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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Alligator taught me I’m not who I thought I was. And that’s 100 percent OK

Who the hell are you?

Do you know? Have you figured it out yet?

I sure as hell thought I knew who I was and, more importantly, who I wanted to become. It was crystal clear in my mind for over a decade.

But after working at the Alligator for the past two and a half years, I realized I was dead wrong.

And I couldn’t be more grateful to this paper for that reason.

My family didn’t have cable growing up, and neither of my parents — both professional musicians — cared about sports. I had zero exposure to the world of athletics for the first 10 years of my life.

I never saw games on TV. I couldn’t have told you who Michael Jordan or Derek Jeter were. I didn’t even know the Gators were a college football team. Whenever I heard classmates of mine talk about Florida, I thought they were referencing an NFL franchise.

And as clueless as I was about sports back then, I was even more oblivious to the fact it was about to become my biggest passion in life.

On June 8, 2006, purely out of chance, I watched my first professional basketball game. I was sleeping over at a friend’s house, and his dad had Game 1 of the 2006 NBA Finals on between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks.

As cliche as it sounds, I couldn’t take my eyes off the TV. I was mesmerized.

I still remember Jason Terry torching the Heat for 32 points on 13-of-18 shooting. I still remember the roar of the crowd as Dirk Nowitzki swished a pair of three-pointers from the top of the key. I still remember the adrenaline I felt as the game came down to the wire in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

From that day on, I was hooked. Sports became my biggest obsession.

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I learned every player on every team in every league. I’d look at box scores on my parents’ desktop computer each night and keep track of standings and statistics on an 8.5-by-14-inch yellow notepad.

I could recite entire rosters on demand, whether it was all 15 men on the Utah Jazz or all 53 on the Detroit Lions. I was a walking encyclopedia of sports knowledge, and — by the time I reached middle school — the only career I had any interest in was one covering athletics.

I’d tell friends, family, teachers and anyone else who would listen that I was one day going to work for ESPN. I’d tell them I had it all figured out. I’d tell them I’d found my calling.

Everyone who knew me in my teenage years knew me as the kid who was going to be a sports writer.

And once I received my acceptance letter from the University of Florida, everything appeared to be falling into place. I chose journalism as my major. I spent my first year and a half of college experiencing different opportunities with the school’s radio station.

Then — after applying for a sports writing position during the middle of my sophomore year — I was hired by the Alligator as its men’s tennis beat writer.

It’s one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me, but not for the reason I ever expected.

My passion for sports has always been an 11/10, but my passion for writing is probably a 5/10 at best. I didn’t think that would matter at first. I assumed my adoration for buzzer-beating three-pointers and walk-off home runs was all I needed to truly enjoy the job.

But in order to thrive in this industry, it doesn’t matter how much you love sports.

You really, really, really have to love writing — like REALLY love writing — too.

And I never would have found that out in college if I hadn’t worked at the Alligator.

I covered men’s tennis, soccer, women’s basketball, baseball and football in my two and a half years with this paper. Attending games was a blast. Talking to athletes was cool as hell. But I never experienced that same feeling of happiness when I sat down to write stories. It simply wasn’t my calling.

After assessing my options over the past couple semesters, I decided in January I won’t be pursuing a career in journalism after graduation.

And that’s perfectly OK. I couldn’t be more satisfied with my experience at the Alligator. I did things I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Whether it was writing 2,500-word feature stories on deadline, going on 19-hour road trips for football games or receiving the amazing honor of getting to serve as this paper’s sports editor over the past four months, I’ll look back on every second of my time at the Alligator with a fondness I couldn’t have acquired anywhere else.

And even though the outlook of my future has gone from being crystal clear to murky and uncertain, that’s what life is all about.

The Alligator taught me I’m not who I thought I was, and I couldn’t be more grateful to the paper for that reason.

Dylan Dixon was a writer and sports editor for the Alligator. Follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon.

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