As a junior in college I won the Betsy Carter Award from the University of Michigan English Department. It was a certificate and $500. At the time I was studying abroad in Seville, Spain and I used the money to pay for a weeklong trip to Ireland where I drank my weight in Guinness and danced to cover bands on O’Connell Street. Upon my return, I sent a handwritten thank you card to Betsy Carter because she was, in fact, a real human, not just an award. She had written for the Michigan Daily during college and went on to have an impressive career as a journalist and writer. At the end of the letter I threw in a note of “If you have a chance to talk, I’d love to.” I assumed I would never hear from her. But, she emailed me and said that once I got back stateside, I should give her a call. I did. We talked for an hour and when my questions to her finally ended, she said, “So, I see you cover sports for the Michigan Daily. You should really come to New York to meet my husband.” It was an odd thing to say. But she was a famous writer and at that point — with limited job prospects — I would’ve met her dog walker if she had asked. I told her, “I’d love to meet him.” She asked if I knew who her husband was. I said, “No.” (I thought that was another strange question.)
“He’s Gary Hoenig. He founded ESPN The Magazine.”
I flew to New York that weekend. I got my portfolio in Gary’s hands as we sipped coffee on the Upper West Side before meeting Betsy for lunch. Halfway through lunch I looked at her and bluntly asked: “You have already been so nice to me by funding my trip to Ireland. Why are you still being this nice to me?”
She explained that she had been giving the award and money to the English Department for two decades and that in that time span, I was the first to ever write a thank you card.
“Journalism — especially sports journalism — needs more people who write thank you cards. I want you in this business.”
That is how I got my foot in the door at ESPN. It is also how I shall leave.
So, thanks to Betsy and Gary for opening the door. Thank you to Michael Rothstein and Tom VanHaaren — my first two beat-mates at ESPN. They put up with an inexperienced 22-year-old and for that they should be given medals (or for Tom, many donuts). Thank you to my first editor Bob McClellan. He turned me into a professional during those first few years. He was tough and forced me to be better. I cannot thank him enough. Thank you to the rest of our editors — Conor Nevins, Alecia Hamm, Jeremy Willis, Dave Wilson and everyone else I worked with who edited the blog content tirelessly. Thank you for the patience, the grammar lessons and the witty headlines. Thanks to David Duffey. He was everything you could ask for in a boss. He pushed us to find good stories, asked us to think outside of the box and constantly remembered that we are humans. When my father was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, he told me to go home for a month and write whenever I felt like it without taking a day of vacation. Duff also loves dogs, which is a trait I cannot underscore enough.
The other ESPN writers — many of whom are in the same boat with me today — have been incredible. The number of people I could call at a moment’s notice when facing an minor issue, problem or joyful moment is far more than I think many understand when they look at ESPN from the outside. And thanks to anyone I might have missed. Today has been odd and if you feel slighted, blame it on the fact that today was the strangest day of my professional life.
I’m excited for this next chapter of my life. Don’t get me wrong. This hurts. A lot. But I am profoundly thankful for the last six and a half years at ESPN and whatever comes next will be built on the foundation I laid there.
I’m going to stay away from Twitter for a while. That’s something I haven’t been able to do in almost a decade. This has been a hell of a ride and something good will come next. ’Til then, peace like a river.