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.