Brandon Parker (MSJ07) spent nearly nine years as a sports reporter after graduating from Medill. He started his career at The Beaufort Gazette/Island Packet in South Carolina, moved to Bristol, Conn., to be an associate editor/writer for ESPNHS, and then became a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
At The Washington Post, Parker covered high school sports in the D.C. metro area, was the backup beat reporter for the Washington Wizards and assisted in other pro coverage. After nearly four years, though, Parker made a switch. He left The Washington Post to become Communications Manager for the NFL Players Association,
In his current role with the NFLPA, Parker supports media outreach efforts and maintains relationships with media outlets across the country. Parker took time to talk about his current job, the decision to make the switch and what advice he would give to anyone interested in entering sports media.
Looking back on your time with The Washington Post, what are your three favorite memories?
Being able to cover sports and have my stories fill the pages of the same newspaper that I grew up reading as a kid in Virginia was a tremendous blessing. If I had to pick my three favorite memories, I’d go with:
1) Covering the Washington Wizards in the NBA playoffs. I had always heard from other writers about how different the playoff atmosphere is, but it wasn’t until I settled into my seat on press row for the Wizards 2014 playoff home opener against Chicago that it really hit me. The arena was electric. The crowd was amped. And the level of play went up another notch. From Nene headbutting Jimmy Butler in a scuffle to Paul Pierce “calling game” on his bank shot buzzer beater the next year, those postseason assignments were truly great experiences.
2) My favorite story from my time at The Post was a 2014 feature I did on then-14-year-old powerlifter C.J. Cummings, who has broken numerous records set by men twice his age and is on track to represent the U.S. at the next Olympics. What made this feature different is that the story originated from my first sportswriting gig at The Beaufort Gazette in tiny Beaufort, S.C. His coach used to often call me in hopes that I would do periodic stories on his youth lifters. Little did I know that this relationship would lead to a pull-out feature that gained national attention. It all just goes to show the importance of maintaining relationships and that you never know where you’ll find a diamond in the rough.
3) This last memory is a general one, but when it comes to high school basketball, the DMV (D.C. Maryland Virginia) is second to none. To have a free, front-row seat at games featuring guys like Markelle Fultz, Josh Hart, Melo Trimble and Kris Jenkins was something I’ll always cherish. It was great basketball in perhaps its purest form and I had the privilege of getting to know a lot of these future stars on a personal level — which made it even more rewarding to see when they reached their dreams at the collegiate and pro levels.
What was the biggest challenge in switching from a pure journalist role to more of a communications position?
The biggest challenge has been adjusting my perspective on the news. As a journalist, you’re pursuing the story and facts while racing against your deadline. Now, I’m the one who possesses those facts and I have to be strategic in determining how much of the facts I should divulge to journalists so that the resulting narrative most benefits the NFLPA and our player members. If I’m being honest, now that I’m on the opposite side of the media table, my life is bit less hectic — for which my wife and two daughters are thankful! But much of the skill set that I used as a journalist has translated to my role as communications manager (i.e. building relationships, pitching story ideas, writing, disseminating facts, etc.), and having been on the “other side” has served me well in knowing how to pitch stories and work with the media.
What does a normal day look like for you in your current position?
Much like my sports reporting days, you never know what the day-to-day will bring at the NFLPA. Typically, I start my day by checking the news cycle to see what has happened that’s relevant to our union and players. From there, our communications team works with several goals in mind. One, we want to ensure that the correct messaging is being shared, which entails working with NFL players and members of the media to inform them about the union’s role in the business of football while building leverage against the league for collective bargaining purposes. Two, we work to make an emotional connection with the players so that we can find the best ways to help them promote their brand and identity, whether it be through stories, licensing deals, etc. This includes one program that I lead called Community MVP, where we recognize one player each week during the season that has made a positive impact in the community. Lastly, we work to ensure that our staff is on the same page internally to help us all in achieving our ultimate goal as a union of assuring proper recognition and representation of players’ interests.
How do you think your time at Medill helped you get where you are today?
My time at Medill was incredibly beneficial for my career. After I majored in journalism at UNC, a lot of people questioned my decision to pursue a master’s in journalism at Medill. What made my experience worthwhile was how practical the program at Medill is. They don’t believe in having you sit in a classroom for a year, listening to lectures. The best way to get better as a writer and reporter is to actually do it. To be out on the streets of Chicago and Washington, D.C., reporting on education, politics and sports made me a well-rounded journalist who is also versed in multimedia reporting. On top of that, Medill’s seemingly endless network of alumni and influencers is an incredible asset.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to current students who want to pursue a career in sports media?
The biggest piece of advice that I give aspiring sports journalists is that with every experience — whether it’s a job, internship or fellowship; paid or unpaid — make sure to have something to show for your time spent there. With all the layoffs and continued evolution of the industry, hiring managers are looking for people with versatility and experience. So, while it might sound great that you interned at ESPN, if you spent those three months just answering phones and did not gain any clips or applicable experience, you’ve missed out on adding the value and substance necessary to help separate your résumé from the others when vying for a certain job. Starting off my journalism career in Beaufort, S.C. — a little military town with one Walmart and no professional or college sports teams — was not what I had in mind when mapping out my career path. But those 2.5 years taught me so much and offered so many opportunities to grow through reporting, column writing and multimedia journalism that, in God’s perfect timing, I was able to catch the eye of ESPN and The Washington Post for my next two gigs. So, I always tell others, be results-driven when it comes to your career choices.
BONUS QUESTION: As an adjunct lecturer at George Mason University, what are the key lessons you teach students in your Sports Writing and Reporting course?
The key lessons I teach are rooted in accuracy and relationships. As a journalist (and person), you bring credibility to your name and byline through your reporting. Readers need to know that you are a trusted source of information and facts. Each time that you fail to meet the standard — whether it be putting too much stock in being first rather than being right, or getting a name or fact wrong — your credibility takes a hit. The way I grade their writing reflects that, as I considerably mark down stories with fact errors. Relationships are also critical because, at its essence, what separates the Adam Schefters and Stephen A. Smiths from other reporters is that people simply answer their calls or texts. That’s because they’ve built strong relationships on the beat through sound, dogged reporting and a commitment to voicing the truth.