Tom Bowles, a freelance NASCAR reporter for Sports Illustrated, was fired for breaking the cardinal sin of being a sports writer.The rule? No cheering in the press box. Never, for any reason, ever. Die-hard traditionalists would have the commandment laser-etched into diamond and mounted on the inside of every sports writer’s front door as a daily reminder.
Yet, at the Daytona 500, Bowles couldn’t help himself. 20-year old Trevor Bayne was holding off the #99 car of Carl Edwards around the final turn when Bowles let his emotions take control of him. Bayne crossed the finish line to the roar of 150,000 fans. The kid had just become the youngest Daytona winner ever in just his second Sprint Cup start and it shocked the NASCAR world.
Bowles, in the press box, clapped for five seconds along with them. Days later, SI fired him.
Bowles likely sealed his fate at SI when he defended himself instead of apologizing profusely. Firing up Twitter, he got into it with SI motorsports reporter Brant James and SBNation writer Jeff Gluck:
After SI sent him packing, Bowles told his side of the story on his NASCAR blog at Frontstretch.com. He continues to defend his position to the death, saying in the post, “I understand the importance of impartiality in reporting. But last time I checked, where you’re supposed to be judged is whether that actually shows up on paper.”
Whatever you think of sports writing’s oldest taboo, Bowles knew what he was getting into by crossing into those grounds. But the same emotions were coursing through every other media member in the vicinity of Daytona International Speedway as Bayne sped past the checkered flag. Bowles was the only one to show it publicly, and he got canned for it.
Bowles commendably stood up for his beliefs and challenged the establishment, but SI’s reaction was expected. In today’s media, it’s accepted that many sports writers and bloggers (from tiny local beat blogs to ESPN’s Page 2) freely toss around their team and player allegiances. But for now, you still can’t do it in the press box.
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