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Time to hang ‘em up

Columnist Joe Drews is willing to give up being a journalist if it means being a fan again, especially if he can partake in celebrations like this one.
Columnist Joe Drews is willing to give up being a journalist if it means being a fan again, especially if he can partake in celebrations like this one.

When I was at a medical school interview last fall, my first interviewer asked me why I like sports.

Why do I like sports? That’s like asking why I like eating. Or walking. Or breathing. It’s something that is so ingrained, so natural, that I had never really thought about it. Was it the competition? The excitement? Watching athletes do things that I could never do myself?

A short time after that question, my second interviewer asked me if I had ever written anything controversial for The Chronicle.

Written? No, but I once asked Coach K about Kyle Singler settling for too many 3-pointers in a 2008 loss to Michigan, I said.

Eight months later, I finally have two good answers.

For the latter, I now have both an easy response and a more complicated one. The easy answer: Yes.

The complicated one?

I can touch on criticizing a 350-yard game by Thaddeus Lewis, expecting a backlash and getting nothing. I can talk about how I bashed white tenting, and predictably, sparked a discussion. And I can bring up a midseason Singler column that I thought would generate some minor buzz, but instead went viral. Coach K criticized it. Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn linked to it. Readers responded by saying things like I should be benched, I hadn’t thought before writing and—my personal favorite—I just wanted to make a name for myself.

I’ve learned that, aside from tenting, it is hard to anticipate what will excite people. (Note to future columnists: If you want to get people at Duke fired up, write something about tenting. Anything.) I’ve learned that some of you will now make the leap that I have something against Singler because two of my examples of controversies involve him. I can assure you I don’t—there are only so many ways to ask about a team that goes 7-for-33 beyond the arc but 24-for-32 inside it, and one of them is to pick the player who best embodies that trend—but most of all, I’ve learned not to care if you don’t believe me.

In a strange way, the outcry to that Singler column represented several of the things that I said I liked about sports at my interview last August: the passion they evoke and the fact that you don’t know what is going to happen, either within a game or over the course of a season.

Now, though, I can better articulate why I like sports. I like them because, more than maybe anything else in the world, they can cause you to be a part of something bigger than yourself. They can make me strongly dislike—hate is too strong—Duke as a middle schooler yet love it as an undergrad.

They have the power to unite an entire community in anticipation or disappointment, as I witnessed firsthand as a visiting high school senior. I first knew I liked Duke when I saw the pregame excitement, and later, the unbelievable depression on campus after the 2006 home loss to North Carolina. Any university that was that invested in a basketball game was my kind of school.

In a more indirect and twisted way, sports caused me to stand behind Duke as I was making my college decision. Just ask any senior how many times he or she had the following exchange, word-for-word, in April 2006. High school senior: “I got into Duke.” Clever conversation partner: “Do you play lacrosse?”

Four years later, sports galvanized us in a different way. Thousands of fans hung on every possession of the national championship game, making Cameron Indoor Stadium as loud as I’ve ever heard it. When that final, fateful Gordon Hayward shot clanged off the front iron and fell harmlessly to the Lucas Oil Stadium floor, we rushed to the Main Quad to join thousands more in the largest celebration I have ever seen. As people who had nothing to do with the win—a safe claim, I think, considering we were over 600 miles from Indianapolis—hugged each other, it hit me: This is why sports are great.

In the four years in between, The Chronicle let me see a side of sports I never would have experienced otherwise. I wrote about a dancing soccer player and a football-playing lacrosse player. I went to UNC to cover rivalry games in three different sports. I talked to a double-overtime goal scorer and a walk-off hero. I witnessed crushing, season-ending losses. I sat on press row in arguably the most famous college basketball stadium in America, as well as at the NCAA Tournament.

That’s what had been making this goodbye so hard. Writing for The Chronicle has been the defining experience of my college career, and I have enjoyed it more than I can possibly express. Asking Jon Scheyer how it felt to lose to Boston College wasn’t fun, but the game was thrilling. Waiting for a cab in Madison, Wis., at 2:30 a.m. in early December was anything but pleasant, yet the atmosphere in the Kohl Center was unforgettable.

After this column, I return to being just another sports fan. No more front row seats. No more postgame questions to discover why a coach made a certain decision or to see firsthand a player’s joy after winning a game for his team.

And yet, now that I know exactly why I like sports, I am strangely excited about leaving all that behind. It is incredibly easy to be a part of a larger community as a fan. It is almost impossible as a journalist.

So in career story No. 125, I am finally ready to hang ‘em up. I have taken my Chronicle career day by day for four years, bringing my ‘A’ game as often as I could. Now, I’m ready to go out on top.

Oh, and did I mention that I won’t miss the clichés?


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