The Collegian
Monday, March 27, 2023

Don't give up on sports

Though the accomplishments of Richmond student-athletes continue to impress me each week, the first month of the fall sports season has not gone exactly as I would have hoped.

Ordinarily, I love it when sports stories make it to the front page. But during the past two weeks, people associated with Richmond athletics have been the subject of front-page sports stories that bring negative attention to the university's department of athletics.

On Monday, Sept. 8, President Edward Ayers e-mailed students about an NCAA investigation into text messages and phone calls that men's and women's basketball coaches used to contact recruits, a violation of NCAA rules.

On Tuesday, Sept. 16, Steven Gerstenfeld, the former men's tennis coach, was indicted on charges of receiving child pornography through subscriptions to at least six Web sites. He paid for those subscriptions using a PayPal account and his Richmond e-mail address.

These are the kinds of stories that I hate to read and, even more, to write. I am happiest when covering games that highlight athletes' talents, not investigating infractions within athletic programs.

When these breaking sports stories have come up, I thought of the pilot of "Sports Night," a show about the people who work for a nightly sports news show called -- you guessed it -- "Sports Night." I was young enough when the show aired from 1998 to 2000 that I never watched it, but I have watched the entire series at least once a year since my mom bought it on DVD when I was in high school.

One of the top sports stories during the pilot was about an athlete who was arrested in a strip bar after a fight. This story pushes Casey McCall, the recently divorced co-anchor of "Sports Night," to consider quitting his job, because he feels as if he is reporting crimes instead of sports.

But another of the top stories on "Sports Night" is a feature about a 41-year-old South African distance runner named Ntozake Nelson. Doctors had said Nelson might never walk again after injuries he suffered when he led protests against the white majority, but he ran a 15,000-meter race that night and set a world record.

It is this feat, by someone McCall had probably never heard of before that week, that restores his faith in sports and convinces him to keep his job for the rest of the series. Even though I've been unhappy to see front-page stories that place some of the university's coaching staff in a negative light, I have tried to distract myself by looking for inspiring stories such as Nelson's.

People will sometimes make mistakes. But don't let those mistakes define them, their teams or this university.

One of the biggest stories in major league baseball this season has been the progress of Josh Hamilton, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' first-round draft pick in 1999 who had a number of season-ending injuries that kept him in the minor leagues.

Hamilton became addicted to drugs and spent three seasons -- 2003 to 2005 -- out of baseball. His first week of sobriety was during October 2005, and he committed to overcoming his addiction.

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Hamilton played for the Cincinnati Reds last year and had his first hit, a home run, during his second game of the season. This season, as a Texas Ranger, he leads the team with 124 runs batted in -- third in the American League -- and 31 home runs -- eight in the American League -- which earned him a spot on the 2008 All-Star roster.

It's rare to see the person who diminishes my love of sports also be the one to restore it, but for every story about an athlete wasting his potential -- as Hamilton himself thought he was -- there are many more stories about athletes exceeding theirs.

From the pros -- the Tampa Bay Rays clinching a postseason berth in the American League East division and their first winning season during the history of the program -- to the amateurs -- my 13-year-old sister scoring the game-winning goal during her soccer game last week -- there are a number of athletes willing to remind me why I decided when I was in seventh grade that I wanted to spend the rest of my life covering sports.

It's far too early during the fall season and the school year to be negative about Richmond sports. When I pick which athletes to feature in Spider Insider every week, there is never a shortage of options.

Several weeks ago, one of the members of The Collegian staff asked me when I started liking sports, and why. I honestly can't remember a time that I haven't loved sports, as a spectator even more than as an athlete.

Sports stories are often human interest stories; most of my favorite sports movies are appealing less because the characters are the kind of people you want to do well not just in sports, but in life.

When I pick up a newspaper during times of national or international crisis, I can turn to the sports section and read at least one story that highlights success instead of failure. Never forget about those moments of success because of a few instances of failure.

Your favorite MLB team may soon see the end of its 2008 season, but there's no way your favorite NFL team is doomed just yet. Spend your time enjoying what's to come instead of lamenting what has already happened.

In an ideal world, I would never have to interview anyone whose job title has to do with enforcement -- of the law, of league rules or anything else I wouldn't want broken. I can't count on that, but I do know that I won't go looking for a new job because of it.

Whether an unknown 41-year-old South African runner has to set a world record or your favorite athlete has to have the amazing game you've always hoped for, there will always be someone who's playing well enough that, even if it's just for a minute, you aren't thinking about what anyone else has done. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I love sports.

Contact staff writer Barrett Neale at

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