A young man’s dream of becoming a professional sports journalist is not limited by his cerebral palsy
Ben Cropper has been mad about sport ever since he can remember, and this September he will be starting a course in sports journalism at Leeds Trinity and All Saints College. Ben has cerebral palsy, so, whilst physical limitations dictate that he cannot compete in mainstream sport, journalism has become a way to express and explore his passion for a wide range of sports.
When an English teacher at his former secondary school pointed out that his writing style would be suited to journalism, Ben realised that, with his unique perspective, he could provide something extremely valuable to this industry. While his ultimate ambition as a journalist is to replace Gary Lineker as the primary presenter of Match of the Day, for the time being Ben is happy to set about his first goal of increasing the profile and awareness of disabled and Paralympic sport.
At only eighteen years old, Ben has already accumulated an impressive portfolio. His first experience of reporting and presenting was giving talks for the Children’s Society LEAP project. After this, he was invited to contribute to educational DVDs about working with young disabled people, following which, he took part in the making and production of a TV programme about teenage relationships for Channel 4. It was at this point that Ben enjoyed his first proper taste of working in the Media, and he realised that he was hooked!
“This small peek behind the scenes made me realise that this was what I wanted to do. So I called in the media contacts I had made to request an interview with England Sevens Centre Rob Vickerman, wrote the interview up into a feature and was thrilled to see it published in Rugby Times!
“A few weeks later I was introduced to a schools online network called Radiowaves. They were in the process of recruiting and training a group of young, disabled “Supporter to Reporter” (S2R) journalists to cover the BT Paralympic World Cup with some more experienced S2R reporters. I volunteered for every interview going and worked every day of those games, and it paid off.
“My reports were broadcast daily through Radiowaves to an audience of thousands (and they are still online for the world to see)…So as well as helping me develop specific journalistic skills such as interview and editing techniques, the project also gave me a very real platform for my work, whilst introducing me to new life skills such as working as part of a team and to some very tight deadlines!”
Without a doubt, Ben’s biggest achievements to date include his exclusive interviews with double amputee and Paralympic Gold Medallist Oscar Pistorius, (see following pages for a transcript of these interviews).
“Oscar Pistorius is my Paralympic hero; he’s an inspiration to everyone, so I was a little anxious I might just be a bit awestruck when I met him. But he was very casual and down-to-earth…he just shook my hand and then chatted to me like I was one of his friends, rather than a total stranger.”
Being based in the Media Centre of a world class sporting event enabled Ben to pick the brains of some of the UK’s top BBC, Sky and ITV sports reporters including Rob Nothman and Juliette Ferrington.
“Working along-side so many world class reporters and being able to learn the tricks of the trade from those who have “been there and done it” was a bit nerve-racking. I was a little worried that my lack of experience at this level might be a problem. However, I worked under the tutelage of the Radiowaves trainers and developed my skills, so by the end of the week I had really progressed as a journalist… and had the portfolio to prove it!”
Watching Ben in action is an inspiration. His peers find his sense of fun infectious, and his eagerness to embrace every new opportunity carries the whole team along into territory that might otherwise be deemed too scary. So who inspires him? And whose words of wisdom have spurred him on towards his own dreams?
“The Paralympic principles are a great inspiration to me…particularly that of determination. We should all make the most of our abilities in life rather than go around worrying about what we can’t do…It’s not a question of who’s going to let me, it’s a case of who’s going to stop me! That’s powerful stuff!
“Who else are my heroes? Professionally, I admire John Motson and I also read a wide variety of print journalism, including gossip columns, blogs and match reports on a range of sports, as well as all the specialist publications such as Rugby Times and Four Four Two.
“I’m currently working with Radiowaves to discover methods of avoiding bias in my sports reporting. They think that sending me, as a Liverpool fan, to report on a Manchester United game may help with this!”
The Paralympics last year were hugely successful for Britain and, while there is currently still a distinct inequality between the level of coverage of disability and mainstream sport, a new generation of ambassadors, such as Oscar Pistorius, cyclist Jody Cundy and teenage Paralympic swimming sensation Ellie Simmonds are rapidly raising the profile of Paralympic sport. If the London Paralympics of 2012 are to receive anything like the coverage they deserve, you can expect people like Ben Cropper to be leading the charge.
For more information on Radiowaves, visit:
Article first published in SEN Magazine issue 42: September/October 2009.