Stories From the Sidelines

Dennis Waszak Jr., the Associated Press’ Jets beat writer, finds his greatest stories when focusing on the lives of the people involved.


Jessyca Tingue, Contributing writer

For Dennis Waszak Jr., covering sports isn’t just about stats, wins and losses. He loves telling stories about the players. 

Waszak, a national football sportswriter for the Associated Press and the Jets beat writer, has loads of examples, but one of his favorite examples was the time he interviewed former Jets cornerback Morris Claiborne and his family.

Claiborne’s wife welcomed their twin daughters on July 30, 2017. During the C-section, their first daughter, Ma’Kaila, was delivered underweight at only 3 pounds, 8 ounces, while their second daughter, Ma’Liah, was delivered at 4 pounds, 13 ounces. Doctors were very worried about Ma’Kaila’s health because she was underweight. 

Since Claiborne — at the time — lived so close to the Jets training facility in New Jersey, he would stop home during every break, before and after meetings just to make sure his family was okay. This routine went on for the duration of summer training camp.  

Ma’Kaila spent two weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit before going home, reuniting with her sister and parents in August 2017. 

“It gave me a sense of what I’m really playing football for, what I’m really doing it for. It’s for my family and bringing these two precious little babies into the world, it opened my eyes to a much bigger picture,” Claiborne said to Waszak in the 2018 interview. 

To this day, the Claiborne family has Waszak’s Associated Press story framed in the hallway leading to their kids’ bedroom.  

“It is a part of their history. It is a responsibility of this job. It pushes you to make things better and be better.”  

Waszak shared this story and his love of sports journalism with Suffolk Introduction to Journalism students via Zoom on Oct. 12.  

Waszak sat in his basement full of sports memorabilia and photos of prominent athletes as he told a story about his unsuccessful bids for his high school baseball team as a pitcher during his freshman and sophomore years. His dad suggested that he use his interest in sports to write for the school newspaper. 

“It started through failure on the baseball field,” Waszak said. 

Waszak has worked with the Associated Press for over 25 years as a sportswriter and has covered many pro sports games within the NBA, NFL, MLB, as well as the Super Bowl, World Series and the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Waszak has been a beat writer for the New York Jets since 2006 and has been an AP national football writer since 2019. 

He noted that there is a need for sports journalists, especially since many aspects of sports reflect movements in society and culture. For instance, some professional sports players and their leagues have taken progressive stances on social issues and adapting play due to the pandemic, while others have not. 

Waszak advised students interested in pursuing any branch of journalism to remember that stories come from unexpected places – especially people – if you look for them. 

“Everyone has a story to tell. It’s on you to pull that story out.”