Seven percent of high school athletes (1 in 14) go on to play a varsity sport in college. Under 2% of them are for a Division I program. Out of those who play Division I, less than 2% of them turn professional. So nearly half a million student athletes will end their athletic career after college. Then you have the people with the skills to write about the ones with athletic skills, which is where Mitch Sherman landed.
“My junior year, I couldn’t play basketball or baseball for my high school anymore,” Sherman said. “They were really, really good.”
Sherman never had the athletic skill to compete in high school, but he excelled in the writing of sports. He has had jobs throughout the local and national writing industry, working at ESPN and the Omaha World-Herald. Sherman has had many experiences covering multiple events and living through some of them, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. No matter the topic, Sherman was always ready to write about it.
Attending Omaha Burke High School, one of the top athletic schools in the Omaha metro area, many kids didn’t make the teams. The school has 40 state championships since it was established in 1965. Due to these tremendous teams, many kids were in the same position as Sherman. However, Sherman took action and wrote for his school newspaper. The first game Sherman “covered” was the Class A basketball championship his senior year.
“That was my introduction to sports journalism,” Sherman said. “But it was insignificant compared to what I did in college.”
Going into college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Sherman knew exactly what he wanted to do. The week before classes even started, he went into the newspaper office and got a job there right away. The summer going into his freshman year, Sherman attended a journalism “camp.” The first week of school, Sherman was assigned to cover the football team and got to interview tight end Trumane Bell coming into the ‘93 season.
“After the opening game, I basically lived in the Union basement and covered every football game the rest of my college career,” Sherman said.
He wrote for The Daily Nebraskan for all five years of his college experience. Following his graduation, he was offered a job for the Omaha World-Herald. Having covered every Huskers football event, Sherman was familiar and friends with many of the writers they had on staff. The World-Herald didn’t even have to interview him due to recognizing his work ethic. A position opened for him to cover Huskers football when University of Nebraska Omaha introduced its Division 1 hockey team. The World-Herald had Sherman and his partner turning out two stories a day on the football team and anything else regarding football.
“We were writing a morning and afternoon cycle from August through the recruiting in February,” Sherman said. However, he didn’t get to start with Huskers football. The World-Herald began to put him on unique and odd jobs. His very first event to cover was the Iowa high school state track meet. Without the internet like it is today – no MaxPreps or anything like that – Sherman had to get information from people there since he had no idea of any of the athletes. One particular event that stayed with Sherman was covering dirt track racing at Eagle Raceway and the races not getting over until 10:30 to 11 p.m. at night, and his story was due by midnight. Plus, he had zero knowledge of dirt track racing, so it provided a challenge.
“Compared to what I started with in college, this start was considerably less glamorous,” he said. Over his years at the World-Herald and The Daily Nebraskan, Sherman met and worked with many people which resulted in lasting friendships. One particular was a colleague from Kansas State University, Jeremy Crabtree, who usually wrote football stories with Sherman. Crabtree went from a journalist to a pioneer for football recruiting and left to join ESPN and take recruiting to the national level. Sherman was approached with a job opportunity and started at ESPN in March of 2011. He was given the senior recruiting writing role, which turned into more over his eight years at ESPN. The conferences were changing, the college playoff came into the picturem which changed how journalists in Sherman’s field were expected to cover such stories.
“ESPN noticed that people weren’t buying into the blogs as much anymore,” he said. “They wanted meaningful stories.”
The next year in 2017, ESPN laid off half of its college football staff. Sherman was lucky enough to keep his job, however, his work load changed drastically. ESPN stopped assigning writers to individual conferences and regions and focused on the national picture. Due to ESPN’s involvement in the College Football Playoff, they were reasonably expected to cover the top teams contending. Where Sherman was located could be described as “boring” or “average” when it came to contenders for the national championship game. The last team coming close being Iowa in 2015 who lost to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game. They were one win away from blowing up the whole playoff picture.
Overall, Sherman typically would cover games between local teams being visited by the powerhouses of college football, such as Alabama visiting Missouri or Oklahoma making the trip to Ames, Iowa.
“I wanted to do something more fulfilling,” Sherman said. “I saw the Athletic as a possibility, and we came together.”
The Athletic is a subscription-based sports journalism website that launched January 2016 and has writers around the globe. The Athletic seemed to be a nice change of pace compared to his previous jobs. Sherman went from writing eight to nine stories a week to maybe three to four. This allowed him to be more in-depth when writing his stories.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, stories are scarce with no sports in competition. The new normal for Sherman’s job is there is no new normal for him.
“With the situation right now, you know, I can’t go out and interview players and coaches,” he said. The Athletic seemed more fitting, according to Sherman due to his job assignments. He is particularly asked to cover Huskers sports, especially football. Sherman is also able to help choose the stories he writes and wants to write stories he knows people will read, which is usually Huskers football but every once in a while, a story such as the College World Series or a March Madness regional will come up and catch people’s interests. In 2019 nearing the CWS, Nebraska, Creighton and Omaha baseball were all a couple of wins away from making it. This grabbed attention from both local papers and nationwide stations.
“One of the great things about The Athletic is, like, we are a company in a short period of time and have hired this collection of writers across the country who have pretty amazing experience,” Sherman said.
He admitted that he didn’t see himself accomplishing everything he has in his career so far. Sherman thought he would be a writer for an MLB team such as the Kansas City Royals. He covered the Nebraska football program in its peak, including the Orange Bowl games in ‘93, ‘94, ‘95 and ‘97.
Unlike some writers or other professions, this career wasn’t clear to Sherman.
“Really, honestly there’s not, there’s not one game that I covered that stands out above the others, you know, like a game that shaped me or told me that I wanted to do this for my career,” Sherman said.
Though Sherman has many experiences, a book has never crossed his mind. He mentioned that the topic would have to have his full attention so he wouldn’t write it half-heartedly. If it wasn’t a book, Sherman might consider a podcast, which he has been somewhat interested in. With the struggling Huskers football program, if it ever did come out of this drought, Sherman could see that as a topic for a project.
“I mean, sure, I think that might be an interesting premise for a book, at some point, but I don’t know,” he said.
In regards to people getting involved in the journalism industry, sometimes it is easy to get “writer’s block” or just worn out. Even professionals such as Sherman experience this. Early in his career, Sherman would attempt to fight through and finish the story regardless, since he had stricter deadlines. As he grew more experienced in the industry, Sherman likes to go on a walk just to clear his head and relax.
“I take a break to just get away from the story, you know,” he said, “But it’s better than forcing out words.”
The main advice taken from Sherman was pretty simple: you can’t just specialize in one area. Sherman was versatile throughout the early stages of his career and it helped him climb the job ranks and make new friends. Attending different and unique events allowed Sherman to round himself as a journalist as a whole.
“You can’t pigeonhole yourself and say this is who you are and never change,” he said. “You have to be flexible for anything.”