Seeing the person beyond the image
It's All About Anthropology
"Ninety nine percent of all reporters cover only one percent of the stories out there. That leaves a heck of a lot more stories out there for the rest of us." — Alex Kotlowitz
Every Monday a small group of seniors is honored with the privilege of learning from Alex Kotlowitz, author of "There Are No Children Here," a book popular amongst core students. Lucky enough to be in the class taught by Kotlowitz, I answer curious prodding about "What's he like? What does he say?" by furiously filtering his discussions, lectures and assignments. But the opening line of this article is the one lesson, above all else, that is most prominent of all he has taught us. He reminds us of it every week. And, although it speaks specifically to writers and reporters, his advice can and should be applied across the board in all social and cultural areas.
Athletes, so glaringly in the spotlight, can tell you it is true. For example, 99 percent of what you hear or read about Ruth Riley concerns basketball. But Ruth says she "would rather be known as Ruth Riley, the person, because everything else is going to evaporate eventually. Sometimes, you want to step outside basketball and not be known just for your sport."
There is much more to cover about number double zero than basketball. Children attending local schools will tell you Ruth reads to them, even on Saturday evenings following a home football game. Organizations will tell you she often agrees to speak at their events. Academic counselors will relate Ruth is an Academic All-American, on the dean's list every semester so far, a double major and a member of the Academic Honors Program, which provides mentors to top student-athletes.
Family members confess that, ironically, she is the biggest fan of her brother and is a loving daughter, best friend and integral, contributing part of her sister's household.
Ruth's friends will tell you that she is reliable, supportive, and an abundantly generous Betty Crocker, baking goodies and gifts for them. Anybody who knows her will tell you that of all Ruth's outstanding personality traits, her humility is what shines perhaps brightest. Dozens of children who attend basketball games wait patiently outside the locker room until Ruth has spoken to each child and given every autograph. Ruth is a role model in all aspects of her life.
Lest you skeptics think I too have become susceptible to Western culture's glorification of athletes, I plead innocent. I am not placing her on a pedestal. I am the journalist most qualified to accurately report on Ruth, the person, because Ruth is my roommate. I know, because I know her.
Usually, the longer you dorm with someone, the more the externally polished facade is worn away. Not true with Ruth. The more I see her, the greater my admiration. It is a most humbling experience to live with a person like Ruth. I don't live with a famous 6'4 ND athlete; I live with a shining superstar of a friend.
Another story behind the image, and one of the 99 percent of ignored stories, is my sophomore year roommate, Ruth's teammate, Meaghan Leahy.
Meaghan's fortitude and determination is inspiring. Meaghan has overcome much adversity to be where she is. Diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, Meaghan struggles with labels: a jock in the classroom and, worse still, a jock with a disability. Caring, thoughtful, hardworking and hilarious, she is determined to succeed. She develops coping mechanisms to fight against burdens of her learning disability.
As ND students, we can get to know the real people behind the spotlighted images. Their stories of courage, kindnesses and triumph over adversity are those that should be told.
The annual football banquet was held Friday, Dec. 1. The subtle theme throughout the night's festivities was the concept of team. Each captain spoke of being "choked up" or "emotional" because of the people behind the team.
Senior captain Jabari Holloway concluded his speech with a favorite quote from the movie Hoop Dreams. In the end, a character approaches the star player and says, "When you become famous, will you remember me?" He answered, "If I don't become famous, will you remember me?"
We're all in this game called life with struggles that are sometimes visible, sometimes not. Either way, we should play the game with consideration of and appreciation for our fellow teammates — who they are, deep down inside.
Brittany Morehouse is a senior double major in American studies and anthropology, and a minor in African studies. Her favorite untold story is No. 75 on the football team. She congratulates him and looks forward to big victory in the Fiesta Bowl.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Tuesday, December 5, 2000