It feels like I’ve been reading newspapers and sports sections literally all my life. My first memories of it was when my family was still in New York in my grandmother’s house in Mount Vernon. I read the local Mount Vernon paper and The New York Daily News and The New York Times. I would read Dave Anderson and George Vecsey and Mike Lupica and Vic Siegel and all the old school sports writers in New York.
Then when we moved back to D.C., I started reading [The Washington Post] and at the time, The Washington Star. So I was reading Shirley Povich and Tom Boswell and those guys. And there were a couple writers for The Star at the time who I really got into - Tom Callahan and David Israel.
My first foray into journalism was The Black Explosion [at the University of Maryland]. There was a freshman in my dorm in Calvert that year who was on the baseball team, and I did a story about him and fall baseball practice. That was literally my first sports byline.
One of the things that really convinced me that I could do this was freshman year. I was taking a journalism 100-level class with Reese Cleghorn. The basketball team beat Virginia in their season finale at Cole Field House. Virginia was ranked No. 1. There was a big dramatic scene after, the students and fans going crazy. I wrote about it for The Explosion for Monday’s paper. Reese Cleghorn used that in his class that week as an example of a really well-written story. I was kind of in awe, and I thanked him afterwards. He was really incredibly supportive. That was really encouraging.
After my senior year, I went to Newsday for my internship. And it was truly the best internship I ever had. I wish that everyone could experience internships like the one I had at Newsday. I feel like I learned so much. It’s like I grew enormously as a journalist there - and as a sports journalist - because I was surrounded by so much professionalism and greatness. And being in a market like New York made me grow so much.
I think if I hadn’t had a chance to do all those things and meet all the people that I did and have all those people in my corner, I don’t know if I would have had the career that I had. They were great examples of what I wanted to be and the kind of writer I wanted to be and the kind of writing I wanted to do. I knew for sure that I wanted to do this for a living.
For years, my answer [to the greatest sports moment I've covered] was Michael Jordan’s last shot in Utah in his last Finals in 1998. It really felt like a privilege to be there. I’ve covered one Olympics and it was an experience I’ll never forget. It was 2000 in Sydney. There are a lot of things that happened during that Olympics that were breathtaking.
I covered the Super Bowl when the Giants beat the undefeated Patriots. I saw the helmet catch from the upper, upper upper press box. That was something pretty special to be able to tell people about years later.
And there were a lot of famous people that I talked to. One would be Tommie Smith, obviously since I wrote the book [Silent Gesture: The Autobiography of Tommie Smith]. But just the fact that there was a time where he and John Carlos were people who were on a lofty plane for me. It would be like meeting Ali or Martin Luther King, somebody of that magnitude.
This job can be such a grind and it can be really unfulfilling and unforgiving and frustrating. But every once in a while, you walk into a playoff game or Super Bowl or NBA Finals or Final Four, and you just sort of stop and look around and go like, “Man, this is pretty cool.”
It’s still a strange feeling for me to know that there are young journalists looking and asking me [for advice]. It doesn’t feel like that long ago where I was doing the same thing and wondering what I should do.
[The journalism industry], it gets harder and harder to do it every year. As much as you love it, you’re going to have a lot of moments where you feel like it doesn’t love you back, and it’s almost testing you to see if you really care enough to stick with it.
You go through all the times your boss is going to berate you for no reason, and the people who read you or watch you are going to be so disrespectful of what you do and why you do it. You go through the layoffs and the mergers and the buyouts and all the things they do to get rid of jobs and not pay you what your worth.
You see all that and you say, “This is no way to make a living, why should I beat myself up like this?” But if it’s what you really, really care about, don’t stop. Don’t let them beat that joy out of you. And don’t let them convince you that what you’re doing is not important.
Real, true, actual journalism is really never going to go out of style. And people may not recognize it for what it is - and how important it is - but it’s always going to be important. Hold on to that as much as you can. Find as much reinforcement of that as you can.
You make sacrifices and put yourself through a lot. But it really is worth it because if you do stick with it and you still keep your standards as high as possible, it’s really going to be worth it. You’re going to look back, as hard as you’re going to be on yourself, you’re going to think, “Wow, I’ve really done some good work that really has mattered to a lot of people.”
And you experience things that a lot of people never have and you understand things that a lot of people never will. Hold on to that. It feels like it’s slipping from your grasp sometimes, but hold on to it as long as you can.