We Are More Than Our Highlights

A few years ago, I read one of the most impactful pieces of journalism I’ve ever read. The piece was “Split Image” by Kate Fagan of ESPNW. It is the story of a 19-year-old runner at Penn named Madison Holleran, whose life seemed perfectly happy and normal on social media and to anyone who knew her tangentially. However, ‘Maddy’ was deeply depressed. Eventually the depression overtook her and she took her life. After reading the piece, I was determined to never look at social media the same. I was always going to make sure I knew what was really going on with those closest to me. Additionally, if there was a time where I could share something that wasn’t a highlight, I was going to.

While there is no way you would know it unless you’re well within my inner circle, the last two weeks have been a struggle. Considering the incomprehensible heartbreak of the setup above, I feel it’s important to say that I’m perfectly okay and was never in any kind of real danger. I was just really, really emotionally spent to the point that it physically hurt.

I think this is important to share because, as Kate’s piece lays out, often social media consists only of our life’s highlights. This is not life. We are far more than our highlights, and sharing these struggles is not meant to bring anyone down. In fact, in sharing how I’ve been able to keep pushing forward, maybe I’ll be able to help lift someone up. We all need a boost. I was able to find mine. Maybe this can be yours. 

The struggles of the last few weeks have taken a few forms. Some are very public. Some are not. I’m sure many of the people reading this are aware we lost a tremendous colleague in Rich Tandler on the Redskins beat a few weeks ago. Not only did that affect me, but it greatly affected many people close to me. That was hard. It still is hard. Life is hard, but we also were able to meet Rich’s family and friends, coming together in a way we otherwise would not have. Even when life is bad, it can bring us good. 

Sometimes that good flies in the face of great evil. I’m not sure I’ve fully processed the massacre in Pittsburgh last weekend, and I’m not sure I ever will. Frankly, I’m not sure I’m capable. It just might be too close to home. My parents and grandmother regularly attend community events at their temple. My sister travels to synagogues all around the country for a living. The ease of which Saturday’s shooting could have literally struck my family is difficult to think about, nevertheless fathom. Just as difficult is the reality that we live in a time and place where there are people who want me and people like me dead because of our religion. That time is 2018 and that place is America.

How are you supposed to find the good in that? Well, you can’t help it when a community responds like Pittsburgh did. The city’s Muslim community raised $70,000 for the shooting’s victims because Islam, like Judaism, is a religion of love and not hate. At vigils, mourners refused to think it was too soon to act on a more massive level, chanting “vote! vote! vote!” ahead of next week’s elections. It’s never too soon to “politicize” a tragedy knowing that a change in our elected officials can change our culture and our laws to make us all safer.

As a side-note: please f’ing vote.

The above compounded a stressful time personally. The details of that are not for a blog other than that stress has all but gone away thanks to the people I care about most and that care the most about me.

Turned out, the formula was somewhat simple. When you care about people, approach them as such. Entering a conversation with someone with the intention showing them you care, no matter what else happens in the conversation, goes a long, long way and it can come back in spades. It allows an honesty that can lead to real progress, whatever that may be based on the problems at hand. This is vague on purpose, as it can easily to apply to almost any meaningful personal or professional relationship.

In this specific instance, I found myself needing my friends and family throughout the past few weeks, but especially when things reached a fever pitch this weekend. I told them I was vulnerable and reached out my hand. They reached back and pulled me up with care.

In order for this to work, it’s imperative that you’re honest as you talk to people about what you’re going through, and that starts with being honest with yourself. It starts with saying “I don’t feel right and I can’t shake it.” If you could shake it, you’d do that. You don’t need to find a solution in that moment. You need to find the people who want to help you find the solution, and that’s a hell of a lot easier to find.

I knew who I could go to and those people came through for me. I had a support system, I leaned on it and it held me up. As mentioned, life is hard. No need to go through it alone.

A stretch like this also makes me realize how lucky I am. I’m completely aware that not everyone can so easily get back on their feet for any number of reasons. Perspective can be powerful at a time like this, too.

As serious as all that is and was, this was a roller-coaster meaning there were highs, too. Some were simple, fun, memorable and meaningful times with some of the same people I referenced above. Others were professionally rewarding experiences. There was even the ultimate high of seeing someone I care about immensely achieve an ultimate dream, leaving me overwhelmed with happiness and pride. However, one other positive in particular stands out in terms of this blog, because it actually gave me the idea to write it.

While in New York, I met an acquaintance named Rachel Mariotti for coffee and a podcast interview. I’ve followed Rachel, a fellow trainer, on Instagram for a while and have always wanted to talk to her about not only fitness, but about her “side job” as a mental health professional. I left the conversation having turned an acquaintance into a friend and a lot of things to think about when it came to relationships and what Rachel calls “mental hygiene.”

Why are certain people in our lives? Are we doing the things we need to to maintain those relationships? Are we maintaining them on the level they deserve?

Additionally, how often do you check in with yourself? Are you doing the things you need to do to make sure you’re okay and are you honest with yourself with where you’re at?

And thus, this blog. For the last few weeks, things weren’t the best, but I heal by sharing. That doesn’t mean I share everything with everyone, but getting the thoughts out is therapeutic.

I’m doing better now, but it took real work and real help from people who I sincerely love, and thankfully they’ve continuously loved me back. I’m not afraid to admit that. Nobody’s life is great all the time. We are more than our highlights, and that’s more important to share than the highlights themselves.

Thanks, Mike & Mike

When I was a child, Mike & Mike was a part of my morning routine. I was roughly in 5th grade when the radio show I had listened to before it left my local dial moved to TV on ESPNNews. In whatever year that was, cable boxes were fairly new and the standard wasn't to have them on every TV like it is now. A cable box was meant for the main TV in the house, which for us was downstairs in our living room. ESPNNews was only available on the TV with the cable box.

That meant every morning I would wake up, as quickly as I sleepily could, gather my clothes and meander downstairs. I would get dressed in the living room so that I could watch more of Mike & Mike. I'd then make breakfast (hopefully timed to a commercial break) and then move back to the living room and eat it. Not watching was not an option.

As the years went by Mike & Mike's reach spread, and so did the number of cable boxes in my house. I kept watching through high school and on into college.

In college, I found radio for myself. I was hosting talk shows essentially on the foundation of what I had learned from Mike Greenberg. As I developed my style and grew on that foundation, there were other shows that probably had a bigger influence, but there is zero question the foundation was laid by Mike & Mike.

As I advanced in my radio career, two of my most influential mentors were former Mike & Mike producers. Eventually I got to intern at ESPN and made it a point to spend a morning on their show. I wish I had some memorable story of our interaction, but it was 6am and the guys were getting ready to work. They were nice. They let me watch. Greeny was eating an avocado. Then suddenly it was show time.

Whether it was listening to them, watching them or learning from the people they've touched, I doubt I am where I am today without Mike & Mike. That sounds heavy. It is true. Congrats on an incredible run and best wishes to what's next. Just moments ago I watched Greeny and Golic sign off with a "thank you." All I could think was, "no, thank you."

The Beat 2.0

When I wrote on this blog in January of 2016 after getting laid off, I hypothesized that if I could stay in DC and do the exact same thing I had been doing, I'd be very happy. Little did I know that exactly two years to the day that I started working in DC, that I'd be offered that exact opportunity.

Last Thursday morning, I was offered the Redskins Beat Reporter position at 106.7 The Fan. I have accepted it. I am elated.

I can't go any further without acknowledging the last man who had this job. Brian McNally is one of the finest men I have ever worked with and one of the best teammates I've ever had. He was a pro's pro and he embodies everything that is right about journalism, nevertheless his humanity.

The night we found out Brian was moving on, he and I met and he encouraged me to pursue the position. His friendship, first as a competitor when I worked for ESPN 980 and then as an open-armed teammate as I came to The Fan has meant as much to me as any professional relationship I've ever had. Filling his shoes is an enormous task, and if I do it it will be in no small part thanks to how much better he's made me over the last year.

The person entrusting me to do that is Chris Kinard, my program director. We should all be so lucky to work for a boss like Chris. He's someone who communicates clearly what he wants, listens to questions and suggestions and gives answers and feedback straight. More than that, he's a human first. We can talk about human things. There's a real relationship there that started in a coffee shop around the corner from our station in the month following my layoff from 980. It's one that's grown over the past year of working together and one that will continue to grow over what is hopefully many years to come.

Belief is a powerful thing. Belief in self is required through hard times, but belief from others who you respect is uplifting. Part of the reason I believe I can do this job is because CK believes I can do it, and he's good enough at his job to help me be good at mine. It sounds simple. It's rarer than it should be. I know what I have and I appreciate it more than I can put into words.

When I was laid off, probably the biggest disappointment was feeling like I had unfinished business in DC. Chris gave me an opportunity to continue working, first part-time and now full-time. It might be dramatic to say I owe him my career, but the way the business is going I can't say for sure I would've gotten a lot of other shots. He gave me one in a city I love being in and had no desire to leave. Now time to live up to what I can do and pay him back.

The two years in this city have been an unbelievable ride. I came to DC nervous, but driven. The things I was nervous about came to fruition six months later. Six months of unemployed wilderness followed, which was both a personal and professional test.

Last July, as I was literally running out of money and wondering what the future held, everything changed, but it wasn't just from a text from Chris that said "I may have something for you." It was a chance someone else took on me that's changed my life in ways I couldn't have imagined.

I walked into Courtney Diep's office at Sport & Health as a person who had covered athletes as a journalist, grew up in a gym, but had zero training experience and wanted a job doing just that. Luckily for me, I walked in at the right time. She (soon to become we) were a little thin staffed, so a person with a little knowledge, a lot of time and a willingness to learn was someone she was willing to to invest in.

All the things I said about Chris I could also say about Courtney. Somehow I had two dream bosses at once. She set a high standard, but helped me reach it. She encouraged me to learn. She challenged me to be better, and she was willing to deal with my pain in the ass schedule.

It takes a special kind of person to agree to employ someone when they know that job isn't the top priority, but Courtney took that risk and helped me discover a passion that I otherwise never would have gotten to pursue. If you're an "everything happens for a reason" person, than my last year working in the fitness industry is a story you can tell.

I will absolutely continue to train, simply because I love it. I love working with people. I love helping them reach their goals. I love learning and trying things, and I can in the fitness world in a way that I can't as a reporter. It's a completely different use of my creativity and while I'll have to scale back, I can't imagine giving it up now. In January, Courtney left us to pursue an amazing opportunity, and fortunately our assistant fitness director, Lisa, was elevated in her place. Lisa has operated with the same caring, kindness and understanding that Courtney did and I am SO thankful she's going to allow me to stay on with our team and is still willing to work with my now even more pain in the ass schedule!

The gym gave me more than something to do and a (much needed) paycheck, though. It gave me some of the best friends I've ever had in my life.

When you're 27 years old, it's weird to have a boss that is 4 years younger than you. It's weirder for that boss to become your best friend. Enter Sam Gunther. Sam is our head of EP at OneLife (we changed names in January) and he started about a month after me. We just clicked. I don't think there's a whole lot of magic to it. We're two guys who like sports, like to workout, love to learn and try new things and really like bad (GOOD) fast food. Oh and we really like FIFA. Lots of FIFA.

As I started training, Branden Allen was my guide. I learned a lot studying to become certified. I learned a lot more from Branden. We worked out nearly every day for six months as I got started, and he simultaneously got me into the best shape of my life. In doing so, he taught me to help others do the same. More than that, he became an incredible friend. Spend 30 seconds with Branden and he'll be your friend, too. It's just how he is. And he laughs at everything. Which is great. Because most of my jokes suck.

The gym gave me a consistency that I hadn't previously had in DC. I came, hit the ground running, ran into a wall and wandered through the wilderness thanks to radio. I needed to find some solid ground. These people gave me that ground, while allowing me to still pursue my media career. What's amazing is, nobody pushed me harder towards this job than Branden and Sam. For Sam specifically, that's counter productive to his own goals. He's running a department that over the last year we have built to destroy all previous records and expectations. Now I will be dramatically less involved in that department. He did not and does not care. That's pretty special.

Fitness opened new doors for me in the athletic world, too, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my Train With The Best Podcast team of Chris Gorres and Lorenzo Alexander. Chris has become a friend and mentor. Every time I talk with him, I come away smarter. He allowed me to tag along with him to workouts and workshops and every single time I came away a better trainer and better person for it. He's just an extremely special guy and I'm glad to know our partnership and friendship isn't going anywhere. 

Lorenzo deserves a shoutout as well. It's not common that a pro athlete that will let a media member join in on their summer workouts, nevertheless invite them just because. Lorenzo did, and that allowed me not only to learn what it takes to play at the highest level, but to have so many discussions where I was exposed to new perspectives that will help me do my job as a reporter better.

Last, but not least I have to thank my family and apologize to my sister. She just got a new job, and she got to have the shiny new label for a whole whopping two weeks. Whoops. Sorry, sis. I know she wouldn't have it any other way though. Her support and encouragement are one of the things that keeps me going.

Meanwhile, my parents literally help keep me afloat. They always know just the right chord to strike to push through a tough time or keep me moving in the right direction when things are going well. As I've gotten older, I've grown to appreciate just how much they do. I'll never be able to repay them, though I have a list somewhere of literal money I owe them. Maybe I'll be able to give them a dollar or two of that soon. All I can do is try to make them proud, and I know not giving up on my dream and continuing to push forward has made them so. That, above all, is the ultimate satisfaction.

Time to go to work.

Craig

Podcast/Radio Schedule: Week of 7/9

Train With The Best Podcast

Episode 19 | Derek Carr

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr joins us to talk about his rise to and success in the NFL. We touch on his relationship with his brother, his trainer and more. Check it out here:

The Hoffman Show

Sunday, 7/9/17

I talk about the Wizards decision to match Otto Porter's max contract and more with.

Monday, 7/10/17

I'll discuss the Nats at the All-Star Break, kick off Kirk Cousins contract week and more.

7:00 - Bryan Curtis, The Ringer

8:00 - Robert Flores, NFL Network

9:00 - Chase Hughes, CSN Mid-Atlantic

Podcast/Radio Schedule: Weekend of 7/2

Train With The Best Podcast

This week's edition recaps the Perform Better Summit and NBA Draft.

 

7/2 Hoffman Show

9a-12p on 106.7 The Fan

I'll be discussing the open of NBA Free Agency, why we shouldn't compare NFL and NBA money and more on Sunday's show. Listen:

7/3 Hoffman Show

11a-2p on 106.7 The Fan

11 am - Thom Loverro, 106.7 The Fan

11:15 am - Neil Greenberg, Washington Post

1 pm - Lorenzo Alexander, Buffalo Bills

1:30 pm - Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN