Over the summer, I taught the University’s incoming freshmen a lesson to take to heart as they entered the school.
This time around, I had to learn a bit of a lesson myself.
Midway through reading Chris Broussard’s story on our own Rob Thomas in ESPN the Magazine, I wondered why the Torch hadn’t first uncovered the story.
I found it hard to believe that a player on one of the University’s most popular athletic teams could have a past as gut-wrenching as Thomas’and that his own school paper hadn’t first reported it.
What’s more, I was shocked to find that Broussard, mainly an NBA reporter for ESPN, was the one to report the college basketball story.
It’s the classic tail-between-the-legs scenario, embarrassing in the ultra-competitive sports journalism world.
And so I read about how Thomas slept on subway cars and hid on rooftops from child service caseworkers looking to put him in foster care and about how he used to wear the same pair of underwear and socks for months at a time due to his family’s extreme poverty.
I read about his immense basketball talent and how he bounced around different high schools due to academic struggles.
I read about how he eventually wound up at South Kent prep school in Connecticut. I read about how he faked knowing how to read.
I read about his dyslexia, his ankle and knee injuries at both South Kent and here at St. John’s, and the depression and weight gain that ensued.
Again I questioned how the Torch could have been so blind to it all.
But as I read about how Thomas worked his way out of the adversity, how he’s gradually become more confident in the classroom and how he hopes to one day own and renovate the building in Harlem he grew up in, I began to realize that it didn’t matter who reported the story. There’s something even bigger that I missed.
It’s not just that we didn’t know about the story – which I, as the section’s editor, take full responsibility for – it’s that we didn’t care.
News didn’t surround him the way it did others, and we as a news organization chose to focus our reporting efforts elsewhere.Last season, Thomas was coming off a torn ACL, LCL, and lateral meniscus, injuries the team’s trainer called the “Worst knee injury I’ve seen in 29 years at the school.” He didn’t have the sex appeal of Anthony Mason, Jr. or the disappointing track record of head coach Norm Roberts with the club.
And it’s a damn shame.We knew Thomas was going to have some sort of impact on the team last year. We knew that Roberts and others close to the team were excited to see what he could do on the floor.
Rob Thomas the Basketball Player was all we seemed to care about. We didn’t know about Rob Thomas the Person because we didn’t think to ask.
The sports world cares too much about the on-field endeavors of athletes. We overlook the fact that athletes are real people living in the real world who face the same problems that we do. It’s only when those problems become too grandiose that we analyze them.Somewhere along the line, I began to overlook it too.
I immersed my section in thoughts of goalkeeping competitions, pitching woes and wins and losses. I focused on who the teams were on the field and lost sight of who the players are as people off it.
Not anymore. Broussard’s story helped take away the “meat market” philosophy I took to athletics.
I referred to Thomas earlier as one of “our own,” and that’s because it’s exactly what he is. He’s one of us.
He is a St. John’s student who has roommates and friends. He endures the food in Montgoris and has papers to write.
Through Broussard’s story, we have found that Thomas has obstacles in his life to overcome as well.
Through Broussard’s story, I now understand that the people I cover week-to-week are people nonetheless.