Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Open Letter to the Editor: McCreath calls out Telegram for nasty MUN Volleyball article

Dear Telegram, I'm sure that your regular readers will agree that your paper generally does a great job at not only providing us with important news stories, but do so in a manner that is morally correct. There should be a moral obligation on all media to tell stories about people, both positive and negative, in a way that respects their dignity.  The times you have covered stories about my life, one that frequently delves into controversial and taboo topics, I have been extremely satisfied with the way in which my stories, and specifically, my hardships, have been reported through a lens of compassion, dignity, and respect. 

As 5-time finisher of the Newfoundland Provincial Marathon, 5-time finisher of the Cape to Cabot, 2-time finisher of the Boston Marathon, and 2-time World Outgames Gold Medalist (marathon running and distance swimming), it should not come as any surprise that I pay close attention to the local sports scene here in St. John's.

With all of this in mind, I was extremely shocked and saddened to read John Browne's article in the January 15, 2013 edition, in which he criticized the Memorial University Seahawks (MUN) Women's Volleyball team. While I will agree that a 2-7 record is not necessarily desirable, perhaps Mr. Browne, and the rest of your organization, needs to be reminded of the true fundamental objectives and values of University sports. Furthermore, I'd call upon him and your publication to be specifically more sensitive towards this year's team, given all that went down this summer with the tragic death of their team captain, Erin Bursey.

First of all, I don't care what team you are talking about, be it amateur or professional, if you take away their best player, and add in the tragedy of having that player lose their life suddenly, it will not only affect the emotions of the team, but it is likely to leave a huge gap in terms of personnel, and in strategic game schemes. Taking would-be Libero, Erin, away from this team, is kind of like taking Quarterback, Tom Brady, away from the New England Patriots. In fact, this is perhaps even more of an impact. It's not like there's a roster of 52 players and thousands of free agents to chose from, to replace Erin, like there would be in the National Football League. 

Secondly, let me remind Mr. Browne that we are talking about Atlantic Canada varsity here, not professional sports.  While we all like to win volleyball games and win championships, at this level, participating in sports is about so much more.  Being on a sports team not only teaches these young students some valuable life lessons in teamwork, it keeps them in good physical shape, and grooms them to become among the province's best community leaders, and role models, upon graduation from school. Our neighbours to the south have a catch phrase that sums this up: "Most collegiate athletes will go pro in something other than sports."

Could our volleyball players spend more time on the practice courts? Perhaps. But you know, I'd much rather they divvy up their time to equally to do the many other things that are important in their lives - specifically, time in the classroom and study halls, and time in the community, where I know many of the players devote free time to helping make this city and this world a better place. The girls on this team are hard-working strong-character people. They have overcome so many emotions this past summer just to even get to the point where they can step back onto a volleyball court. I was in the Fieldhouse on June 30, when we all said goodbye to Erin, and I could see the pain and heartbreak in each and every player, as I looked into their eyes that day.

The last thing these girls need is an ignorant, vulture-like, journalist, taking cheap shots at them. Mr. Browne says talk is cheap? Well, first of all, the girls backed it up the next day with a 3-0 victorious sweep of the same St. Francis Xavier team that they lost to the night before. So Browne, feel free to eat crow for those comments!  Furthermore, let me remind you that many of these girls are mentors to high school volleyball players all over the province. In a province where our obesity rates are among the highest in the country, the last thing we need is to discourage teenagers from getting involved in sports, especially young girls, who seem less encouraged to get into sports than young boys, in many cases. The threat of being bashed in the media is definitely not going to help encourage any of these young athletes to pursue sports and taking it to the next level. These girls are trying hard to make the best of a tough situation and a tough year. Additionally, these girls aren't just volleyball players and students, they are daughters, siblings, girlfriends, and best friends too. Family and friends of these athletes around the country will have read that article too, and I am sure they are equally as disgusted.  

I keep thinking back to the infamous tirade by Oklahoma State college football coach Mike Gundy, who sounded off at a press conference in 2007, after a local journalist wrote an article attacking his quarterback. Gundy said, "Don't attack an amateur athlete who does everything right, but might not play well on a Saturday. Come after me, I'm a man, I'm 40!" 

Well, although, as you know, I have worked so hard the past five years trying to prove I am 'not a man', that this has become my legacy; ironically enough, I do turn 40 later this year! So I'll echo Gundy's sentiment and I'll step up to the plate and go to bat for these young women that I admire and respect so much. If you want to write a nasty article, don't go after our ladies volleyball team, come after me! Within the next month or two, I intend to formally throw my name into the fray for a seat on St. John's City Council, so as our September election approaches, I promise you many great opportunities to give me critical attention and sell more papers!

In closing, I'd like to challenge Mr. Browne, and your entire organization, to not only apologize, but to take proactive action to do whatever you can to promote this team and promote the selling of all remaining tickets to the final four lady Seahawks volleyball home games, and the playoff tournament that they will host.  Let's fill the building each of these nights, and win or lose, let's come together as a City and as a community and show these hard-working girls the love and respect that they all surely deserve. 

Jennifer McCreath
M2F Transition Consultant
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
Founder - NPATH.net

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