BOSTON (CBS) – After a sports writing career that spanned over four decades, Bob Ryan has hung up the pen and note pad.
Sort of. The 66-year-old is using the word “retirement” very loosely.
“I’m avoiding that word retirement because it’s not accurate at all. That’s a technical term; it just means I’m no longer a full-time employee of the Boston Globe,” Ryan told 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich Friday morning. “The objective is to go out on my own terms, and to manipulate my life a little more than you can when you have obligations. I’m trying to reduce obligations if not get rid of them all together. I don’t know how successful that will be because I still want to be active.”
Ryan now calls himself a “freelance guy.” He’ll no longer travel around the country (or world) to cover the plethora of sporting events he has already seen numerous times, from the NBA Finals to Olympics. He’s even taking this Labor Day weekend off, and will be absent from the Deutsche Bank Tournament for the first time since it’s inception in 2003.
But he will still have a Sunday column on a sporadic basis, beginning again on September 9; the same column that captivated Boston sports fans over the years. An avid minor league baseball and college basketball fan, Ryan is hoping to add to the list of parks and arenas he has visited, along with some travel plans with his wife.
Ryan has plenty of stories from his years inside the locker rooms, especially from his days covering the Boston Celtics. When he began covering the team in 1969, he recalls a time when he had to lend Hall of Fame center Dave Cowens some money (he refered to him as an absent-minded professor type) and other times when he would leave a bigger tip when players did not leave a sufficient amount.
“When I was writing then, I wasn’t making that much less than the lesser-paid players on the team,” he recalls. “When Don Chaney jumped from the Celtics to the Spirits of Saint Louis in 1975, it was to get $50,000 a year, because he was only making around $30,000.”
Quite a bit has changed since then. Ryan is no longer the only man covering the Celtics. Instead of getting a chance to enjoy every practice, by himself, locker rooms and practice floors are now packed with reporters. The access is now limited as well, making it harder to chat with players on a regular basis.
“The barriers were put up, in part by our own fault. One of the dirty little secrets of covering sports in America is there are far too many of us,” Ryan said. “That wasn’t the case when I started. There were a couple of years in there I was the only guy in Celtics practice day-in and day-out.”
“They knew that I knew the difference between what was reportable and not-reportable, what was gossip and something I could use in a column,” he said. “You had to earn their trust in that regard, which I thought I did. That’s impossible these days.”
With the age of Twitter and blogging upon us, Ryan is not a fan of the direction journalism is heading. But that’s not the reason he is getting out now.
“It’s changed it all to the benefit of the viewer, reader, listener to a degree of getting instant information. For those involved in it, it’s a nightmare,” he said. “I didn’t tweet one tweet before I got out of this. I blogged for a while and I got bored with that… I chose not to be a part of all that, but you have to be a part of it. You can’t ignore it if you want to be a continuing member of the fraternity.”
“What it’s done is it’s really eliminated accuracy. It’s all speed and instant analysis, and that’s not something I’m comfortable with. It is not why I’m leaving – I want to make this clear. It makes it easier to leave,” said Ryan. “It’s just the time. I want to go out while I still feel like I’m enthusiastic about the job; even though I’m not as enthusiastic how you do the job.”
“Maybe the most gratifying thing about everything that’s happened to me now… is that I know I never had to reinvent myself or invent anything other than being myself,” said Ryan. “I’ve been doing what comes naturally to me since day one… Without having to have one second of phoneyness, that’s very satisfying to me.”