For decades, sports reporters spanned the gap between professional athletes and the fans that adored them. Journalists would share the stories of the players, relay their quotes, and update followers on the relevant portions of an athlete’s life. Over the last five years, that gap has been shrinking, and in 2011 it is as negligible and easily crossed as possible. For some athletes, there is no disconnect, and no middle-person necessary.
Such is the case for former Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Jerry Sherk. In his life after football, Sherk has taken to Facebook to directly connect with fans, sharing stories, asking opinions, and answering questions. The insight and access to past experiences is alone enough for fans to invest time on his page. It is the type of access that previously would only be granted to journalists doing profiles, and something that fans would understand see when it’s produced on television.
What Sherk shares most of all are his photographs. The four time Pro Bowl selection of the 1970’s developed a love for photography during his playing career, and took it up as a hobby following retirement. Sherk has posted on his wall over 275 candids, many of the behind-the-scene variety. The photos, many of the black and white variety, were taken in the 70’s and 80’s and show players and coaches off the field as they practice, eat together, and generally having fun together.
One fan of the page, Bob M., wrote on the wall, “Thanks for sharing your photos. They bring back many fine memories of my growing up in Cleveland in the 60’s and 70’s cheering for you and your team mates.” This sentiment is shared by many.
Sherk goes further. He seems to answer virtually every virtual question posed to him. With just under 1,000 followers, every photo gets many comments and likes. One memorable photo taken by Sherk is from the passenger seat of a car driven by his “sidekick” Sam C, who would drive Sherk around the country and hit the road with me. It didn’t matter what he was doing, he would drop it for a chance to be on the road. He was not unlike Kerouc’s famous wheelman, Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassidy) on “On the Road.” The stories I have about Sam, I couldn’t begin to put on Facebook. I would probably be banned,” comments Sherk.
At the moment, the Sherk situation is more an exception than the norm. Yet this is how connections start. More former players may find comfort and enjoyment chatting with fans from decades past. And as professional start to retire in this decade, they may be more aware and willing to join the virtual world and access fans at their leisure.
Fans of players and teams in the 70’s and 80’s must be hopeful that other players take up what Sherk is doing. At the very least, one player from each team should create their own page and connect with fans. Unlike today where every game in every sport is televised, and YouTube, among others, allows fans to share and watch items that people may have not seen, but those games from 20 and 30 years ago were not as accessible. It is impressive what Sherk is doing, and fans are surely thankful. Now, let’s see who comes next.