I was standing outside CenturyLink field on Saturday with three of my closest friends (Matt, Mikey, and Jen, all of whom I’ve really only “known” known for the past year-and-a-half) at a tailgate hosted by my buddy Jason Puckett (yes, Jason Puckett the notorious WSU alum of Sports Radio KJR infamy), when a Husky fan by the name of Jeff walked over and told me he enjoyed my work. I was caught off guard. I never know what to say to someone in that type of situation. I wish I had some profound message to deliver, but mostly I stutter, try to get the person’s name, and express as much gratitude as I can in a one-minute interaction.
Jeff walked away and my friends giggled a little bit (in a very distinguished way…perhaps “giggled” was the wrong word), while Puckett shook his head and muttered something about my standing in the community, I’d imagine.
Three nights before that, I was out with my friend Ryan Divish — who writes for the Tacoma News-Tribune and who I’ve known for almost two years — and Erin Hawksworth — a sports anchor at Q13 TV who has been the gracious recipient of my not-so-smooth online courting for the past few weeks — for an impromptu get-together dubbed by some in the Seattle media as “Elimidate.” It was classier than it sounds. More or less. Anyway, later in the evening we were sitting in a bar when a horrible rendition of Ginuwine’s My Pony was blasted through a karaoke mic onto the eardrums of dozens of patrons, including the three of us. We cringed until the song came to its merciful end. Shortly after the shrieking stopped, who walks up but the crooner himself, my pal Josh Sabrowsky.
“That was you?” I asked.
“It was,” he replied.
“Are you drunk?” I inquired.
“I am,” he responded. And then he staged his own Occupy Elimidate movement for the next half-hour.
I first met Josh when I was in college. We used to play basketball together at the IMA, the University of Washington’s student gym. Josh wore a pink headband and antagonized our opponents with verbal taunts. I, on the other hand, tried to pacify the uprising, break up fights, and issue apologies after the fact. It was more fun than you’d think. Regardless, after our freshman year, we didn’t see each other again until 2010, when Josh contacted me on Facebook about joining the Ian Furness Show on KJR — the place I’d ultimately get to know Puckett — to talk sports.
After a few formalities, Josh reminded me that he was the dude who I used to play ball with six years prior, the douchebag that got into trouble from time to time. I had completely forgotten who this guy was until I remembered the pink headband. That was all it took. We’ve been friends ever since.
About fifteen months ago I met Jerry Brewer. A lot of people know him as a columnist for The Seattle Times. He also wrote a book a few years back, Gloria’s Miracle. Jerry’s a sportswriter, but the book is the hallmark of his career-to-date. In it, he tells the story of Gloria Strauss, a young girl with an ultimately-incurable form of cancer, who changes the lives of many with an effervescent personality and determined resolve throughout her fight against the disease. At the same time, Jerry juxtaposes the lives of the members of the Strauss family with his own personal self-discovery, a journey that is jump-started by a drive home in which he breaks down and questions his own purpose in life.
Having read the story, and now having befriended the person behind the words, the message resonates with me stronger than it might for your average reader. I know how Jerry felt. I’ve often found myself in the same position, questioning what really matters and wondering what it all means. It’s a precarious place to be, made even more unique by the fact that in media, one is subjected to a personal vulnerability that isn’t necessarily experienced by someone who isn’t tasked with sharing their words on a regular basis. When you broadcast your thoughts to the masses, you just never know how everyone will react. Media is a business that can have you feeling great one minute and horrible the next.
Many media members would have you believe that they’re invincible, but in reality we’re probably more insecure about ourselves than most people. We hide behind bombast and driving critiques of our subject matter. We create public personas to deflect the bullets fired our way. We separate ourselves into two different people: the media self, and the real self. We try to protect the real self from our audience. But there’s something distinctly unfulfilling about that.
I’ve used sports as a vehicle for my life. Sports are what I like to talk about, but they’re only a small part of my existence. I started this website thinking I’d just discuss sports, but then it dawned on me that I can do more than that. This is my thing. Why shouldn’t I dictate it? I’m not doing this because it’s my career and I have to. So why limit my vulnerability? When you expose yourself with nothing to lose, you can only gain from it.
I was 24 years old when I created Seattle Sportsnet. I had lofty goals for what this site would ultimately become. The goals I had were far too ambitious for any 24-year-old to legitimately make. And yet at the time, they gave me the foundation upon which to build a structure for my writing.
Over the course of the past three years, I’ve written more and more about things that matter to me, personally, than perhaps those things that appeal to the typical sports fan. I’ve strayed from the box scores and the recaps and started using my investment into this domain name as my own journey towards self-discovery. I’ve tried to be as honest as I can about who I am when I write. I’ve always felt that that’s something that gets neglected in journalism, but happens to be a part of the equation that both writer and reader value. Professional scribes are taught to remove themselves from the equation. And yet we haven’t replaced our writers with robots, so how important can omniscience really be?
On top of that, in my 27 years of life I’ve fallen under the impression that we might be going about interacting all wrong. Despite my humble stature, I’ve tried to change that a little bit. You see, we always find ourselves getting to know people we meet by asking them what they do, where they’re from, who they know. We want the CliffsNotes version of your life, and chances are as soon as you answer our questions, we’ll forget all about your responses. I don’t like that. You can be a carpenter from Spokane who happens to be the cousin of the guy hosting this party and no one will care. I’ve learned nothing about you of substance. What really matters to me, you, and everyone else is what you love.
What do you love? What is it that gives you reason to wake up every morning? It can be a person, a place, a thing, an idea, a hobby, anything. There is something that is keeping your spirit alive, that you care about more than anything in the whole world. And we’d rather hear about your location or profession. No offense to all the jobs out there (mine included), but work does not define us. No one has ever sat on their deathbed and started worrying about an Excel spreadsheet (at least I hope not). You want to exit this world doing what you love with who you love by your side. It’s how we all want to go.
I think about the interactions we make on a daily basis and question why it can be so difficult for people, in the most general sense, to get along. You may be an accountant, he may be a construction worker, she may be a doctor, and if that’s all you happen to know about each other, you’ll probably never see eye-to-eye on much of anything. The idea of a job or a social status defining who we are only divides us. If we were to ask an accountant, construction worker, and doctor what they love, however, we might find that they have something in common that unites them. It’s that which we fail to capitalize on.
And so since the day I created this thing — it’ll always just be a thing to me — my lofty goals have gone by the wayside and more rewarding objectives have replaced those previously sky-high intentions. I’ve stripped the site of all the ads and sponsorships it used to possess — I don’t really need the extra money. I’ve asked you to give to two charities that mean a lot to me — and I thank you for that. I’ve abandoned a traditional sports blog format — I have no desire to compete with mainstream media. And I’ve tried to do one thing above all else: bring people together.
Matt, Mikey, Jen, Jeff, Jason, Ryan, Erin, Josh, and Jerry are just examples. I probably wouldn’t have shared my interactions with them if it weren’t for what I love, if it weren’t for this passion I have for writing. None of them got to know me on the grounds of what I did or where I was from (account manager, Bellevue). It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Instead, we were united by this thing that I happen to care so much about.
And so I’ve seen the power behind what it is that I’m passionate about. And I’ve started to enjoy the successes of this website, provided we can all agree that success is the achievement of a goal. It is the mission I’ve been on, the guiding light at the end of this tunnel that has allowed me to take steps towards finding out who I am. I’m not who I want to be yet, but I’m getting there. The same can be said for the writing; it isn’t where it needs to be yet, but it’s on its way.
I have other goals. I have other missions. I still have loftier ambitions that any 27-year-old may not be qualified to legitimately make. But I’m achieving one goal, one mission, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about that.
We are defined by our love. It sounds kind of ridiculous, I know. But it is that idea that has already brought people together through a stupid sports blog. If that doesn’t give you reason to believe, then I don’t know what would.
In closing, I leave you with this quote from the late Jim Valvano. He spoke these words at the 1993 ESPY Awards. The video of his moving speech — given while in the final stages of his fight against cancer — is included below, in its entirety. Amongst all the other advice that he left behind as part of his legacy, I choose to focus on these two stanzas from Valvano’s memorable night:
It’s so important to know where you are. I know where I am right now. How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal. You have to be willing to work for it.
I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to get your emotions going. To be enthusiastic every day and as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing great could be accomplished without enthusiasm,” to keep your dreams alive in spite of problems whatever you have. The ability to be able to work hard for your dreams to come true, to become a reality.