By Ben Friedl
Throughout my first month as a Medill graduate student, anticipation and buzz has been gradually growing for Northwestern’s Homecoming Weekend. This is because Medill alumni from across the industry would be descending upon Chicago, ready and willing to divulge their knowledge upon current Medill students.
As a sports specialization student, I was excited about the prospect of interacting with potential alums with a vast amount of success in the industry. Then I found out that Kevin Blackistone would be speaking to us that weekend as part of his induction into the Medill Hall of Achievement, and I couldn’t wait for Homecoming to come.
I grew up as a regular viewer of ESPN’s Around the Horn, so sports journalists like Blackistone and current Medill Director of Sports Journalism J.A. Adande were figures whose verbal and written voices became a critical part of my daily media diet. Therefore, having the opportunity to attend Blackistone’s talk, which would be moderated by Adande, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an aspiring sports journalist.
The event began with opening remarks from Medill Interim Dean Charles Whitaker, a long-time friend of Blackistone.
“From the moment Kevin Blackistone arrived on campus in 1977, we knew that he was destined for greatness,” Whitaker said.
Having spent a large portion of his career covering the intersection of sports and social issues, Blackistone wasted no time in giving us advice on how to handle this controversial reality.
“Write the truth, and then duck,” Blackistone said with a laugh. “As journalists, we have to write about uncomfortable truths. We have the ability and platform to help people think otherwise about given issues.”
This advice really resonated with me, as navigating the relationship between racial issues, politics, and sports is both a pertinent challenge as well as a hotly contested topic facing modern day sports journalists.
Blackistone continued by stating that “Social issues and sports have always been on the same track, just not acknowledged. Therefore, it’s our job as journalists to combat this toxic atmosphere around what is factual and what is not.”
Given the backlash sports journalists have faced regarding being outspoken about political topics, I admired Blackistone’s unabashed honesty. It is our duty as future journalists to practice reporting what is factual, even if the subject matter does not sit well with audience members.
Throughout my time limited time in the MSJ program, Medill’s prioritization of teaching journalists how to seek truth in an objective and empathetic fashion has really stood out to me. Consequently, listening to the experiences of prominent journalists such as Blackistone, it is clear to see how Medill has played an instrumental role in crafting successful and effective journalists.
After the panel, Medill Sports Specialization students assembled outside over pizza, blown away by what we had just heard and how opportunities like this wouldn’t be possible outside of Medill. Personally, it seems like only a short time ago that I was sitting on my living room couch — transfixed by the analysis and input provided by both Adande and Blackistone on Around the Horn. Now, I have the opportunity to interact and learn from both.