Are you ready for the risks of becoming a professional sports photographer?

When NBA player LeBron James cut his head off falling on a photographer during Game 4 of the NBA Finals, it was simply an accident and part of the game. However, no one seemed concerned about the photographer. Even my first thought was “I hope the photographer has a rubber lens cover over his lens.”

You see, it’s an NBA rule that all still photographers must have rubber hoods on their lenses to work on the sidelines. Rubber hoods are a safety measure to prevent players from cutting themselves if they collide with a photographer’s lens.

In James’s case, I don’t think it would have made a difference because it seemed to me that he hit the body of the camera, not the lens.

After James fell on the NBA cameraman, many fans and some professional athletes tweeted that the cameraman should have moved. That’s crazy. Where was he going to go? There were seats behind him costing thousands of dollars with fans, a fixed photographer on his left side and the goal on his right side.

During NBA games, photographers have to sit cross-legged on the floor in a very small space. Network and sand photographers have to sit on a small stool with small wheels. Sitting on the floor in this position for an entire match causes severe leg cramps and paresthesia, the nerves in the foot stop working properly and cause an abnormal sensation.

In the 1990s, the seats of basketball fans weren’t as close to photographers as they are now. On many occasions I was able to roll away to avoid being hit or stepped on. That is not the case today when photographing some NBA, ACC or SEC basketball games.

During a game of the SEC Tournament in Nashville, TN, LSU’s Glenn “Big Baby” Davis fell on me and four other photographers. Fortunately no one was seriously injured. However, that was not the case with my last ACC basketball game in 2013. During the game, a Georgia Tech player’s knee and foot hit me on the head as he tried to jump on me. His other foot caught the side of the camera which somehow drove my thin camera strap under the nail of my trigger finger on my right hand. That resulted in pain, a severe sprain, and an infection.

As a photojournalist who has photographed hundreds of professional and college events both nationally and internationally, it is a known risk among sports photographers that, at some point, you could be hit by an athlete, fan, animal, baseball, baseball bat, American football, etc. softball, mascot, racing car, bowling ball, hockey puck, glass, bull feces, bird droppings, boxer’s blood and saliva, beer from a drunk fan, bitten by a huge snake or insect and my All-time favorite vomit of a drunken NASCAR fan.

That doesn’t include getting trampled on by an NBA and NCAA official, avoiding getting beaten up by Philadelphia Eagle fans, being cursed by a losing coach, cursed by players, cursed by a groupie because you won’t give an athlete their number. , cursed by a preacher’s wife because you didn’t photograph her cheerleader daughter, receiving a two-page letter explaining why your photo of a quarterback should have been credited to his son, and chasing a Yankees fan who grabbed a of your cameras after the World Cup. Serie.

In case you were wondering, all of those things happen to me except chasing the Yankees fan. That happened to a Sports Illustrated photographer after the 1996 World Series at Yankee Stadium.

As for my stolen gear, I never caught the photographer who stole my Nikon camera and lens during the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

In 2006, I was knocked out by a baseball line while photographing the Atlanta Braves vs. the Philadelphia Phillies. It would have killed me if it had been a few inches taller on my neck. Within seconds of being hit, Atlanta Braves coach Jeff Porter was next to me on ice, asking the usual questions he asks players who get hit on the head by a baseball.

So if your goal is to become a major league sports photographer, make sure you not only have excellent knowledge of the photographic arts, but are also in excellent health and have excellent insurance.

So when a 6’8 ” LeBron James lands on you, or a hockey puck comes buzzing at your head, don’t wear your heart on your sleeve. It’s all part of the territory of a sports photographer.