At a very young age, I knew I wanted to be a sports journalist. And it wasn’t something I intended to pursue half-heartedly. I wanted it. Badly.
And so, at the age of 15, I began writing for online platforms and local newspapers, trying to get experience wherever I could.
I didn’t care what anyone thought of me wanting that when I should have been preoccupied with other things. I didn’t care when I chose to cover a hockey game and miss out on some of the things that make being a kid in high school special. I didn’t care. The blinders were on, have been ever since.
It’s my passion. It’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to be great at it.
This isn’t a unique story.
Many people fall in love with their careers, and pursue them to no-end. Amateur athletes, like those participating in Toronto’s PanAm Games, certainly do.
Last fall, I spoke with Canadian Olympic Snowboarder Derek Livingston about his journey to the Sochi Olympics, which included participating with a broken collar bone he had injured just prior. He wants it. It’s his life. Nothing’s going to stand in his way.
With every Olympics, or PanAm Games, we are bombarded with feel-good stories of athletes who sacrifice everything in the pursuit of poorly funded sports glory.
They dedicate their lives to honing their craft. They fight for their craft. They fight for respect. They bleed and sweat and ache in the pursuit of adulation. They want to be great.
In the music industry, there’s nobody that epitomizes that bullish pursuit of the mountaintop of their craft like Kanye West.
Caricatured for grabbing that microphone from Taylor Swift and nearly again when Beck won Album of the Year at this year’s Grammys, West is depicted as egotistical and self-indulging.
But below that bravado — something elite athletes like those at the PanAm games need, something athletes like Michael Jordan have credited for their success — and outwardly loud persona is someone who cares so deeply about the music industry that he’d do anything for it to get the respect he feels it deserves.
Sometimes, he’s fighting for others, like Beyonce or the many lesser-known artists he has signed to his label, which he funds. Other times, he’s fighting for himself, yearning for the ‘respect’ and ‘adulation’ amateur athletes subject themselves to. He’s never satisfied, not by the record-setting 21 Grammy’s he’s got or those that he feels other artists he respects haven’t gotten. He wants more for himself and for them.
As a musician, he wants to innovate.
Whether that meant rethinking the way we sample voices to create backing tracks on his early records, or using autotune to allow his emotions to come through in a way that his admittedly shoddy singing voice doesn’t allow (releasing a rap album where he never rapped, but sang instead), or most recently transitioning from the quiet piano and violin-led instrumentals on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to Yeezus, a grunge record built on heavy base, electric guitars and synthesizers.
Each of these things were meant to change how his colleagues approached what they think rap music –or pop music — should sound like. And among them he’s respected, whether that be through a band like Mumford and Sons calling him the biggest rockstar on the planet or Elton John and Paul McCartney labelling him a “genius.”
He’s the only rock star left. He’s everything he claims to be. He really is incredible. – Mumford and Sons
But it’s not enough. He wants more. It’s his passion. He’s never satisfied.
I want more too. I want to be a better journalist. I want to master the ins and outs of whichever sport I’m covering.
And these athletes are no different.
In his own words, West has said he’s here to “follow his dreams and motivate doers and inspire people who are dreamers.”
And music isn’t the only avenue West has pursued with that exuberance.
Passionate about fashion, West has spent the last decade pursuing unpaid internships with Paris Fashion Week designers and pouring tens of millions of his dollars into his fraught fashion lines, publicly asking the likes of Fendi, Louis Vuitton and others to allow him to work with them before finally breaking through in the foot apparel industry, designing shoes for Nike and now adidas.
Until he was given the creative control he’d sought, he didn’t stop, and he screamed and fought for it in the same way he has used his voice to fight for the music industry.
“People don’t stand up and protect their dreams,” West said in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, who spoofed an interview he’d done with BBC Radio 1 by recreating it with kids. “People are too scared of getting spoofed in a way. Do whatever you’re going to do but you’re not going to bully me, you’re not going to stop me, because my mother made me believe in myself no matter how many people tell me ‘stop believing in yourself.’ ”
When West was announced as a performer at the closing ceremonies for this year’s PanAm Games, it was met with the same scorn that suits the aforementioned caricatures.
“He doesn’t seem to fit the spirit of the games,” tweeted one person.
As a man hopelessly pursuing the peaks of his craft(s), he does fit the spirit of the games.
His music, led by a catalogue of empowering, upbeat songs such as the Good Life, Stronger, Celebration, Homecoming, The Glory, Champion, All Of The Lights and Touch The Sky, certainly does.
Last week, I saw Kanye West perform for the second time, this time at Ottawa Bluesfest. There, young people rallied around his music and his spirit more than at any sporting event I’ve ever attended.
“One thing that people can’t say is, they can’t say that I’m not trying, that I’m not trying my hardest and I’m not trying to do it the best way that I know how,” West said in another interview.
He looks up to Steve Jobs, Walt Disney and Picasso.
Maybe it’s time we started looking up to Kanye West, the underprivileged kid from the Southside of Chicago who has beaten the odds to fight for his dreams, got there, made mistakes, and continued to fight, like all of the athletes we plan to celebrate on July 26.