May 28, 2021

The Athletic’s Josh Tolentino talks about building relationships with athletes

Daniela Perez

After another unsuccessful game with the Tampa Bay Rays, left-handed pitcher Blake Snell texted The Athletic’s former Tampa Bays beat reporter Josh Tolentino to meet him at a nearby Starbucks. There, Tolentino learned that the 2018 Cy Young Award winner had a loose body in his left elbow.

Tolentino broke the story of Snell’s injury. In our Monday conversation with Tolentino, who now covers the Miami Dolphins for The Athletic, he emphasized the importance of connection building with sources. Tolentino had countless stories of how seemingly miniscule conversations allowed him to connect on a deeper level with athletes.

From conversations about rapper Drake’s “More Life” album with quarterback Patrick Mahomes on a recreational basketball court to sneakers, he reminded us that the athletes we cover have more interests than just sports. Finding common ground and mutual interests with those we cover will allow us to build a relationship like Tolentino did with Snell, giving us greater access and giving us the ability to write more intimate stories.

However, he emphasized that these relationships should not stand in the way of journalists doing their job. After his conversation with Mahomes, who was a rookie at the Kansas City Chiefs while Tolentino completed his internship at the Kansas City Star, Tolentino told the future 2020 Super Bowl MVP that “if [Mahomes] did bad in camp, [he was] going to write about it.”

This piece of advice will serve me as I go forward, because although it’s important to forge these relationships, it’s most important to control these relationships and continue to stay professional.

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