Each summer for 13 years at his alma mater, Princeton University, Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett has invited student-athletes from inner-city schools in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania to learn life skills as well as football from him, plus current and former NFL coaches and players.
Garrett’s “Play it Smart Football Camp and Leadership Forum” is the subject of Stephania Bell’s Sunday NFL Countdown feature (ESPN, 11 a.m. ET).
Bell’s story includes an interview with Dominique Easley of New England, who attended the camp twice in high school. The Patriots defensive tackle shared his gratitude for the life lessons he learned at the camp during a 2014 NFL Combine meeting with the Cowboys coach. The piece is produced by Dominique Goodridge.
Bell, ESPN’s injury analyst and ESPN.com senior writer since 2007, discussed the Countdown story – her first feature not focused on a medical angle – with Front Row.
How did the idea of this story come about?
Jason and I attended Princeton at the same time. I worked in the training room at Princeton. It was my work study job and led me to pursue a career in physical therapy and he, obviously, played football. Like many of Jason’s Princeton classmates and friends, I volunteered at his football camp and saw firsthand the powerful message he delivers to the kids at his camp and in return, witnessed the joy the young athletes had in being part of the camp. It felt like a story that deserved to be told.
How different is the process of storytelling from your reporting and analysis of sports injuries?
I don’t really see the process as different. Part of what drove me to pursue a crossover career, going from treating athletes to talking with them and about them as a member of the media, was my desire to share their stories about overcoming adversity in the face of injury. Although the feature pieces I have done in the past have had a medical focus, the storytelling element is a common thread. There’s a saying in medicine that “during the initial interview, patients will tell you everything you need to know… if you simply let them.” The same theme applies here: Let the subjects tell their stories.
Since this is your first feature for Countdown, does that bring added pressure?
No. Naturally I’m thrilled to have a piece airing on a show I have watched for years, long before I came to work at ESPN. But I place plenty of pressure on myself to deliver high-quality work to every platform where I have an opportunity to contribute. This experience was no different in that regard.