On Drew Sharp …

On Drew Sharp …
In the fall of 2012, about 25 of us sat around a set of tables formed in the shape of a U, waiting for former Michigan football coach Brady Hoke to say something quote-worthy. Anything quote-worthy.
Football coaches have a way of talking a lot, yet not saying much.
And then a man cut in and asked a very particular question. Michigan was erratic in its first month of the season, and he wanted to know why.
He continued to ask why.
Brady Hoke got a little agitated.
Who is this guy, I thought, and why is he asking all these pointed questions?
Then, I stopped.
Wait, we need this guy to ask all these pointed questions!!! This is our job!
His name was Drew Sharp, and he was a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. And after that lightbulb turned on, I made a point to listen to what Drew Sharp had to ask, and what responses he got – and what responses he gave.
In September of 2014, the Michigan football program hit rock bottom, and quarterback Shane Morris became the poster child for concussion awareness after he was put back into the game after taking a vicious hit to the head.
Michigan lost to lowly Minnesota that Saturday afternoon, its first loss to the Gophers in years. As a few of us approached the elevator to go to the post-game press conference at Michigan Stadium, Drew Sharp stopped me and looked at me.
“Rachel, in all your years of watching Michigan football, has it ever gotten this bad? Has it ever been his dreadful?”
I had to choose my words. Here was Drew, Michigan graduate, big-time columnist, Detroit Free Press journalist, one of the strongest personalities in Detroit’s media, asking me – little old me, from the Toledo Blade – my thoughts, my opinion on the collapse of once-mighty Michigan football.
But I chose them smartly. This was, after all, Drew Sharp asking for an opinion. To him, my opinion suddenly mattered.
One afternoon, as I drove from Ann Arbor to Toledo on U.S. Highway 23, I heard a familiar voice on the radio, on a Detroit sports-talk station. It was stark. It made its points. It was clear, intelligent, and it commanded authority. It was Drew Sharp.
And I didn’t change the channel until the frequency faded out, somewhere between Dundee and Ottawa Lake.
A few days later, I approached Drew at Michigan to tell him that I really enjoyed listening to him on 105.1, and that as a solo voice, he carried that show – which isn’t easy to do in radio. It reminded me of Bruce Keidan in Pittsburgh, whom I listened to during my afternoon workouts in college. Bruce is another great guy who left us too soon.
Drew died suddenly, sometime Friday morning. He was 56.
Drew’s voice was so, so important, not just in Detroit but in the landscape of sports journalism. And not just as an African-American man in a largely white, largely homogenous industry, but for who he was as a journalist and, more importantly, as an individual.
Even though he relished the persona of being an antagonist, Drew had a conscience.
Those of us covering Michigan, and other Detroit sports, got to know the other side of Drew. He was kind, inquisitive, witty, sharp – what’s in a name, right? – but had a keen understanding of humanity and a strong sense of empathy. Drew may never have known it, but despite his acerbic demeanor, he became a role model for a lot of us.
Learning of Drew’s death Friday morning – from a post that filtered through my Twitter feed – was like a kick to the chest. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to cry. It hurts to continue to grasp that Drew will no longer be with us. He won’t be in a press box Saturday. He won’t ever be at Michigan again.
Drew Sharp won’t be asking those pointed questions, yet still giving us his time to listen, and, more importantly to understand.
We, however, will continue to do it for him. It is his legacy. It is our responsibility.
And I will miss him.

Today, my friend made me cry

In the fall of 1995, the phone rang in room 316 of a renovated mansion on a tiny women’s college campus in Pittsburgh.

“Hi, this is Matt Lytle. We met last week at a party, and, well, I just called to say hi.”

“Wait, a Pitt football player wants to talk to me?”

So it went on for about 15 minutes, until I heard laughing in the background. I recognized that laugh – it was my friend Tony. “Hand him the goddamn phone!” I shouted. “Who the hell is this?”

“That,” Tony said, through fits of laughter, “wasn’t Matt Lytle. That was the infamous Matt Dupuy.”

He gave the phone back to his friends, whom I had only heard about because of Tony’s many stories – a guy from Texas who followed a girl to Pittsburgh. Matt and I talked for another 15 minutes, and laughed and laughed. Then, we made plans for lunch the following day. Meet me outside the William Pitt Union, on the Forbes Avenue side.

He was from Texas. I was intrigued. I pictured him as a strapping cowboy, with a plaid shirt and tight Wranglers, and a smart, beige Stetson hat, all cowboy, right down to the piece of straw that dangled from the space between his teeth.

Instead, I met a skinny guy with a scraggly beard, who wore a backwards baseball cap, toting a heavy green backpack, and wearing busted cargo shorts and the ugliest blue windbreaker I’ve ever seen.

Regardless, that next afternoon in the William Pitt Union changed my life. Matt Dupuy became my friend.


We spent a year in Pittsburgh as part of a clique. Three girls – Melissa, Olivia and Rachel – and a group of rag-tag guys who lived on the top floor of the University of Pittsburgh’s Litchfield Towers.

Tony was the glue of that group. Tony brought everyone together. But Matt Dupuy provided the comic relief and a certain perspective.

Because of Matt, we had inside jokes – if you ever hear me say the number “SEVEN!” and giggle, it’s a testament to Matt.

If you ever hear one of us talk about “Joe Seppi Lane,” we’re talking about the fictional address Matt made up for his “phat” apartment in Pittsburgh.

If you ever hear us say “Is this Denorse?” it’s a reference to a phone call we made to a future NFL player, one of the many prank calls Matt made, using one of the many voices he used from all his training as an aspiring actor.

Matt Dupuy had a gruff Texas drawl, and always talked about how he was “fixin’ ” to go to play practice, or how he was “fixin’ ” to go to dinner. Life was a comedy to him, a dark, funny, straightforward comedy. And you always knew where you stood with Matt. If he didn’t like you, he told you face-to-face. If he loved you, he came to your dorm room, sat on the tiny plush couch, opened your copies of Sports Illustrated and put on his favorite CDs – the ones he took from you and never gave back to you.

Matt Dupuy loved acting. He loved children. At one point, he wanted to become a lawyer who worked in children’s advocacy.

He became a teacher. He became a father and a husband. He supported causes such as the liberation of Syria, Occupy Austin and peace in Palestine. He hated the movie “The Blind Side” and pointed out the latent racism in such a movie and in the adaptation of the actual story.

Larry Hagman served as his spiritual guidance. When Larry Hagman died in 2014, I sent him a text message that simply read, “I’m sorry about Larry.”


Matt became sick in May of 2015. He went to the hospital and while he went home, his body was never the same. But his spirit, his heart and his personality continued to shine, through whatever ravaged him. He loved his son, Joshua. His wife, Sylvia, was his rock – and she had to be strong through so many things in her life. His parents, Bob and Virginia, took care of him, too – proof that parents, no matter how old anyone is, still take care of their children. That’s what families are supposed to do.

We hoped Matt would get better. We wanted to see him at a Pitt football game on a fall day, with the leaves turning on the Allegheny River, and the sun shining at a certain angle, wearing his backwards baseball cap, his ugly blue windbreaker, his busted cargo shorts and his black Tevas, holding a cheap beer in one hand and a smelly cigar in the other hand, asking us if we knew who got shot on Joe Seppe Lane.

“That’s down in the Hill, you know?” he would tell us. And everyone – Tony, Bill, Brian, Mike Costa, Jeremy from Butler, Craig the Slob from New Jersey, Melissa – would laugh and laugh. And we’d probably end up at one of the dive bars in Oakland after the game, drinking quarter drafts of Natural Light that probably cost three dollars now, wondering what happened to Miami Subs and “Gloria,” my old roommate from college.

“Her name is Olivia,” I would tell Matt.

“No, it’s not. Her name is Gloria!”


We were apart for years and years. I tried to reach out to him when I lived in Texas, but my phone calls to Highland Park went unanswered. Then, through the power of Facebook, I found him. And I was hesitant to send him a friend request. Are we still friends?

Then, he wrote me one little word in his “friend request accepted” message: “Seven?”

“Oh my God, we are totally cool,” I said out loud in the empty living room.

Little did I know what was going to happen, but that’s the great and scary thing about time. Each day is uncertain and unexpected. But we didn’t expect Matt to start struggling.

Through his illness, Matt kept his strength and his humor. Look at his Facebook page from the last 15 months, and he wrote some of the funniest, simplest, most profound things. His text messages were just as colorful.

Matt Dupuy 10/20/15 4:41 PM
Rick pitino

Matt Dupuy 10/20/15 4:41 PM
Looking good

Me 10/27/15 2:51 PM
How are you? Had dinner with Tony on Saturday – lots of laughs about Tower C

Matt Dupuy 10/27/15 10:57 PM
The o!

Me 10/27/15 10:57 PM
Zelda’s – quarter draft night

Matt Dupuy 10/27/15 10:58 PM
The holiday!

Me 10/27/15 10:58 PM
Omg I forgot about that place

Me 10/27/15 10:59 PM

Matt Dupuy 11/05/15 7:31 PM
Bill Jennings at the metropol.

Me 11/05/15 7:31 PM
Best. Text. Ever.

Even in his worst days – and I didn’t know how bad it was for him, because we were so far apart – he still managed to make a joke about Rick Barnes in a text message exchange between us, he from his home in Dallas and me from a conference in Miami.

Then, he told me this: “… this is by far the worst yet. Cancer is a mess.”

“Be strong, my friend,” I wrote back. “We are all strong for you.”

I hope everyone’s strength sustained Matt through those 15 months.


Matt made me laugh. He made me angry. He made me love him. He made me learn to love others and to be honest with them. Because sometimes Matt wasn’t honest with me, but that’s okay. We were young and stupid.

But Matt Dupuy never made me cry.

Until today.

August 9, 2016.

Matt died this morning after a 15-month fight with cancer, colon problems and septic shock.

You are never truly prepared to see your friend go into the afterlife. But for 21 years, I was lucky, because Matt Dupuy gave me the gift of his friendship. He gave it to so many others, too.

And when I cried again about Matt’s death, my father gave me some good advice, one that all of his friends should know, too.

“Take solace that you knew Matt,” my father told me. “That he was a good friend to you.”


My friend Matt

This can’t be real. I’m in shock. We texted just last week, about the Tampa Bay Lightning and Rick Barnes “looking good!”

You have made me laugh and laugh, and you helped me be strong and look at life in a new way. And in the 21 years I knew you, I was lucky for all 21 of those years, and then some. Your gifts to the world will continue through all of us, the Tower C group, the Chatham girls, the “East End Mafia.”

I tried to prepare myself for this, but you never can really prepare yourself for this. I just want another quarter draft night at Zelda’s on Bouquet Street, where we count the number of plastic cups stacked on the old wooden table, and you can pick out the ones I drank out of, because they’re the only ones with a lipstick smudge on them.

I need to dry my tears and gather my thoughts about you, my dear friend.

Cheaters never win

By now we’ve watched Melania Trump’s speech from Monday night at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

And we’ve all analyzed it. Dissected it. Lampooned it.

And we’ve all made some sort of hot take regarding the consensus belief that Melania Trump, the wife of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, may have ripped off Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Some consider the evidence circumstantial. New Jersey governor Chris Christie claims that “93 percent” of the speech was original content.

Donald Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson told The Hill:

“These are values, Republican values by the way, of hard work, determination, family values, dedication and respect, and that’s Melania Trump. This concept that Michelle Obama invented the English language is absurd.”

Re-read that quote. No, it’s not from The Onion. The Hill is a respected D.C. publication.

But with the furor surrounding Melania Trump’s speech, a former high school classmate of mine brought up a point:

“… spoiled girls are notorious for copying off the smart girls who actually do the work. It’s who they are. She probably doesn’t even get why people are upset.”

And it made me think of an instance from the fall of 1993, my senior year of high school.

I was sitting behind two of the “popular” girls in a school assembly and watched as one girl handed the other a manila envelope for a college-level class. The other opened the folder, looked at the paper … and began copying everything her friend wrote onto her own loose-leaf paper.

No wonder all those girls got good grades! They all were doing the same work! While many of us were juggling our grades, sports, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs and college applications, these two girls gamed the system, in front of many of their classmates.

And in witnessing it, we were complicit. I was complicit.

I’m all for the “old girls network” but do it the right way. The fair way. Don’t go pulling strings for each other while stabbing other people in the back.

I know who you are. I saw everything that happened. I have no qualms about telling the story. I can tell you their names, the class they cheated in, the color of their hair, the sports they played, the clubs they were in and what they were wearing that day. And I sort of regret not ratting them out.

And it completely proved my friend’s statement from earlier today.

So anybody who cheats? The world knows. And people don’t forget.

And if all the “cool kids” or those “popular girls” from high school want to come back and skewer me for telling the truth? Whatever. Fine. Do it. It can’t be any worse than the way you treated people 20 years ago.

An ode to and a defense of “Muva”

An ode to and a defense of “Muva”

amberrosieYou can’t help but to overhear things when you’re on a coffee run. One snippet of a conversation among a group of young women jumped out at me:

“Ugh, I hate Amber Rose, she is such a slut.”

As a confessed fan of “Muva,” I couldn’t help but to defend Amber Rose.

“No, she is not,” I shot back. “Amber Rose takes ownership of who she is. She takes ownership of her personality and her sexuality. She wants other women to do the same, and not be ashamed of it.”

*cue the sneers from 20-something girls who think they are always right*



We fear what is different. What challenges us. Or maybe what is a little too similar to us.

People dislike Amber Rose because her convictions frighten them. Her boldness causes people to evaluate their own insecurities – about their appearance, their sexuality, their own voice. And let’s be real, sex – one of Amber Rose’s favorite subjects – is still very taboo in our society.

We can take a lesson from Amber Rose, who is taking ownership of herself and the power she has to influence people to do the same. Maybe we should be teaching people and teaching ourselves to do that, as well.

An open letter


To my peer who decided to make fun of someone who can’t drive:

Listening to you and your friend make fun of someone who doesn’t drive – merely assuming they choose not to drive – caused me ask you if you knew why they didn’t drive, and it forced me to consider a few things about a situation my family was recently in.

As someone who had to take care of someone who lost the ability to drive because of a medical condition, listening to what you and your friend said really struck a chord in me.

What if you didn’t know why my husband wasn’t driving for 4 1/2 months  and proceeded to make fun of both of us for doing something we HAD to do, out of necessity?

My husband suffered a seizure that rendered his driver’s license null and void, forcing both of us to rearrange our lives. Medically, he was not allowed to drive until he was seizure-free and cleared by a neurologist, and until then, he lost that independence. He couldn’t go to the grocery store to run errands. He couldn’t drive when we wanted to go out to dinner or to a movie. He couldn’t drive to a local park to take photos on the walking trails, one of his favorite things to do. These are things that are normal and routine for him, and because he couldn’t drive, he couldn’t live that part of his life. Instead, the driving in the family fell on me, and I just did it. When you are married, that is what you do, no questions asked. Because you love that person and will do whatever you can to make sure that they are safe and are still capable of living their life.

And if my husband wasn’t married? He’d have to carefully consider options for transportation, merely to maintain his livelihood.

If you suffer a seizure in Ohio, you’re not allowed to drive for a minimum of six months, unless you are cleared by a neurologist. In California, your license is revoked for two years and you are entered in a state database that essentially says you cannot drive. There are other reasons why people cannot drive: Narcolepsy. Fainting disorders. Chronic vertigo. Mental illness. Medications that control medical issues.

So before you decide to arbitrarily make fun of someone for what might be a choice, or what might be forced, ask my husband what it was like for him not to drive for 4 1/2 months. Or, better yet, ask the person who isn’t driving why they’re not driving – if it’s by choice or by force. Or, even further, ask yourself what you would do if you were put in that position  and without that outlet.


Tonight, one conversation forced me to consider the value of empathy. If I ever made fun of you without knowing the whole story, I’m really, really sorry.

On Gordie Howe



It didn’t hit me that Gordie Howe was gone until the first intermission of Sunday night’s Stanley Cup Final game in San Jose, Calif., when SAP Arena, the NHL, the San Jose Sharks and the Pittsburgh Penguins honored his life.

Howe’s monumental legacy may never be matched – maybe only by Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, or maybe Sidney Crosby. And it’s difficult to put into words exactly what his legacy truly is, when you’ve never witnessed it in its prime.

But I got a glimpse of the greatness of Gordie Howe in March, at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, when I was assigned to cover the Detroit Red Wings’ birthday tribute to the NHL Hall of Famer.

What struck me was how everyone simply stopped to watch Howe get ushered through the corridor of Joe Louis Arena on a golf cart. It was like a royal procession. Even players from the Buffalo Sabres stopped kicking a soccer ball or hopped off an exercise bike to stand at attention for one of the NHL’s giants.

Howe, however, was frail. The look in his eyes was distant. Even surrounded by his family, he needed help walking through the doors and hallways at Joe Louis. When he was shown on the big screen inside Joe Louis Arena, his son Mark held up his hand, as a means for Howe to acknowledge the crowd.

Tears streamed down peoples’ faces when 18,000 people sang “Happy Birthday” with Karen Newman, the Detroit Red Wings’ anthem singer. The crowd roared. The Red Wings presented Howe with a gorgeous birthday cake for his 88th birthday.

Yet there was something off-center about it. It wasn’t a joyous occasion.

As I watched Howe that night, I felt his greatness, but I also felt pity. A titan of the sport was in the twilight of his life.

While everyone gave him the berth of respect, one that comes with being an idol, a legend, a transcendent superstar, did he have any real idea where he was or what he was doing that night? Or, would all the love and the good vibes in the building would somehow sustain him for a little bit longer?

I drove back to Toledo that night with an empty feeling. Glad I finally got to be in the presence of the great Gordie Howe, but wondering where the vitality was, where the joy was that was in so many photos and videos and what I had been told by people, the memories of the times they watched or met Howe. Rach, I told myself. Let’s be real here. He’s 88 years old, he suffered a stroke, he has dementia. He may not have a lot of time left.  

Gordie Howe died on Friday, June 10. In the fall of 2014, my editors told me to begin writing an obituary for him, after he had suffered a stroke.

That obituary sat for 19 months in my file, and while you think you may never have to use it, when you dust off that file and begin line-editing it and updating it for timeliness and plugging in all the information … you just wonder if you fulfill the respect it deserves, and if it will attempt to do it any sort of justice to a person’s rich life.


On Kevin Stevens

So I’m sad today. The Boston Globe reported this morning that former NHLer Kevin Stevens is being held on federal drug charges and will be arraigned Tuesday in Massachusetts.  He’s charged along with another man with conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute oxycodone, and is in federal detention.

Kevin Stevens was one of the players on the Pittsburgh Penguins whom I grew up watching. He was the gregarious Bostonian who probably threw the best parties of anyone on your block or in your college dorm, or the guy who lived next door to you and always offered you a beer after a hot afternoon of mowing the lawn and kept you laughing into the night … and a super-talented hockey player – a two-time Stanley Cup winner, a U.S. Olympian, an NHL All-Star. kevinstevens

I’m not sad because of Kevin Stevens’ legal troubles – I’m sad after considering what brought it to this point, that Kevin Stevens probably could never get control of himself. I’m sad because I will never forget his arrest in 2000 for soliciting a prostitute and possessing drug paraphernalia – crack cocaine was found on the scene.

I’m sad because I will never forget when I met him in 2009 while covering the American Hockey League, I remember him as engaging and super-funny, and I appreciated that whenever he saw me, he took the time to talk to me. But I also remember thinking, “don’t kid yourself, this guy has a lot of problems.”

And I think back to the moment it all likely changed for Kevin Stevens, when he was injured in the 1993 playoffs – when his head hit the ice after a check on New York Islander Rich Pilon, and when he came up, half of his face was caved in. He needed major reconstructive surgery, had five metal plates put in his face and had bone fragments removed.

I put that injury to Stevens up there in gruesomeness – and potential psychological after-effects – with the injury Clint Malarchuk sustained in 1989, when his neck was sliced open by a skate blade.

Clint Malarchuk admits he never got the psychological help he needed – likely to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. And with that in mind, it begs a question: Did Kevin Stevens ever get the help he needed after that injury, or did he take the “I’ll be fine” attitude?

Or, in that era of the NHL, the early 1990s, was the help even there?

Earlier this year, CTV’s Rick Westhead did a great, insightful, saddening piece on the long-term effects of concussions on retired NHL players – in particular, Mike Peluso.

From the CTV piece:

Did team doctors put the financial interests of their employers ahead of the health concerns of players? And did NHL executives put their collective heads in the sand when it came to learning more about the dangers of repeated head trauma, and about possible rule changes that might have better protected players, even if it meant popular tough guys were sidelined longer between fights?

Watching it made me consider the era of the NHL that I grew up watching, a 10-year span that began in 1988, and what players went through – and how they were (or weren’t) helped afterwards. They were almost chattel, commodities that could be bought and traded and dumped.

And because so many of them loved the game, or needed to pay bills, they kept going.

And now, we’re starting to see the long-term effects these injuries had on the players. More importantly, on the people these players had to be once they stepped off the ice for good. It’s hard to say for certain whether or not Kevin Stevens’ latest legal issue is a result of that, but it’s not hard to wonder if it contributed to it.

I hope Kevin Stevens gets the help he needs.