It’s truly hard to believe that with the quarter winding down, my sophomore year is coming to a close. This school year in particular will always stick with me. From September through January, I was The Daily’s managing sports editor, which was the most grueling yet rewarding experience I’ve ever had; it was the year I fell in love with college football, started spending way too much time on Twitter and tried to take my writing to the next level by becoming a columnist; overall, it was the year I realized that sportswriting is my passion and that I want to pursue a career as a sports journalist.
With The Daily’s weekly production winding down and my study abroad plans taking me off campus in the fall (abroad = D.C. — I’ll be participating in Stanford in Washington. Yes, I will be missing football season. Yes, I may be freaking out about it.), this will likely be my last column for awhile. While I could comment on this week’s hot issue or some topic relating to sports journalism, the sentimental side of me couldn’t help but take a look back at what I learned from this transformative year.
So without further ado: what this year in sports and sports journalism taught me about sports, myself and life.
1. It’s always worth asking instead of automatically assuming people will say no.
I used to fear that people, particularly professional athletes or journalists, would always say no if I asked to interview or meet up with them — probably because I thought they wouldn’t respond to a lowly college journalist like me. The prospect of being rejected or ignored made me nervous to reach out to these individuals, but by and large, I’ve found that all of this was in my head. If I had let this fear get the best of me, I would never have interviewed Christen Press after the World Cup or Josh Garnett after he had been drafted. I would never have thought to ask some of the sports journalists I look up to to get coffee and give me feedback on my stories. I wouldn’t have developed a go-getter mindset that pushes me to not be afraid of striving for what may seem unrealistic.
2. I am terrible at making sports bets.
I currently owe three different people Jimmy V’s meals from losing bets on the Ravens, Orioles and Stanford women’s tennis. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at predicting what happens with sports, but when there’s a meal on the line, I just need to stay away.
3. Twitter is fun, but don’t waste hours upon hours on it.
As much as I love Twitter, I cringe trying to estimate the hours I spend on it (instead of, you know, doing homework, getting to class on time, etc.). That being said, Twitter is a fantastic way to receive news and build a voice in sports media — the latter of which I’ve been trying to develop over the past few months. While Twitter and I won’t be breaking up anytime soon (especially when I’m in D.C. and will need a way to stay connected to Stanford sports from 3,000 miles away), I want to make sure I never forget that the ethos of sports is not on Twitter, but in the people and teams we cover.
4. Impulsivity can turn out to be a really, really good thing.
I was in the press box at the Pac-12 Championship game when I pulled up Stanford men’s soccer’s quarterfinal game against Wake Forest on my laptop. Five seconds later, Stanford scored the game-winning goal in OT to send the team to the College Cup (the Final Four). Another 10 seconds later, I texted The Daily’s COO to see if we had the money to send me to Kansas City (Missouri) to cover the team. A few hours later, I sent my parents a text somewhere along the lines of “Can’t believe we beat USC! Also, can I go to Missouri for the men’s soccer final four?”
A few days later, I sat in the airport on my way to Missouri and started to question my decision. I was costing The Daily hundreds of dollars to go, alone, to Kansas City and was risking going all the way there for less than 12 hours if the team were to lose in the semis … and I probably could’ve just watched the game from the comfort of my home. What had I gotten myself into?
Turns out I had gotten myself into the midst of history: Stanford — the eight-seed in the tournament — would go on to win its semifinal game in PKs and then crush Clemson in the national championship game, earning the program its first-ever national title.
I could have just watched and written recaps of the games from my couch. But then I would have missed out on some amazing BBQ, witnessing in person the team I had covered since preseason win the NCAA championship and giving head coach Jeremy Gunn a hug after the game (he went for the handshake, I went for the hug … this may have crossed some professional boundaries, but totally worth it). I wouldn’t trade any of that for my couch.
5. It’s ok to be that annoying girl who always takes pictures, because you can end up with pics like these, and that’s totally worth it.
6. Tell the tough story, especially if it sheds light on something that you think is wrong.
In a recent conversation with a colleague of mine, I realized that not enough of sports journalism, including the journalism at this paper, tells the tough stories, or the ones that may make certain people or programs look bad. Part of this phenomenon is rooted in the fear that such negative press will cause teams to cut off an outlet’s access. I think at the college journalism level, however, it’s more of a matter of having your peers — who may be your friends off the field or with whom you became friends through your coverage — turn on you if you report something unfavorable.
This tendency of sports journalism has bothered me for a while now, yet when I had an opportunity to do my first real critical piece on Stanford Athletics — in which I called for the softball coach to be fired — I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t paranoid (though perhaps irrationally so, since there hasn’t been precedent) that I’d receive pushback from the athletics administration. And this was a piece in which I argued for something better for student-athletes.
As a journalist, it’s scary to write things that make people look bad, especially if you have professional or personal ties to them. But it’s important to remember that that’s why you’re there and that what you’re saying is important — and that otherwise, it might not be said at all.
7. Don’t be deterred by what’s wrong with the world; try to focus on what’s right.
In a lot of my columns, I’ve focused on how sports or sports journalism needs to improve, because as I immersed myself more and more into the industry, I began to see firsthand what was wrong with it. In turn, these realizations have sometimes made me hesitant to pursue a career as a sports journalist: How could I be a sports journalist if I want sports media to be more critical, yet so many journalists seem to be complacent with being mouthpieces for the teams they cover? Is this something I can reconcile if I choose such a career?
While these issues are important to recognize, my fear of them should not deter me from doing what I love. For one, there are signs that the industry is going in the right direction — some of the journalists I’ve talked to have reassured me that there’s a place for critical reporting in the industry. The emergence of prominent women in sports media such as Jessica Mendoza, Ramona Shelburne and Katie Nolan, just to name a few, has reminded me that I can make it in an industry that has been historically male-dominated. In addition, the support I have received from my colleagues at The Daily, readers and Twitter followers and even professional journalists has given me faith that while I may face roadblocks as I work to improve sports media, there will be more people along the way who try to raise me up than bring me down. And if I’m not happy about how things are, who’s to say that I can’t be the one to change them?
Going to miss Alexa Philippou? Send her a (temporary) farewell note at aphil723 ‘at’ stanford.edu or follow her on Twitter at @alexaphilippou to keep up with her never-ending sports commentary.