How not to write a Geoff Cameron profile

An object lesson from NBC Sports

(Geoff Cameron Official Fan Page/Facebook)

Geoff Cameron is an interesting person. I don’t mean that in the dismissive way your grandmother might refer to a third cousin who is now finding himself by taking a metallurgy class every Wednesday night. He is an outspoken American plying his trade in the Premier League and a contentious figure in American soccer fandom. I disagree with basically everything he does—his teams; his views; his haircut—but that does not make him any less interesting. As both a consumer of soccer media and a journalist, then, I feel safe in saying that the world could use a good Geoff Cameron profile.

The world has yet to receive a good Geoff Cameron profile, but it now has whatever this is from NBC Sports’ Joe Prince-Wright:

As you walk into Geoff Cameron’s home in the suburbs of Manchester, there’s a photo frame on the wall of the hallway.

The final sentence from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1943 State of the Union address, along with an American flag, is hung up in that frame as it has been for many years in Cameron’s household.

“The State of this Nation is good — the heart of this Nation is sound — the spirit of this Nation is strong — the faith of this Nation is eternal.”

Most of us would agree that right now in the United States of America that’s not quite the case.

Cameron is a patriot, someone who loves his country deeply and someone who stands up for it each day overseas. For anyone who has ever lived overseas, they’ll likely agree that pride in your home nation perhaps becomes a little stronger each day you’re identified by your nationality.

Flying the American flag in England as the top American outfield player in the Premier League comes with a heavy sense of judgement every time something happens involving the U.S. Be it in sports, politics or anything else in-between.

Yes, that is the actual lede and not a joke about sportswriting tropes that I slapped together and hid inside a block quote. I wish I was that funny.

Instead of focusing on the general soppiness of this document, however, I’m here to argue that this profile does a disservice to all readers — those who like Cameron and those who don’t — as well as the American defender himself. Describing Cameron’s worldview as the longing for home that anyone living abroad might feel insults both his sincerity and the audience’s intelligence. Cameron has views—he’s tweeted about Benghazi and what looked a lot like support for Donald Trump—that deserve to be taken seriously.

This failure to take Cameron seriously results in a profile that vacillates wildly between sycophancy and insulting. For a story in which the central theme is that Geoff Cameron likes America—sample quote: “I am proud to be an American”—the contention that he is the ür-American, or as the headline promises “American patriot” is remarkably undercooked. That is not to say that Geoff Cameron is not an American patriot; again, there’s a good profile to be written about a vocal player representing his country and living abroad while refusing to compromise on his beliefs. This just emphatically is not it.

Perhaps that profile never materializes because Prince-Wright is too busy doing what reads a lot like image rehab following Cameron’s quotes. “I believe it’s important to support our President whether he was your candidate or not,” he told Grant Wahl shortly after the first executive order on immigration was instituted. “I am pleased he is making security of all Americans one of his top priorities.” This was, it’s safe to say, a polarizing interview. But here’s how the subject is treated in the profile:

Last month Cameron was asked for a statement by a U.S. media outlet on his beliefs about the recent travel ban imposed by President Trump.

“My comment was set up in a negative context, with an opening line that set a negative tone,” Cameron said. “It suggested that my statements were about religious beliefs, which is a total misrepresentation of me and all that I believe and stand for. It left room for people to believe that I was coming from a place of malice and that couldn’t be further from the truth. At the end of the day, I, along with my family and friends — the people that truly know me — know who I am and where I stand.”

[I pause here to note that NBC Sports fails to disclose that Cameron’s written for their site on multiple occasions. The US defender has also called games for NBCSN. That adds an interesting subtext to the coziness of this whole affair. For good measure, here’s a description of a podcast the author appeared on: “Joe discusses … what it was like playing against Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler in college.” So they’ve known one another for a while. Soccer media is chummy, but this whole thing is odd.]

Athletes of all stripes can say they were misquoted or quoted out of context. Just ask Alejandro Bedoya. And sometimes they really are. But Prince-Wright makes no effort to suggest that Cameron has any political views of note, a depiction at odds with the most cursory glances at Cameron’s online history. In a fraught time, this might save Cameron from himself, but it also denies him any semblance of agency. There’s a reasonable argument to be made for “Geoff Cameron the Patriot” but it is not rooted in him being a neutral man in these fraught times.

Beyond that, the profile is just a dirge of bland athlete quotes about training and injuries. Did you know athletes train and have injuries. Near the halfway point of the story, Prince-Wright basically gives up on writing a profile and just starts dumping in large paragraphs of quotes without any interjection. This, I suppose, is nice work if you can get it. The end result is a profile that combines all the worst clichés of sportswriting—its obsession with patriotic symbolism and inane training—and the desperation for telling details of a celebrity profile that begins with an extended description of how {{insert starlet here}} spears her salad when the author met her for lunch. It’s bad. It’s very bad.

The world still needs a good Geoff Cameron profile, one that takes him seriously even if doing so might be polarizing and bad PR. As a journalist, I’d be happy to write it. He’s surely a more interesting subject than automatons who have never expressed opinions in their lives. If one of Geoff Cameron’s associates is reading this article [about which: ha, as if] consider it a standing offer. NBC Sports’ fawning treatment only did him and miserable readers a disservice.


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