Pictured: Ted Leonsis and Pam Chovtkin. Photo courtesy of Pam Chovtkin.
Pam Chvotkin loves sports. She loves taking pictures of live games. She loves talking or writing about a team and their efforts. There’s a glimmer in her eye when she watches a team progress, not only as a reporter, but as an on-looker.
After graduating from the University of Tennessee and spending some time in Knoxville, Tenn., Chvotkin moved and now currently resides in the greater-DC area.
For the moment, Chvotkin is freelancing for ESPN while serving as an active member of the DC sports media for several sports organizations. She also keeps a blog called Break In The Action.
Chvotkin took a few minutes to sit down and tell We Love DC what it is that gets here so enthusiastic about Washington sports. The following interview speaks to that.
Rachel: What is it about sports that got you thinking “Maybe I could write about this stuff” – was there a moment you just realized it was something you had a passion for?
Pam Chvotkin: I live in a family with sports fanatics, a father in sports broadcasting and two older brothers that were deeply involved with sports in high school, college, and professionally. At a very young age, it became a passion of mine as well, and followed suit. At some point, probably in middle school, I realized that I had something to contribute and I had a voice. Interestingly enough, people listened.
Pictured: WTOP’s Craig Heist and Pam Chovtkin. Photo courtesy of Pam Chovtkin.
R: In a field dominated by men, what has your experience been while covering professional sports?
P: It may be a male dominated environment, but I’ve had nothing but positive experiences from men who have taken a mentor-like role when I was first starting out who lead by example to show me what a true professional was. Because it was an industry that I had followed at a young I’ve had opportunities that allowed me to learn and grow. Regardless of sports, this profession is just like any other corporate business. I’m there, just like everyone else, covering a story. Even though I can be side tracked that it is an exciting event and happens to be something I’m very interested in, you still have to maintain your journalistic integrity. And Even though I might be a fan, I am aware that there is a very fine line between enthusiasm and reservation. By observing these male figures, I was able to learn how and when to draw that line.
R: Is there any advice you feel you could offer to women just as passionate as you who find it difficult to constantly feel the burden of a male dominated press corp?
P: Sure, make friends! Be friendly. It is often that journalists bounce stories between each other. It may be a competitive industry, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get help from others or offer to help yourself. Volunteer and put yourself in a position to learn. The great thing about sports is the trends are continually changing. Each season there is a different type of team, whether its a new structure with coaching, different players, or a strategic game plan.
For example, when I started out, I learned statistics, a mathematical approach to sports analyzation. On another occasion, there was someone else doing statistics, so I didn’t have much to do for the game other than just watch and observe. I was offered a gig with ESPN and learned how to keep track of television time outs. Although I had never done it before, I was more than eager to learn. The gig became available because the person couldn’t make the game, he was stuck in traffic. I offered to help and It was something I could add to the list of different things I could do during actual game operations. I kept building my resume from there.
In this industry you earn your wings one step at a time. It doesn’t happen overnight. When you do reach a level of success, pass your knowledge on to others. In a socially networked world, these will be your sources and people who are not only your peers and colleagues, but go a step beyond the casual fan.
Photo courtesy of Pam Chovtkin.
R: From boxing to basketball, hockey to horse racing and everything in between, is there a particular sport that you prefer covering over another?
P: I enjoy covering all sports, I think they each bring something new and exciting to the table because each are so different in their own way, but my preferences are football and basketball, both college and professional.
R: Go back and dig through that memory box they call the human brain – is there a singular game you remember being your favorite to cover or write about after the fact?
P: There were so many amazing moments I have had the chance to witness and watch live. But right now, two different experiences come to mind:
I remember back in college at the University of Tennessee, there was a game I had attended at Neyland Stadium with this “Super fan” group called Orange Nation. While I wasn’t working the game, I had written about it afterwards. Florida, one of Tennessee’s rivals had possession of the ball at the start of the 4th quarter, and was ahead by a point after a missed field goal by UT’s kicker, the first his first of his career. Talk about pressure! I remember, painted face and all, and being around other fans who were just as nervous and anxious as I was to get the ball back. That was the longest 4th quarter of my life up to that point. After an altercation, a penalty, and a forced punt with six seconds left we managed to get the ball back within field goal range. The 50-yard kick was good and we won by the skin of our teeth. The place erupted. It felt like an earthquake. My voice was gone, and I am sure I went partially deaf that night. But it was one of the best moments I felt as a fan and was excited to do a recap of the experience afterwards. I knew I wanted to find some way to cover this excitment for a living. Sports is so unpredictable!
Another memorable experience was this past years NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament I worked. The opening rounds and first game of the tournament was played in the regional city in Washington, DC. I was given a lot of responsibility. The excitement, the attention, the pressure. Not to mention the games, just wow! The experience inevitably would lead two of those teams to the Final Four (final game!) and one of them to win a National Championship. That experience overall as a collective, would rank as a significant one. I remember being in the tunnel ready to run stats out to media as the game just ended when Butler upset Pittsburgh with a last second shot by Matt Howard. The atmosphere was something I couldn’t explain. I remember the majority of the hall lights were off because it was a late game and there was nothing but me and videographers waiting for the teams to come back to their respective locker rooms. All I remember seeing is Matt Howard jogging back thinking “wow, that just happened”. It was an amazing moment to be apart of.
R: So here’s a biggie – why do you love D.C. sports?
P: The wonderful thing about working in sports within the DC area is it is diverse, accessible, and sociable. Every major sport is represented. In addition to the professional atmosphere, the college sports scene is alive with more than 15 local schools competing in over 20 different sports. We routinely have division, conference and national champions in our area. Growing up here, there was also highly competitive high school sports. Many of our local athletes go on to have successful college and professional careers. There’s something for everyone.
R: Do you have a favorite D.C. sport? If so, what is it and why?
P: I love too many sports to pick a favorite. Each has their loyal fan base which I am happy to be a part of, win or lose.
R: Despite heartbreak and embarrassment, the D.C. sports fan community remains vocal and proud when cheering on their teams from season to season. How would you define D.C. sports fans when compared to fans in other major sports cities like New York, Boston or Chicago?
P: Despite all of that, I find that our fans are knowledgeable, well behaved, and passionate about their teams.
R: What advice would you offer a new D.C. area resident when it comes time for them to decide whether or not they should root for a local team?
P: If you’re unsure of how you might feel, go straight to the source and find out for yourself. Buy a ticket and go to an event, you won’t regret doing so.