As this is the commencement issue of the Yale Daily News, and since my name will be called sometime on Monday afternoon, this is my last column. It would be easy for me to sit here and write something cheesy about how wonderful everyone involved with Yale athletics is, about how these last four years have represented everything good in our lives (in fact, I just wrote that story and it was easy, but exceedingly crappy).
If I were to use it, I would be cheating you, but mostly I would be cheating myself.
Across 10 states and three time zones, during the regular season and the playoffs, in beautiful weather and in blizzards, I have seen a lot of Yale sporting events in a lot of places, gathering memories — both good and bad — for the last four years.
Being a member of the student media at Yale or at any school is a unique situation because, on the one hand, you’re supposed to be professional and objective, while on the other hand, you’re a fan and classmate of the people whom you’re covering. Most of us strike some kind of balance between these two poles, and it’s a learning experience to determine where exactly you fit on the spectrum between propagandist and negativist.
I’ve always tried to be fair in my commentary — speaking both positively and negatively. As a result, I’ve been called both a shill and a hater of Yale athletes. From my standpoint, I’m glad that both nouns have been directed my way rather than just the one or the other.
Getting back to what I will remember from my time in the sports media at Yale, two stories in particular that I wrote stand out above the rest.
The first one I wrote last fall for the game program of the Harvard football game. It was a profile of linebacker Peter Mazza ’01, the Yale football captain. I already knew a fair amount about him — our high schools were rivals and he was a multisport star. But he and I had never had more than a passing conversation in three years at Yale.
Interviews for this kind of story generally last about 10 minutes and can get pretty formulaic. But something else happened when Peter and I met — we talked for over two hours, going over the extraordinary story of his road to Yale.
He trusted me enough to go more deeply and more personally than most would in an interview, and I think in my piece, I gave him the gravity and respect that he and his story deserved. The piece ended up being the best I wrote in my four years, and I will always be grateful to Peter for trusting me and giving me the opportunity to tell a wonderful story.
The other story I will remember for a long time was from this winter. I was sitting at my desk on a Sunday afternoon, wondering what to write about for my weekly column in this space. As I went over the results of Yale’s contests that weekend, I kept returning to one notion — it was the closest thing to a weekend washout that Yale had seen in my four years.
I figured I had two options. I could write an “all is not lost column” in which I would downplay the losses, or I could write a “weekend washout” column and allude to the all-is-not-lost idea.
I chose the latter, sprinkling in some satire, and after it came out, I received more feedback, both positive and negative, than I had ever gotten for a column. I’ll focus on the negative reactions because they were more useful to me than the compliments.
One team in particular reacted angrily to the column, and I found their varied responses instructive. Some members chose to e-mail me personally, writing generally polite, reasoned replies. Others wrote letters to the editor, and one of them was printed a day or so after my column.
But others on the team decided to send me hate mail over e-mail, and one person sent an “e-mail bomb,” which dumped hundreds of messages into my inbox and ended up shutting down one of the Yale servers for a few hours.
I’m not going to talk about who was right and who was wrong in this argument, but I will say the incident has not dissuaded me from writing or saying something negative if I truly believe it.
What I found more important through all of this was to appreciate the respectful way that most of the offended group chose to deal with me. I didn’t necessarily agree with them, but I could understand their position. And it reminded me that, yes, Yale can be as enlightened as advertised.
So what have I learned in covering and following Yale sports for four years?
Quite a few things, actually, but what I am most aware of now is the need for balance. One certainly cannot be a reporter of any reputable sort without a sense of balance, and I hope I have earned some respect as a journalist for being as honest and objective as possible in my writing and broadcasting.
With regard to being a member of the student media, I enjoyed it so much in the first few semesters at Yale that I took on too much and burned out pretty quickly. It wasn’t until I took a step back and saw that I wasn’t enjoying my life — in fact, I was resenting having to do some of the activities I had chosen for myself in the first place — that I was able to take a look around and determine how I needed to change things. I always knew that I could have fun covering games and thought I could do a pretty good job, but I had to force myself to tweak my life to find some balance.
It’s impossible for me to say whether I’ll be able to keep the equilibrium that I feel right now as I move into the working world next month (God, that’s frightening). I am quite sure, however, that I will live most of my life somewhere between the Peter Mazza story and the e-mail-bombing incident. The trick will be keeping myself as close to the middle as possible, not letting success go to my head, should it come my way, nor allowing adversity to drag me down when it knocks at my door.
In the end, I can only hope all of this has added up to make me a better person. I may get an argument on this, but I feel like I am, because I found the balance in my life. Working in the world of Yale athletics first forced me out of my equilibrium but helped bring it back, and I am indebted to everyone who helped me find my way back.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sit and wait until I hear my name called.
Dan Fleschner is a graduating senior in Calhoun College. He was the men’s hockey beat reporter for the Yale Daily News and the sports director of WYBC radio. Next year he is working for NBC Sports.