July 1, 2021
As part of my own personal journey, I am committed to being a strong equity leader. This is the 41st in a series of blogs that will be a part of that effort. I hope you will benefit from the conversation.
I have utilized A Conversation on Race to engage with equity leaders — mentors, teammates and dear friends — from all over the country, and I’ve learned so much about them and me in the process.
As we pass the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's murder, it is my hope that the rallying cries for systemic change and our progress on social justice will only accelerate. We are sustaining our voice for change, but we must continue the work.
My 20th guest is Myron Medcalf, a supremely talented and versatile journalist. The Milwaukee native has a fascinating family history, which inspired his passion for storytelling. He earned a degree in Mass Communications at Minnesota State University in Mankato, where he also worked at the student newspaper, rising to become editor-in-chief.
Initially a news reporter with the Star Tribune, Myron transitioned to covering the University of Minnesota men's basketball team, as well as all of college basketball. In October 2011, Myron was hired to cover college basketball at ESPN, though he thankfully has returned to the Star Tribune as a columnist.
And he's tackling tough topics and challenging individuals, including myself. The title of that May column: "Will powerful white Minnesotans live up to promises made after George Floyd's murder?"
After our interview, I was impressed with his thoughtfulness, willingness to listen and, ultimately, the breadth of his column, which compelled me to invite him to join me.
Glen: As you think about going forward in your journalistic career, where do you hope you spend the most time?
Myron: Just telling stories, and I don't know what that'll look like. Twenty years ago, when I started, you were a newspaper person, or a radio person, or a TV person. Now it's all mixed together.
Now it can be YouTube, it can be so many other things. So I honestly just want to tell stories, and I want to tell stories about people because I think that's how we get to know one another. The only way that you break down barriers is if you actually sit down and talk to someone, and then you find that common ground. As long as we all think we're different in every way fundamentally, we'll never come together. There will always be conflict. But I think the advantage you have in my job is people talk to me, and they talk to me a lot of times because, as reporters, what you find is that people are accustomed to being listened to, but not necessarily being heard.
And those are two different things. Everyone listens. But you don't necessarily hear that person talking. To hear is an active thing; it's processing. It's trying to figure out how do you move closer to that individual, based on what they've said, based on your shared experiences. So I just want to be able to do that.
One of the coolest experiences I've ever had was on set when Ken Burns, PBS filmmaker who makes documentaries, did his documentary on World War II, and one of the cities he used was Luverne, Minnesota. And there was a pilot who was hit in Vietnam, and he had a Purple Heart. So all these World War II veterans gathered in Luverne, Minnesota, and I met this veteran named Warren, an 86-year-old white guy. I was there for about a week, and — I don't know what happened — but Warren, and I just hit it off, and he's telling me stories about what he experienced.
I'm a young guy, at the time, and we were sort of like the Odd Couple in Luverne. He's taking me out to dinner, and 'Hey, come see this guy, you got to come talk to this guy.' He wouldn't talk about the war.
On my last day there, he told me about his experience in World War II. That he had liberated a concentration camp, and he told me what he saw. One of his children ran over to me and said, 'How'd you do that?' I said, 'Do what?' He said, 'He's never told us those stories.'
So what you find is that a lot of times, if people actually take the time to really sit and have a real conversation, you can find common ground, and then you can work from there. But people don't invest enough time in finding that common ground, so they never get there.
And then the assumption is that you and I, we are too different, there's no reason for us to ever have a relationship. We're not going to have anything in common. What can I learn from you? What can you learn from me?
And then that's just a missed opportunity, and then we go about our lives with all these missed opportunities. And then we go, 'Wait a minute. Why haven't I grown?' Your growth was back there, but you thought it was insignificant, so you passed.
Did you have any experience with the YMCA as a kid in Milwaukee?
Myron: I was a Y kid at the Schroeder YMCA n Brown Deer (just north of Milwaukee). I was a drop me off Saturday morning, pick me up Saturday night, and after-school basketball runs. As an athlete, even getting on the court was like this symbolic thing! Like I remember the first time I could run with the good guys. You felt like you weren't Michael Jordan, but you were like Ron Harper and Steve Kerr.
The Y played a huge role. And, for me, it was where I bonded a lot with my dad. We'd hop in the car, and we'd go to the Y, then go get something to eat. That was Saturday. My dad still goes to the Y.
So the YMCA, for me, was an essential place. Just being around a lot of other people like me, competing, and all the camps I went to. So it played a major role in my life.
Glen: How do you think the YMCA can help, as our community tries to heal after the murder of George Floyd?
Myron: The Y is one of those institutions that actually can touch these kids. When I went to camps and I would go to the YMCAs, I was interacting with all the counselors and the person at the front desk. I built so many relationships with other people my age, and at the Y those were some of the first young adults I knew. So I think it's a place that can continue to build those relationships because that's where it starts.
Earlier, Glen, you also asked about hope. And when people think about hope, it's not a tangible thing. But I do think it's the most important ingredient, and I think anytime you have a place for so many young people, there's that opportunity to give them that hope that can carry them forward.
I don't know where I would be without people who said, 'You can do this.' Teachers, counselors, parents, friends, just people telling me, 'Hey, you got a shot.' That actually convinced me that I really did.
And certainly it was always cool for me to be in a YMCA, at different camps and just getting that support, whether it was something silly at a camp or you're doing some obstacle course or activity. But just the idea of being reminded that, 'You matter.'
So I think, most importantly, we've got to remember that before we decide that these kids need to follow certain rules, and before we think about whether or not they're in this room as opposed to that room — order is such a big thing — that you remind that young man or woman that, 'You matter.' Because I think if you don't start there, it's a lost cause.
I'm not going to have a relationship with someone who tells me I don't matter, who doesn't make that clear. So why should young people be any different? So I think that's the role that YMCAs certainly played for me, and I know it can play for young people here as well.
Glen: How has being a father of three influenced the man you are, not just personally but professionally?
Myron: That's a good question. It's where I start and finish. I think the temptation of (journalism), especially in a world where there is a spotlight that comes with it, and there is — I don't know if power is the right word — influence and access. And you're a big kid, living your dreams, and you're on the sideline of an NFL game, or NBA game, and all your friends are like, 'Wow, you got the coolest job ever!'
And that's cool to be supported in that way, but it also can be dangerous, I think. So for me, it's where I start and where I finish. My girls don't see me as the sportswriter or anything like that. They just see me as Dad. So I just try to make that the place where, if I'm not present with them, then I do feel like I failed.
I would say earlier in my life, I don't know if I felt that as much because I was captivated by this idea that I had to be great in this business. I had to achieve certain things. I'm on this path, and this journey, and I've got to keep going and get more and more. And then you start climbing the ladder, and you realize that there's no end to it. The ladder just keeps getting extended. There's no bell to ring at the top.
So my girls ground me. They are my start, and my finish. They are most important to me. They've shaped me certainly as a man, as a human being, as a parent and, I think, as a reporter, watching how they're being affected by the world around them.
For me, the reason I'm doing the Star Tribune column is because I want, when they ask me if I'm here 10, 20, 30, 40 years from now, 'What did you do after you watched that video?' Cause we've all been asked that question.
'What did you do?' I want to be able to say that I tried. I don't know if I succeed. I don't know if this is success or failure. I don't know. But I want to be able to say that I tried, and I tried because I wanted to help so that hopefully their generation experiences more growth, and then they pass that to the next generation. And hopefully, that continues.
Honestly, I fear who I would be without fatherhood because I think I would have gone 150 miles an hour professionally, and I don't think that would have been a good thing.
Glen: Thank you for sharing that. Now I've got one final question, and this is really important. I got to know, who do you think is going to be in the Final Four in the spring of 2022? It's a little early, but I'm already thinking about college basketball!
Myron: Me too. I think the Zags are going to win it all, with Chet Holmgren (from Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis). I think UCLA gets back, if everyone returns. I think Kansas gets back; they added Remy Martin from Arizona State. The fourth spot is up in the air. Does Duke make some miraculous run in coach K's last year? Is that a team like Baylor that kind of rebooted? Is it a Kentucky team that's better? Is it Villanova?
Glen: So my oldest is heading to Villanova as a freshman in the fall, so I'll be penciling in Villanova the next four years into my bracket. They'll be one of my favorites, no matter what. Well, Myron. I really appreciate this. I think I told you when we first connected, I've admired you from a distance for a while and appreciate you a great deal, and this was a great conversation for me personally.
Learn more about Myron by clicking here. Look for a new “A Conversation on Race” next week.