By Fares Marzouk
Missy Isaacson, longtime journalist and storyteller, described how her girls high school basketball team overcame off-the-court challenges to win a state championship several years after the passage of Title IX, a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs or activities.
In the face of sexism, Isaacson said she and her teammates dealt with personal challenges such as alcoholism and abuse off the court—in addition to being made to feel like outcasts by high school peers for their interest in sports.
Isaacson, who played point guard for Niles West High School, said she and her teammates hoped that “State: A Team, A Triumph, A Transformation” would inspire others by sharing their battles with some of society’s sensitive issues.
The 30-year veteran journalist, who currently teaches at the Medill School of Journalism, said she did not set out to write a memoir.
“The first time somebody called it a memoir, I was like ‘oh my god, how pretentious, who do I think I am for writing a memoir…,” she said Feb. 22 at Northwestern University. “You’re opening up a vein. You’re revealing things. … If i was asking my teammates to be honest with me, and reveal painful things, then I had to do it too.”
During a Q&A, Isaacson shared the story about one of her teammates who battled alcoholism and a rough childhood.
“One of the girls on the team was an alcoholic,” Isaacson said, adding that her teammate was reared in an alcoholic and abusive household. ““There were horrible, painful things she had to tell me. But this girl had a very strong feeling that if one person read her story and gained inspiration or some strength from it, then everything was worth it.”
Despite her moving stories, Isaacson, the first female sportswriter to cover the Bulls, Bears and Cub at the Chicago Tribune, said she was initially hesitant to share her experiences in her book, breaking away of journalistic conventions of talking about oneself.
“Journalists are told not to talk about ourselves because no one cares,” Isaacson said.
She eventually wrote a feature about her parents’ struggle with Alzheimer’s after overcoming concerns of whether she would be betraying their privacy.
“It was very painful and difficult to write that article, because I thought I was sharing the most personal and painful things about them,” said Isaacson, who won the Peter Lisagor Award for the story. “I felt like I was betraying them. But I learned after writing it that so many people were touched that I realized that it was worthwhile and that my parents would have been supportive.”
From that experience and her desire to help others, Isaacson said she found the self-conviction she needed to personify her experiences into words.
“I had to be convinced that my story and our story was worth telling and I think it really was,” she said. “I was indoctrinated into this process.”