How sports columnist Michael Cunningham presses on

I’ve always loved to write. I first realized I was good at it when I won an elementary school contest for a short story about being transported inside video games (Donkey Kong and Dig Dug). Schoolmates I didn’t know approached me to say how much they liked the story. I remember the cool sensation of knowing that an audience felt something from reading my words.

I’ve always loved sports. By high school I was forced to admit that my goal of playing basketball for the Louisville Cardinals was unrealistic. But I learned that I could make a career in sports without playing them.

I did it by combining sports with another love, writing. It was a natural fit.

I’ve covered everything from croquet in rural Kentucky (seriously), to high school basketball in Southern Indiana, to professional teams in championship games (sorry about the Falcons). At each stop I’ve tried to focus on the people who participate in sports while serving the people who watch them.

I love statistics but, ultimately, sports are a human endeavor. The numbers help us understand games. They aren’t the reason we feel something about them.

The games also are big business. People miss that when they say athletes are paid money or receive scholarships to play a kid’s game. Someone is profiting from their labor. There’s always been politics in sports. They are the same as everywhere else in society: who has power and how they use it.

I keep that in mind, too.

People invest time, money (tax dollars included) and emotions into sports. I see my role as their advocate. Holding teams to account for poor performance and mismanagement. Expecting college athletic departments and professional franchises to be responsible civic institutions.

I would never trade access for positive coverage. I also don’t criticize just for a hot take. My guiding principles are fair commentary on verifiable facts with full transparency.

I take my responsibility to readers seriously. I’m thankful when they write me a note to offer feedback, whether positive or negative, on my columns. When people care enough to read them and respond, it means my words made them feel something.

That’s as satisfying now as it was in elementary school.

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