As I sift through the people on Twitter that post in the football world, I see lots of bio pages that proudly proclaim Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) membership.
If you’re hoping to be the next McShay, Kiper or Mayock, and you don’t have such a membership, that may be a little intimidating to you. Well, I’m here to tell you not to fear that, or really anything else, as you make your climb in the business. Often, such certifications don’t indicate anything more than an ability to pay club fees.
You won’t find membership in the PFWA on my Twitter bio. Here’s why.
I remember my first NFL combine in 2002. It was a big deal, because I had never been to one, and I knew I’d be launching Inside the League that fall. I had no idea what to expect. I had been told by a friend that all the media hung out in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza hotel at Union Station in downtown Indianapolis, but when I got there, I found out that the NFL had mandated that the media inhabit this one big room in the Indiana Convention Center. I was fortunate enough to get a credential, so I carried by laptop in and inhabited a space somewhere at the tables that were set up along the walls.
I got in before anyone else just to make sure I got a seat, but a couple hours later, the then-President of the PFWA would make an announcement of what players were expected to pass through the interview room that day. He’d also urge everyone to follow their assignments on the transcriptions they’d been assigned. In short order, I found out I would be welcomed into the PFWA, even though I had no affiliations with major newspapers, radio or TV. All I had to do was pay my money and I’d be put on the email list. I’d even get access to the transcriptions, which was really helpful because I was trying to do my own, and could never get all the players myself.
At any rate, one day that week I learned that there were several players that had slipped through the cracks. I had taped these players’ interviews, and I felt that this was my chance to really gain traction with some major writers and make some key contacts. For that reason, I spent the week after the combine madly transcribing, in minute detail, the interviews I’d done with several lesser prospects. The President of the PFWA, who happened to be local, assured me I had done a great thing. “This is a really big help to us,” he said. “You’ve got a great future in the PFWA and I won’t forget this.”
Well, he pretty much forgot about it by the following week. I tried to contact him about a few small things in the ensuing weeks, and he ignored my emails and other notes completely. I finally got my courage up to call him a couple times, too, and I never got any response whatsoever.
I was pretty shocked. I mean, this was the vaunted PFWA. I thought I had arrived when I achieved membership, and thought I was among an army of respected and hard-working professionals, the biggest names in the business. I found out I was just another disposable member, a guy who was counted on to write a check and transcribe some lesser prospects’ interviews, and nothing more.
It was really frustrating then, but it made me realize that such a membership was really nothing more than an empty title. I realized that at the end of the day, my success wouldn’t be counted on how many ‘clubs’ I was in, but in how much legitimate, reliable, helpful information and insights I provided. It didn’t matter one bit if I was in a writers association.
That’s true of you, too. Don’t worry about any — any — clubs, societies, associations, fraternities, or anything else that seems exclusive. Most of the time, those are just places for mediocrity to hide. Once you achieve success, people in these groups will seek you out for membership.
Your success doesn’t ever hinge on recognition from your supposed peers. In fact, most people who really achieved things did it despite their peers’ disdain. It’s just one more thing you can use for inspiration.