game-between-steelers-ravens
 
I rarely write opinion pieces, but this one struck a chord in a major way – especially with Steelers fans.  Even some Ravens fans participated in helping me with the piece.  Do I like writing about negative things?  No.  I wrote the article because I truly felt the NFL had done a terrible job and it needed to be brought to light.  That article had one of the largest responses of any I’ve written for Examiner.com.

What has been the most interesting story for you to write and why?

I think one of the most interesting stories I’ve written was after I read ESPN ‘The Magazine’s’ Boston Issue.

http://www.examiner.com/pittsburgh-steelers-in-pittsburgh/speaking-truth-and-loyalty-as-a-steelers-fan

I compete every day with big media outlets like Sports Illustrated and ESPN.  I get tired of the trash they put out there many times about players and call ‘news’.  Sometimes they actually do a great story about a player or team, but they are far and few between in my opinion.  Most of the time their articles and editorial schedule are driven on a similar one to TMZ and Entertainment Tonight (if you know what I mean).  Trends, what’s hot, what’s not. 

When I read the Boston issue…well, you can take a look at it … I realized that I should cover a story about the City of Pittsburgh, the fans of the Steelers (but also the other PGH teams as well — although mainly the Steelers because that is who I cover)…how Boston fans may rail against their teams, but how many of them travel across the country on a Monday to watch their NFL team play in such force (massive fan-base) as the Steelers fans?  I enjoyed covering the angle of true sports fans, not fair-weathered ones.

Otherwise, I would say that my most interesting stories have been about the players themselves, as people.  I recently wrote one about Max Starks coming back from injury and receiving the (@19th Annual Arthur J. Rooney, Sr. Courage House Luncheon) Ed Block Courage Award as voted by his teammates.  It was great that Max got that recognition, especially after he’d been cut from the team and then re-signed to fill a hole in the offensive line emergently.

http://www.examiner.com/pittsburgh-steelers-in-pittsburgh/steelers-offensive-tackle-max-starks-to-be-honored-for-philanthropy

What’s your dream story or interview?

I have two actually.  First and foremost would be to do an article with all of the sons of Art Rooney, ‘The Chief’…get them all in one room and really let them talk about the evolution of the team in their lives.  Throw in the kids and grandkids – it’d be too much.  I want those men to be in that room releasing the ghost of players and teams past so I can capture it.

I’ve always been a big Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris fan.  Who isn’t a fan of the World-Champion Steelers in the 1970s?  Well, a true dream interview would be to get all of the Hall of Fame Steelers players together in Canton and not only see their items there, but to talk about why they think they were enshrined, what their favorite aspects of being a player and a member of the Steelers was, etc. 

I would love them all to get together in a reunion of sorts and just let the memories flow.  Those guys are way too often forgotten.  I am hoping that Donnie Shell gets inducted this year for sure.

 What’s your ultimate goal as a writer?

A lot of people would tell you they write for the money.  If that’s the case, they’re lying.  People who love to write know that you aren’t going to become a billionaire writing, unless you’re lucky and some company publishes your collection of short stories and puts it on the New York Times Best Seller list.  Sports writers can write books, and many have.  There are a ton of great books out there about the Steelers in fact.

My ultimate goal as a sports writer is to reach those who read my material in ways that keep them coming back for more.  It isn’t dissimilar to an author writing a series of books (ie. C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia), except that I want to dig deeper and provide information that you can’t just get from a Google search online.  I am not trying to become the Wikipedia of Steelers information, if you know what I mean.  I want content that resonates.

BTW – yes, I am writing a novel.  Is it about sports?  No, it’s a thriller!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 20, 2011 7:55 pm

    Thanks for the opportunity to do this article, Ron.

  2. rene webster permalink
    December 20, 2011 8:39 pm

    Excellent article! I have enjoyed reading Tina’s columns for a long time. Liked reading about her background! Thanks!!

  3. Josh permalink
    February 6, 2012 7:50 pm

    How connected do you have to be to get writing jobs like you did for the examiner.com, Christina?

    As a writer, the best I could do was a weekly in my hometown. I left the writing career and am doing other things because writing could not sustain a good living for me.

    I enjoyed your blog post and I hope you keep them coming!

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