The air is noticeably thick as you open the door. In one corner, writers are rushing to reach deadlines of their post-game report. At the other corner, photographers are quickly editing their photos so they’re ready for publishing. It’s hectic, intense, and busy. Everything adding up to form the thickness in the air.

Welcome to the sports press room, home of the very best writers in the country. Many want to be part of such an esteemed group. Others believe it’s easy to gain access to this nest but in reality, it’s a haven that welcomes only a chosen few. More than skill, you need an incredible amount of resilience, guts, and cojones to survive being a part of the sports press. It isn’t easy. It can even get incredibly competitive.

As much as members of the sports media are friends and cordial with one another, they are also as competitive. We want to beat the living hell out of our colleagues. We don’t do this with our fists. We use our minds which hold the creative power we need to produce content for the everyday sports fan. Few outlets showed this fire and hunger the way ABS-CBN Sports has.

As much as social media and the digital space has boomed in our landscape, most Philippine sports media outlets have struggled to take full advantage of this new wave. You can’t blame them for sticking to the norm. While many argue it is outdated, old school articles and features are still consumed by the masses. It works. As much as we want to entertain and try new things as media members, we also need to earn a living.

So, if it isn’t broke, why fix it? This was the prevailing culture for most of the 2010s in Philippine sports media. Quality and type of content stagnated, especially during the middle of the decade. But tension was high among this circle. While it wasn’t broke, the media knew they could produce better content. Sports media is competitive. Writers, photographers, and content creators across the board are a proud bunch. They just needed a way to do more without risking the living which they earned, largely thanks to the hits they get from the public.

Enter ABS-CBN Sports, who whether people will admit it or not, took the biggest step in moving out of the norm Philippine sports media has had for years. It started when they established a dedicated Digital Team led by Mico Halili. Outlets have long had Social Media people but the difference in what ABS did was they completely embraced Digital. This wasn’t a simple half-assed fist bump or a high five. This was a straight-up bearhug so tight you’d think it would lead to a belly-to-belly suplex. In theory, it was a big move. In practice, even more so.

UAAP Season 82 Basketball was their first big hit. The group embraced the use of video to tell stories and crafted them in such a way that they were consumable through different platforms in social media. While sports media remained competitive in trying to out-do the content of their colleagues, you’d also see them lightly nod every time ABS-CBN Sports would be in the process of producing their digital content. It was different. It was bold. But somehow, they made it work.

Their executions were much more modern, but it still led to results. If you ask me, ABS-CBN Sports’ legacy in the modern era isn’t with how they chronicled athletes. They should be remembered for the bravery they had to take risks in telling stories for the sports fan, without sacrificing their marketability. They didn’t have to go digital. The market didn’t call for it. But they straight-up did it anyway, because they wanted to.

Sometimes, it’s that stubborn want to do new things which leads us to discover better practices. That’s what ABS-CBN Sports did, and other media outlets followed suit. Tiebreaker Times recently released a series of podcasts that are a part of the Tiebreaker Vodcasts network. SPIN.ph has been trying to do more videos, even in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rappler has long sprinkled digital into their coverage, but now, they’ve amped up their aggressiveness in this space.

Competition between outlets is high but the respect for one another is on the same level. Real recognize real. Greatness acknowledges greatness. That’s why when news of ABS-CBN Sports’ closure circulated around social media yesterday, everyone from the sports media space mourned their loss.

The grieving from other media members was no mere PR stunt. This was real. Because above and beyond the competition and the desire to outdo one another with content production, the most prevailing feeling in sports media is passion. 

The passion to cover the sports we love.

The passion to tell stories that inspire fans across all ages.

The passion to showcase one’s best self in this unique, and colorful space called sports.

Everyone should have the right to express that passion, and ABS-CBN Sports is being robbed of that opportunity because of selfish reasons. Other outlets didn’t lose a competitor. They lost a dear friend and teammate that pushed them to do better, even if that meant risking it all, for the sake of the sports fan.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think the game is over, even as ABS-CBN Sports closes. This isn’t their last two minutes. They just fouled out early because of a shitty call by some referees who were paid by the mafia.

In unity, we shout:

LUTO.

The air continues to be thick in the press room, even as we’re quarantined inside our houses. There may be no games to cover, but the sports media continues to fight, in its own unique way, against the injustices which caused our companion to fall. The battle continues. The passion rages on.