My greatest fear as a sports reporter was realized this week

Terry Frei’s firing from The Denver Post is a stark reminder of the power of social media.

For context, I suggest listening to Terry Frei’s interview on 104.3 The Fan with Mark Schlereth and Mike Evans. The interview covers the tweet, the fallout and Terry’s explanation.

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My worst fear as a journalist was realized in the fallout from the Terry Frei situation. It’s a fear that caused me to leave the Denver sports scene for over a year. It causes me to never quite write what I want to and to worry about whether I’m saying ‘the right thing’. It keeps me from working on other projects that I’m passionate about outside of sports.

The fear is that if I say the wrong thing, people will try and destroy my reputation.

As someone who is overly sarcastic and provocative by nature, this is terrifying. I have dealt with situations where people misunderstood my actions and words. When trying to do the right thing, I have said the wrong thing. This has led to the loss of friendships and a lot of damage control.

Maybe you’ve never been in this situation. However, with the power and reach of social media, I’m guessing you have at least stumbled at times.

Knowing that a mistake could cause me to lose control of a situation has always worried me. Seeing the fallout from Terry Frei’s tweet elevated that fear this week.

It was painful to watch because I know Terry. I’ve read his work for my entire life. I first wrote him an email after reading 77: Denver, The Broncos, and a Coming of Age. As I entered college, I wanted him to know how much I looked up to him. This book should be required reading for anyone covering Denver sports.

We would tweet back and forth on occasion. A few years later, I worked alongside Terry in the Avalanche locker room. My job required me to record clips from press conference interviews to send to radio stations, and he always treated me with respect. Of all people in the media, I’ve always wanted to grow up to be Terry Frei. He’s never done anything that leads me to think that any of the current larger, character defining accusations against him are true.

I’ll take the Terry I know over the one tweet. Especially since he continues to apologize for the tweet. The Internet did not offer him such grace.

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I’ve had these fears before. I’ve seen other friends dragged through the mud. There’s a whole book about this subject called, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

My experiences of being called out and ridiculed on Twitter made me love sports less. It wasn’t fun anymore. I felt like every tweet was a test of my credibility as a journalist. I was always living in fear.

I quit writing about sports entirely and I hoped that if I pursued other avenues of writing and journalism, perhaps that confidence would come back.

It did not entirely, but it did ease some of the pressure I felt to be perfect on Twitter and in my work. The feelings finally diminished enough that I felt ready to return to covering Denver sports with these columns I write for 5280 Sports Network. In writing the columns, I take a lot of my inspiration from other people in sports, including Terry Frei.

Terry made a mistake. The Denver Post, a company where he worked for over 30 years, completely cut ties with him. That’s not how you treat someone who has done so much for you. People who didn’t know him cheered his firing. Some of the people who did know his work completely changed their perception of him based on one tweet.

I don’t know what could lead to my downfall on social media. I could try to make a joke. I could say something that I don’t know has a second meaning. I could have a really long point to make and change that meaning when condensing it into 140 characters.

That would be it. Everyone would turn against me.

So I’m very fearful of what I might say. I don’t know what I should do. Maybe it’s time that I stop tweeting or at least change the way I use Twitter.

Perhaps I just don’t have the courage to be in the sports journalism business. At the same time, if I can’t cut it here, what does that say about the people who write about real issues? What does it say about people who don’t have the privilege in our society that I do?

This burden shouldn’t just fall on the people trying to capture our world. Most journalists and writers work to benefit other people. “Journalist” may be a bad word these days, but the people doing the work are passionate about the citizenry. We are telling these stories for the readers.

It’s something we all need to realize about social media. Most people start with good intentions, and real people are affected when we unleash our anger against them.

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I work best when I know that I have the freedom to make a mistake and then recover. It’s why I was a pretty good play-by-play announcer.

It’s also why I enjoyed doing live news shows—I was a Kyle Clark type character at CU-Boulder’s journalism school before Hey Next existed. At CU, they had a sports segment for me called “Derek’s Corner.” In one instance, I berated the Buffs for pursuing Mike MacIntyre. Yeah, I made a mistake.

My tweets are a draft for what I do next. None of us have that luxury anymore. Sports Twitter, a place that used to be fun and inviting, is now just like the rest of the Internet. It’s a place that is no longer safe from mind-numbing, soul crushing arguments. It’s a place where people who don’t know you are ready to destroy you.

My fears are my problem. The issues that caused these fears are problems for all of us. If no one can make a mistake, then we’re not seeing the best work we can. Excellent articles will not be written and the best tweets will not be sent. We’re all walking a tightrope.

So each time I tweet, I must think through if I’m about to fall off that tightrope.

Do I really want my big mistake to be making fun of Charlie Blackmon?

This post originally appeared on 5280 Sports Network, now a part of Mile High Sports