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For Rams’ Jeter, It’s Like Starting Over : Defensive End Makes a Run at Broadcasting

Times Staff Writer

Gary Jeter, the big defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams, says he wants to get into sports broadcasting come the day he can no longer render quarterbacks unconscious.

That’s right, another jock-in-the-pressbox story.

As Jeter speaks, those in the business who went so far as to have attended a school of journalism squirm at the idea of another athlete walking out of a locker room and onto the set of the 11 o’clock news.

The thought is that the last thing credible journalism needs is another athlete who brings to the studio a resume that sparkles with such credentials as “made Pro Bowl twice” and “I really love to talk.”

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In what area, you wonder, will Jeter be best suited--reading American League scores or National?

But you listen to Jeter anyway and find out he’s taking this whole thing a little more seriously than some.

It all started at the end of the 1985 season, when Jeter began wondering how many sacks were left in his 31-year-old body.

Jeter rebounded from a near career-ending back injury two years ago to finish second on the Rams in 1985 with 11 sacks.

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But careers, like backs, don’t last forever, so Jeter started to consider an afterlife.

He called a friend of his, Chris Ballante, who is a director for the Cable News Network’s bureau in New York. Ballante knew a guy who knew a guy and landed Jeter an internship with CNN, the 24-hour news network owned by the Turner Broadcasting System.

Jeter, the former USC All-America who played five seasons in New York for the Giants, said he wanted to learn the business from the bottom up. And, so far, they’ve done everything but hand Jeter a mop and a bucket.

“I’m treated like a nobody here,” Jeter said recently by phone from CNN’s offices in New York. “And that’s just fine with me. I didn’t come in here with the air of being a pro football player but rather as someone who wants to learn a craft.”

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For years, sports journalism to Jeter was a bunch of guys sticking microphones in his face and asking silly questions every Sunday afternoon.

But, as he’s finding out, there’s a little more to it than that.

“It’s hard,” Jeter said. “It’s not easy at all. I’ve come to admire these guys who can talk and the words seem to be flowing off their tongues, like they’re not reading copy at all. That’s something you have to develop.”

Jeter spent his first couple of weeks at CNN just following people around.

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He started at the bottom in the downstairs control room, where he learned what knobs did what and to whom. He learned how to operate one of the station’s floor cameras and before long he was filming a live segment on one of CNN’s morning shows.

“I really felt a sense of accomplishment,” Jeter said. “I can’t even remember who was on the show, it could have been Wilt Chamberlain or Diahann Carroll. I had this mike in my ear and was getting directions from the director. I was more intent on listening to what he was yelling in my ear.”

Jeter then was bumped upstairs to the sports department to work with CNN’s three-person staff.

At first, Jeter did more watching and listening than anything else.

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He followed crews out on assignments. He watched how sports features were pieced together. He learned about voice overs and editing.

Ever so gently, Jeter was eased into some responsibility.

“I was sitting there one day when Debbie (Segura, one of the sportscasters) comes in and asks me when I’m going to start writing,” Jeter said. “She showed me how to use the computer and how to get stories off the wire services. She told me to get a few stories off the wire and put them in concise form. When I first started, I thought I had it down pat. Then, they took a razor and sliced it all up. I was upset. I’d really worked hard. I really felt like a dumb jock. But then I realized that I just didn’t step into the NFL and know how to play.”

Jeter, in his spare time, has been preparing stories and reading them in front of a camera. The segments won’t ever get on the air, but it does provide Jeter a way to chart his progress.

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Art Berko, producer for CNN’s sports bureau in New York, said Jeter has a chance to make it in the business.

“He’s a bright guy with a good sense of humor,” Berko said. “He’s articulate and has a good presence on camera. No one just sits down and is great on television. But, with experience, he could look good on television. He’s a real character and he’s not afraid of the camera.”

But, even more importantly, Jeter, like every aspiring cub reporter, knows when to make his move.

A few weeks ago, when sportscaster Dan Patrick was bemoaning that he had to do another one of the station’s “Man on the Street” interviews, Jeter quickly volunteered.

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He donned his suit and tie and headed with his crew to the front of Madison Square Garden, where it was Jeter’s job to stop unsuspecting fans and ask them if they’d ever heard of Buck Williams, a star forward with the New Jersey Nets who gets little publicity.

“I think that I interact well with people,” Jeter said. “I have no problem meeting new people.”

In case you’re wondering about Williams, two people questioned had never heard of him and another thought he was a country-western singer.

Berko was impressed with Jeter’s first big assignment.

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“He got some great answers,” Berko said. “Some former athletes are great (broadcasters) and others go into it just because someone tells them to go into broadcasting. That can be a disaster. It’s refreshing that Gary wants to learn every little aspect.”

Jeter said his biggest weakness now is writing, but he plans to enroll in classes when he returns to the Rams in July for training camp.

“This is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Jeter said. “There’s nothing glamorous about this. It’s hard work. People only see the finished product.”

Jeter says he is determined to make this a career, based on merit.

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“I want people to think about my resume first and then Gary Jeter,” he said.

‘I’m treated like a nobody here. And that’s just fine with me. I didn’t come in here with the air of being a pro football player but rather as someone who wants to learn a craft.’

--Gary Jeter


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