Like many of you reading this, I “met” Ivan Cole many years ago on Behind the Steel Curtain, first through his comments (always intelligent and to the point) and then through his articles. After a while I noticed when he published a new article that the topic was frequently something I had been mulling over in my mind for a possible article. Ivan had basically written what I would have, only better. I commented to this effect after it happened several times, and he was kind enough to note that he felt the same way about some of my pieces.
We continued to communicate through the medium of BTSC articles and comments until one summer Ivan, an ex-pat Pittsburgher, expressed an interest in driving up from Virginia and attending training camp. I invited him to stay with my husband and me. Although my husband is lamentably uninterested in the NFL, he is interested in people, and he was also curious to meet Ivan.
Ivan showed up at our house the afternoon before we were scheduled to go to camp. I’m guessing he was, like me, slightly apprehensive as to what he’d gotten himself into, but mostly was excited to finally meet in person. The rest is history. Ivan was a “brother from another mother,” as my kids would say.
We talked far into the night and discovered many more things in common than just the Steelers, despite our very different backgrounds and experiences. A surprising common passion was human trafficking, (or more precisely, the victims thereof) but for anyone who knew Ivan’s outsized heart, it would be no surprise at all. Another common interest, one that is perhaps more obvious, was a concern for the well-being of NFL players and consequently in CTE and other issues they face.
Ivan came to Pittsburgh several more times for training camp, coming with his brother Andy and/or Mike Silverstein. We would meet up in Latrobe, and each time there was an instant feeling of connection. Although what brought us together was the Steelers, what kept us connected was much more than that.
One of the results of our friendship was this website. Both of us were interested in writing in-depth pieces, and were distressed by the overall sports journalism trend to cater to the presumed tiny attention span of most readers. We felt there was a niche for a site dedicated to long-form opinion and/or analysis pieces. It turns out we weren’t entirely wrong, if by “niche” you mean a small number of highly appreciative people.
It also turns out it is quite exhausting to keep up a site and generate thoughtful content on a regular basis, and we ran out of steam a few years ago. I’ve been loathe to officially kill the site, though, as there is so much in the archives which is worth reading. It won’t surprise anyone who knew his work that the majority of the timeless articles were written by Ivan. If you haven’t been here before, please check them out. You can search by his name and get a list of everything he wrote. I am going to keep the site alive for another year so that people can do so.
That’s the history. As far as Ivan the person, I’m sure that each of us penning our thoughts had a somewhat different experience of him, as he was such an incredibly multi-faceted person.
My experience was of one of the most thought-full people I’ve ever met. He didn’t just look at an issue from the obvious angle, but asked himself why there was a divergence of opinion on it and therefore what might be missing in his first reaction. In these degenerate days this seems to be a rare trait. He was kind, but didn’t suffer fools gladly. He believed in facing facts, particularly facts about oneself.
As a consequence he was very involved in a ministry which held retreats for men to help them be better husbands and fathers. One of the common issues was a problem with/addiction to pornography. Part of what Ivan did as a team leader was to help the men at the retreats to connect the dots to the human trafficking aspects of pornography. Like so many of the causes and issues Ivan was interested in, it was the aspect of the dehumanization of the victims which particularly distressed him.
He was eloquent on this subject in regards to NFL players as well. One of the projects we often spoke of in the past several years but which was destined to never be realized was an exploration of how the modern sports environment turns the players into nothing more than commodities. For Ivan, it has uncomfortable echoes of slavery. It is a great pity he never found the time to work on this—it would have made a book well worth reading.
One of the aspects of Ivan which has always impressed me is the diversity, for lack of a less loaded word, of his friends, family and acquaintances. On a number of visits over the years to Virginia, including my last sad visit in the hospital in early March, I encountered many of them. They were from all walks of life, of all colors, and were all interesting and a pleasure to meet. The Cole Family Christmas party, which Mike talks about in his tribute, was something of a revelation. Once again, this is no surprise to anyone who knew Ivan and the vast range of his interests and activities.
It’s been difficult in the past few days (and to be honest, months, once I realized just how serious his condition was) to imagine a world without Ivan. I haven’t quite wrapped my head around it yet. The one thing I know for sure is that it is going to be a poorer one. My heart goes out to his daughter Christine and her family, his brother Andy, and all his extended family. To all of you, my prayers and thoughts are with you.
And to his extended “family” which are the rest of us, let’s try to pay it forward. It’s surely the best way to honor his memory.
Farewell, Ivan, and Godspeed.