Sports have always been bigger than just wins and losses. They play a prominent role in our lives and are deeply interwoven into the very fabric of our society. Countless sociocultural issues are inextricably linked to sports, but they don’t always get the attention they deserve. Over the course of three years writing for The Cavalier Daily’s sports section, I’ve learned firsthand that it's the responsibility of sports journalists to go beyond the box score and shed light on the lesser-known stories within the sports world.
Since I started covering Virginia sports in 2018, I’ve written 136 articles across various sports. From the men’s lacrosse team winning its sixth national championship to the football team beating Virginia Tech for the first time in 15 years, there’s no doubt I’ve enjoyed reporting on all the things the Cavaliers have accomplished on the field.
However, dozens of other news outlets also covered those exact same events. In truth, the articles I’ve connected the most with are the ones that tackle less visible, off-the-field subjects. While these pieces may not revolve around a big game or a star player, they are often just as — if not more — important or interesting to the Virginia community.
As a writer for The Cavalier Daily, I’ve had the opportunity to cover a number of broader societal topics through the lens of college sports. These include hard-hitting issues such as the pay disparity between head coaches of different Virginia teams and the challenges Club teams face just to survive on Grounds.
On top of that, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with many Virginia student-athletes — past and present — and sharing their unique stories beyond just what they do in the blue and orange. In the last couple of years, I’ve talked to athletes who were forced to leave their sport for one reason or another. I’ve learned about the different career paths graduating athletes pursue once they are in the real world. I’ve also written more lighthearted pieces including a Valentine’s Day-themed feature on a student-athlete couple. I’ve even spoken with a former two-sport athlete who opened a non-profit coffee shop in Charlottesville that empowers adults with cognitive disabilities. While athletes’ performances are frequently on public display, these other fascinating aspects of their lives usually go unnoticed.
With all that being said, I didn’t truly see the immense value of sports journalists’ forays into non-traditional sports coverage until the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the country in March 2020. For months, the world of college athletics was on pause. The sports section faced a challenge — how do we write sports articles when there are no sports to cover?
Believe it or not, these unfortunate circumstances were a hidden opportunity for our talented sports staff. Since we didn’t have any games to write about, we pursued another avenue — underreported stories tangential to sports. The financial state of college athletics, the local economy, physical and mental health, student-athletes with unique backgrounds and social justice initiatives are only a sample of the topics we covered once the pandemic hit.
We replaced stat sheets and post-game press conferences with in-depth research and expert interviews. Instead of analyzing games and highlights, we scoured the community for narratives that may have flown under the radar and explored them from multiple perspectives. In spite of the pandemic, we were writing a greater number of articles of a higher quality on a more diverse range of subjects — something that many wouldn’t have thought was possible given the situation.
As my time in The Cavalier Daily draws to a bittersweet close, I understand now that sportswriters don’t have to just focus on sports. They can also be investigative reporters, political correspondents and business journalists all at the same time. They can cover a championship game as well as how the players protested injustice or write about a key player while touching on the complicated road the athlete took to get to this point.
Clearly, sports journalists can serve the community in a lot more ways than simply reporting what happened during a match. While it took me a while to realize that fact, I’m glad I eventually did, just in time for my 137th — and last — article.
Vignesh Mulay was a Sports Writer for the 130th and 132nd terms of The Cavalier Daily. He was also a Sports Editor during the 131st term.