I was first introduced to Gaby Kirschner’s writing through a mutual friend. Soon after, I came across her article Bleachers Full of Women? The Question of Gender Equality in MLS Supporters’ Culture published at Howler Magazine. I immediately admired her, not only because of the quality of her writing, but because we both shared a support of the same cause: women having a voice in soccer.
Kirschner recently interviewed me for another article in her Bleachers series, Bleachers Full of Women: Debate Over Timbers Army Chant Show Why Words Matter. I appreciate her offering me the opportunity to talk about my experience as a woman supporter of the Chicago Fire.
In the short amount of time that I’ve known Kirschner, I am both impressed by her writing and her love for the beautiful game. I am thankful that she took the time to answer a few questions for me regarding her sports writing career. It’s been fun getting to know her, and I can’t wait for the opportunity where we can share a few adult beverages over a soccer match.
What inspired you to write the piece, and how did you get involved with The Howler? What is your position with them? What is your general day (responsibilities) like as an editorial assistant with them?
GK: So I was actually inspired to write the Bleachers series for the same reason as I got involved with Howler — representation of women in the soccer world. When I was in England last spring, I faced the typical responses to saying I was a fan: “oh yeah? Who’s Messi?” (Seriously! Like, I don’t watch American football, but I still know who Peyton Manning is. Come on.) After six months of that, I realized I wanted to work in soccer in order to change that perception (and, of course, because I love the sport and who doesn’t want to do what they love?). I legitimately emailed Howler the summer I came back asking to work for them, and after an edit test and a conversation with George they brought me on board. I’m forever thankful for them for giving me my first opportunity in soccer media, and am so happy to work on a team I think seeks out such unique and important stories.
I started out doing mostly editing and fact-checking, but soon I started wanting to pitch and write my own stuff, and David [Rudin] and George and Brooks [Peck] were all incredibly receptive to everything I wanted to do. What reminded me of wanting to write something along these lines was the USWNT pay dispute, which in my mind conglomerated into a larger issue about gender equality, and I thought that although it wasn’t 100% related it would be a good time to bring up this aspect of the larger issue at hand.
It feels good to have freedom and to be able to cover things that I think most places shy away from, both because there aren’t the women there to bring up these issues and/or because they just plain don’t want to deal with them. Now, then, I’ve almost completely switched to writing which is both exciting and terrifying and something I’ve not totally adjusted to calling myself yet — someone called me a journalist last week and I protested, “no, I’m just a college student!”
To backtrack a bit…
When did you start writing about soccer, and what inspired you to do so? How long have you been writing, and when did you starting covering soccer?
GK: Oh man, I’ve been writing forever — I wrote a 60-page story when I was in 3rd grade! (Don’t ask me what size font it was in, though.) I’ve always loved writing, but originally I thought I was going to write novels. Then, I was going to work in publishing and help other people write rather than write myself. When I got back into it, last summer, was when I decided I was going to write about soccer. I love both things, I thought, so why not combine them? My parents always told me to do what I loved, not what I felt I had to — hence, why I’m an English major and not a finance major or something more “practical” — so doing two things I loved in one seemed like the perfect answer.
How long have you been a soccer supporter, and what teams/league do you follow? Why?
GK: I’ve been a soccer fan since I was about 12 years old, which was 2006. I used to play and my coach was a huge Liverpool fan (he was Israeli and this was the era of Yossi Benayoun, of course), and often he’d have the team over for watch parties to help us improve our own game by seeing professionals do it and all. I never did get any better, but it’s okay because Liverpool didn’t either!
I’ll admit, I didn’t get into MLS as early. The first Red Bulls game I went to was because it was a double-header involving Tottenham, and I was hyped to see an English team because I watched them on TV sometimes! The Red Bulls played Man City after, and though I didn’t know much about the Red Bulls at the time I knew that I didn’t like Man City and so when the Red Bulls beat them they had officially won me over. And if I’m going to wake up at 7:30am every Saturday to watch the Premier League, I think I can handle a little train ride to Red Bull Arena.
New York Red Bulls | Photo: Marwan Shousher
How do you balance writing and being a full-time student?
GK: Honestly, I don’t — sorta. Although part of me wishes I had started writing earlier just because I enjoy it so much, I’m glad I didn’t start until this year because I’m not sure I could’ve stood to do both for more! I had to make a lot of decisions about priorities and quite frankly, I was working non-stop for 9 months straight. It’s totally rewarding but also completely exhausting. But also, if I choose to do full-time freelance in the future, at least I’ve gotten a little taste of what that’s kind of like. And, of course, I’m grateful to a lot of editors who have been really flexible on due dates (as well as professors!) Those are probably the two biggest things I’ve learned: if you need help, ask, and if you don’t organize your priorities before you start then it’s already too late.
Previous to contributing to Howler Magazine, had you done any kind of writing? If so, where and what did you write about? Do you contribute to any other sites, magazines, blogs, or teams regularly? How do the experiences compare to one another?
GK: I hadn’t written before, actually! Howler was my first. I’ve relatively regularly contributed to NewYorkRedBulls.com, but besides that, I still have a pretty narrow resume. The Red Bulls are the same as Howler in a lot of ways. Scott [Sandalow] always encouraged me to pitch as much as I could, to think of as much as I could, and never shied away from an idea – only worked with me to help make them better.
What pros and cons have you experienced as a freelancer?
GK: My cons have particularly come because of the nature of the work I do, i.e. working with fans. I love you guys, but sometimes you can be frustrating! Sometimes I think it would be easier to do completely research-based writing, so that the timing and all of that was totally in my control, and I wouldn’t have to worry about emails back or setting up a hundred calls while trying to make a deadline, but at the end of the day I love the stories I try to tell. The pros are that I really get to make my own schedule, getting to have the freedom to write whatever I want without being tied to one outlet’s specific message or voice…essentially just flexibility. But that really only works if you are very good at scheduling yourself and sticking to that…at the beginning, I had a lot of late nights because I pushed things off, and scrambling to make deadlines because of it. I’m better about that now!
Oh, also a pro is obviously getting to learn so much more about the sport I love. Obviously, I write to “teach” about these stories in a way, but I learn so much about experiences beyond my own along the way.
Do you have any fun or funny behind the scenes soccer stories (relating to your writing) you’d be willing to share?
GK: Not many, but I did have a couple of people refuse to talk to me when I asked for “women who watch soccer who have both lived in the US and the UK” unless I promised to call it “football”…
From your perspective, what is one of your most successful posts to date? Why?
GK: Though to be fair I don’t really have much a big portfolio yet to pick from, definitely the first Bleachers Full of Women piece. For this, I mean success in two reasons: in terms of reception and what it meant for my so-called “career.” Not only did it springboard me into being able to write more, it obviously got a ton of coverage. It was even picked up by Bleacher Report! But, most important in my mind, it opened up a conversation that I think needed to be had, and that I think has been continued since the posts came out. I originally planned to write it as a series in order to keep the conversation going, which I’m still going to do, but I’m happy to see it continue around even before those others posts have come out.
What are your favorite types of posts to write?
GK: I love writing about the fans, hence why that’s essentially all I’ve done. I think it leaves the most room for creativity — I used to write a lot of game-stats-based stuff for the Red Bulls, and while I absolutely loved it still, there’s a relatively limited amount you can do with that. I also think fan culture is an incredibly unique and always evolving part of American soccer (well, of soccer in general, actually), and I think it’s really fun to track that process, see how far it’s come and see where it’s going.
How have you seen your writing evolve over the years?
GK: Well, my sports writing has only been a year! So ask me again this next summer?
Just kidding – kinda. I think the only part of my writing I’ve been able to really see grow in this short amount of time is my confidence in it, which I think always makes the quality better. When the first Bleachers piece got good reception, I thought, ‘hey, maybe I’m not so bad at this. Maybe I should keep going,” and so I did. Practice makes perfect, and the more I feel comfortable writing the more I’m going to ‘practice.’
I’m also slowly but surely learning what questions are best to ask in an interview because the secret they don’t tell you is that 70% of a good article is how well you can write…but a good 30% is how good the quotes you get are.
Are you interested in pursuing a sports writing career full-time?
GK: As of now, I’m not really sure. I think I want more of a stable financial base than freelance writing is able to offer me, at least right out of college — but whatever I do, I’m always going to do it on the side at the very least.
How important would you say that social media (Twitter) is in relation to your writing or blogging career? How can it make or break your credibility?
GK: I think it’s honestly been one of the most important things for me, in getting my career — can I call it that? — off the ground. I was even offered a job through DM! (That was incredibly difficult to explain to my parents.) I think it also taught me a lot about how society views self-promotion; at first, I was incredibly timid to share my work besides retweeting from the original source, but now I’ll post the same piece a few times and across a lot of different platforms. Why wouldn’t I? I work incredibly hard at what I do, and I do it so people will read it. There’s no shame in that! Obviously, what makes it easier is the reception you get, and I’ve been lucky to get mostly positive responses – I haven’t had aJulie DiCaro situation, and I’m sure she has a much different answer to this question than I. But for me, the soccer community’s been as welcoming to my writing as they were when I was just beginning to be a fan, and for that I’m forever grateful. But, in terms of credibility, I think how you present yourself really matters. Self-promotion is great; being snobby and condescending with it is not. It may not affect the quality of your actual piece (unless your writing is, too, snobby and condescending) but it’ll definitely affect whether people will want to read it.
What advice would you give to others interested in pursuing sports blogging or writing?
GK: Find ways to do it, make ways to do it – just do it. The opportunities I’ve gotten have come because someone saw something else I wrote, and then someone else saw something else, and all those someone’s wanted me to write — but it had to start somewhere. And, as I said above, practice makes perfect. Start your own blog, start a Medium page, just get your ideas down and get them out there.
I’d also try to do what hasn’t been done yet (as is the case in pursuing anything in life at all). Don’t write another story about Leicester, please.
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