SNHU Commencement 2013 Speaker – Bob Ryan

SNHU Commencement 2013 Speaker – Bob Ryan


Today we confer with an
honorary degree Bob Ryan. Often referred to as the
quintessential American sports writer and a basketball
guru, Bob Ryan is a name well known
in sports world, a man whose passion for
the game of basketball won him a seat at the Boston
Globe in 1969, where he went on to become the Celtics
beat writer and later the general sports
columnist in 1989. He has covered multiple
championships and all four primary pro sports, 11
Olympic games, 29 Final Fours. In August of 2012,
after 44 years of working for the
same daily newspaper, Bob retired his post as
a full-time columnist for the Globe. A 1968 graduate of Boston
College, Bob majored in history and started his career
the Boston Globe directly after graduating. He is a member of
five Halls of Fame and has received numerous
awards, including the 2000 AP National Sportswriter
of the Year and the 2006 Dick Schaap Award
for Outstanding Journalism and has been named
the NSSA’s National Sportswriter of the Year four
times and as recently as 2009. He is a recipient of the Curt
Gaudi Award from the Basketball Hall of Fame. Bob has authored
11 books, including co authoring Drive:
The Story of my Life with former Celtic Larry Bird. He is also a frequent
guest host on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption and
The Sports Reporters. We’ve also seen him
on Around the Horn. Many in the world of journalism
deem the Boston Globe Sports Section to be the single
best in the country. Along with Peter Gammons, Jackie
MacMullan, and Dan Shaugnessy, Bob Ryan has been a main
reason for that reputation. Along the way he has even come
to appreciate, if not love, ice hockey. If you will forgive
a personal comment, I’ve grown up in the Boston area
and have had a lifelong love of Boston sports. Bob Ryan has been a
chronicler and translator of all the highs and the lows. He helped many of us
through the pain of 1986, when the Socks
were so very close to a championship and
the elation of 2004 when they finally won it. He has more than
once reminded us what a special time
these last 10 years have been for New England
sports and he has been its leading voice throughout. There’s no faking his
passion, his humanity, and his joy in the game. Bob has sat at the sidelines
of some of history’s greatest games, and while he will
cringe to hear me say it, he has himself
become a sports icon. Robert Ryan, it is my honor
to confer upon you the degree Doctor of Humane Letters. Please join me in
congratulating Bob [APPLAUSE] Good morning. President LeBlanc, distinguished
members of the faculty, undistinguished members
of the faculty, parents, assorted relatives, and
friends of the graduates, members of the board, Dennis
Littky, and future debtors– oh, excuse me, members
of the class of 2013– I offer my sincere apologies. I am mortally embarrassed. I am not Barack Obama,
I am not John Huntsman– who, if I may say
so, would have made a splendid
presidential candidate for a certain political
party currently dominated by crazed ideologues. I have not Jacob Weisberg, I
am not Clayton Christensen, I am not Oprah Winfrey,
I am not Anderson Cooper. I am not even Stephen A. Smith. No, I am merely
Bob Ryan, someone who has spent more than four
decades covering sports. I am well aware that if I have
any notoriety beyond Boston, Massachusetts, it
is because I’ve spent many hours and
such ESPN TV shows as The Sports Reporters,
Around the Horn, and Pardon the Interruption, where I have
been privileged to fill in for my friends Tony
Kornheiser and Michael Wilborn these past 10 years. Now, I also once worked
in local television and the great lesson
I learned from that was simply this– being
on TV is an end in itself. It makes you famous
for being famous. I was in the station’s
sports department, but the more time I
spent there, the less I remained a sports
authority and the more I became a generic face on TV. I felt my sports credibility
eroding on a daily basis. Now, here’s a curious fact
that helps explain TV. I had a salary that called
me to work five days a week, but if I actually attended
a night game in order to get a story for the
following day’s sportscast– be it for baseball, football,
basketball, or hockey– I could put in for overtime. I could never get over that. Someone once came up to me
during that period of time and said, pardon me, but
shouldn’t I know you? Now, that’s a
tough one to answer because at my low
level of celebrity you can never be
sure where someone is going with that question. I might just happen
to look like a guy that person met at a party. But the truth is
that being on TV is all that matters
to some people. It doesn’t matter what you say
in the minds of many people, but just being on
TV makes you cool. Well, when I look in the
mirror I don’t see a TV person, I see a writer. TV, especially the type
of harmless TV I generally participate in, is harmless. Writing has substance– at
least that’s what I tell myself. Anyway, you didn’t get Barack
Obama, John Huntsman, Jacob Weisberg, Clayton Christensen,
Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, or Stephen A. Smith, you got me. And the unwritten rule
of commencement addresses is that the speaker is
supposed to offer some advice. I think I can sum up like
after college quite succinctly. My best advice to
you is this– arrange to be in the right
place at the right time. Or to put it another
way, try to be lucky. One more thing– meet as
many people as you can. You never know which one of them
will someday change your life. For example, how
did I wind up doing those ESPN TV shows that
have altered my life, that have provided me with a nice
income, that have created a situation where I would say
I’m recognized approximately 350 out of 365 days a year,
whether I’m in Fort Kent, Maine or Chula Vista, California and
which have been a lot of fun? Well here’s the story. Back in the ’70s I had
become friendly with a writer from the New York Post
named Joe Valerio. We weren’t best friends,
but we got along nicely. Now, he would leave
the newspaper business sometime around 1975 to become
a TV producer for ABC and CBS. Well, in 1989 he
bought the rights to a year-old TV show
called The Sports Reporters. Now, we had not
even seen each other or spoken for maybe
13 or 14 years, but he told me he
wanted me to be a part of The Sports Reporters. Now, had someone
else bought the show, he would have hired his
old friends or the people he thought had merit. Had I not become a friend of Joe
Valerio’s many years earlier, that door would not
have been open to me. And now we are best friends. I grew up hearing that
it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Guess what? It’s very often
the gospel truth. You’ll never hear me
rail about privilege. I had three
different summer jobs because different people
had told my mother that quote, when Bobby is old
enough give me a call, unquote. And she did and
they came through. My father died when I was 11. My mother was a
secretary and we’re supposed to apologize
because some old family friend had given me a job? Get real. Now, for decades now
we’ve been hearing about that great ideal, the
so-called level playing field. What a great abstract theory. What a crock of horse manure. Real life doesn’t work that way. Sometimes there’s
legitimate competition, sometimes there isn’t. All you can do is put
yourself in a position such that if you get a break, if
you get the phone call I got, if you get an interview
for a job because someone else ahead of you in the pecking
order decides not to take it– and this is how I fell
into my summer internship at the Boston Globe
45 years ago– you are as ready and prepared
as you should be. Believe me when I tell you,
it is a horrible feeling to receive an opportunity
for which you are unprepared and it’s your own
fault. You didn’t read what you should
have read, you didn’t go where you
should have gone, and then the chance is gone. You don’t want to be
standing on the dock when that boat goes out. In my case, the preparation
for that Globe interview began when I was five years
old, a precocious lad reading the sports page every morning. Yes, I loved to play
sports but I also loved to read about sports
and about many other things. If my father to me to a
high school basketball game on a Friday night, I did
not consider the experience to have been validated
until I read about it in the paper the next day. That’s just the way I was wired. And fortunately for me,
reading was never a chore. It was a daily pleasure. It is still a daily pleasure. And because I read
and read and read, I absorbed a lot of sports
information, not to mention a feel for words. Sports writing is
a two part word. The sports part’s easy. The writing is the tricky part. There are 100 people
who can talk sports for every one who can write it. That’s why being
known as a writer is what matters most to me. Now, when that Globe
interview came, I was ready. I had written for my
prep school paper, which happened to be a weekly; I had
written for the Boston College paper, The Heights; I had
even within a few things for a hometown paper,
the Trenton Times. So I had the requisite
clips and, as I recall, a little Irish
Blarney to go along with it. I must say, in all immodesty,
I can’t imagine any 22-year-old being better prepared than I
was to handle that interview. But I came very close to
not getting that interview. Luck played a huge role. Luck also played
a big role in 1969 when a very good writer
named Bob Sales grew tired of covering the Boston
Celtics for the Boston Globe, thus creating a
vacancy on the beat on the eve of a new season. Amazingly, there was no
heir apparent to cover the 11-time NBA Champions. But we have this kid
who seems to love basketball, what the hell? And that’s how
23-year-old Bob Ryan went from sitting in the
second balcony in May of 1969 to covering opening
night five months later. That is not standard
newspaper procedure. You’re supposed to
start at the small paper and graduate to
a mid-sized paper and then if the planets
are aligned properly, you get hired by a big
paper sometime in your ’30s. And if you’re really lucky,
you get a major beat. You don’t get handed
one at age 23. Absent that beat, I don’t know
how my career would have gone. The Celtics and
the NBA in general gave me a phenomenal opportunity
to show what I could do. But I don’t think there’s
another big paper in America where this could have happened. It has been an incredibly
rewarding experience and I have no real regrets. I’ve covered the things
I wanted to cover and I’ve had the
very rare opportunity to bring to my
readers the good news of professional championships
in all four major team sports in just the
past nine years alone. I have been where the action is. Everything has far exceeded
my youthful expectations. But as a concerned
citizen, I have also watched with
amazement and dismay as the situation in
Washington has undergone a strange transformation. Once we had understandable
party differences, but we had an
underlying sense that we were all in this together. Now we have total
vicious unyielding us versus them posturing. But aren’t there issues the
transcend us versus them? Shouldn’t there be
some logical agreement on such things as a
true non oil energy policy and the
obvious need to spend on improving nationwide
infrastructure that in some cases date
from the mid-19th century? Shouldn’t some things lie
outside party ideology? I’m just asking. And how have we
allowed, as a system, to evolve in which the
very best people do not run for president, either
because they can’t deal with the ludicrous
fund raising process or because they don’t pass
various intraparty issue litmus tests of concern to
shrill special interest or because they aren’t deemed
to be great campaigners or because they do not
want to subject themselves and their families to
the horrible process we insist they go through? Can anyone truly
believe either party has nominated its most qualified
presidential candidate going back to– dare I say it– Ike? That’s it, I’m off the soapbox. Now, professional
life is one thing, personal life is another. And I’m here to tell you
that the ultimate pleasures in real life are very
often the small things. Very few of you
are going to lead grandiose public lives
in which you perform some great public service. I know it’s very customary
for commencement speakers to encourage you to think about
ways to change the world– not me, I know better. Most of your lives are
going to be that dramatic. Sometimes your day can be made
by lucking into a good parking place. Think I’m kidding? Nuh-uh. Someday your day can
be made or broken by how the little things break. Did I get all the green
lights on the way to work? Did I hear one of my
favorite songs on the radio? Some of you are probably
saying, what’s a radio? In my case, it’s satellite
radio and I wouldn’t back out of the driveway without it. Did my wife surprise me with
one of my favorite dinners on the very day
I’d been thinking, how long has it been since
she made that meatloaf? That’s what life comes down to. And speaking of wives
or lovers or partners, I must address a very
important matter. Actually, this could be the
most significant piece of advice I have to offer to those
of you who will solidify your personal commitment
with a wedding ceremony or its equivalent. This is advice you will not
get the Nobel Prize winner. Listen up. Choose the date
with extreme care. Now, this presupposes
one of the parties is a sports fan–
presumably, the male in a male-female union. And if he isn’t why
would you even pick him? Do you want to be
mixed up with someone who’s big thing is ranting
about the Second Amendment or how President Bloomberg
is infringing on his rights by banning the sale
of 32-ounce Cokes? Believe me, you’re better
off with a sports fan. But when should the wedding be? Too many women make the
mistake of pegging it to the availability
of the desired hall. Bad mistake. It’s not about the where,
it’s about the when. Can’t be January,
that’s NFL playoffs. Can’t he March, NCAA tournament. Can’t be April, May, or the
first three weeks of June– NBA, Stanley Cup playoffs. Can’t be September, October,
November, or December– that’s NFL time, plus
baseball playoffs, plus college football. So you’ve got February, one
week in June, July, and August. That’s it. Do it right or else
don’t start complaining when all the groom, the
ushers, and half the guests head right to the
bar and a TV set as soon as you reach the hall. I was an usher at one
wedding when we all rushed to see the Kentucky Derby. I was at a wedding
where Pedro Martinez was pitching against Roger
Clemens and there was no TV in the place. The poor bride could not be
held accountable for failure to project the pitching
matchup, but the least she could have done was select
a hall with a bar and a TV. That’s Wedding Planning 101. This is one you
want to get right. If 50% of the marriages
end up in divorce, I’d say 90% of 50%
picked the wrong wedding day to begin with. All right. I hope I don’t sound gloomy. When I was sitting where you
were and are 45 years ago, I had no idea how
it would turn out. I didn’t know I’d get
to 49 states and 20 foreign countries, that I
would cover all those World Series, Super Bowls, NBA
Finals, bowl games, golf majors, and Ryder Cups,
that I’d go to 11 Olympics and that I’d get to know
Woody Paige personally. The whole thing
was a blank slate. Yours is, too. Your life is an adventure
waiting to happen. Make the most of it. Thank you. Now go have a hell of a party. [APPLAUSE]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *