Beyond the Bison: The ride

Julian Dorey, Senior Writer

It feels weird sitting down to write this “Beyond the Bison” column for the final time.

Frankly, I wasn’t sure what route I should go with this. I thought that maybe I should just close it off with another weekly take on a national sports story (which is what the “Beyond the Bison” column calls for, after all).  But in the end, I thought it would be cool to take you, my readers, behind the scenes of what has truly been my privilege to write for this paper throughout the past four years.

Before I came to the University, I was just a die-hard, Philadelphia sports fan from South Jersey (now that I got my foot out the door, I think it’s reasonable to finally give that away). Growing up, I was pretty small and stocky (somehow I eventually “grew up”)–so watching and analyzing physical sports like football and basketball were about the closest I could come to truly living them (at least baseball, soccer, and golf were there to fill the void). From a young age, my friends and classmates always jokingly referred to me as “Mr. ESPN.”

I always had an opinion, I guess.

By the time I was finishing middle school, I realized that I also had a passion for writing. Since I was young enough to read, I have loved to read sports columns. So many of the writers whose articles I read religiously simply “spit fire” every day in pieces that were often in the 500-1,000 word range. To me, that took both a special kind of style and magic.

Guys from the Philadelphia Inquirer like Bill Lyons, Phil Jasner, Stan Hochman, and Stephen A. Smith (yes–the same Stephen A. Smith who has since seemingly sold his soul and intellect to our modern day reactionary media machine. Believe it or not, there was a day when he was just a tremendous writer without a major profile or ego), literally had the ability to change my entire approach to the latest news through their written opinion. They exemplified a source of art at its highest form.

So, when I started high school in the fall of 2007, I decided to try my hand in their line of business when I became the national sports columnist for our humble student paper. I started off a little flat, I’m sure, but the more I practiced it, the smoother I got. By the time I graduated, I was sure that this was a craft I wanted to continue developing in college.

After all the orientation hoopla subsided and I settled into my first week of classes here in Lewisburg, the first organization I sought to become a part of was The Bucknellian. I vividly remember emailing the editor-in-chief and asking if I could write a national sports column for the paper. Truthfully, I hadn’t even picked up an old copy yet.

I had no idea what it looked like, what sections it had, how many articles were in it–nothing.

Talk about being prepared.

When I heard back from some editors, they told me that the paper didn’t currently have a national sports column–and, to their knowledge, it hadn’t had one any time recently. I saw a great opportunity and I asked right away if I could write a “trial” piece to see if I could get myself into the rotation.

Luckily for me, they agreed to it right away–and the rest, as they say, was history.

For four years, I have enjoyed the autonomy of writing about absolutely anything I want at any article length (up to around 1,100 words) that I want. I’d say that was pretty solid literary freedom by any standard.

Anyone who knows me knows that I stay busy and I’m always on the move for something. Thus, I didn’t exactly plan to spend two to three hours a week writing an article. All my editors required of me was that I gave them my final draft (maybe now I can safely admit my “final” draft was always my only one) by Wednesday each week. So every Tuesday or Wednesday, I made a habit of carving out 45 minutes to write about whatever the big story was that week–or whatever sports-related topic I had been wrestling with myself.

It was always the same process each week. I would think of a topic (I usually hit a “jackpot” within 30 seconds), consider where I stood on it, and then make a title.

Now–about the titles. Almost since the beginning of my tenure writing the column, you have probably noticed that every article title is a quote. Some people may have picked up on it (most probably didn’t)–but every single quote was the title of an episode from either “The Sopranos” or “The Wire”–and, later, “Breaking Bad” as well. If you haven’t taken the time to watch those three dramas, they are (in that order) the three finest TV shows ever made, in my opinion.

Why, you ask, did I use the titles of their episodes for my columns?

Believe it or not, it really didn’t have all that much to do with my own personal interests in the shows. Rather, I recognized that each show focused on a completely different set of perspectives of American society and the cultures, themes, lifestyles, and interests that encompass it. They all did it in such a beautiful, well-constructed way that I found that each of them had a way of relating to our own day-to-day experiences.

Because sports are such a pillar of our generalized American culture, the idea of the titles just kind of, well, “clicked” for me. So each week, once I had my topic and my opinion on it set in stone, I simply scanned the episode titles and, inevitably, found one that fit the bill.

Call it stupid, call it innovative–I don’t think it’s either. It was just a little personal touch to give readers something with which to differentiate my articles from the millions of other sports columns that constitute our sports media lexicon in today’s internet age.

The actual columns really wrote themselves after that. Once I had the topic, theme, and title, I knew what I wanted to say and I let it all out onto the page. I wrote fast and furiously (I’m not even going to apologize for that word choice) so that I could try and maintain that “non-stop twist, turn, and punch” style that made so many of the columnists I read growing up so great. I think the key with any opinion column is to constantly re-engage the reader. Whether it’s through quick cuts with one-liners, repeats of a phrase for emphasis, or a quick run-through and response to every critical part of a topic–keeping readers on their feet is what a columnist really has to go for.

After years of reading sports columnists of all different styles–who all found a way to accomplish this effect–I have to say I just had a feel for it as I wrote. When something was dragged out, contrived, or repetitive, the backspace key was in full force before the period even hit the page. I really think that writing any slower would have taken away from the natural tone of my writing.

Feel, style, and written results are one thing, but, as a de-facto sports analyst, the analysis and opinions I wrote are also a part of my personal writing review. With that in mind, now would be the time to make it clear that I haven’t always been right in these columns.

Far from it.

While I’m proud to say I wrote plenty of later-proven “correct” opinions, I certainly don’t glance over the missteps I’ve had. I once, for example, (not that long ago) declared Redskins QB, Kirk Cousins, a rising star with a bright future (in an effort to shed light on Robert Griffin III’s futility).

When you form and communicate opinions, you have to accept the fact that being wrong some of the time is inevitable.

An opinion columnist is fixated in the very center of that world. So right, wrong, or indifferent, I am proud to say that I put my opinions out there for anyone to read–and I can sleep fine at night knowing that maybe some of my initial thoughts weren’t always on the right wavelength in hindsight. I enjoyed writing every article because my emotions worked their way onto the page every time.

Writing of all kinds has proven to be a great outlet for expressing how we feel–even when it comes to things as inconsequential as our favorite teams.

Obviously, I would be remiss if I did not recognize the tremendous collegiate paper, The Bucknellian, which has given me this outlet throughout my entire college experience.

I have worked with a different sports editor almost every semester (Barbara Bell ’18, Doug Hendry ’17, Emily Evancho ’16, Lauren Boone ’15, Andrew Arnao ’14, Alex Wagner ’15, and Chris McCree ’14)–and they were all tremendous at what they did.

The editors organize every issue, assign articles, stay on the top of the writers, edit the pieces (a painstaking task), and then churn it out on paper (and online) by every Friday morning. Their efforts have never ceased to amaze me and I have always felt the least I could do was give them something decent every week. I hope I did.

All the editors at The Bucknellian put in so much time every day to make our school’s paper as great as it is (a lot more time than I do, I can assure you that)–and it’s important that we all recognize them and thank them. I have to especially thank Emily, who was my editor when I was studying abroad in Rome last year. It’s easy to get disconnected from things back home when you’re not there–and I felt terrible when it was around 9 p.m. (Rome time) every Wednesday and I realized I had forgotten about my article.

Let’s just say there were a few “interesting” takes I had to throw together in the heat of the moment during those several months.

As I finish this final article and move on to the next chapter of my life after college, I take comfort in the fact that sports are an entertaining outlet that will always be there for me. Whether or not I’m writing about what has been my greatest personal interest in life, I know that following professional and college sports is and always will be a great passion of mine. I have had a blast writing about what I love during my time here at the University, and I hope someone can step in and keep the “Beyond the Bison” column going after I’m gone.

Before I sign my name for the last time, though, I would like to offer one simple piece of advice:

If you love something, do everything you can to stay involved with it.

When you go off to college, you are at the point in your life when you begin to think about your futureyour dreams, hopes, and aspirations. Sometimes your own expectations, personal pressures, or reservations cloud your judgment and lead you to lose sight of the things you truly love. I was lucky enough to recognize that I loved professional and collegiate sports, and writing about them. No matter what I wanted to do with my life, I valued the opportunity to write about sports as a hobby during college.

With my own great experience at The Bucknellian in mind, I hope that everyone–particularly first-years, who have so much left to learn and experience here at the University–can make the most of the opportunities our school has to offer. Whether your personal passion is writing about sports, investing in stocks, or serving your community, chances are you have an opportunity to involve yourself in your interests here.

Do it.

I did–and I loved every second of it.

Thanks for reading.

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