Skype-a-palooza

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Last week in my journalism class at Chapman University, I had my students read a wonderful piece written by Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald. Then, once that ended, Steve Skyped in and spoke with the class.

It was lovely and personal and cool, and toward the end of our three hours together I told everyone, “Next week, I’m gonna put together a Skype-a-palooza.”

Today was Skype-a-palooza.

Our session is three hours. Over the course of the past week I lined up eight speakers, and asked each one if they’d be OK with 20 minutes of Skype (or FaceTime). I wanted folks who were interesting; folks with stories to tell; folks who understood media or challenges or success or, truly, all of the above. Although a good number of my contacts are sports-related, this is not a class filled with fans of athletics. So I needed to diversify and think outside the box.

It was fantastic.

Tomi from afar ...

Tomi from afar …

First up was Tomi Lahren from TheBlaze. I know Tomi from a few months back, when ite devoted a segment to tearing me to pieces for a dumb Tweet. She was justified, and I was impressed with her style and approach. Do I agree with her takes? Eh, pretty much never. But who cares? After she took me to task, I reached out on Twitter and we’ve struck up a nice friendship.

Tomi was terrific. She’s only 23, so students could relate. She spoke on how a young person can excel in modern media, and why people often underestimate someone her age. It was inspiring stuff, and you could feel an energy when she spoke.

Reggie Williams: Take risks ...

Reggie Williams: Take risks …

Second came Reggie Williams, the founder and CEO of Ambrosia for Heads, the fabulous hip-hop website. Reggie is a Harvard-educated lawyer who, after working for (among others) MTV and BET, broke off to start his own web enterprise. Reggie devoted a good chunk of time to the idea of taking career risks; how it’s easy to remain safe and content, but little reward comes without at least taking a stab. It was the sort of message students need to hear.

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Matthew Laurance: Pursue passion …

Third came Matthew Laurance, and I didn’t know how this would go. Matthew is one of the absolute nicest humanoids on the planet, and his two careers (first as an actor in films like “Eddie and the Cruisers” and famously, as David Silver’s father on “Beverly Hills 90210”; now as sports broadcaster) speak to the beauty of transitional life decisions. But most of my students weren’t even alive when 90210 reigned, and “Eddie and the Cruisers” does not exist to them.

Well, Matthew killed it. Awesome, awesome, awesome. Funny stories, tremendous life anecdotes, and the powerful saga of a guy who decided he wanted to act—and went for it.

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Ryan Grant: College athletes need to be paid …

Fourth was Ryan Grant, the former Green Bay Packers halfback. I know Ryan from researching my Brett Favre biography, and he’s an absolute gem. First, there are no typical athlete cliches. Second, he’s v-e-r-y real. Ryan devoted a valuable chunk of time to the NCAA, and how he was a star at Notre Dame and, simultaneously, sometimes short on food. He said what many jocks are afraid to utter: Athletes are meat, seen as disposable slabs by universities and professional teams.

It was painfully eye opening.

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Matt Sandusky: Ode to courage …

After Ryan came Matt Sandusky, and this was an emotional one. Matt is the adopted son of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach and convicted child molester. I know Matt from a Bleacher Report story of last year, and have great respect for his emotional openness. I was particularly interested in Matt’s ability to talk about his own abuse—day after day after day—in the name of raising awareness. I asked if he considered it heaven or hell.

He wasn’t entirely sure.

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Pedro Gomez: Still pinches himself …

My final guest was Pedro Gomez, the ESPN baseball reporter and one of the best guys in the business. Pedro is in his 50s; has been covering baseball forever and ever. I asked if he ever tires of the gig, and he smiled. No, he said. Never. Throughout his segment you felt the excitement; the love; the continued sense of wonder that he is able to do this for a living.

Really, that’s what I wanted from Skype-a-palooza—to show my gang that, with love and passion and drive, you can devote your days and weeks and years to your calling, not merely a paycheck.

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