May 2, 2008

A Trip Down Memory Lane

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The e-mail was short: “Josh, me and you need to have a little chat. No problems, just want to talk.”
So, one night in Nov. 2005, I took a phone call. The voice on the other end was Chris Mascaro ’06, and he was offering me the opportunity of a lifetime.
What if you had the opportunity to go to every Cornell athletics event for free, home and away; receive an all-access pass and the best seats in the house to every event; meet and talk with all the players and coaches; befriend the staff and administration in and out of Athletics, at Cornell and other schools; chat with famous media personalities, coaches and athletes from around the country, in college, professional sports and beyond?
Would you take it?
There was a catch of course, and actually, a lot more than one. You couldn’t just go to some events, you would have to go to every single one, including a few away games. At these events, you would have to remain emotionless: no cheering, no clapping, no celebrations. You would have to dress up and sit with likeminded cronies, wearing an obnoxious pass at all times. As nice as everyone was, you could never truly be friends with any of them, because it compromised your ethics. You would have to identify yourself and your job title to everyone you met, and carefully indicate when you were recording their comments. Even if you found out the most damning pieces of evidence since Game of Shadows, you probably couldn’t write about it if there was no consent to an interview.
Finally, and most critically, you would have to write about it all, impartially, lay out everyone’s work in a newspaper, impartially, and teach everyone under your authority to do the same. You would have to sacrifice friends, socializing, school work, regular work and sleep, for example, just so people could read the most important daily news and opinions.
I took a few days to think. I thought the student media was a joke, I didn’t like Cornell sports and I didn’t even care much about college sports.
I took the offer.
I had written for a daily newspaper for two years, so at least in terms of everything above, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. Plus, I wanted to see what being an editor was like, and I wanted to serve this thing called the “public interest.” In retrospect, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Still, I haven’t regretted a moment of it. Over my two years as a Sun Sports Editor — one year as an Assistant Sports Editor and one as The Sports Editor — I have learned more about growing up, college, Cornell, people, being a subordinate, being the boss, being responsible, being irresponsible, working hard, hardly working, sleeping, not sleeping and so much more than I have at any other time in my life.
Not a single one of those things involves journalism per se, and I think that says something about how significant this job has been to me, and by extension, the importance of this final column.
For me, this column is a lot like Slope Day. This day and this final column mark the end of something so important and thoroughly encompassing, that I have no idea what life’s going to be like without it. It’s the end of my education (until Grad School?) and journalism career (until I return?), and though I know what comes next (a job), I have no idea what life will be like.
That both are now suddenly ending is … pretty weird. Should I feel happy that I made it? Sad that it’s over? Disappointed by the missed chances or jubilant with all the opportunities I’ve had? Am I scared of the future, or embracing of it? Somewhere in between it all lie my feelings, and I’m not exactly sure where. When you look back, what are you supposed to feel?
Well, this is the end, and though I don’t know how I feel, I know I would feel remiss not mention two important things.
First, I have grown to love Cornell athletics and student media, despite my original distaste for both. I promise that, if you try, you will too.
My disdain for both was incredibly shortsighted and I’m glad to be rid of that, for I would have missed out on so much in my time here. There are so many reasons for you to support your fellow Cornellians in athletics. Unlike the current state of the media and all its industries, which are about to get trampled, ripped up and rebuilt in the digital age (print media is about to die, if you haven’t noticed), sports will remain. They will remain critical to the social life and history of this University. So, go support your classmates.
On that note, I also encourage you all to join The Sun, and take advantage of having a voice on campus. Whether you join our new media — video, podcasts, blogs — or traditional writing departments, the ability to bring news and opinions to your peers and everyone else is invaluable. Unlike “Slope Media” and others, we’re not controlled by Cornell, or anyone for that matter: don’t let the opportunity to have a voice or gain real-world job skills pass you.
Second, I believe that my job should be used to serve the people and promote discourse, because that’s the true basis for newspapers. I was trained by journalism purists, and they certainly instilled journalism ethics in me (most of sports journalism disgusts me these days). In my time as Sport Editor, I have come across plenty of information that I feel everyone needs to know, but that I have not had a chance to investigate. So, for the sake of brevity, here’s a two-paragraph list of things at least a few people should be looking in to:
Why does Cornell have such poor Financial Aid, and is there a way for Cornell to fix this? Why won’t the Ivy League athletic conference step up and do something to even the effects of the financial aid disparity? Why does the NCAA feel it can make billions of dollars off student-athletes and Universities but not compensate them properly?
Will the Master Plan bring about the end of Cornell athletics as we know it? (Why push athletics off campus?!) Does the University even care about the importance of athletics to Cornell? Why does Cornell have possibly the least funded athletic department in the Ivy League? Do the minority graduation rates in athletics reveal a problem? Does Cornell really treat its men’s and women’s programs equally? Why can’t athletics get funding, especially if it will help any Title IX issues? Is there a problem with HGH and other performance enhancing drugs on campus or in athletics? Seriously, why can’t we find a better solution to the hockey tickets line?
There are likely no simple answers, but that’s all the more reason why we should seek them out.
Here’s a simple question and answer though: how did I get this column? Well, this one time, I was a guest Sports columnist, and we had to choose a name for the column. The name “My Pitch” came from a combination of a pitch for a story (public relations) a soccer pitch (British for soccer field) and a baseball pitch (sports reference that more people understand than the soccer one).
I guess it’s fitting that this column is named after something in P.R., because I thoroughly dislike P.R. and I’ve never been a big fan of my own column. I was always more interested in writing feature and investigative stories — practicing proactive journalism. Still, I’m happy with this column. I’ve tried to use it to expose largely unknown but well-founded viewpoints, regardless of the tone.
I’ve taken the factual route, such as when I argued Pedro Martinez was the best pitcher of the last 20 years and that Travis Hafner was baseball’s best offensive player in 2006. I’ve joked, like when I pointed out how one weekend, Cornell sports reminded me of the classic movie 300, or professed my undying love for the track teams (every Valentine’s Day). I’ve also been sad, such as when I explained how Cornell wrestler Adam Frey’s cancer has affected my life, or my feelings on the Virginia Tech tragedy’s influence on sports.
Of course, none of those stories would have been possible without hundreds of friends, family, mentors, peers, administrators, staff, athletes and fans. A few of you played bigger roles than others … so here come the thank you notes:
Kate Lombardi, The New York Times; Joe Lombardi, The Journal News, Mike Rose, The Journal News / Newsday; Gabe Miller, Sports Illustrated: You taught me everything I know about this profession, and had the gall to instill in me professionalism, ethics, integrity, ideals and love for this profession. Good luck with that, right?
Owen Bochner ’05, Chris Mascaro ’06, Olivia Dwyer ’07, Sports Editors; Brian Tsao ’06, Paul Testa ’07, Tim Kuhls ’07, Kyle Sheahen ’07, Assistant Sports Editors; Per Ostman ’04, founder of 10 Questions: Whether you gave me opportunities, taught me details, or we just spent time together, you all had a major contribution. Thank you so much.
Jonny Lieberman, Editor-in-Chief, Rebecca Shoval, Managing Editor: We joke about how awesome our board was; but it’s not a joke, and it was because of you two. The three of us were certainly very different people, and yet, we found a way to accomplish so much despite our stresses, ups and downs, and had a great time doing it. Whether you were letting me do whatever I wanted or putting me in my place, the two of you were a dream to work with. Don’t worry Olivia Oran (Associate Editor) and Eric Bernbaum (Business Manager), I was just dealing with the news side. You two made the whole paper as good as it was, whether it was helping with editorials and opinions, or reworking the business section. Eric, if you hadn’t let us do the Red Light and expand, who knows where Sports would be right now.
Michael Mix, Senior Editor, Sports; Lance Williams and Harrison D. Sanford, Assistant Sports Editors; Cory Bennett, Sun Sports Editor: So much to say but you already know it all. So let me just say, for all the sacrifices you’ve made, all the effort you’ve put in, all the work you’ve done, and everything else I’ve never said: thank you. You were the engines of the section; I was just driving.
The entire Sun Sports staff, past and present: Nothing could have been accomplished without your work and effort. Thanks for making my life easier and for brightening everyone’s day with your work, readers and editors alike.
Jeremy Hartigan, Julie Greco, Lindsey Mechalik, Kevin Zeise, Directors of Athletic Communications: You were first-rate. You work so hard despite being understaffed, and I’ll never forget how helpful and supportive you were to The Sun., I love it.
Thank you coaches and athletes. You’re worth reading about, and we’re just trying to help with that. Kind of cool, right? A few coaches I want to thank in particular: Steve Donahue, Lou Duesing, Jim Knowles ’87, Rob Koll, Mike Schafer ’86, Dayna Smith and Jeff Tambroni.
Thank you to everyone who has gone to Cornell Athletics events, it was so much fun to experience the events and atmosphere with you. Lynah Faithful, Superfans, celebrities (Alex Kresovich ’08) … everyone, keep on coming, because your classmates and Cornell Athletics need the support.
John Andrew Noel, Jr., Director of Athletics: Andy, I am in your debt. Your door was always open for a chat, and we very often did. You have helped me out so many times, in so many ways, and especially when I had bad news (I often did) you never blew me off. Thank you for all your support. Thank you too, Jeff Hall, because you’ve been so helpful to The Sun. Who knows where Cornell athletics would be without you and Andy.
Amy & David: Hi Mom and Dad! This has been so much fun. Thank you so much for everything. I would not have gotten anywhere, Mom, without that suggestion you made way back in 2002 that I talk to The Journal News. Where would I be today without your guidance? Dad, every time I sit down to write a story, a part of me thinks about you writing research, and it has helped me every time (though let’s be honest, Mom taught me to write). Dan, if I didn’t have you to talk to about Sports and other funny stuff, what would I do? Our conversations liven my days: here’s to many more.
And here’s to you Cornell: may there be many more things to discuss, new mediums to discuss it in, and … it has taken me a long time to finally feel comfortable saying this … LET’S GO RED.