Way back when I was at the beginning of my journalism career — more than 20 years ago when I was writing for my college newspaper — I had a head full of dreams and a heart full of hopes (and a belly full of barley and hops, but let’s stay focused on the hopes and dreams).
My plan at the time was to use the printed word to make a difference in the world in which I lived. I was going to expose corruption in the world around me. I was going to shine light into dark corners in which others dared not to look. It was my plan to be both Woodward and Bernstein rolled into one. I was going to be a proud member of the Fourth Estate who politicians feared and readers respected.
Gosh darn it, I was going to spend my entire career changing the world.
Instead, I’ve spent the better part of the past two decades writing stories about how children play.
I guess life doesn’t always turn out the way we expect, does it?
Of course, I enjoy what I do for a living … I like to think if I didn’t I wouldn’t still be here after 20 years. I mean, who wouldn’t want the opportunity to get paid to go to sporting events for a living? And, truth be told, that’s not even my favorite part of the job. The best part of my day is getting to talk to some pretty amazing kids and coaches and tell their stories. Every single day I get to write, something I’ve loved doing my entire life and something I’ve wanted to do professionally since I was a sophomore in high school.
Every now and then — more lately than ever before, given some of the things currently going on not only in our country, but locally as well — though, I sometimes have to wonder what could have been. What if I had decided to take a different career path? I truly believe I could have done anything I wanted in my journalism career had I not been seduced by the sports world.
I could have been a medical writer telling the stories of breakthroughs that help the sick. I could have been a crime reporter writing about guilty parties being brought to justice. I could have been a political reporter who lets the public know what their elected officials are doing when they think nobody else is watching.
Instead, I write in-depth stories about what a high school running back had for breakfast the morning of a game.
But you know what? In talking with one of my dear friends Shawn a few weeks ago, I realized that maybe what I do — and, more specifically, what the world of sports can do — matters more than I realized. I worked alongside Shawn covering the Ohio State football team at our college newspaper. He’s a bigger sports fan than I’ll ever be. Recently, Shawn — who lost his mother last summer — had a favorite aunt pass away after a brutal battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Shawn told how, in the days after his mother passed away, he covered a high school football game for one of our sister newspapers, the Wilmington News Journal. While it wasn’t easy for Shawn to go back to work so soon after his mother’s passing, he said it did indeed help return a sense of normalcy to his life. And when his aunt died a few weeks ago, Shawn mentioned that all he wanted to do was go see a baseball game.
And I guess, in part, that’s one of the reasons I keep doing what I do for a living. We live in a world in which a nuclear war breaking out seems entirely possible and folks on the opposite ends of the political spectrum can’t seem to have a debate that doesn’t end in punches being thrown. We live in a world in which a man can murder an innocent grandfather on the street and have it go viral on social media. We live in a world in which a man can be beaten bloody for sitting in the wrong seat on an airplane.
But you know what? We also live in a world in which I can write a story about a high school hockey player who played in the game of his life in honor of his mother, who passed away from breast cancer. And we live in a world in which an entire high school football team rallies around an autistic teammate and I can tell their story of love and acceptance. Thanks to the world of sports, every day I get to write about kids who accomplish things they never thought possible before and kids who are able to make memories that will last a lifetime.
The world of sports will never be confused with the “real world” — but what they can be is a pleasant distraction from our real world problems. I may not be able to change anyone’s life by using the newspaper to expose some evil entity, but maybe I can bring a smile to someone’s face by writing a story about an athlete or team they just happen to love.
And maybe, just maybe, those smiles can help change the world, too.
Reach David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong