Early in my sportswriting career, a St. Louis Cardinals baseball player was so appalled by my presence in the Dodger Stadium visitors clubhouse that he got in my face and told me so. Seconds later, something sailed through the air and, defying all laws of physics, landed squarely on my clavicle.

It was a jockstrap.

That moment was symbolic of a career path that would also challenge the properties of matter and energy, and would deliver constant reminders of a responsibility I shouldered:

To treat journalism with the respect it deserves.

A war is being waged against the Fourth Estate, which is not a reference to one of LeBron James’ multiple residences but to a profession that has taken down dirty politicians, exposed government corruption and given a voice to the underprivileged. On other days it moves you, preserving fun and games by humanizing them, or by simply describing the sights, sounds and smells of a ballpark.

There is nothing fake about news that informs, educates, inspires.

Don’t believe the hype.

This is not a political rant but a genuflection for a profession that is noble and important.

“I truly believe that the stories around the game are what make basketball so interesting. The media is responsible for making those stories come to life. The media is extremely important to me not just as an NBA player, but as a fan of the game.” – Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum

Sportswriting has shaped me. It helped me overcome shyness during adolescence, power through challenges during early adulthood and bond with my father before his too-early passing.

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I started writing sports for my high school paper at 16 and never stopped. I loved it more than anything but it wasn’t always easy, and it wasn’t just the errant jockstrap or the occasional condescension. It can be lonely on the frontlines because so few can relate to your challenges, while a chorus of critics behind the security blankets of phones and computer screens provide a soundtrack of derision.

And then just like that, something shifted.

My voicemails used to say, “You’re an idiot and a woman who knows nothing about sports!”

Then they became “You’re an idiot!”

Yes!

I had arrived.

The great times far outweighed the bad.

For many years, there was no better place to hang out than the sports department of a newsroom. It fostered thoughtful debate, ridiculous banter and endless games of paper football.

And the majority of athletes I covered were decent, thoughtful and sometimes even supportive.

The great pitcher Orel Hershiser once pulled me aside in the Dodgers clubhouse. He noticed every time I walked through, I would stare at my shoes. It was the residue from being hassled early in my career.

“Don’t do that,” he said. “Stand tall, look straight ahead and act like you belong. Because you do.”

From that moment on, I did.

“Journalism matters. Every game is its own ecosystem … It takes on a life of its own, with strategy, personalities, subplots.” – Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban

Keep believing in journalism. Think not only of Watergate but of the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of Jerry Sandusky by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa.

Think of the powerful reporting by this publication, from Craig Harris’ uncovering of the Fiesta Bowl’s campaign-finance scandal to Dennis Wagner’s report on the Department of Veteran Affairs falsifying appointment wait-time data for veterans, which led to some dying while awaiting care. Think of how columnists Laurie Roberts and E.J. Montini give voices to those who need to be heard.

Think of my friend, New York Times sportswriter Karen Crouse, who, in an attempt to better understand former New York Jets receiver Laveranues Coles in 2005, asked if they could switch iPods. She could tell his music told a story, which he later revealed was that during his childhood, he was molested by a man that his mother later married. It was the first time he spoke of it, and it was one that surely helped other victims.

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Think of the piece by ESPN’s Kate Fagan on the suicide of Penn runner Madison Holleran, and an accompanying story on the dangerous power of social media. I shared the story with a class I teach at Arizona State’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication recently and it inspired a 70-minute discussion about depression. Of the 42 students, many had either suffered from it, had a family member who did or knew someone battling it.

This is a generation with different layers of problems and their stories need to be told, too.

“I subscribed to the Washington Post today because facts matter. #PressOn” – Steve Kerr on Twitter

This is my last column at the Republic so I can work full time at the Cronkite School, where important lessons about journalism are being taught to an amazing collection of bright and thoughtful students who are there for all the right reasons.

The word of sports journalism isn’t perfect. Several years ago, I spoke with Chris Nowinski, the former Harvard football player and professional wrestler who was instrumental in bringing football’s concussion crisis to the forefront and to the attention of pathologist Bennet Omalu.

Nowinski told me he pitched the story of his concussion concerns and research to various sportswriters but they wouldn’t bite. Only Alan Schwarz of the New York Times did and his subsequent writing about the issue made lawmakers and sports leagues pay attention.

Journalism isn’t perfect but it’s noble and important.

Thank you for the privilege of taking the journey together.