AP sports style quizzes should test more than usage

Let’s face it: Associated Press Style is not as important as it used to be when print dominated the media landscape.

But let’s also not be naive: understanding key terms and their proper spelling remains essential for all who seek to become a professional in any sports media field.

To get even more out of the AP Stylebook’s sports section, I offer additional insights into sports coverage along the way, such as how to cover a professional golf event or that you need to add about 17 yards from the line of scrimmage to determine the actual distance for a field goal during a football game. (Thus, a team that attempts a FG after moving the ball to the 12-yard-line would convert a 29-yarder since the goal posts sit 10 yards beyond the goal line in the back of the end zone and because the holder almost always kneels seven yards behind the center in order to allow the ball’s trajectory to fly above the flailing hands of defensive linemen.)

Feel free to use the two AP Style quizzes posted here and here. I’m going alphabetically through the book this year. In the first quiz, baseball is the primary sport. Students need to understand basic terms such as “home run” and “first baseman,” which are both frequently misspelled as one word, the same way that “running back” is misspelled in football. They also need to learn that sports writing relies heavily on compound hyphenated words, such as “right-center field wall,” “408-foot wall,” and “18-yard run.” There are also some terms that, at first blush, are illogical: “outfielder,” yet “right fielder,” “left fielder,” and “center fielder” – however, a home run is hit over the “center-field wall.”

Obviously, numbers are significant in all sports coverage even if their usage can be confusing at times. For example, the AP Stylebook recommends that all numbers below 10 be spelled out. But there are plenty of exceptions in sports coverage. For example, a golf player uses clubs that are cited with numerals – a “7-iron” and “3-wood” – while a football player might get tackled on the 6-yard-line and run 9 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.” It’s important to slowly, and repetitively, address the usage of numbers during the semester. Here’s another one: A basketball player could finish a game with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists at some media outlets. At the Orlando Sentinel, we used numerals when listing stats if at least one number were above 10. At most other media outlets, the under-10 rule applies and would read: “21 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.” We should continue to let students know that individual media outlets set their own style that usurps the AP Stylebook.

I’m also a hater of clichés, unless I’m slinging the lingo over lunch with sports fanatics, so I slip in trite, banal terms – even though I do not take points off if they fail to correct – in order to further discuss their usage when we review the quiz results. In the first quiz, I slipped in “backstop” for the more accurate term “catcher” and inserted “southpaw” for “left-hander.” These terms do not bother me too much in second reference, especially on a baseball broadcast, but only if readers/viewers/listeners can understand these references. Here’s my test: If my mother, an avid Yankees fan, would be confused by baseball jargon, I avoid it in first reference.

A few other quick takes:

  • For clarity’s sake, lower-case terms such as “coach,” “manager” and “athletic director” as titles before names, the same way you might with the terms principal and city manager, otherwise you might create a confusing string of proper nouns: Eastern Illinois University Athletic Director Tom Michael.
  • It’s “RBIs” for multiple runs batted in and RBI for a single RBI. But, really, why even use RBI for a single run when you could better write that a player drove in one run?

I’ll continue to address more AP sports style through this semester. Feel free to comment below with your own style recommendations or questions.

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About jgisondi

I covered sports and worked as a sports copy editor for more than 20 years at several newspapers in Florida, including the Fort Myers News-Press, Clearwater Sun, Florida Today and Orlando Sentinel. I started writing for a weekly sports publication in Coral Springs, Fla., at age 15. I have been hooked on sports journalism ever since. I was fortunate to have worked with some amazing editors along the way, journalists who took the time to help me even when my copy was not top-notch. Now, I teach journalism at Eastern Illinois University and work as an editor for Landof10.com, a vertical that focuses on Big Ten athletics. A second edition of the "Field Guide To Covering Sports" will be available sometime in February 2017. The book is a practical guide to preparing, observing, interviewing and writing about 20 different sports, from auto racing to wrestling. Chapters also address ways to cover high school sports, fantasy sports, to develop sports blogs. You can also learn how to cover games, to write features and to interview better. Fans can also learn basic rules of these sports, along with ways to better observe the action. New chapters in the second edition will address social media, advanced analytics, fantasy sports coverage and revised, expanded chapters address game coverage, features and columns, among other new sections.
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