April 24, 2008

Representing ‘the Sports Fan in Each and Every One of Us’

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Every time I walk at night from the Arts Quad to my house in Collegetown, I have three options — look left, look right or look straight ahead. No offense to Cornell’s wonderful buildings, but I usually decide to look right, because down the hill lies the city of Ithaca, bathed in light. I have always considered this view to be one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. But what even makes it better for me is that I know that somewhere in that sea of light, just down the street from the Chanticleer bar and its neon rooster, is The Cornell Daily Sun building.
This is my final column for The Sun, but I never thought I would be in this position; in fact, I didn’t even think I would be writing in this section. When I joined the paper at the very beginning of my sophomore year, I wrote for the arts section. My two biggest interests were sports and movies, and given my lack of journalistic experience, I decided to join arts, which seemed less intimidating.
I definitely enjoyed my time in the arts section, writing mostly movie and television reviews. It was pretty low-key, and I was able to express my opinion with every review. I also got to go to a number of movies for free, and I did not have to spend much time on each article. I still am particularly proud of some of my work for arts; I still talk about the article I wrote about the game show Lingo.
But while I worked for arts, something was gnawing at me. I liked seeing my reviews in the paper, but I did not really like the other aspects of working in the section. There were about 5 billion people working for arts, and I felt like a cog in a machine. Plus, arts used to be only one page per day, so I had to really fight if I wanted to write a feature (and I complement every former arts editor who had to deal with that). I thought about quitting the paper a few times. At some point, I realized that I needed something different.
That ultimately came in the form of the sports section. One day I was really angry at the arts section about something, and Josh Perlin, now a senior writer but a former assistant sports editor and sports editor, floated by me the idea of changing sections. He knew my passion and knowledge for sports and tried to sell me on writing about it.
The thought of switching to sports terrified me at first. Despite my frequent criticism of the arts section, I had developed a comfort zone that I would leave if I went to another section. Furthermore, I had no high school journalism experience whatsoever, and I was afraid that I would be way behind people whose high school papers rivaled The Washington Post (this seems laughable now). Ultimately, though, I took the risk and made the switch.
When I began writing for sports, I immediately felt out of my element. More importantly, I was upset that my creativity was being stifled. There is a certain method to writing sports stories, and I obviously could not inject opinion or jokes in the articles. Furthermore, I was incredibly low on the food chain and was covering sports that I did not know much about. I started to doubt myself and wondered if I had made the right decision.
After contemplating what to do, I decided to stick with sports. I had made it this far in my strange Sun career and did not want to switch sections again. But as I kept writing, I discovered something that I did not expect — I actually began to really enjoy working for sports. Sports journalism has a certain method, but it is also an art, and my creativity found a new outlet in finding an interesting stat or writing a good lead. As my comfort level grew, I became more proud of a solid recap or feature than I was for anything I ever wrote for arts. I soon regretted not switching to sports sooner.
The other benefit about working for sports was that I was eventually able to write about the school’s top teams. That also provided me the opportunity to cover games at the Carrier Dome, the Times Union Center and Madison Square Garden. Sitting at MSG last November for the men’s hockey team’s game against B.U., I couldn’t believe how far I had come. Not bad for someone whose first article for The Sun was a review of a Staind album.
In early 2007, after an unsuccessful bid for assistant sports editor, I was elected a senior editor for the sports section. Even though it was not my original intention, I honestly cannot imagine a better outcome for me. I got all of the benefits of being an editor with a bit less of the work. In addition, as part of my senior editor position, I was able to work closely with the sports staff on their writing, which was a rewarding experience for me. I took immense pride in watching certain writers improve their stories. I still occasionally desked, whether it was filling in for one of the assistant sports editors or working on one of the many sports supplements. Also, I helped create the “Stump the Sun” and “Grudge Match” sections of the newly-formed Eclipse section.
The best part about working with the 125th editorial board of The Sun was knowing all the faces that go into putting out this paper every day. If I see a great design by ZZ, or an interesting (yet insanely long) interview by Rebecca Weiss, or The Sun’s fantastic website or the amazing Eclipse section created by Jess DiNapoli, I know the people who sweat blood in order to make these things happen. When I hear people criticize The Sun, I take it as a personal affront, not only because those people don’t know what they are talking about, but they are most likely insulting one of my friends.
Everyone who has ever been an editor knows how stressful it can be, but no matter how much work I had, I could always look forward to one thing — my column. To be honest, writing this biweekly sports column was my absolute favorite aspect of working for The Sun. Many sports writers take pride in their features; I take pride in my columns.
For most of my column topics, I eschewed breaking down nuances of the game or writing glorified features. Instead, most of my columns focus on being a fan of the game. My goal, therefore, for the 14 columns I have written for The Sun was to entertain the sports fan in each and every one of us. Throughout the course of the year, I wrote about topics such as the hierarchy of sports television watching, the Abnormal Crowd Distribution at Schoellkopf Field, rules for fan behavior at Lynah Rink, the problems with D2: The Mighty Ducks and certain tendencies of college basketball announcers. I largely avoided controversial topics, except for the one time that I inadvertently pissed off the pep band and started a debate on the ELynah.com forums with the same column. I hope that, with my column, I have succeeded in presenting sports in an original and creative manner.
In every farewell column, the writer usually includes a laundry list of people to thank. I contemplated whether this practice is too ego-stroking, but unless I win an Academy Award or something, I probably will never have another opportunity like this again. So here it goes, in no particular order.

To The 125th Editorial Board — I have so many memories with this group, from eating Shortstop to arguing about Sun politics to participating in epic 20-person games of flip cup. I can’t possibly imagine a better group of people, and I wish I could thank each and every one of you individually, but this column is already approaching War and Peace levels. However, I would like to specifically single out the top dogs of our board — Jonny Lieberman, Rebecca Shoval and Olivia Oran — because I feel like you guys really set the tone for our entire group. Everyone on the board came from a different corner of campus and a different part of the country, and even though we sometimes argued, fought and gossiped, we all ultimately had one goal — to put out the best paper every single day. And we did.
To Josh Perlin — Thank you for convincing me to switch sections. You really made a good pitch (pun intended) and showed me why I was a better fit for sports than arts. Also, thank you for teaching me the ins and outs of the sports section, putting up with my early style mistakes and showing me how to be a good sports writer. If it was not for your suggestion, I clearly would not have had the amazing Sun career that I did.
To Cory Bennett — I can’t imagine a better beat partner for the sports we covered together. You made watching games in the press box more fun than watching them in the stands, and we definitely patented the “good cop, bad cop” method of asking questions at press conferences. Your features are outstanding, and you actually made my own writing better by forcing me to try to bring my midweeks up to your level. You will do a great job as Sports Editor, and I know you will go far if you decide to make sports journalism a career.
To Harrison Sanford — I don’t understand how you can like the Yankees and the Mets, but I will ultimately forgive you for that. You always put a smile on everyone’s face at the office, like that time during the last night of publication last semester when you signed in a carry page before the back page was even close to done. Your knowledge of Ivy League basketball is unparalleled around these parts, and everyone at the whole paper is proud of the job you did creating The Red Light, a tremendous achievement.
To Lance Williams — More than any other person who I worked with at the Sun, I feel like you always had the best perspective on everything. Every time we talked, whether it was about some random professional sports topic or how much we were angry at The Sun, I always seemed to agree with what you said. When I ran training sessions for new writers, I always hoped you were desking, because I know that you would always give the new writers an important nugget of advice. I truly wish you the best of luck and I have a feeling that our career paths will cross sometime in the future.
To Olivia Dwyer, Paul Testa and Tim Kuhls — Thank you for welcoming me with open arms when I switched sections. I know I probably frustrated you with the frequent pop culture references in my leads, but you three always encouraged me and believed that I would be a good sports journalist and not just some former arts writer.
To Meredith Bennett-Smith, Matt Manacher, Allie Perez and Keenan Weatherford — It is shocking to me that four new people are taking over the sports section, but you guys have done a great job so far, and I know that you will keep it up in the future.
To Yael Borofsky and Allie Perez — Thank you for doing such a great job covering men’s hockey with me. This was by far my favorite sport to cover, and working with you two made it even better.
To The Sports Section — You are clearly the best section in the entire paper. You almost always have the most stories, the coolest editors, the most interesting columns and the best people. I really appreciate all the sports writers who took time out to meet with me for my senior editor project.
To My Old Editors in Arts — There was a bunch of them, but I want to single out Mark Rice, the former movie editor when I joined The Sun. The movie editor position was relatively thankless (and now defunct), but you did a tremendous job. Thank you for teaching me basic Sun Style and for giving me movie reviews every week even when I had just started writing.
To The Athletes and Coaches I Covered — Thank you for putting up with my annoying questions and phone calls. It is difficult to talk to the media on a regular basis, and I really appreciate your patience and candor.
To My Dad — Thank you for cultivating my love of sports and reading, even though my sports fanhood probably eclipsed yours when I was about eight years old. You always watched games with me, even if you didn’t care about the outcome as much as I did. You also always encouraged me and correctly pointed out my strengths and weaknesses. And nice job on somehow scoring tickets to Game 4 of the 2000 NLDS between the Mets and Giants, the game where Bobby J. Jones pitched his one-hit shutout. I don’t know if I will ever attend a more exciting game in my life.
To My Mom — I like to consider myself a tough person, but I don’t know if I could endure what you have gone through over the past seven years. I am so proud that you have gotten through it all and ultimately found happiness. You taught me the value of work ethic, planning and responsibility, and I have definitely modeled my study habits on you. I know we can both count on each other for good advice when we need it.
To My Brother Jason — I am really happy that you have forged your own path, finding an unparalleled passion for music. You are probably better at playing the guitar than most people will be at anything in their entire lives, and I know you will succeed next year when you start college.
To Matt Gleason, Dylan Hughes, Josh Putterman and David Rosen — You four have been my best friends at Cornell for the past four years. From Donlon to Becker to 407 Oak Avenue, we have been through so much together and have enough memories and inside jokes to last a lifetime. Thank you for making the last four years the best of my life.

Over the past year, people have frequently asked me about the meaning of my column’s moniker, given that my name is not Gil and I don’t even know anybody named Gil. Whenever I am asked that, I immediately know that that person is not a diehard fan of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The first season episode “Porno Gil” contains what is possibly the funniest scene in television history. Let’s just say that you won’t look at Tabasco sauce in the same way ever again.
My friends and I love that episode and have watched it numerous times. After watching it again recently, it was relatively disconcerting to discover that a large number of our inside jokes are from that one episode. One of our favorite things to say from “Porno Gil” ultimately became my column moniker.
In the episode, Larry David goes to a dinner party at the house of a former porn star, Gil Thelander. After the Tabasco scene, Larry subsequently makes a fool out of himself, drawing the ire of Gil’s wife. After the wife has finally had enough, she screams a command to her husband. Whenever my friends and I find ourselves in a situation when we really want to leave, it is the only line we will say:
“Gil, Get the Coats!”