Backspace appears biweekly in commemoration of The Sun’s 125th Anniversary. Honoring not only the history of The Cornell Daily Sun but also the role it played in major campus events throughout the years, each column features a different writer chronicling a different era of Cornell’s lively past. Jeremy Schaap ’91 was sports editor of The Sun. He is an Emmy Award-winning ESPN reporter and author of the best-selling book Cinderella Man.
I should have been studying. I should have been partying. I should have been hiking through the gorges.
Instead, I spent four years breathing the fetid air of the subterranean confines of The Cornell Daily Sun.
These days, The Sun’s home is the beautiful mansion that was formerly owned by the Ithaca Elks, a similarly secretive and fun-loving group. But I had the privilege, as a member of the class of 1991, to work for The Sun at a time when its offices were situated twenty feet below the Ithaca Commons. This was not a healthy situation, but considering the name of the paper for which I labored, it was deliciously ironic.
To describe me and my colleagues at The Sun as pale and pasty would be an insult to the pale and pasty. We were transparent, like those species that have spent thousands of generations deep within the earth’s crust.
Still, when we emerged from The Sun, usually at about three in the morning, we would trudge back to our dorm rooms or apartments filled with an indescribable pride, fueled primarily by journalistic narcissism and gallons of Mountain Dew.
There is nobody quite as self-important as a college journalist. Personally, I was a paragon of self-importance. If I have any regrets about the things I wrote when I was attempting to learn my trade, it was my stubborn refusal to lighten up. Assigned as a freshman to cover the woeful women’s basketball team, I resolved to cover these young women as if I were writing for the Daily News and as if they were pros – in other words, I felt obligated to criticize them when they were awful, which was pretty much always. When they finished the season 0-14 in the Ivy League, I wrote sarcastically about their record-setting futility.
At least I was consistent.
When I covered the woeful 1989 football team, I was just as sarcastic as I’d been covering the women’s basketball team.
Now don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with telling it like it is when a team is dreadful. But, all these years later, I think my reporting would have been stronger and fairer if it had been informed by some sympathy for the young men and women I was covering, who, after all, were playing not for scholarships or scouts, but for something at least approaching a love of the game.
My work on the news pages was similarly marked by a desire to make happy as few people as possible. When I was a freshman, I went undercover – actually, I just flashed a fake ID – to prove how easy it was for underage Cornellians to gain access to Collegetown bars. The story was splashed across The Sun’s front page on March 28, 1988. It was hard to tell who was most upset about the story. When Ithaca’s district attorney shut down several bars that weekend, I was attacked by both students and bar owners (the owner of Dino’s – then known as Dionysos Restaurant – threatened to sue). The administration wasn’t very pleased, either.
Eventually, as I veered off into column writing, I gained a reputation as a consistent if not well-informed critic of Day Hall. Still, I was surprised when, in a story in the Cornell Chronicle, I was said to “pillory” Cornell. I didn’t think anyone had noticed.
In my defense, I knew from the first day I walked into The Sun’s offices that I wanted to be a reporter. This distinguished me from most of my Sun colleagues, many of whom had no interest in pursuing journalism as a career and many of whom decided to become journalists only after exposure to The Sun limited their options. (Just try maintaining a decent GPA when you know you can become a writer and no employer will care a whit about your grades.) I always knew I would major in The Sun, so I took it as seriously as chemistry majors take chemistry and much more seriously than government majors take government. (I know. Technically, I was a government major).
When I think of The Sun, I think of my colleagues who remain my closest friends. So many are doing important work – covering the media at National Public Radio, winning a Pulitzer at the Newark Star Ledger, covering the Iraq war at NBC News, exposing atrocities for Human Rights Watch. If the Sun shaped them, it had to be pretty good.
Let me simply say this: The Sun was the best part of my experience at Cornell. I know my father – Dick Schaap ’55, Sun editor in chief – felt the same way. Both of us should have spent more time in class and at the library, but we were hooked. We were addicted to The Sun.
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