Liz Clarke Speaks at Povich Center Welcome Reception

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Liz Clarke Speaks at Povich Center Welcome Reception
Sep 11, 2019

The Povich Center kicked off the new school year with its annual Welcome Reception at the Gaylord Library in Knight Hall Sept. 10, featuring Washington Post sportswriter Liz Clarke.

Journalism students were invited to a sit-down conversation with Clarke, during which she touched on her eventful summer covering international competitions, relationships with athletes and the qualities that make a good journalist.

During the last 21 years with The Post, Clarke has covered nine Olympic Games, three World Cups, a “ton” of French Openings and Wimbledon Finals, the Washington Redskins, college basketball and football and NASCAR.

Povich Center director George Solomon chats with Washington Post sportswriter Liz Clarke.

This summer was a whirlwind for Clarke, as she traveled abroad to cover the French Open, Wimbledon and the United States women’s national soccer team at the World Cup. She spoke about the adventure of the international assignments — taking her all over Europe within a two-month span — and also about the challenges she faced in communication, logistics, and the physical and mental taxation that came with the constant travel.

“To do them back-to-back-to-back was just about more than I bargained for,” she said. “But it was a great thrill. It just pushed me as hard as I could possibly push physically and mentally.”

During the World Cup, Clarke was impressed by USWNT’s ability to dominate on the field while also actively engaging in a gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Foundation.

“They’re like ‘No, we’re going to sue our bosses, and we’re going to do this with this hand, and we’re going to compete with the other hand, and we’re going to win it,” Clarke said.  “It was just nuts to me that they would risk that much, but they did it and they won.”

With extensive experience covering a variety of sports, Clarke noted how the interview and access challenges differed for each sport. She spoke about getting past the public image of some of the bigger-named athletes, specifically NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, late NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt and tennis superstar Serena Williams.

Clarke said that while she was able to build relationships and gain insights with Sanders and Earnhardt, she has found it more challenging to uncover Williams, who Clarke has covered for 15 years.

“I still don’t think I have captured who she really is,” she said.

“… Serena is one of the more layered and complex athletes. She is tough. It’s tough to feel like you’re really getting behind the veil with Serena, and that is no different from many other male or female athletes, especially if they are quite big. There’ll be a public-facing image, but, usually, the person is more complex.”

Clarke also provided insight into what she has learned throughout her career. She began in North Carolina where she was on the higher education beat for Raleigh News & Observer before embarking on a sports writing journey that led her to The Charlotte Observer, The Dallas Morning News, USA Today and, finally, The Post.

She said having “a real hunger to know” more information and developing the emotional intelligence to further discern and gain insight into stories are important qualities in a journalist.

She also spoke of the importance of honesty.

“You don’t want to ever trick anybody into a quote [and] you don’t want anybody to read a story about them that blindsides them,” Clarke said. “Don’t burn relationships. Be as professional as they are. If you make a mistake, apologize.”

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