Posts Tagged With: Sports

The Lake Effect: Lessons Learned From a Life Well Written

It only took two rings before I was greeted with a cautious “hello.” His voice sounded like he had been debating whether or not to pick up, and understandably so, considering an unknown Connecticut number lit up the screen of the Atlanta-based writer’s phone. But once I nervously, yet proudly asserted that I was one of Matt’s students, his voice smoothed and softened. Our introduction and opening pleasantries gave way to my first question, and then I, the novice, was tasked with interviewing the seasoned professional. And this “seasoned professional” wasn’t just anyone; it was CNN Digital’s senior writer, Thomas Lake.

While Lake now sits atop CNN’s digital news outlet, he never dreamed of holding such a title — that is, he never dreamed of it because he never set out to pursue journalism in the first place. As a student at Herkimer Community College in upstate New York, Lake was a general studies major with little idea of what career he’d pursue, something that followed him even as he began Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts a few years later. However, inspiration finally came when he took a feature writing class with a professor named Steve Crowe.

“I’d always enjoyed writing, and taking this class sort of showed me what the possibilities were,” he said. “That someone could spend their career and actually get paid telling exciting stories — it sounded very appealing to me.”

That wasn’t the only thing Lake got out of Crowe’s class: Crowe helped him land an internship in the fall of his senior year at the Salem News, a paper for which Crowe previously worked. Following his senior year, a young Lake bounced from working at a twice-weekly newspaper in rural Georgia — a paper where he said he “got to make some of [his] worst rookie mistakes on a very small stage” — to serving as a full-time staffer at the Salem Times, to finally landing what he thought was his dream job with the St. Petersburg Times.

But by 2008, Lake was already eyeing his next move and decided to send an email to one of his favorite writers, Gary Smith.

“Amazingly,” Lake said, “he wrote back. I sent him a story I had done at the St. Petersburg Times, and he liked it well enough that he got on the phone to the big boss, the editor of Sports Illustrated in New York, and said, ‘Hey, you should give this kid a chance.’”

And the rest, as they say, is history. He stayed with the magazine until 2015 when his position was eliminated due to budget cuts, then taking his knack for storytelling to CNN as an “outsider” looking in on the complex world of politics. With a book about the 2016 presidential election (“Unprecedented: The Election That Changed Everything”) under his belt, a circuitous career to look back on and more still to come, Lake said the topics he writes about are of little importance; in fact, he doesn’t much care for sports or politics. Instead, he looks for universal themes to transform into rich stories.

“I love finding moments of human drama and split-second decisions people make that have long-term consequences,” he explained, something he certainly achieved in his most famous work, “2 on 5.”

A time-hopping wonder that simultaneously foreshadows and reflects, Lake’s omniscient approach to telling the story of an underdog Alabama basketball team in “2 on 5” shelves the traditional Cinderella story and talks fate, hardship, redemption and demise. For Lake, weaving the intricate tale required some contemplation of his own.

“I think a huge part of the best writing is thinking — stopping and thinking,” he said. “There was so much that I did on that story in particular, just sitting there in silence with no distractions, nothing fragmenting my attention at all and sitting alone in a cheap hotel room.”

It seems that minimizing distraction has been Lake’s MO all along; once he decided to pursue journalism, he’s never once broken his focus, always keeping his eyes fixed on his next move. Even when considering budding journalists, Lake offered more of the same.

“Report and write as much as you can,” he said. “Keep a journal or some other kind of notebook. Sit on the quad and just write descriptions of what you’re seeing — your sensory experiences — because all that just flexes those muscles. Ultimately, you’re only as good as your ability to put experiences into words, and so you’ve got to be practicing that and then reading the best writing.”

I hung up the phone and sat in amazement. “I just spoke to a writer for CNN, a place that maybe I’ll work some day,” I thought. After all, that’s why I wanted to interview him in the first place: to make a connection at an organization where maybe I too could catch one of the lucky breaks that seemed to mark Lake’s own career.

As I reflected on our conversation, a wave of mixed emotions consumed me. I was at once hungry for the experiences he’s had, envious of his writing abilities and hopeful. Hopeful that if I keep writing just like he advised, maybe I could carve out a similar place for myself in journalism. I ran through the rest of the day hearing two rings of the phone and three words echoing in my head: just keep writing.

Appears on the blog 4 North, run by Fairfield University Professor Matt Tullis.
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The pay problem in women’s basketball

The last time the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team lost a game was Nov. 17, 2014. With a winning streak of 104 games (and counting), the team has cemented their place in history, earning an NCAA record for the feat. This is the same storied basketball program that has produced the likes of Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, a two-time WNBA champion and three-time Olympic gold medal winner, as well as nine-time WNBA all-star Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird and 2012 WNBA MVP and New York Liberty center Tina Charles. Yet, despite the accomplishments, women’s basketball at both the collegiate and professional levels faces drastic funding and pay disparities that starkly contrast that of their male counterparts in the NCAA and NBA, an offshoot of the gender pay gap that should not still persist in 2017.

Perhaps the problem in the WNBA begins in the NCAA — that’s at least what the Women’s Sports Foundation argues, and it begins with the amount of money invested into NCAA Division I women’s teams. As of the NCAA’s most recent gender equity report, women’s sports team only received 40 percent of operating funds for college sports and 36 percent of college recruitment spending money. When it comes to scholarship money, 55 percent of NCAA college athletic scholarships went to male athletes while 45 percent went to females, according to their 2014 report.

These figures, however, represent just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the inequities present in the microcosm of NCAA college basketball. Take, for instance, the UConn women’s basketball team’s NCAA tournament success. While women’s tournament appearances merit zero monetary rewards, each game a men’s team plays (excluding championship appearances) “earns the team’s conference roughly $260,000 this year plus $260,000 each of the five following years,” according to the New York Times, “so the total value of a victory in the men’s tournament is approximately $1.56 million.”

The root of such thinking lies in the commercialization of the sport at the college level: if men’s teams bring in more money via television ratings and ticket sales, says the New York Times, the natural thought is to allow the men to reap the rewards monetarily. However, women’s teams do just the same, selling out games and playing live on ESPN, yet they earn nothing for their efforts. And this privileged treatment for men’s basketball teams doesn’t end in the NCAA.

In television broadcasting rights alone, the NBA rakes in $2.6 billion in revenue from ESPN and Turner Sports, reports Newsweek, while the WNBA gets $12 million annually to have their games shown on ESPN — a fee that amounts to less than half of 1 percent of the NBA’s deal. And the disparity only grows more dismal when it comes to player salaries. According to the 2014 WNBA collective bargaining agreement, the 2017 base salary was $40,439, while the maximum veteran’s salary was $113,500. When compared with their male counterparts in the NBA, however, it was a tale of two salaries: the minimum salary for the 2016-2017 season was $543,471, yet the highest surpassed $30 million and the team salary cap hit $94.143 million.

But before NBA and WNBA salaries are justified as a function of the league’s unequal earnings, it may be that WNBA players aren’t getting their due payment after all. VICE Sports estimates that, between ticket sales and broadcasting deals alone, the WNBA’s revenue sits at least $35 million. With 154 players active in 2014 season and the average league salary resting at $75,000 in 2015, VICE Sports estimates that “the WNBA would have paid its players $11,550,000,” a mere 33 percent of the league’s total revenue that starkly contrasts the 50 percent of league revenue imparted to NBA players. “Yet whatever the exact number,” VICE Sports contends, “it appears a significant gender wage gap exists in basketball, with WNBA players only getting — at most — about 0.67 of what NBA players receive, even after adjusting for much higher NBA revenues.”

This reality is not isolated to basketball, either. In tennis, a sport touted as more equitable, quietly serves up a similar story: Roger Federer earned $731,000 for his U.S. Open win in 2015, while Serena Williams earned just $495,000 for achieving the same feat, reports the New York Times. Wimbledon only began paying their male and female victors the same in 2007, after Venus Williams pushed for equal pay in the early-mid 2000s. Yet, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team hit the same pay wall, earning only $2 million for winning the 2015 World Cup, while the men’s team earned $9 million without moving past round 16 in their 2014 World Cup endeavor.

It is clear that the money invested in and paid to female players in the NCAA and WNBA pales in comparison to that which is poured into men’s teams and leagues. Putting all television deals and ticket sales aside, what pay and funding should be based on boils down to the age-old argument that has dominated professional industries since the moment women entered the workplace: equal pay for equal work.

Female basketball players work just as hard as their male counterparts — take UConn, for example. Their current 104-win streak bests the previously-held men’s record (from the UCLA 1970-1974 team) by 16 games. Overall, the women’s program has had 11 national championship-winning teams, while the UConn men’s program has only had four total championship teams in its history.

On a professional scale, female players continue to surpass male basketball players. Stepping beyond the national basketball leagues and onto the world stage, the U.S. Women’s basketball team maintains a 49-game Olympic win streak and eight gold medals in Olympic competition since their 1976 debut in the Games, while the men earned 15 gold medals since their 1936 entrance into the Olympics and extended a 25-game winning streak during the 2016 summer event.

The talent exists in female basketball players, but the investment in them does not. If women’s teams and leagues were taken as seriously as men’s in their moneymaking abilities, perhaps we’d see greater pay parity. But until that day, we’ll have to be content watching women give men a run for their money — literally.

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Marist snaps Stags’ five-game winning streak

All dressed in pink for their annual Play4Kay game on Thursday, Feb. 16, the Stags (14-12, 11-6) were left feeling blue as the Marist Red Foxes (12-15, 9-8) toppled Fairfield’s five-game winning streak by a score of 68-62.

The game — which benefitted the Kay Yow Cancer Fund that honors former North Carolina State University head women’s basketball coach Kay Yow — saw the Stags’ early fire quickly doused by a Marist offense that was dominated by sophomore guard Maura Fitzpatrick. A steal and field goal by Fitzpatrick ignited an 8-3 Marist run over the final five minutes and 20 seconds of the half. She also knocked down each of her three three-point attempts in the quarter, en route to finishing the game with 22 points. Marist carried a 34-26 lead into halftime.

For as good Marist’s offense was in the second quarter, it was their defense that frustrated Fairfield the most. The Stags were held to 36.5 percent shooting for the game by the Red Foxes’ stifling defense, including just 21 percent in the deciding second quarter.

Fairfield, however, kept making runs to keep the game close despite their shooting struggles. Senior Kelsey Carey muscled her way to a 20-point, 13-rebound double-double, posting her seventh 20-point game this season. Fellow Stag Samantha Cooper ‘18 earned a double-double of her own, securing 10 rebounds and 13 total points on the night.

Yet, Fairfield’s efforts fell short: although the Stags outscored the Red Foxes in three out of four quarters, Marist’s persistent defensive pressure on Fairfield held them to 16 points or fewer in all quarters but the fourth.

Fairfield head coach Joe Frager said that this pressure inflicted by Marist was likely the cause of some of the Stags’ offensive woes, which all began in the second quarter.

“The second quarter, I think we took some ill-advised shots,” he said. “I think sometimes, when you struggle on offense, that has an impact on what you’re doing mentally and emotionally on the defensive end of the floor. And I thought we had two or three really bad defensive breakdowns where they hit a flurry of threes right before the end of the second quarter and consequently, Marist had that nice lead going into the locker room.”

With Fairfield’s first loss since Jan. 26 and their second loss of the season to their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference rival, Frager said he doesn’t want the team to dwell on the Marist loss, especially heading into their final road game of the season against Iona College on Sunday, Feb. 19.

“We have to reflect on this game, but we can’t carry this forward with us. We have to use this as a learning tool, but we have to move on to the next game,” he said. “Our biggest problem now is if we take our dejection over this game and let it impact the way we prepare for Iona. We’ve got to be pointed about the mistakes we made and really work to correct those, but we really just have to look forward to the next opponent.”

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