Press conference without a camera

I recently did something I’ve never done before. I went to a press conference without my cameras. I went with my kids. We stood in line and we got autographs. I was part of the crowd and not in the media pool.

Cobi Jones with Adam and Dustin

The occasion was the announcement of the line-ups for the Major League Soccer All-Star game being held in Orlando. Franki Hejduk and Cobi Jones were called in to represent the players. Both were all-star selections and had been stand-outs on the otherwise disappointing USA team at the World Cup in France. All three of my kids play soccer and when they heard they could meet Cobi Jones, we were off in the car to KMart (a corporate sponsor of the game) where the press conference was being held.

In the course of my career I have been to scores of press conferences. They have ranged from the unknown spokesperson for a local activist group to Planet Hollywood openings with Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore and Arnold (The Terminator). I’m always getting there early, looking for an angle and remaining a bit above the fray. It’s the only way to remain objective and it makes the job easier if you’re not overly impressed with the event. There’s nothing more embarrassing than a journalist who asks for an autograph.

But it was my day off and the kids wanted to meet the players. My daughter Elise, 10, was spending the day with a friend so she couldn’t go but Adam, 12, and Dustin, 8 were ready. We were delayed by a sudden thunderstorm so we got to the store at 11:10 a.m., ten minutes after the start of the event.

The boys were impressed that all five of the local TV crews were there plus a video crew from Univision, the Spanish language cable network. My coworker Gary Bogdon came waltzing by, loaded with his cameras to cover the event. The boys and I stood behind a velvet rope and listened to a long, somewhat dull speech by the commissioner. Then the soccer players posed for a group photo and started interviews.

The boys had brought their own team jerseys for the players to sign. They will be getting new uniforms this year so they knew that they could stash away their Orlando United Soccer Club jerseys after the signing. After about 20 minutes of interviews, we were able to work our way over to Cobi Jones, the midfielder from the Los Angeles Galaxy.

My youngest son Dustin was so excited he couldn’t speak. His hands were shaking a bit when he handed his jersey to Cobi. Adam tried to act cool but I could tell he thought it was pretty neat to stand right next to this all-star. Gary was good friend and took a photo of the boys with Jones. We then found Franki and he signed the boy’s jerseys as well as Elise’s which we had brought along. One of the TV crews taped Dustin getting Franki’s autograph and it ended up on the 5:30 p.m. news.

My wife Susan was out of town at a conference when this happened and it was the big news the boys had to share when she called that night. It helped remind me how much this events mean to the people who attend them. It’s nice to step out of the role of the jaded working journalist once in a while. It was fun.

Tom Burton

originally published on July 30, 1998 on digitalstoryteller.com

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