I will always remember the afternoon when I decided to make sports journalism a pillar of my college experience.
It was early evening, the summer before I left for Duke, and my mom had me grab the mail right before we piled into the Suburban to make the half-hour drive up to my grandparents’ house. As I tossed a stack of bills and advertisements on the kitchen table, I noticed The Chronicle’s summer issue slide free, and I grabbed it to read on the road.
As an athlete (at the time) and avid sports junkie, I naturally gravitated toward the sports section, where my eyes landed on a column by Meredith Shiner. I later discovered that Shiner, a former sports editor, was a big deal. But, all that mattered to me at the time was that her prose was full of passion and very free. I was hooked and declared to my parents that I would soon be a Chronicle sports writer as well.
And, despite my initial confidence, let me confess, it wasn’t as easy as I expected.
The first year was full of blunders. Ironically enough, when I showed up at the office to have my first story, a preview of a men’s soccer match against Virginia Tech, edited, I realized that the roles were reversed—Shiner’s eyes would now be dissecting my piece.
Probably an hour and hundreds of changes later, I left 301 Flowers with my head down wondering if the sports section was the place for me. As a guy who learned to read by looking at box scores and standings when I was three years old, I knew I had the knowledge. Still, something seemed off, and my confidence was shaken. (Note: Looking back at the lede for that first story…“The Blue Devils’ season has been characterized by its ups and downs,” I now concede every drop of criticism to be justified.)
The next time I came around, the then-sports editor Ben Cohen, who had witnessed Shiner undressing my preview, gave me a pep talk, encouraging me to keep contributing. At the time, I assumed he was keeping me around as the 12th or 13th man, nothing more than a practice banger. Turns out, he wasn’t just looking out for his own self-interest. Three and a half years later writing this piece, I consulted Cohen, who now writes about sports professionally, but is more significantly a genuine friend and mentor.
Still, it took me a full year to acclimate to the transition from the playing field to the press box (or actually the chain-link fence next to the field hockey turf). I accidentally cheered for Duke and then had to bite my tongue. I forgot my recorder and scrambled to shorthand interviews. I awkwardly interviewed obscure athletes who were as new to being interviewed as I was to interviewing. Sophomore year I came into my own as a writer, but more importantly I had my first realization that my role with The Chronicle was meant to teach me a life lesson. Friends from back home and other writers I would bump into in press rooms would inquire as to whether my “job” was paying. And, I would always just laugh. Despite the occasional 2:30 a.m. night at the office giving the paper one last look and the 6 a.m. flights, never once did I feel like I was working.
Sure, I’ll always have the memories. I got to enjoy the silence in the Dean Dome after Rivers stunned the Heels at the Buzzer. I saw the Midshipmen march in formation in Annapolis before kickoff and then crashed a wedding party afterwards with my good friend Andy Moore. I almost missed a 3 p.m. kickoff in Miami, after a night on South Beach, again thanks to Andy. I watched more games than I can remember from press row in the nation’s most sacred college basketball venue and attended an NCAA tournament.
And, to be honest, I wish I would have forged more of these lasting memories. I passed up opportunities to travel to other games, sit down and interview coaches and athletes and call up other interesting sports personalities. Now, the tests and parties have conglomerated into one big smudge, but everywhere I traveled and everyone I interviewed stands out as a valued, personalized experience.
I’ll take the memories with me to my cubicle in New York next year. Sometimes, I feel weak and wish I would have pursued sports journalism. But, let’s be honest, who wants to cover high school football in Montana? Four years covering sports at one of the country’s strongest athletic and academic institutions spoiled me, and the allure of a career in finance was too much. It’s time to make the switch from spending my time in the shadows, glorifying other people’s exploits to pursuing my own personal success—however that may come to be defined—but not forgetting the most important lesson I learned.
I am at peace with the knowledge that I know what it feels like to discover a passion for something, making work feel like something you’re destined and privileged to do. I can rest assured that I’ll explore life’s countless options until I rediscover that feeling—that sense of perfect I became so accustomed to feeling when I was perched above a playing surface, straining to get my recorder in front of player in a crowded locker room, or silently pecking away on a computer late into the night.