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Trotter: My goal at The Athletic? Remain comfortable covering uncomfortable topics

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One of the great things about journalism is that you never know what the day will bring.

One minute you’re settling at your desk and scrolling the news wire, the next you’re being sent to cover an introductory news conference for the city’s newest sports franchise.

That was me in 1990, while working as a cub sportswriter for The San Diego Union. The calmness of a lazy summer morning was broken by the swoosh of Bob Wright’s office door swinging open.

Wright was the Union’s veteran sports editor, a short, bespectacled man who moved with energy and purpose. He kept a pack of cigarettes in his chest pocket and a flask of brown liquor in a desk drawer. He spent the early years of his career in Philadelphia and was so old school he tended to edit printouts with a red pen.

“I’ve got something for you,” he said, standing outside his office.

The news release in his hand was from the International Hockey League’s San Diego Gulls.

“See what it’s worth.”

It didn’t matter to him that I had never attended a hockey game or watched one on television from start to finish. It didn’t matter that my ability to name an active NHL player began and ended with Wayne Gretzky. I had heard of a five-tool player in baseball but knew nothing about a five-hole in hockey.

Who knew that I would end up spending three years as the primary beat writer for the Gulls, or that I would look back several decades later and remember it as one of the most enjoyable periods of my career? It was an opportunity to try something different and learn something new, and thankfully the general manager, coaches and players were willing to teach and tolerate me. They didn’t always agree with what I wrote, but they knew it came from an honest and pure place.

Which is the perfect segue to my arrival at The Athletic. It’s not quite history repeating itself, but the undercurrent of being comfortable with being uncomfortable is similar.

As a national columnist, I get to take a wide-angle view of the sporting landscape, which is a dramatic departure from the bulk of my career. I spent the past 27 years exclusively covering the National Football League, first for The San Diego Union-Tribune, then Sports Illustrated, ESPN and, finally, NFL Media.

Anyone who has covered the league full time knows it’s a 24/7 job, not a 9-to-5. That left little time to delve deeply into other sports. I might watch another sporting event with casual interest, but I rarely immersed myself in the day-to-day goings-on.

My new role will allow me to jump headfirst into stories of interest. Many of my writings will continue to focus on the NFL; that’s where my expertise is. But I’m excited by the opportunity to weigh in elsewhere, to go where the brush closes behind as I move forward.

I love a good human-interest story, or an inside look at individual greatness, what it looks and smells and tastes like. But my greater focus — what I like to call my purpose — is giving a voice to those whose voices are not being heard.

I used to say I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless, but someone far smarter reminded me that these individuals have always had voices. We simply chose/choose not to hear them.

I want to hear them. The Athletic wants to hear them. It’s a big reason why I’m here. There is the freedom — and support — to write on topics of my choosing. I no longer have to worry about my words being watered down or silenced altogether, which was not always the case over my final two years with NFL Media Group, which is owned by the NFL.

I thought I knew what I was getting into. I was told we would always report the news, though we might not opine on it. That was not the case, particularly when it came to reporting on team owners or the league office.

Here, the news is the news. The story is the story. And the fact that I get to work with an exceptional group of writers and editors, all of whom are striving to raise the journalistic bar, makes it even more exciting. I say that as a paid subscriber since the site’s inception, not just as a new employee.

So don’t be surprised if you see me at the ballpark or in an arena. You might even spot me at a hockey rink. That’s the beauty of journalism: You never know what the day will bring.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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