My year at YDN: Did someone say penile frostbite?

We’re at the end of the year, and I’m at the end of my time in this space.

I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to write here and for the responses I received from readers all year. In this final column, I want to answer two readers who took the time to share their thoughts with me.

In November I wrote a column about poker. I didn’t mean the column to be too serious: The ultimate point was that I’m no good at the game, and I don’t play because I don’t like to lose money. The column, unexpectedly, elicited a strong response.

Three people responded on the Web site, though I think two were friends of mine who were trying out the new comment feature. I also received e-mails — more e-mails than I received about any other column. And they were all from the same person.

I got eight e-mails that afternoon from the director of the Sled Dog Action Coalition. “If you should write about cruel Iditarod,” the subject of the first e-mail read. The message detailed the many ways sled dogs suffer during the Iditarod, the long and cold annual race across Alaska. Quoting others, citing statistics and painting vivid images, the e-mail was comprehensive and driven by one goal.

The director (whom I will allow to remain unnamed) wrote, “I ask that if you ever write about the Iditarod, please tell your readers the truth about the cruelties dogs are forced to endure in the race. The race has a long, well-documented history of dog deaths, illnesses and injuries and shouldn’t be hyped.” I had never thought to hype the Iditarod, but apparently I had come too close to thinking about it.

My education had just begun.

The seven e-mails that followed included articles and statistics outlining the extent of the dogs’ suffering, as well as the specific ways in which they suffer. The list was long, dramatic, and graphic. I had never before heard about penile frostbite, and I had no idea that it was a concern for any sizeable population, human or animal. I am now very aware of the danger.

At first I was confused: Why was I hearing about the Iditarod when I had written about poker? But I found the answer quickly, since it was in the second paragraph of the column.

Concerned that readers might ignore a sports column about poker, I had explained that anything broadcast by ESPN counts as a sport to me. “Next week, I may write about bass fishing or the Iditarod. This week you get poker,” I wrote. ESPN equals sports, ESPN covers poker, therefore poker equals sport. It was silly logic backed up with a stupid half-joke, but I had written it. And this is what happened because of it.

I’m still coming to appreciate the power of the Internet. The response to that column showed me how far and fast anything can travel online. I had written a column in Connecticut and heard little from readers in New Haven, yet someone in Alaska had read it that day and let me know how she felt. Scratch that. The Sled Dog Action Coalition is based in Florida, according to its Web site. Had the news gone through Alaska? Or do Floridians read the News every day?

Actually, I figured, neither. Thanks to news aggregators like Google News, interested citizens now have instant access to every article written anywhere about the subjects they care about. I imagine the director of the Sled Dog Action Coalition doesn’t check yaledailynews.com every morning, but I bet she searches “Iditarod,” as well as “sled dog,” “animal cruelty,” and “penile frostbite” regularly. If she’s really tech-savvy, she has automatic alerts set up to notify her when sports columnists like me make casual references to dog races. Then she sets the record straight.

Those e-mails weren’t the only ones I appreciated. Perhaps the most touching reader response came after a column I wrote early in the year on being a sports fan at Yale. It’s hard, I wrote, to root for your home team without the team on TV or other fans to watch with. I learned I wasn’t alone with that feeling.

The day the column came out I received an e-mail from an alum and a fellow Mets fan. Jerry Smith ’61 wrote to me to tell me he enjoyed reading about the Mets and about my experiences as a baseball fan at Yale. “I can relate to your experience of finding baseball fans at Yale,” he wrote. “I can remember about 50 years ago when the Yankees were playing the Milwaukee Braves in the World Series. In those days, the World Series was played during the day. The TV rooms around campus all had the game on and there were always a few students who didn’t have afternoon classes or labs watching the games. I never liked the Yankees and enjoyed watching the Braves win it all 50 years ago.”

I wrote columns for another six months knowing that people not only read what I wrote, but they often cared about it. I did my best to give you something you would read — if only because of random words tucked in or because you loyally read this paper — and something you would care about. If I ever succeeded, I’m glad.

Thanks for reading.

Pete Martin is a sophomore in Morse College. His column appears every Thursday.

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