Four months ago, when I left my part-time position as a writer-editor with The Athletic, I did so hesitantly.
Two years earlier, Brett Popplewell – he of the most talent in this country at turning sports into storytelling – convinced me that if ever I was given the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone in sports journalism that I should do it. Experience covering crime scenes and daily news at the Toronto Star helped him develop equal parts as a writer and researcher, he told me.
My mom loves to remind me that I was impossible to settle as a baby and young child, that I needed constant reassurance. As I got older, I worried about everything. I worried about tense relationships between my two older brothers and my parents. I worried about my parents’ relationship. I worried incessantly about getting to places on time. I obsessed needlessly over achieving good grades out of fear of creating trouble at home if I didn’t. I didn’t want to let anyone down.
We don’t want athletes to be like us. We dissect everything that is “other” about them. We pick them apart on highlight reels, in newspapers, and online only to discover that there’s something about them that we can’t quite put our finger on — something bigger.
As a sportswriter, you are taught to capture what goes “beyond the game.” You learn to search for greatness, find those that are the least like you and plant them on a pedestal for the masses to admire from below.
Oftentimes, though, we explore this greatness and elevate these people to the point where they aren’t people. Journalism is an exploration of people. Sports journalism might not be, or can get caught pretending to be one.
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.
When news broke about the Toronto Maple Leafs’ pursuit of Arizona Coyotes assistant to the general manager and goalie coach Sean Burke, I naturally began to read about him, and prepare a piece.
Almost immediately, I stumbled across news reports from 1997 and 1998 on Burke’s history with domestic violence, stemming from having allegedly beat his wife several times, tearing out her hair. In my story, titled “Who is Sean Burke?”, I wrote the following in the second to last paragraph.
I’ve been engaged in the massive world of hockey-related debate since I began writing in print and online nearly five years ago.
In that time, the debate in the hockey community hasn’t lacked its controversial issues. We’ve seen huge reform to the rules and guidelines that manage contact to the head and the procedures that follow with players and staff. We’ve seen a bitter, bitter lockout. We’ve debated endlessly about the role of fighting in hockey and slowly but surely, we’ve seen the number of fighting majors decrease. The list goes on.