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Evolution of a Sports Columnist

I figure that I’ve neglected my personal blog long enough. But it’s not because I stopped writing or anything.

What’s always been interesting to me is that I’ve probably written more in the last year and a half than at any point in time as a writer. And sure, some of those words have gone to the long-delayed work-in-progress, The Gray Summer. You’d think after crossing the 40,000-word mark, I’d be somewhere close to done.

But another writing project has taken up my time, and the ironic part is that it’s something that should have never really been available to me. And it definitely isn’t something that I thought would turn into what it’s become.

In May 2014, I had been reading my Twitter feed as I usually do, when I visited More Than a Fan: Cleveland, a local offshoot of the More Than a Fan Network. I don’t exactly remember what piece I had clicked on, but I did notice that they were looking for a Cleveland State columnist still. I had seen it once before a couple of months before, and I really thought somebody would have already started for them.

Of course, I tend to overestimate the interest in Cleveland State. That’s what happens when you have two degrees from there, I suppose.

With the post still open, I got a hold of the guy in charge at the time, Dan Zaleski. I follow him on Twitter and was already familiar with some of the work he had done on the site. As surprised as I was that the position was opened, he was just as surprised that I was interested. After a couple of back-and-forth e-mails, I was the site’s Cleveland State columnist.

At the time, I figured that all it would be is an opportunity to spout off on CSU, as I had done in so many places before up to that point. Because of that, there was no real need to pull punches. So, I started swinging away at everyone and everything: Athletic director John Parry, the Wolstein Center, the fan base (or lack thereof), the Northeast Ohio Media Group, etc.

I never really thought it would ever really go anywhere. After all, I was (and still am) an opinionated guy, so I wasn’t looking for access to anything.

But then I got contacted on Twitter by Cleveland State’s sports information director, Greg Murphy. He got my e-mail address to send me releases and left the door open to get press credentials.

This was a pretty big deal. For anyone who has known me, there was a moment in time that the prospect of my sitting in Press Row at a Cleveland State basketball game would have been the equivalent of Lord Voldemort being asked to teach Defense of the Dark Arts at Hogwarts.

There was a good reason for that, too. After all, I had dedicated much of my free time from the end of 2001 to March of 2003 publicly trying to get rid of the head coach at the time. And people from CSU have long memories.

But then came December 3, 2014. And there I was, sitting at the press table for the Cleveland State-Toledo game. The Vikings lost, and again, I pulled no punches in the subsequent column.

And it hit me. After nearly seven months of denying it, I had, at that moment, felt like I was part of the media again. I hadn’t been able to say that for a long time.

When basketball season was over, I started to take a good look at the rest of the landscape that was Cleveland State athletics. I noticed that nobody outside of campus was really paying much attention. This is a Division I school. Shouldn’t somebody?

That person, for whatever reason, soon became me. I was even breaking news. When forward Anton Grady transferred to Wichita State, I was the first local guy he told. When the CSU wrestling team was temporarily defunded, I was all over it. And in the summertime, when nobody was writing about Cleveland State at all, there I was.

What I have found interesting throughout the time I’ve been writing in the capacity is that as much as I kept hearing about how nobody cares, I started to see that this isn’t necessarily the case. Sure, this is the argument that keeps pretty much everybody else from jumping headlong into this,but there is an audience. You have to work much harder to find people to read, but it’s there.

And that’s probably the most important thing I have taken away from all of this. As with any vehicle, be it fiction, non-fiction, poetry or journalism, writing is the easy part. It’s what comes afterwards that’s what will draw attention to what you do.

What should be interesting to anybody who is starting to write is that it shouldn’t matter what the perception is of what you’re writing about. Take college newspapers, for example. If you’re given access to cover any sports, do it, especially if it’s for a Division I school.

Think about it for a minute. When you graduate, there’s a very high likelihood that you’ll be applying to writing jobs where you’ll be asked to cover some of the most obscure subjects. What will it look like if all the samples you have to send in are the same opinion pieces on major sports teams that you can find on any blog online?

Don’t be afraid to embrace the obscure. And don’t worry about who’s reading it. It may seem sometimes that you’re doing a lot of work for nothing, and, truth be told, that feeling never goes away. However, if you work on it long enough, eventually you’ll find your niche.

Mind you, you may not get a reader base the size of Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback, but you can find enough loyal readers that you can build your passion into something a little more than what you may have originally set out to do.

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