It started in the bowels of TCF Bank Stadium, back when that was its name and that was where Minnesota United played.
I really had no business being there. I might have had school that day. I didn’t have my license yet, so my mom drove me there. I didn’t have any real journalistic training, so I was just armed with a notebook and a brand-new tape recorder that my dad bought me. I was 15 years old, on assignment to cover the Loons’ first ever practice inside the stadium that would be their home for their MLS debut seasons.
It was one of the best days of my life. I knew it at the time, in that serene way that you realize you’re living a dream that you never want to end.
It didn’t. It hasn’t, not since E Pluribus Loonum let a high school stinkin’ sophomore cover United practices, not since SB Nation let a high school flippin’ junior run the site, not since all of that — two and a half years, 380 some bylines — launched my journalism career.
This isn’t about me. It won’t be, not too much, anyway. But I wouldn’t be where I am without Loonum and its people — readers and contributors — and its platform.
Everything I did here, as a contributor for the 2017 season and managing editor for the ’18 and part of the ’19 season, was a dream. I knew it was going to end: There was the whole starting college in Missouri in the fall of 2019 thing that required me to leave Loonum. But I didn’t know it would really End, with a capital-E.
I don’t know the right word to describe the emotion I felt when I saw the news, like everyone else, last week that Loonum and the rest of the MLS SB Nation team sites would no longer be supported by Vox Media — throwing so many futures and pasts into limbo at best, the internet’s graveyards at worst. So many of the words for it feel too dramatic. Being frustrated, disappointed, saddened, all of that seems sorta silly to feel over a dang soccer blog. There are so many other, bigger, more important reasons to feel all these things.
E Pluribus Loonum probably shouldn’t matter. Maybe it doesn’t. How can it really matter if it’s so easy to threaten it with revoking its existence? I want to think it does; obviously, I want you to, as well. But maybe Loonum mattering doesn’t actually matter.
“I’m not sure why I find it beautiful to devote oneself obsessively to the creation of something that doesn’t matter, but I do,” John Green wrote about a giant ball of paint, an idea that I find beautiful in its own right.
To be clear: I didn’t create Loonum. No singular person did. I won’t say I worked on it obsessively, but I spent more hours of the school day and evenings and weekends on Loonum than I probably should’ve. It wasn’t everything, but it was certainly a big-S Something.
“It’s cliché to speak of a work that won’t let you rest,” Emmanuel Carrère, my favorite writer, wrote. “But I’m not afraid of cliches.”
I can’t be afraid of them either here, not when I’m writing about Loonum. It all feels a bit cliché, how it — they, really, so many people — took chances on people, built a community and created cool content. Now that I’ve moved on from Loonum, and sports journalism, the nostalgia of thinking about the site feels cliché itself. I miss it sometimes.
There was the up-after-my-bedtime rush of writing in an empty Allianz Field after press conferences. The adrenaline rush of asking a question in those pressers. The thrill of chatting with these world-class athletes, who were always surprisingly down-to-earth. The fun of writing, constantly writing, about whatever soccer-y interested me. The embarrassment, then the motivation, that came from making a mistake.
Yeah, that’s all cliché. I should be more specific.
There was the night that the Minnesota United public relations team brought drinks to the press box during the post-press conference buzz time as a reward for the press corps and secured a piece of cheesecake for little ol’ underage me, a time when I felt like I’d managed to belong with my far more talented, far more trained counterparts and colleagues. There was the first time I asked a question in a press conference, blurting it out over the Star Tribune’s Megan Ryan and blushing when Adrian Heath looked me in the eye and answered it fully. There was looking up at Collin Martin, just hours after he came out as the only openly gay male athlete in the five major men’s sports leagues, hearing him speak with a poise and poignance that taught everyone there a lesson. There were scoops, satire stories, analytical projects, scouting reports, chances to try every sort of writing I could imagine or justify. There was the gut-twisting, sweat-inducing moment of watching Christian Ramirez score a goal and sit down in the middle of the field, offering a calm, deserved rebuttal to the unfortunate “sitting duck” critique I’d previously lobbed his way.
I doubt people remember most of these things. They probably didn’t really matter, in the same way that Loonum probably doesn’t matter, which is to say that they mattered a lot to me. And crap, this is quickly becoming about me — and it’s all still stupidly cliché.
But Carrère wrote that when you find the truth in a cliché, you learn something. I didn’t learn something from Loonum, I learned so many things, so you’ll have to forgive me for having found some truth to all of this.
I’ve hinted at this — and given up the pretense of not writing about myself now, so you’re stuck with it — but I’ve changed since the Loonum days. While I still write the occasional analytical soccer rambling in my free time, I’m out of sports journalism, instead reporting on higher education and politics and features from exotic places like Capitol Hill and Columbia, Missouri. (If you’ve spent time as a journalist in either locale, you know that “exotic” is only a half-joke.)
And I’ve grown a mustache. Not that you care, but if you saw me, you’d probably notice it. I bring it up because it allows me to bear a passing, mild resemblance to Ted Lasso when I wear a sweater and khakis and visor and aviators and the orthopedic sneakers I bought for $15 at an Aldi. (This is largely dependent on donning this outfit on Halloween, btw.)
I also try to bear a personality resemblance to the fictional soccer coach we all love, with the kindness and folksiness and aggressive, unwavering belief in good things.
That believe bit is important. It’s been important ever since my dad told me that the word’s second, third and fourth letters are my name, even if I promptly turned that pep talk into a multi-strikeout flop of a performance in a kids’ baseball game. Heck, I even slap the replica “BELIEVE” sign from the show that my roommate hung above our apartment door when I leave, sometimes, for the days when I need to believe a little harder.
Friday and its announcement of Loonum’s impending doom was one of those days, overdramatic as that must sound. I hope you get it by now, that Loonum matters. I’m far from the only one with stories like this. Maybe you have one too.
I don’t think this is the end of Loonum, though. I still believe. Maybe the domain will fade into non-existence, taking those hundreds of bylines with it. Maybe the lovely people who occupy this space will shift to a different one — and I hope they do. Maybe that space will be eerily, fantastically like this one. Maybe other people will get a chance to make it matter to them.
There’s a spirit to Loonum that’s been strong among United’s fanbase: an independent streak, a rebellious stubbornness. Could it just be a manifestation of the “hardy Minnesotan” cliché? You betcha.
But that’s why believe. The part of Loonum that doesn’t really matter — the literal website — is what will fade. The rest of it will manage to survive.
“All stories are born from hope,” wrote the deceptively eloquent Kieron Gillen in an Eternals comic. “The belief that there will be a next line is an act of hope.”
Consider this to be that, then. There’s beauty in the meaningless, truth in the cliché, and this, a Minnesotan, Loonum-ian act of hope. The story doesn’t stop here. I believe. I really do. I believe that we’ll create all of this again.