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Pragada: Anecdotes from my Sports Life

Courtesy of Bobby Pragada

Content Warning: This piece contains discussions about mental health and suicide that may be troubling to some readers.

I am a big believer in explaining things through anecdotes. It’s very sports-writerly of me to want to narrativize the arc of my experience. Here are a few moments for you to meditate on:

I love to tell people that I joined the sports section of the Stanford Daily on accident. It was winter quarter of my sophomore year, and I was looking for a new club to join. Someone forwarded me an email advertising The Daily, so I clicked on the applications. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about, but as I scrolled through the sections, I noticed how intricate their apps were. Arts & Life wanted me to write a film review, Opinions wanted me to include a column. Finally, I arrived at Sports, where the toughest question included asked, “Who is your favorite athlete?”

“That’s easy!” I thought to myself, “B-L-A-K-E B-O-R-T-L-E-S.” I knew right then that Sports was the place for me.

From that moment, I became addicted to sports writing. I loved the process of watching a game, and attempting to communicate as much of the physical experience as possible to readers who were and weren’t present. I loved gathering quotes to tell a story as vividly as possible. I loved seeing the emotions on the players’ faces after brutal losses and incredible upsets. Stanford is legitimately an unbelievable anomaly of accomplishment; there’s nowhere else on the planet where you have as incredible academics as you do athletics. We won SIX national titles this year. SIX. The only other school to do that? Stanford. In ’96-’97, which, coincidentally, is the year I (and most of the class of 2019) was born.

I also love to tell people now that if I were to go back and apply to college again, I wouldn’t want to attend a school that didn’t have an active D1 sports program. Stanford Athletics has become such an integral part of my life that I can’t imagine college without it.

But beyond the view from the newsroom, I’ve seen some crazy sports shit during my four years on this campus. I witnessed the insanity of Christian McCaffrey’s Heisman campaign, Conrad Ukropina’s game-winning field goal against Notre Dame to send the Cardinal to the Rose Bowl, McCaffrey’s punch in the mouth kickoff runback in said Rose Bowl while the Band pissed off the entire state of Iowa with the FarmersOnly.com jingle.

I got to beat write for three years and two national championships of what I call the “Generation of Miracles,” the insane 2016 women’s volleyball recruiting class of Jenna Gray, Morgan Hentz, Kathryn Plummer and Audriana Fitzmorris.

I got to play sports while studying abroad in the United Kingdom, sports I’d never even seen before: polo, cricket and my personal favorite, octopush. I watched future NBA players Deandre Ayton, Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and Jaylen Brown come into Maples Pavilion and light up our men’s basketball team. I saw my classmates Bryce Love and Justin Reid get drafted into the NFL.

I’ve witnessed the process of new coaches completely changing the cultures of their teams: Kevin Hambly, David Esquer, Jerod Haase. I got to work with the greatest women’s basketball coach of all time: the legendary Tara Van Der Veer.

I saw the Big Game get canceled for the first time since JFK’s assassination and broke the news about it. I was here for the biggest admissions scandal in college history, bothering the Stanford media relations staff for quotes about the sailing coach.

I became so obsessed with sports that I wrote my senior honors thesis (66 pages!!!) about collegiate wrestling. And, most importantly, I got to see the Stanford Cardinal win four straight Big Games on their way to the longest Axe streak in history (suck it, Cal).

But there’s one other thing I’d like to tell you, before I end the last article I will write during my time here as an undergraduate. A final anecdote which I think is crucial to read (assuming anyone is still reading this).

During the spring quarter of my junior year, I was one of the managing editors of the Sports section (Vol. 253). But by Week 3, I had stopped going to all of my classes. I had stopped leaving my room, for the most part. I had stopped eating. I slept for 16+ hours a day. I was lonely. I was scared. One day, sitting by myself in my dorm room, I spent a long time contemplating an attempt to kill myself by dropping a brick onto my temple.

Stanford is overwhelming. There’s no way around that fact. The number of insane expectations, the amount of work, the feelings of endangerment, not belonging, existing within an institution which seems at times to de-prioritize mental health, all within a larger context of an experience that is often tailored against you. This place is as draining as it is empowering.

But I didn’t bash myself in the head with a brick. I talked to my friends instead. I learned that I wasn’t alone, and that I could leave Stanford, that not everything was about school. And so I withdrew from school, with the support of everyone I loved, including the people at The Daily. I will always, always remember the kind messages that my former editor-in-chief Courtney Douglas sent me when she found out I had left.

I refocused my frame of mind. I moved to Cleveland. I worked for Fox Sports Ohio and sat in the cheap seats at Indians games nearly every weekend. Sports helped me heal. And when I came back in the fall, I was more ready than ever to take on the world. I revamped the sports section and did everything I could to make the new sports writers — whom I love more than anything in this world — feel loved and safe and helped and valued and part of a larger Daily community. I built the current Sports section from the foundation up, and the writers and the content they produce bring me more joy and pride than anything else in my life.

Wow, that was a lot. Thanks for making it this far, dear reader. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Stanford is incredible, the athletics are genuinely incredible, the paper is incredible, the people are incredible. But this place can be incredible while also being incredibly flawed, it can let people slip through the cracks and struggle while seeming to ignore them. It can overwhelm you to a point you never thought possible. Both of those things can be true at the same exact time. The key to navigating everything is to find people you love.

I suppose I just want anyone who reads this to remember any anecdote of their own: a poetry reading, the fifth time you saw “Avengers: Endgame,” an a cappella concert, a rally in White Plaza, a cool bird you saw by Lake Lag, Ryan Burns’ 70 yard comeback drive against UCLA against Josh Rosen in 2016, or the time last year that Bryce Love broke the school’s rushing record against UCLA. Think about how special that anecdote is to you, and how you felt when you experienced it.

I’m willing to bet that there was at least one person right next to you, a person you shared that experience with, who has brought as much joy — if not more — into your life, who enhanced that moment beyond just what it truly was. Sports (much like life) are always better when there’s someone you love cheering alongside you. Thank you to The Stanford Daily for providing me with these anecdotes, and those people.

Oh, and one last thing. I would be remiss if the final two words I ever print in this newspaper were not the following: Go Jaguars.

Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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