Football Trumps War
The cover of Iraq veterans pictured above never published. On November 9, 2006, a few days before the magazine was sent to the printer, the Rutgers football team pulled off a remarkable comeback in the second half of their game against the Louisville Cardinals, then ranked third in the nation. At that point, Rutgers was 9–0 and there was talk about a major bowl for the first time in school history. Ironically, the team lost their next two contests to Cincinnati and West Virginia, and the bowl opportunity never materialized.
As acting editor and the writer of the story, I didn’t disagree with the decision to switch out the covers. Rutgers football was a national story, and resonating with the alumni base as never before. In my view, the key factor was the mission of the magazine; not the more important story. The magazine’s role was to capture the tenor of the university at that point in time.
I’m sure cynics might disagree with that. Football is crucial to fundraising; alumni who fought in Iraq aren’t going to bring in nearly as much money. But isn’t the underlying mission of football—and the magazine for that matter—to help Rutgers raise money and lift the university’s profile? That’s why both football and the magazine exist on the scale that they do.
The hardest part was telling the sources—all fine individuals who each had an dramatic experience to recount—that their photos wouldn’t be on the cover. It’s exciting to be on a cover of a magazine, and I’m sure they and their families and friends were disappointed. But not one of them complained; they all seemed to understand. Compared to what they had been willing to sacrifice for their country, they probably thought it was trivial.