Former student editor reflects on experience of leaving the champion.
The Daily Beast. Politico. The Washington Post. New York Daily News. Sojourners. Daily Mail.
Those are just a few of the news outlets that covered the locker room talk debacle in October of 2016.
The events that unfolded over a span of roughly 72 hours were life-changing. It is a story that I will remember forever, and it is a story of which few know the nitty-gritty details.
I do not need to tell you what happened, as that was covered extensively two years ago. Instead, I wish to reveal the impact the entire situation had on my life.
After my column was cut from the Liberty Champion and I posted it to Facebook, it took just a few hours for the internet to do what it does best. As I sat in class, I had no idea how many people were reacting, commenting and sharing my post – interactions that eventually got my column in front of the eyes of hundreds of thousands of people.
The Daily Beast was the first news outlet to call. I recounted my story to Ben Collins, and soon enough I was on the phone with another reporter. The phone calls began piling up and Facebook comments started to get more colorful as the post spread far beyond my reach of influence.
The next day, 2016 presidential candidate Evan McMullin messaged me on Twitter thanking me for what I was doing. Then he tweeted out in support of myself and a few other Liberty students. At that point I had to put my phone down for a while because it would not stop vibrating from all the mentions I was getting from McMullin’s followers.
That same day I did an interview with two different local news stations, and I gave permission for countless student newspapers to run my column.
That was also the day I quit the Liberty Champion.
I attended our weekly staff meeting in the afternoon not knowing what to expect. I had spoken with many of the staff members already, and they supported me, but I had not spoken with those in charge.
As soon as the meeting began, it was clear that the three most powerful people in the room, the faculty advisor, graduate student assistant, and editor-in-chief, were not happy with me. Things unfortunately escalated, and it was clear that any trust between us was lost.
When asked in a private meeting with the graduate assistant if I wanted to stay, I hesitated and did not respond. It was a big decision to walk away from thousands of dollars in scholarship. He told me the next time he asked, I needed to have an answer.
Outside in the hallway, I made the decision that my time at the Liberty Champion had come to an end. At the time, I had no idea how I would pay for school without the job, I just knew that I could not allow money to drive this decision.
So I quit.
In the aftermath of these events I was asked constantly if I regretted the decisions I made. If I could go back and do it differently, would I? Not a chance.
It would be easy to focus in on the negatives of the situation. It would be even easier to act as a victim. But instead, I am thankful for what happened.
Through this situation, I was able to learn things about myself I did not know. I learned how I deal with conflict. I learned that I have trouble blindly trusting people. I also learned that I needed to work on the proper way to vehemently disagree with authority figures.
But even more than all of that, I was able to make a far greater impact than I ever imagined I would as a college newspaper sports columnist.
In the midst of those 72 hours of utter chaos, I received some pretty heart-warming words in the form of texts, tweets, phone calls, Facebook messages and emails.
“Joel, I don’t know you, but I love you. Thank you for your character and strength.”
“From an older veteran in San Diego – thank you for reminding us what a true American looks like.”
“I want to thank you, as a survivor of sexual assault for 16 years.”
“As a survivor of sexual assault, I am so thankful to you for speaking out.”
“Thank you for speaking up on behalf of so many silenced women.”
“I admire the stand you are taking and how you are using the voice/pen God has given you.”
“Hey brother. Thank you for your faith and courage. Our nation needs more of both.”
Many of these messages I missed until days after the fact. Some of them I did not remember as I read them two years later, and most people who reached out did not get a response. I hope to make up for that here.
Thank you, so much, for your words of encouragement and for showing me that doing the right thing is always the right thing. Thank you for making my bubble a little bit bigger.
I will always be grateful to those who stood by me two years ago, and thankful for those who gave me the opportunity to share my story and impact lives that I never would have imagined touching. I never could have dreamed of the things that would come out of this.
I was direct messaged by a presidential candidate. I was mentioned in a book authored by a Harvard Law graduate and great-great-grandson of Theodore Roosevelt. I was asked to be on Tamron Hall’s morning show on MSNBC, and Montel Williams even followed me on Twitter.
Looking back, I have no regrets. Instead, I have endless tokens of gratitude from people who I have never met, and I have a story that will last a lifetime.