At Boston College I publish the majority of my writing through The Gavel, a progressive online publication now in its fifth year. As an editor of the sports section I own an unedited, raw window for my ideas. That said I try my best to create a voice for myself. I draw inspiration from a wide range of people that include the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy to Dave Portnoy ("El Prez") at Barstool Sports. The day I find it impossible to voice my own uninterrupted opinion, the day I stop writing. Never lose your voice. Write with conviction and integrity, plain and simple.
My journey as a sports journalist has its fair share of long, twisting roots. Look no further than Shrewsbury's Estabrook Road to witness my sports obsession in a time capsule. The backyard of our family home still offers the same mystique of a mini-Fenway Park. Left field's "gray-monster" witnessed some of the greatest wiffle-ball moon-shots at the expense of my inability to throw over the plate. Walk downstairs and risk stepping on a New England Patriots championship DVD, or two, while Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito watch you from their autographed frames. My older brother, Mark, has his own mini Hall of Fame. Half the wall belongs to All-State certificates, district championship plaques and an endless stream of Varsity Letters from Saint John's High School. Yes, life revolved completely around sports in the Kotsopoulos household.
Just imagine my reaction when the Vineyard Gazette called asking me to interview Bob Ryan.
For nearly the last half-century, Ryan and Boston sports grew hand-in-hand together. A beat writer for the great Boston Celtics teams of the 70s and 80s, the sports guru turned into a household name for his controversial headlines and fearless opinions. For those of us born and raised in New England, Bob Ryan shaped the way we viewed sports with a brutally honest, salty take best suited for the region. Bostonians accepted Bob Ryan as one of their own, even despite his Trenton roots.
Just recently the Martha's Vineyard Book Festival invited Ryan to attend a celebration of his memoir, Scribe: My Life in Sports. The Vineyard Gazette needed someone to cover the celebrity appearance and they thought I deserved a shot at a challenge. Having only submitted a single piece to the newspaper beforehand, my news reporting skills felt mediocre to say the least. Of course I accepted the offer. Who in their right mind wouldn't? I grew up watching this man rant about baseball's drug problems and the NBA's broken draft lottery for the better part of my life. This story fit me perfectly.
Martha's Vineyard draws plenty of celebrities. My older brother met Ray Allen while working as a bar-back in Oak Bluffs -- a mere few weeks after the All-Star won the NBA Finals with the Boston Celtics. In Chilmark my younger brother, seven-years-old at the time, recognized the voice of Woody from Toy Story at one of the old general stores. Little did Max know Tom Hanks keeps a low profile and hates flashing cameras while on vacation. He looked less than pleased when Max tried sneaking in a picture from behind a vending machine.
Everybody knows Barack Obama visits the island every year. James Taylor and Carly Simon have close ties to the island as well. I still remember sitting on my father's shoulders trying to catch a glimpse of Bill Clinton eat dinner at the end of Circuit Ave. Even today's high-profile names featuring the likes of Johnny Manziel and Tim Wakefield flock to the Vineyard for vacation. The list goes on and on.
Despite running into my fair share of celebrities on island, I felt unusually star-struck having the chance to finally interview one. To make matters complicated, I needed to interview Bob Ryan over the phone, not in person. This meant me frantically scribbling down whatever words he breathed, praying my cell phone had enough data not to crash. A million different thoughts rushed through my mind. Do I ask questions just about his book? Might that annoy him? Will he act rude? What if I sound like an idiot? Naturally, I overanalyzed everything to the point I felt anxious asking the man what sport he enjoyed most.
To my amazement, I finished the interview without a single problem. Mr. Ryan proved incredibly classy and sincere, making sure to repeat himself when needed and speak slowly. His laid back demeanor put me at ease. He constantly joked about the modern NBA, even giving his two cents about the DeAndre Jordan fiasco as if talking to an old college friend. My phone experienced a few technical difficulties that tend to frustrate most people. Not him though. Ryan just laughed it off, knowing what it felt like to first enter the field of journalism at such a young age.
At the end of the day, I felt relieved knowing a celebrity acted human for once. The fact Bob Ryan but aside his ego and gave me a chance really inspired me to pursue future journalism opportunities. A week later I found myself interviewing Sally Taylor, daughter of James Taylor and Carly Simon. I no longer feared asking questions with answers most people wanted to hear. Much like Bob, Sally invited me in and set aside her celebrity status. Neither of us felt above the other. After all, we each have our own equally important story to tell.
I just happen to tell it.