a, Behind the Bench, Sports

Taking pride in those who represent us

When you finish something you were heavily invested in, it’s natural to question whether it was all worth the effort; and if you’re a journalist, it’s natural to write a column like this. In my four years at the Tribune, I’ve had the opportunity to do some incredible things. I’ve interviewed professional athletes and coaches, seen the guts of NHL arenas, and rubbed shoulders with well-known sports journalists in both the press box and post-game scrums. Those things are exciting, but there’s something more, something deeper.

When I look back on the experience, those moments may last in the ever-increasing number of quick “I was here” photos on my Blackberry, but they won’t bring back the same kind of feelings as others. Some are simple ones, like the smell of popcorn, or the “creative” chants of a well-lubricated Carnival Game hockey crowd. Other memories are more poignant: the jubilation of a Martlet soccer penalty kick to send the team to the national semifinals on home turf; the unbridled joy of our hockey players winning trophy after trophy; the determination of a written-off basketball team at its first national tournament in decades; and yes, the overwhelming despair as seagulls flew out of Molson Stadium to avoid watching another football blowout at the hands of the Rouge-et-Or.

Few McGill students remember these things, aside from those who were involved. Each of us has our own individual experiences, which together form the stories of our time here. These memories are important, but the ones that are more powerful are those shared with others, when we feel like we’re part of something greater than ourselves.

I have found that belonging in the world of sports. As student journalists, our experience is experiencing and describing yours. As a sports journalist, mine has been closely woven with those of so many student athletes. Almost none of them know my name, and many of you don’t know theirs; but what links us together is that we feel proud when they succeed; when they win, they feel like they’re doing it for us.

It’s time we were more vocal of our pride in these remarkable men and women, each of them students, but in reality much more. Branded as jocks and slackers, athletes don’t get much sympathy from the McGill community. But think, for a moment, what these athletes—our classmates—are doing. We should not be under an illusion that they are akin to their NCAA counterparts, with lucrative contracts and endorsements awaiting upon graduation. Our athletes devote incredible amounts of time to their respective sports, but even more to their schoolwork. They, like us, will all need to find jobs when they graduate. For all but a miniscule fraction, that job will not be in sports. They devote their time because they love their sport, and they take pride in pulling on the red and white and representing us on fields, courts, and rinks across the province and country.

Over Reading Week I had the privilege to travel to Ottawa to cover the Redmen basketball team’s experience at the National Championship tournament—their first in over 30 years. In their second game, they faced the Cape Breton Capers, a school of just 2,000 students, nearly 10 per cent of whom had travelled two days by bus to support their team for the weekend. McGill’s fans came on Friday, and then left. Cape Breton’s fans took pride in their team and in their school. There may be better talent at the Bell Centre, and more things to do in Montreal than Sydney, Nova Scotia, but we should still ask ourselves: why isn’t it cool to take pride in our teams?

The first ever hockey player I interviewed as a Tribune reporter was Redmen goalie Hubert Morin. I interviewed him again after his last game at McGill, which consequently was also mine. When I finished my questions I thanked Hubert, and he thanked me. Though we know nothing more about each other than that we each like hockey and go to McGill, our experiences over four years were somehow tied. There was an invisible and unmistakable bond between us.

If I’m back here in 10 years smelling the popcorn and watching another hockey game, I’ll be proud of those players, too. Why? Because we’re part of a community greater than ourselves, of people who applaud when others succeed. Our university could use a little more of that.

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