Earl Zukerman is an icon. The Sports Information Officer has been a fixture in the McGill Athletics department for the past 44 years, spending much of his career working seven-day weeks, at times covering 30 to 40 events during the homecoming weekend.
Zukerman, or “Zukster” to his close friends, has lived in Montreal his whole life. While he did not initially grow up watching or playing sports—he described himself as more of a bookish child—Zukerman became fascinated with sports at the age of 10 when he started following the Montreal Canadiens, Expos, and Alouettes.
“You know, when parents put their kids in sports, I was never put into that,” Zukerman told The Tribune in an interview. “I only played [in] the street with friends [or] in the park. But once I got to around [the age of 10] […] I started following pro sports from that time on. It has really been my main interest most of my life since then.”
After arriving at the university, Zukerman discovered a whole new world of sports.
“At McGill, we have 26 teams now. But going back a few years, we used to have up to 50 teams. So in the role that I’ve been in, you have to sort of be an expert in all sports.”
Zukerman, who oversees media relations for McGill Athletics and serves as the main communication point for all McGill varsity teams, started off his writing career as a journalist and Sports Editor for The McGill Daily. Game coverage soon turned into investigations of McGill’s rich sports history, yielding some interesting results.
“It’s pretty set that James Naismith, a McGill graduate, invented basketball pretty much overnight,” Zukerman said.
While McGill reports facing Harvard in the first-ever modern football game, and McGill is arguably the birthplace of hockey, Zukerman explained that defining the origins of these sports is a bit trickier.
“Their origins are a bit murky, because it depends on what form of the game you’re playing,” Zukerman said. “For example, if a bunch of kids are playing hockey in the street, is that hockey? So there’s a debate about how you define hockey and how you define football. And depending on how you define it, then the game could be invented in Canada […] or it could be invented elsewhere.”
After coming to McGill in 1976 as an undergraduate student, Zukerman never left. He’s witnessed 10 of McGill’s 11 National Championships, just missing the 1972 swimming title. Many of his best memories are from McGill and the connections he has made in the sports world, such as his friendship with former Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, BEd ‘86. He has even been granted several once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
“I got to drink out of the Stanley Cup three times […] I am not a huge beer fan, but drinking a cold beer out of the Stanley Cup was just amazing. Truly amazing. I did that in 2008, with Detroit. And then I had the opportunity to celebrate Stanley Cups with Los Angeles in 2014 and Chicago in 2015,” Zukerman recounted.
“Another moment that comes to mind is, in 2001, I went to Beijing for the World University Games as a communications officer with the Canadian contingent and walked on the Great Wall of China. I didn’t really think much of it before I got there, but when I got on the Wall, and you saw how far it was, and you saw how old it was, I found that really to be a moving moment.”
While he has had an amazing career filled with incredible highlights and more championship rings than he has fingers, Zukerman still has dreams for McGill’s future. For one, he would love to see improvements to the athletics facilities because many of them are quite old and run-down.
“If we go down to an NCAA school, most of the big schools, if you go into their gym, and their arenas and their facilities, it’s mind-blowing,” Zuckerman said. “Some of them are better than professional teams. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to that level. But I would certainly like to see improvements.”
While Zukerman has no plans to go anywhere in the next few years—he hopes to be the first person at any university to reach 50 years as a sports information officer—he is confident that sports will always be a part of his life.
I am so impressed with the great Earl the Pearl, who started as a young boy watching sports on TV and being a regular call in on the radio sports shows. All of that interest and dedication to sports led to his true calling at McGill. He is deeply devoted to all the athletes, his teams, his duties as a journalist and his never ending commitment to McGill. He is one for the books as an example of hard work and dedication to his love of sports. He is also generous and caring, thoughtful and provokes a good discussion. He is always right and seldom wrong as Dad used to say! He is my big brother and I love him!
Many thanks for the kind words Audrey. Love you too!!
A fitting tribute to a sports icon. Earl the Pearl, you are the man. Cheers.