NSSA Awards: TV has made Ryan easy to spot
By Nick Bowton
Bob Ryan was in Minnesota for the 1991 American League Championship Series when Gene Larkin, then a member of the Twins, approached Ryan and introduced himself.
As a columnist and long-time sportswriter for the Boston Globe, Ryan interacted with famous athletes on a regular basis. But he was always the one introducing himself to start an interview ó not the one getting recognized and approached by major league players.
Larkin approached Ryan because he had seen him on "The Sports Reporters," a television show on ESPN. Seventeen years later, Ryan's face is as recognizable as any athlete or actor.
It's a situation Ryan, the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association's Sportswriter of the Year, never envisioned when he started at the Globe in 1968.
"It's finally reached an almost amusing level," Ryan said this weekend, when he was in town for the annual NSSA awards. "As anyone here would tell you that's been around a while, when you first started as a writer, having any connection with television, it was very hush-hush almost. It was very dicey, very uncomfortable. You really had to apologize for it."
Not any more. Ryan started his TV career with "The Sports Reporters" and now is a regular on "Around the Horn," an ESPN show that features four nationally known columnists each episode. Ryan also appears on "Pardon the Interruption" as a guest host when regular hosts Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser ó columnists at the Washington Post ó aren't available.
What really exemplifies the change in sports journalism, however, is the show Ryan started doing in June.
The New York Times owns the Boston Globe, and it also owns the New England Sports Network. Ryan serves as host of "The Globe 10.0," a television show on the New England Sports Network that was created in partnership with the Boston Globe.
Newspapers and television, getting along under one cozy roof.
"That's how far we've come," said Ryan, who won his second national NSSA award this year and has won three state awards as well. "There's no more of this them-and-us. We're under the same umbrella.
"That just would have been utterly unimaginable 25 years ago."
While the columnists-to-television phenomenon has taken hold this decade, Ryan said columnists have been doing work on the side for longer than that. In fact, a big-time columnist who didn't have his own radio show was the butt of a joke as far back as 15 years ago.
Ryan never tried his own radio show because he said he couldn't fathom how any columnist would have time to juggle both jobs.
But when radio gigs gave way to television and a friend asked Ryan to appear on "The Sports Reporters," Ryan figured he'd give it a shot. That was in 1989, and Ryan's had a connection to ESPN ever since.
"ESPN has been a lifeline, if you will," Ryan said. "It's the lead dog. Nobody has competed with them successfully in this field. If you get in their orbit, you're very lucky. I'm very fortunate to be in that orbit.
"I never went knocking on any doors looking for it. They came to me, and I'm very happy they did."
Because ESPN came calling, Ryan's face becomes more recognizable every time he appears on TV. That's why other NSSA winners' children inquired about autographs while Ryan was in town. And that's why athletes recognize guys like Ryan, Wilbon and Kornheiser just as easily as those columnists recognize the superstar athletes they cover.
"That's something any of us who do the show will tell you, that you can now walk into situations where they're introducing themselves to you as opposed to the other way around," Ryan said. "That's the power of television."
Contact Nick Bowton at 704-797-4259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.