Longtime New York Times reporter Joe Drape came to campus to address the Society of Skeptics on April 4, during which he shared with students and faculty his personal connection to Blair’s campus and community: Since 2004, he has twice reported on the School in his role as a journalist who focuses on the “intersection of sports, culture and money.”
To watch a video of his presentation, which was filmed by Aidan Riano '20, click "play" below.
In 2004, Mr. Drape visited Blairstown to interview Luol Deng ’03 and Charlie Villanueva ’03 for a New York Times profile on both athletes as they played in the national semifinals of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. And, four years later, he returned to do a multimedia piece on Kabul, Afghanistan, native Shamila Kohestani ’09, who overcame significant challenges to attend Blair and went on to captain the first post-Taliban Afghan Women’s National Soccer team.
When asked what he hopes students took away from his presentation, Mr. Drape said his goal was to help them better understand how sports offers “an accessible and non-threatening window to get a first look at what is going on in our culture.”
“Jackie Robinson, for example, brought integration into the mainstream, as did Billie Jean King with women's rights,” Mr. Drape explained. “Tennis was talking about transgender issues with Renee Richards. Now, we have LeBron James wearing ‘Black Lives Matter’ t-shirts and Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem and a host of other issues people feel safer discussing because it is in the realm of fun and games.”
Having described Blair as a “daring and remarkable place that walked the tightrope of being perceived as a win-at-all-costs diploma mill and one of the nation’s greatest and most-in-demand prep schools,” Mr. Drape was impressed by Blair’s confidence in its mission and the unified fashion in which students and faculty were able to pull it off.
“On both occasions I reported on Blair, I was impressed by how accepting, curious and free spirited Blair’s student body was,” he said. “I got the sense they understood that education is far more than great grades, winning games and going to prestigious schools. It's about growth. I was so impressed that I suggested my niece, Annie Mulholland ’20, look hard at Blair. In fact, she is now a freshman who just returned from the spring break Cuba trip.”
An English major who graduated from Southern Methodist University, Mr. Drape got his start in journalism working the night shift at the Dallas Morning News. He climbed the ranks to the city desk and landed at the Atlanta Journal Constitution as a national correspondent based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Prior to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, he was named lead Olympic correspondent and went on to see the world and write a number of award-winning stories before beginning his tenure at The New York Times in 1998.
Both at The New York Times and as an author, Mr. Drape has focused on the intersection of sports with culture and money, and, to date, he has written six books on the topic, including The New York Times bestsellers American Pharoah: The Untold Story of a Triple Crown Champion's Legendary Rise and Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen.
Blair’s Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.
The program was an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon.’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please click here.