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Parting Shot: Finding A Place for Sports Amidst the Apathy

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I still vividly remember March 10, 2020, the day the Ivy League canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournament. By doing so, the league awarded Yale — the regular season champions — the automatic bid to March Madness. I was filled with rage, a burning sense of unfairness, and despair at the idea that I might never be able to cover Harvard men’s basketball at the NCAA tournament, which had been my dream since I assumed the men’s basketball beat my sophomore year.

But less than a week later, like so many on campus and around the world, my perspective had shifted entirely. March Madness had been canceled, as had the rest of the semester in person, and nothing relating to basketball seemed important anymore.

A year and a half later, I returned to campus this fall as a 23-year-old super senior. Despite my age, I was oddly worried about finding my way at Harvard again, not entirely dissimilar from how I felt the fall of my freshman year. I remember going to the Activities Fair — cynical at the prospect of actually finding an organization I wanted to join — and stumbling upon Crimson Sports. Nearly five years later, I find myself feeling nostalgic, unable to escape the feeling that my relationship with the Sports Board has come full circle.

There are many things about Harvard that differentiate it from the typical college experience. One of the most salient examples of that, for me, is the general disregard with which Harvard students engage with sports. From half-hearted attendance to the actual game at Harvard-Yale and lackluster enthusiasm about the Beanpot or other unique opportunities to cheer on the Crimson, to snide remarks and opinion pieces about the role of athletics at our school, there is no shortage of criticism or indifference levied towards Harvard sports.

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Although I certainly didn’t expect Harvard to have the same school spirit and enthusiasm as one might find at a state school, sports had always been a huge part of my life. Joining Crimson Sports brought me a haven in which people revel in sharing ESPN+ highlights and obscure Ivy League sports tweets, a place I never knew I needed on campus until I became a part of it. A place where the 4:50 a.m. later winter wakeups that countless athletes undertake are viewed with admiration, not apathy.

Four and a half years later, as I reflect upon my time here in Cambridge in the nine days before I graduate, my appreciation for the Crimson Sports Board and all it has given me has grown immensely.

When I first joined the Sports Board as a freshman with Joey Minatel and Eamon McLoughlin, two members in my comp class who would become close friends, I didn’t have any expectations for what my involvement would look like. Two months later, I was thrust into the heat of an Ivy League basketball season, covering the women’s basketball team and its run to the inaugural Ivy League tournament. For my next three years on campus, I covered the men’s basketball team, a privilege that is on a very short list of experiences that have truly defined my time at Harvard.

Although the team never reached March Madness in my time on campus, writing the men’s basketball beat for three seasons afforded me opportunities few student journalists could ever dream of.

Harvard’s game in early 2019 in front of over 21,000 at the hallowed Dean Dome — home of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels — and asking legendary Coach Roy Williams a question, as I sat next to reporters from ESPN and The Athletic. Interviewing Jeremy Lin in the Atlanta Hawks locker room for my piece on his time at Harvard, as future Hall-of-Famer Vince Carter watched from just feet away. Conducting hour-long zoom interviews with MLB pitcher Brent Suter and NFL tight end Anthony Firkser — members of Harvard’s impressive list of alumni in sports — for my podcast, The River Rundown, which I couldn’t have hosted without my friend and multimedia whiz kid, Zing Gee. These are just a few of the memories I feel immensely grateful to have experienced through the Sports Board of The Crimson.

There have been countless wins I know I will never forget. From watching Harvard baseball clinch a place in the NCAA tournament after a dramatic win over Columbia, to watching Bryce Aiken hit a buzzer-beating three from nearly half-court to tie the game in a instant classic triple overtime win against Columbia on the hardwood, the moments in Cambridge have been truly unforgettable.

Growing up a basketball fan in New York City and watching the legendary Georgetown program dominate Big East tournaments at Madison Square Garden, I would have never imagined the opportunity to watch Harvard, my school, beat the Hoyas in Washington D.C., to win in the NIT. I have been able to witness so many athletic achievements and highlights that I know I will always associate with my time covering sports.

Crimson Sports has also afforded me the opportunity to deepen my relationships with many of Harvard’s incredible students. When I first joined the board, I was mentored and supported by an incredible cast of characters, hosted in upperclassmen dorms for watch parties and mixers alike. Years later, I hope I have been able to play a similar role, as I have watched the composition of Crimson Sports continue to evolve into a fantastic, social, and passionate group of Harvard students. Moving forward, I know the Sports Board is in exceptional hands with Alex Wilson and Griffin Wong steering the ship.

I feel thankful to Coach Tommy Amaker, as well as many members of the men’s basketball team, who I have gotten to know and appreciate as people off of the court. There are few coaches, if any, that do a better job espousing the importance of the student portion of the “student-athlete.” The opportunities and exposure that Coach Amaker provides for his players, from the Breakfast Club, to meeting Jimmy Carter and Supreme Court Justices, makes Harvard men’s basketball one of the most unique programs in the country.

I am also grateful to my roommate and close friend, Howard Johnson, who has served as the manager of the basketball team since freshman year, with whom I have been able to share road-trips across the Ivy League and countless score-checks on the ESPN app.

Lastly, but certainly not least, there have been the stories I feel privileged to have written. There are individuals that have always inspired me in more ways that I could ever express in words. The story of Reed Farley, who returned from a torn ACL and multiple meniscus reconstructions to play one final time after 755 days away from game action, and someone I now call a friend. Countless articles regaling the impressive play of Seth Towns, to say nothing of his advocacy off of the court; of all the stories I have written, few, if any, have meant more than chronicling the importance of athletic advocacy in professional sports in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last summer.

Being a part of the Sports Board has given me more than I could ever have imagined. In my final days here, and in my final story for this newspaper, I am filled with an immense amount of gratitude for the people with whom I have gotten to share Sports. I am thankful to the athletes and coaches who have committed themselves so deeply to sports at Harvard, and to all of those who have read along these past four and a half years.

Joining the Sports Board inspired me, in many respects, to pursue a career in sports. This summer, I’ll move to Colorado to start working in the front office of the Rockies, a path I can honestly say has been significantly impacted by my experience with Crimson Sports. A special thank you to Spencer Morris, Henry Zhu, and Will Boggs for everything you guys have done to inspire me and the rest of the group.

Being a part of the Sports Board has been an honor and a privilege. Amid the apathy towards sports that can sometimes reign supreme at Harvard, I hope that countless future students that love sports can have the same incredible experience that I’ve had.

— Staff writer Amir Mamdani can be reached at amir.mamdani@thecrimson.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @AmirMamdani22.

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