USA Today NFL Columnist Inspires AUC Journalism Students

By Jonathan Dixon, Staff Writer

As a USA Today NFL columnist, Jarrett Bell has covered pro football games for 28 years. He used his four decades of sports reporting experience to offer helpful advice to Morehouse and Spelman journalism students on Oct. 25. Bell captured the students’ attention as he discussed the importance of developing relationships to succeed as a journalist.

He stressed to the students in a Sports Reporting class that networking is the equalizer that connects with building credibility, versatility, and making deadlines. He shared his networking experience when he described writing an article about the death of the son of Green Bay Packers assistant coach Ray Sherman.

The police initially determined that Sherman’s son committed suicide after they discovered him with a gunshot head wound. However, Sherman believed his son accidentally shot himself with his gun in his garage.

Bell built a relationship with Sherman while he covered the 49ers and Sherman was an assistant coach for the team in the 1990s. Bell maintained communication with him for years afterwards. Sherman contacted Bell and asked him if he could write a story about his son.

“Sherman and his wife wanted to set the record straight and no one would listen,” Bell said. “So, he asked me if I could tell their story.”

Bell wrote his story and it was published on the front page of USA Today. After a month of gaining public awareness, Bell noted that the police changed their decision from a suicide to an accident.

“I’m most proud of that story than anything I’ve ever written,” Bell said. “Because I sat there with his family and watched them in their grief.”

Journalists should work toward building their credibility to establish trust with their audience. Journalists must step out of their comfort zone to pursue unique and groundbreaking stories.

Building connections and getting an audience to trust you to write an accurate story provides a journalist with an opportunity to shift paradigms.

“The idea of learning and exploring, that’s the great thing about being a journalist,” Bell said.

Immediately after Bell finished speaking, the students filled the room with a high applause of gratitude.