PARTING SHOT: Key Chapters in the Evolution of a Sportswriter

As sports journalists, we get the unique opportunity to explore the pivotal moments in games, seasons, and programs. But no matter the twists and turns, with journalistic integrity on the line we feign indifference, pretending that outcomes don’t affect us even as we affect their perception.

Yet as writers, we form connections to these outcomes in ways unexpected and in many ways different from the average fan. We pour over statistics, trends, and interview transcripts, looking for the right angles to take. We form fascinations—obsessions, even—with the development of the programs and athletes that go largely unrecognized by anyone beyond the Crimson Crazies. And for many of us, Harvard sports become intertwined with our lives.

*

Sitting in Harvard Stadium for the first time, I was underwhelmed. The Crimson started the day by laying an egg and falling behind Brown, 16-0, in the first quarter. Accustomed to a more solid brand of football, I became slightly disenchanted with my college football prospects. Never one to leave sporting events early, I resorted to restlessly checking baseball scores on my cell phone and chatting with the people around me.

I got the usual “Wow, you know a lot about sports,” a phrase with which every female sports fan is all too familiar. But before I could give my usual spiel about box scores and baseball, one of them said, “You should comp The Crimson.”

I began to weigh the statement I had initially deemed ridiculous: could I, a premed who had never written a story in her life, add anything to one of the best college newspapers in the country?

While I did so, the Crimson began to mount a comeback. As the double overtime victory—the Bears’ only blemish on an otherwise perfect Ivy League Championship season—came to a close, my passion for Harvard football was just beginning.

The next day I went to a sports meeting, picked up a football preview, and began my four-year foray into sports journalism.

*

Sitting in the Yale Bowl press box two years later, I looked down on a scarcely populated stadium and a blowout game. The most anticipated meeting of the Crimson and Bulldogs since 1968 had produced one of the more lopsided wins in the storied rivalry’s history.

Having spent nearly every weekend covering football, I knew the team pretty well. I knew its tendency to play down to the level of the mediocre teams it faced, I knew its struggles to close out close games, and I knew it had to stop Yale running back Mike McLeod to have any chance. I knew this all too well—I had written columns about it in the weeks leading up to The Game.

But the first two problems became nearly instantly meaningless, since Harvard coach Tim Murphy had clearly solved the third. The Crimson had a 27-0 lead by halftime and went on to win, 37-6, and claim its first Ivy League Championship since 2005.

As students started filing in from the tailgate mid-third quarter realizing they had missed almost the entirety of the game, I began writing my story—one of the stories hundreds of people would have to read in order to actually find out what happened; a story about the keys to the game from my point of view.

*

Harvard football is initially what drew me in to the world of Crimson sports, it’s what held my interest, and it’s in large part what led to over 130 stories, nearly 20 road trips, and two executive positions.

As much as we may try to remove ourselves from the sports we cover, as those responsible for conveying trends and outcomes, our passion and devotion for our beats is what ultimately makes us successful.

Commiserating with my fellow sports writers, fawning over players, cringing with injuries, and feeling excitement after Ancient Eight championships all played an integral role in my continued commitment to writing.

But with this, my final column, I officially cut myself off from the writing world and retire to life as a fan—a role I’m beginning to realize is not so different from what I’ve been the last four years.

—Staff writer Madeleine I. Shapiro can be reached at madeleine.shapiro@post.harvard.edu.

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