On Monday, Nov. 7, Pulitzer Prize-winning ESPN investigative reporter Steve Fainaru sat down with students over dinner to discuss his career in journalism and the intersections between sports and politics.
“Sport is a big part of our world, our culture and the way we perceive ourselves,” Fainaru said at the event, which was titled “What sport tells us about the world”.
Fainaru’s journalism career began with the Boston Red Sox for Connecticut’s Hartford Courant and later the Boston Globe.
“My whole world was Major League Baseball,” he said of the time.
Fainaru’s coverage of the Boston Red Sox included not only the team but also the fans. His 1991 Boston Globe front-page article, which focused on the relationship between the Red Sox and Boston’s black community, documented the team’s historic racism and “raised a storm in Boston.”
Fainaru eventually left baseball to return to school, earning a master’s degree in international relations from Columbia University in 1992.”[Studying] it was glamorous in the beginning but has lost its appeal,” he said.
Fainaru was the Mexico City bureau chief covering Latin American issues for the Boston Globe between 1995 and 1998. His time in Latin America changed the way he covered sports. Fainaru began following Cuban pitcher Orlando Hernandez, nicknamed “El Duque”. In 2001, Fainaru published his first book, The Duke of Havana: Baseball, Cuba and the Quest for the American Dream, about Hernandez. At the time, Hernandez was a former American League MVP for the New York Yankees.
In 2012, Fainaru wrote The League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth with his brother, fellow ESPN reporter Mark Fainaru-Wada, investigating brain injuries among NFL players. The book was later adapted into a documentary for PBS Frontline.
During the question-and-answer portion of the dinner, Princeton students asked Fainaru about the nature of sports as both an escape for fans and a place for political activism.
“People say you have to ‘stick to the sport’, like with [Colin] Kaepernick – people said ‘just play football,’ he said. For Fainaru, however, it is vital to “point out uncomfortable truths” as “it feels disingenuous to ignore these things – they permeate the sport”. Fainaru also said he sees “sports polarizing in the same way the country did.”
“It’s hard to know where the world is going,” he said. “We’ll know more tomorrow night [Election Night] and then in 2024.”
When the discussion ended, he encouraged the students to accept the fact that they may not have expertise in everything.
“You’re basically a stranger in these areas of interest, and that can help you a lot.”
When asked about upcoming projects, Fainaru said he hopes to complete an investigation into sexual misconduct in Argentine soccer, but emphasized that he has been focused on teaching here at Princeton and his upcoming book project.
Fainaru is currently a guest lecturer at Princeton’s Council on the Humanities, teaching JRN 441: The McGraw Seminar in Writing—What Sports Tell Us About Our World. He described his experience at Princeton as “awesome” and said he “really enjoys the campus and the culture.”
The event was held on Monday, November 7th in the Wilcox Dining Hall from 6:00 pm to 7:15 pm and was hosted by Butler College.
Eustace Wilhoite is a news contributor for The Prince.
Nandini Krishnan is a news contributor for ‘prince.
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