Cecil Harris, FCLC ’93, Returns to His Roots


For Cecil Harris, FCLC ’93, sports writing wasn’t a lifelong career aspiration, but an alternative to accounting.

“I would fall asleep in [accounting] class and do some soul searching,” Harris said. “What do you really love to do? Well, I love sports and I love writing. I’m going to really try to pursue that.”

Growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Harris wasn’t afforded many opportunities to hone his writing abilities. “Coming out of high school, I didn’t know what exactly I’d be doing,” Harris said. “I went to Franklin D. Roosevelt High School, which didn’t have a school newspaper.” In fact, Harris’ first stab at writing came right here at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, in the pages of The Observer.

His work at Fordham, which included covering former President Bill Clinton’s 1992 appearance at City College, earned Harris an internship with Gannett Newspapers (now known as The Journal News) in White Plains, NY, and upon graduation, full-time employment at Gannett. Twice a week, Harris covered training camp for the New York Giants and Jets, until slowly but surely, his grasp began to extend to sidebars at New York Mets and Yankees games, and later, a scrimmage between the Jets and Washington Redskins on location at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.

“I didn’t realize at the time that if I had sent them absolute crap, they didn’t have to run it,” Harris said. “I thought this is a great chance to prove to them I can do it; and they really liked what I sent back and that’s when they began to let me cover more and more things by myself. That’s when I began to feel like a sports writer.”

Harris ultimately came to serve as the Yankees beat reporter from 1995-98 at Gannett, an assignment that caused conflicting emotions for the lifelong Yankees fan, especially in his dealings with the team’s famously temperamental owner, George Steinbrenner.

“He was an elitist,” Harris said. “If the New York Times would like to talk to him, he’d talk to them. Gannett-Westchester, as it was called then, was the smallest of the eight newspapers that covered the Yankees full time, so unless I had a face-to-face interview with Steinbrenner, he wouldn’t return my calls.”

Steinbrenner was no more interested in speaking to Harris even when he went so far as to attempt a meeting at the 1996 Olympics, where Harris was covering boxing for Gannett and Steinbrenner was in attendance as vice chairman of the US Olympic Committee. Harris had arranged to speak with Steinbrenner following the conclusion of a fight. In between bouts of this particular fight, dignitaries were introduced to the audience. Steinbrenner was introduced after the second round, following Angelo Dundee, Muhammad Ali’s trainer. Steinbrenner was heavily booed.

“And I thought this is an international event, how do all these people know Steinbrenner?” Harris asked. “I turned around, because the press box is basically in the crowd, and the Mongolian boxing team was behind me. They were booing. So I asked this Mongolian boxer, ‘Why would you boo him? Do you know who he is?’ and the guy said, ‘He’s greedy.’”

Shocked by his terrible reception, Steinbrenner decided to leave early. Though he was approached by Harris about their scheduled plans on his way out of the venue, Steinbrenner simply made an excuse and departed anyway; Harris never saw him again that night.

From Gannett, Harris went on to cover St. John’s University basketball for The New York Post and then the 2001-02 Indianapolis Pacers for the Indianapolis Star. Though a great experience, his time with Indianapolis was marked by personal struggles.

“That was a very difficult period in my life because my mother was dying,” Harris said.

Ultimately, the situation became so severe that Harris could no longer juggle visiting his mother in New York on his off-days and reporting on the Pacers full-time. Thus, he left Indianapolis after one season.

The time Harris spent with his mother in her last weeks would ironically turn out to further his career in a way that Indianapolis could never have; it was his mother’s words that propelled Harris to finally write his first sports history book, “Breaking the Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey.” Harris next authored “Call the Yankees My Daddy” and his latest release, “Charging the Net,” which he co-wrote with Larryette Kyle-DeBose.

“I prefer writing books; sports history is sort of my itch,” Harris said. “The next one I want to do is a historical novel, research what has happened to young black men in particular who have gone from high school to the NBA…For every Kobe Bryant, there are 10 Lenny Cooks. People don’t know Lenny Cook…There are a lot of young people like that and I want to do something on what happens to them after that.”

Harris currently serves as a writer and editor for New York Road Runners, the country’s largest organization devoted to promoting road running. He is also set to narrate “Black Ice,” a documentary being produced by the National Hockey League’s Diversity Task Force that will premiere during the NHL’s All-Star week celebrations in Atlanta in January 2008.