Born in Greenburgh, New York, I was raised in a single-parent household. My mother, a nurse, worked most of the time, and the only thing mom knew about sports was that Derek Jeter was a Yankee. As a boy, the only sports discussions I ever got into were with friends at school or whenever I wrote notes back and forth to my grandfather, who was deaf.
Yet I have always had a passion for talking sports and for sports journalism.
As a teenager, I dreamed of going to Syracuse University. But the school wasn’t in my price range, so I had little choice but to go elsewhere, settling on SUNY Albany, a small journalism and communications school. I was, however, no less committed to the profession while there than I would have been had I enrolled at Syracuse, Northwestern, Missouri or any other top-tier journalism program.
At SUNY Albany, I made myself as proactive as possible in building professional contacts and picking up experience. I wrote a sports blog, and I became part of an on-camera sports program and news productions at school, as well as worked for the campus radio station. With that experience, I showed enough skills to emerge as a “serious” journalist. I was chosen to interview Magic Johnson, moderating his visit to campus as part of the university’s speaker series. I did the same thing with music mogul Russell Simmons.
My campus experience notwithstanding, I knew I needed to learn a lot more about journalism, which was the reason I went to the NABJ convention in Philadelphia in August of 2011.
For the first time in my life, I had a chance to be around my childhood idols: the late Stuart Scott and Stephen A. Smith. I also made connections with professionals like Stacy Williamson from ESPN, Rob Parker from The Detroit News and Justice B. Hill, a former sports editor at several daily newspapers.
Justice and Rob became my mentors.
“I never thought I’d become your mentor,” Justice once told me when I asked him about our friendship. “I wasn’t looking for someone to mentor, Nick. But I’m not disappointed that I didn’t close my mind to offering you advice. It’s been worth it.”
Thanks to Justice and Rob, I landed one of the spots in the Sports Journalism Institute Class of 2012, Thanks to SJI, I was able to spend the summer at ESPN as a digital media/editorial intern and gain mentorship from Greg Lee of NBA.com and Leon Carter of ESPN. The prestigious internship opened other career opportunities for me.
In some respects, people like Justice, Rob, Greg Lee, Leon Carter have inspired me to become a digital sports journalist. Listening to them has made it easier to tune out doubters. Instead, I have followed my dreams and my passions. I have ignored people who told me: “Nick, you would be a great attorney. Journalists don’t make the money you can get with a law degree.”
It wasn’t about the money – then or now. It never will be either. For me, it’s been about fulfilling my dreams of a career in sports journalism, a career I was prepared to start from the basement and then work my way to the top.
I have been fortunate. My hard work in college allowed me to build a strong foundation before I even entered the job market. Shortly after I graduated in May 2013, I went to work with FOX Sports, but I have since left FOX.
Why did I leave?
I took a risk: I bet on my talent. In November 2014, I entered AOL’s nationwide search for “The Next Great Sportscaster.” And, guess what, I won it.
After winning, I joined AOL, which has been an exciting place to work. I am part of an organization that’s daring to remake sports journalism online by mixing pop culture, entertainment and sports into a cool combination that is drawing a different audience to the online site.
My plan now is to help AOL grow its brand, just as I embrace the fact that the company has put me in a position to grow mine. I’ve seized this opportunity, and I’m working harder than ever to make certain I learn from all the professionals around me. Their insight and experience will push me closer to my dream: to become a media star.
“Nick, you will be a star,” Justice once told me. “The only thing that can stop Nick is Nick.”
He is right. Stardom doesn’t happen by chance. Stardom, if it is to be achieved at all, will require of me the same dedication, determination and discipline that got me my early success.
I’m committed to staying on the road to success, and along the way, I want to do what people have done for me: help put some younger journalist on the same road I’m traveling.
That might not be what is expected of somebody from Greenburgh, New York. But who listens to someone else’s expectations of them?
Because I didn’t, I’m moving closer and closer each day to fulfilling the grand dreams that I’ve always believed God put within my grasp.
Watch me work.