What would you wear if J.J. Redick invited you to the pool with him?
For two days last June, I wrestled with this question. As part of a pre-draft series Redick was gracious enough to do with The Chronicle, the future NBA Lottery pick had suggested that we meet by the pool of his off-campus apartment rather than just conduct the usual phone call.
But what do you wear to a poolside interview? Was I expected to wear a bathing suit? Should I bring sunscreen? What if I showed up ready for a swim and got laughed at?
After consulting my friends about my outfit crisis-nearly everyone agreed that board shorts and a polo shirt would be a safe compromise-it turned out not to matter when the sun stayed behind the clouds that day.
Instead, Redick called and asked me to meet him in a ballroom at a local hotel, where I watched him complete a two-hour memorobilia signing for which he was paid more money than any undergraduate can make in an entire summer. When he finished up, I asked if we were just going to do the interview in the lobby. He turned to me and asked awkwardly, "Could you actually give me a ride home?"
As Redick rode shotgun in the cramped front seat of my 1992 Toyota Camry, I thought to myself that serving as sports editor of The Chronicle was pretty much the coolest job any college journalist could ask for. How many other people in my position were getting that type of access, shooting the breeze about everything from campus life to the NBA Draft with one of the best jump shooters on the planet?
Less than a week later, I was reminded just how difficult being a college journalist can be. The night after I had seen police surround a car right outside the off-campus apartment I rented from the summer, I learned the driver of that vehicle had been Redick, who later pleaded guilty to drunken driving charges.
As sports editor, I knew I had to report the story. I drove to Durham County Courthouse to obtain the citation, and I e-mailed and called Redick asking for a comment.
Somehow, it didn't feel right. Redick's actions were inexcusable, and to his credit he apologized publicly for what he did-and privately for being unable to complete the pre-draft series with me.
Still, it made me uncomfortable to be writing about the transgressions of someone who, outside of his immense personal wealth and sweet shooting stroke, wasn't in all that different a position than I. Sure, in the fall, he would be suiting up in the NBA and I'd be getting dressed to go to public policy class, but even if just for a moment that day in June, we were both Dukies on a lazy summer afternoon.
Therein lies the contradictory feeling I find myself left with after a year of covering Duke sports closer than probably anyone else. A lot of people get into sportswriting because their athletic careers are over, and I'd be lying if I said that wasn't at least a little bit true for me. Sportswriters-at least most of them-like to see the teams they cover succeed, if for no other reason than it provides a better story the next day. At the same time, when something goes wrong, there is an ethical obligation to report on it.
I doubt there has ever been a year where this has been more true at Duke.
A couple of weeks before the charges were finally dropped against three former Duke lacrosse players, I was on the phone with the father of one of them. The father asked me what I thought should happen-both with the case and to the professors who had spoken out against the lacrosse team last spring. I told him as a journalist it wouldn't be appropriate for me to say. He prodded, "But you're a student at Duke, how can you not have an opinion about this?"
The truth is, I have tons of opinions about everything that has gone on at Duke for the past year. It's been a year unlike any other-one in which behavioral issues grabbed more headlines than the men's basketball team did.
I know there are plenty of student-athletes who don't exactly love The Chronicle. How do I know? I've heard them talking about it in class. I've gotten letters. I was even stopped at Shooters one night by a football player who wanted to know why this newspaper ran negative articles about a team that had gone 0-12.
To them, I say now what I told the lacrosse player's father:
Over the past year, The Chronicle has faced some of the most difficult challenges any set of college journalists have ever been presented with. Throughout, we've done our best to balance the dueling values of journalistic ethics and being college students. Have mistakes been made? Absolutely-just like shots are missed and passes are dropped. But overall, I'm extremely proud of the work we've produced, and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.
Despite all of the complications, there's a certain thrill in working in a college newsroom. You can spend hours deliberating what you're going to wear to the pool to meet with J.J., but you never know when it's going to rain.
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