Sunday, December 10, 2017

Changing the Game

Changing The Game 
 By: Erin Fish
Keri Potts presenting at the Newhouse Sports Media Center at Syracuse University. Photo by Kristin O'Grady.

He grabbed her face, shoved his hands down her pants and man-handled her. 

A scar of his thumbnail on her stomach remains. It is the constant reminder of the worst night of her life.

That scar is visible, but there is another one that is more complicated, one that has emotionally scarred her. A scar that scar lingers, ever painful, and she is constantly reminded of it every day of her life.

She lives an incredible, humble life of service and compassion. That life is what defines Keri Potts now. Not a thumbnail left on her stomach by a drunken wretch of a man. 

You see, when that predatory monster decided one night that his sexual wants were more important than the safety and dignity of Keri Potts, well, he picked on the wrong woman. She has since made it her mission to help others. She has, and she will continue to do so. This incredibly smart, tenacious and passionate woman is completely changing the game.

Landing the Job

Keri Potts, a former academic All-American standout volleyball player at Syracuse University, was on her way home from an interview with the NCAA for a writing and publications editing job. The woman sitting next to her on the flight asked why she was wearing a suit, so Keri explained  that she had just come from a very important job interview and the woman smiled, intrigued by Keri’s sincerity. For the remainder of the flight, they discussed Title IV, the need for more women in sports, how the world belonged to them and the importance of strong women taking action and making decisions within traditional structures. The woman’s name was Barb Strader, who Keri later found out was the President of the Division II Management Council for the NCAA. When Strader got off the plane she made a phone call: “You have to hire her. She’s the kind of woman we need.”

Keri worked for the NCAA for three years and seven months. The longer she worked there and the more championship events she experienced, she realized how much she loved the intersection of sports, communications, and media relations. After three years of valuable experience, Keri began to explore other opportunities and she reached out to her Syracuse connections.

When Keri attended Syracuse, she worked for the athletics department. Being a student athlete and working there, the faculty was a second family to her. She had worked for Coach Jim Boeheim one summer, so when she called him and asked him if he knew of anyone in the industry that she could bounce some ideas off of, Coach was happy to help. He told her about a Syracuse alumni, John Wildhack, who was working at ESPN. Coach Boeheim said Wildhack would be great for her to talk to and that he would give him a call. 

Boeheim called Wildhack and told him ESPN should hire Keri. Although Wildhack was in production, he told Boeheim that he was more than willing to connect with Keri and help her in any way he could. The two built a strong mentor-mentee relationship through their networking connection. Wildhack grew to believe that Keri was smart, personable and passionate. When a job opened up in the communications department at ESPN, all he could do was crack open a door; after that it was up to her. 

Sue Edson who, at the time, was the Director of Athletic Communications at Syracuse, called ESPN as soon as she found out Keri had applied for the job. She only made calls when she felt comfortable and after working with Keri, there weren’t many, if any, positions that she wouldn’t recommend Keri for. She believed that her skillset, personality and passion was exactly what every company should be looking for. Sue called her friend, Josh Krulewitz, who worked in public relations for ESPN to recommend Keri.

Whatever it was that ultimately convinced the hiring committee that Keri Potts was the right person for the job, ESPN and the rest of the world would soon be better off because of it.  

Keri Potts, senior director of public relations for ESPN. Photo by Kristin O'Grady.

Dream Date Turned Nightmare

Keri Potts was on vacation in Italy with her friend, Lynn. On her last night, she decided to go out for drinks with a charming Italian artist named Marco, who she had met earlier that day. It had been a couple of years since her last relationship and Keri had been talking with Lynn about how hard it was to meet nice guys. She figured she would give Marco a chance.

When they met for drinks, Marco drank rum. The two looked through a book of his paintings and they talked about art and Italy. Marco talked about how a lot of artists are into sex and drugs but all he needed was art. Keri laughed and said that was good because he wasn’t getting any sex from her. He laughed and said that he would rather talk with her and then he kissed her. He suggested they go back to his apartment to see the view from his patio. They were on the same page; she was comfortable.

Six floors up; it was a beautiful view. They talked and walked to a bar down the street. He drank more rum as she sipped her wine. He talked louder and louder; he bought a bottle to go. “Lighten up and enjoy your last night,” Keri thought as she and Marco walked back to his apartment.

She heard glass break in the other room. When Marco came around the corner and thrust the bottle of rum toward her, Keri knew it was time to leave. He handed her a glass of rum and Keri walked inside from the patio, set the glass down and told Marco she was going to head back to her hotel. He then tried to hand her marijuana and she refused.

He grabbed her face.

Marco grasped the back of her neck with a strong grip, kissed her and drew blood biting her lip as she tried to push him away. 

He shoved his hands down her pants.

Marco forced his right hand into Keri’s jeans, trying to undo the button.

He man handled her.

Marco put both of his hands on Keri, pulling her body into him while shoving his hands into her underwear; she felt his fingernails scrape her.

When Marco said in nearly perfect English, “You’re not going anywhere”, Keri knew that she was in danger. The hair stood up on her neck and her stomach dropped. She tried to collect herself before she turned to face him. The charming man who she had met earlier in the day had become absolutely predatory.

Keri was smart. She had been out on the patio earlier and knew that was her way out. After a physical fight for her life with Marco, she finally pushed him hard enough that he fell backward and she was able to escape his grasp. She jumped over the wall to clear the patio and her sweater got stuck on the railing, which gave Marco enough time to catch up to her. He reached over, grabbed her neck and tried to pull her back up while she kicked and pulled in the opposite direction. Her sweater finally ripped and she fell to the balcony below.

Keri put her 5’10” athletic build and intelligent mind to use and hurdled herself rooftop-to-rooftop down five stories to escape this monster. She eventually wound up on a balcony with nowhere else to go, so she knocked on the back door. The resident let her cross through his apartment and told her how to get back to her hotel.

She pressed her ear against the door to hear if he was on the other side but she could only hear her heart beating out of her chest. What if he had been watching her climb down the whole time?

She took a deep breath, burst through the door and ran for her life. She sprinted all the way back to her hotel.  

What Now?

Keri was scheduled for a 9:00am flight but after deliberating over the personal, professional, legal and financial ramifications, she decided to go to the police station. She was afraid, but she knew in order to fight her fear she had to get as much information as possible.

Keri’s knowledge of the Italian legal system came to rival that of lawyers. Utilizing her PR background, she strategically broadcast her story, hoping it would bring people forward to help her. She wanted women to be aware that when an assault occurs overseas, prosecution and justice is possible. This was extremely important to her.

She focused on places that women and travelers would look to. She got together with an old teammate, Erin Zammett Ruddy, who worked for Marie Claire and the two wrote a four-page article about her story. The Travel Channel also did a piece on her and Discovery ID did an entire episode in their series, Dates From Hell. Keri also created her own blog to include any more information that she felt had been left out. 

Her first time ever publicly speaking out about her assault was at the Clinton School in February of 2011. Afterward, eight women and one man lined up to speak with Keri. With tears in their eyes, they greeted her with hugs and shared their stories of their experience with assault and rape. In that moment, Keri had never felt more inadequate in her life. She knew then, that she needed to do more to help others.

Keri went on to receive training and her certification in rape and crisis counseling. More and more places reached out, asking her to speak and each time, she would refine her message. Over the course of those years she would take the questions that people had and shape them to fit her presentations. Keri, being the selfless human being that she is, never wanted her speech to be about her; she wanted it to help every other person in the room.

Through the Discovery ID episode, Keri was connected with a man named Roger Canaff who is a former special victim’s prosecutor out of the Bronx and a JAG attorney in the military dealing with sexual assault. Canaff had been used in the episode as an expert on prosecution of sexual assault. He was part of an organization called, Ending Violence Against Women International. When introduced to him, Keri was overwhelmed with gratitude that this man was able to speak to her. She explained to him that she wanted to talk to people who have been assaulted overseas and he connected her with people that he knew, which is how Keri ended up on a list serve called Counter Quo.

Watch Your Language

She didn’t it know yet, but what she was about to hear would shape the forthcoming of her career. Keri was in Boston attending a conference at Northeastern University with Counter Quo. There was a woman at the conference by the name of Claudia Bayliff. At the time, Bayliff was working for Legal Momentum on the prosecutorial team of Kobe Bryant’s trial. Keri listened to Bayliff talk that day about the use of language. She explained how the word “accuser” shapes everyone’s thoughts about that particular victim with a negative connotation and how engrained in the vernacular it was, especially through its heavy coverage by the media. Working for ESPN, Keri left knowing the heavy coverage was partially her fault.

She went back to the news room and asked everyone to take a look at the word accuser and how negative it could make the victim seem. Keri was instantly shot down. She was told that the word existed beforehand and there was nothing they could do to change it. Another moment of feeling inadequate for Keri Potts where she realized, in order to affect real change, she needed knowledge too, not just passion. The next time someone tried to shoot her down, she would have done the work and she would come back swinging harder.

For years, Keri became particularly keen to language. Every time she would read a story she would pay attention and write letters and emails to the editors asking them to change their wording and explaining why the use of the language was important to the story. People would write Keri emails from all over the world asking for help or telling their stories and she became used to helping people through their pain. She was doing more and more work as a victim’s advocate so she started to have a more thorough understanding of the crime. For five years Keri learned the scope and scale. She did the research and went to the conferences and seminars. She was finally in a place where she knew how to articulate this, she knew how to make arguments for anyone coming at her, and she knew how to be persuasive.

Preaching to the Choir

“Well, she shouldn’t have put herself in that situation.”

This is a classic phrase that is used in discussions of sexual violence that blames the victim and forgives the perpetrator.  When Keri Potts heard that phrase used by an on-air personality at ESPN after Ray Rice physically assaulted his fiancĂ©e, she knew that something needed to be done about their use of language.

Continuously Keri would reach out, but she never could get the right person in the extremely large company. Finally, Keri approached Stephanie Druley, SVP of Production. She explained the inappropriate and hurtful phrasing used by ESPN and convinced Druley to let her speak to the company about their responsibility in choosing their words wisely.

August 2nd, 2017

It was the first time she ever did the presentation with a media organization. She had 30 minutes to present to 300 of her coworkers who were a part of the college networks.
Her nerves and vulnerability led to an authentic presentation that left many people in tears. Keri used every moment of the 30 minutes to grasp the attention of her colleagues and help them to fully understand the importance of the language of violence. She received a standing ovation, the response overwhelmingly positive. The emails flooded her inbox, her coworkers who hadn’t realized they were part of the problem, wanting to open their minds and educate themselves. Keri was extremely grateful for the powerful woman who trusted her, lifted her up, and ultimately gave her the opportunity she had only ever dreamed of.  

After the presentation to the college team, Keri found out that in September, her presentation would become required training to all on-air talent and production at ESPN.

For two days Keri couldn’t eat. Trying to take in food, but her stomach would instantly reject it. Nerves had completely taken over. These were people that Keri respected. They may or may not have even known who she was, but she was going to stand up in front of them and in a way, show them all they had been doing wrong. She was afraid she would be rejected and mocked like she had been years ago but then she remembered, this time she had the work to back it up.

The first presentation she gave was at 10am. Keri left feeling like she could’ve done better. The next presentation wasn’t until 4pm, so Keri sat for four hours listening to calming music and practicing her speech. Everything she had was left out on that stage during that 4 o’clock presentation. She doesn’t know that she will ever do that presentation better.

From Then, To Now

ESPN has now created a guide that will no longer use the word, “accuser.” The news division has decided to abandon the word because it has a negative meaning that dehumanizes the victim. Instead, they will use “woman” or “man” as a replacement. The company will be the first company to completely remove the word from its vernacular.

Keri believes there will always be sexual predators in the news, but if we can change the way we talk about the victim and the perpetrator, we can become more aware of how deliberate these predators are.

Nine years since the nightmare in Italy and Keri reflects on the positives in her life today. She is now on the board for an organization called Pathways to Safety International, a resource for overseas victims of sexual assault, a dream opportunity. Dealing with the criticism of victims is infuriating and taxing but she truly feels invigorated by her work and feels it’s something she’ll continue to do for the rest of her life.

Keri and I at the Newhouse Sports Media Center Presentation. Photo by Kristin O'Grady.
I am a student at the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University. On October 23rd, Keri Potts gave a presentation to the Newhouse Sports Media Center and what I learned that day completely changed my outlook on life. This woman traveled back to her alma mater, not to talk about herself or all of the amazing things she is doing at ESPN, but instead she came to share her personal victim story with about 25 students whom she didn’t know. She presented to us on the use of language and I will forever be aware how important the use of language can be. I showed up thinking I would learn about what it meant to be the senior director of public relations for ESPN.

Instead I learned courage. Keri Potts is extremely brave to stand up and share her story in order to teach a group of students about the importance of sexual assault and violence. It can't be easy to share a personal victim story, but Keri understands the importance of education on the topic.

Instead I learned honesty. Keri Potts does not hide from her true self. Sexual violence is an uncomfortable topic that Keri is extremely passionate about. She makes everyone around her feel more comfortable when discussing the subject.

Instead I learned strength. Keri Potts has endured great tragedy and has overcome hardship. She stood tall clenching her fists, tears in her eyes, telling a room of engaged students how she faced her fears head on.

I walked away from that presentation having learned what it means to be a powerful human being. Keri Potts is an incredible person that has done so much good for this world already.

Keri Potts has completely changed the game.

Syracuse versus Colgate in Photos

Colgate Hangs Tough, Orange Prevail

Colgate Hangs Tough, Orange Prevail

Story by: Erin Fish

Photos by: Jose Cuevas

SYRACUSE, N.Y.– The Syracuse men’s basketball team outlasted Colgate 72-58 on Saturday afternoon in what very well could have been a blow out at the Carrier Dome.

With the win Syracuse improves to 8-1 on the season, while Colgate’s record falls to 3-6 after losing its fourth straight game.

Raiders Battle

Sophomore Tyus Battle got off to hot start scoring 15 points in the first half, making it look as if there was no answer, but Colgate kept digging.

The Raiders had four 3-point shooters that spread the floor and created a significant threat for the Orange. The Raiders finished the day shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc. Coach Jim Boeheim was disappointed with some of the shots that his team allowed Colgate to take, but he gave credit where credit was due.

“Those guys can shoot, they all can shoot,” Boeheim said. “It's a team that has four perimeter guys that all can shoot."

Although Battle had a strong first half and the Orange were shooting 57.7 percent from the field, a lights out shooting performance and a strong defensive effort by the Raiders kept them in the game.

Colgate opened the second half with an 11-5 run and cut the score to 43-37. Freshmen Oshae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj hit back-to-back jumpers to put the Orange back up 47-37 with 13:58 left in the half. Colgate Freshman Jack Ferguson brought the Raiders back within seven when he answered with a 3-pointer.

This was just one of the six 3-pointers Ferguson hit in today’s game. He finished the game with 20 points, shooting 50 percent from the 3-point line.

Inside the Arc

Colgate proved to be a great shooting team, but Syracuse dominated the inside game. The Syracuse defense only allowed the Raiders to reach the foul line four times and while at the line the Raiders only went 2-4.

Syracuse shot 52.1 percent overall from the field and 68.2 percent from the free throw line.

Brissett scored a career high 20 points while junior Frank Howard added 18 points and 6 assists in the win. 

Dolezaj had 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals. Although he only had two points today Coach Boeheim is extremely happy with the minutes that the freshman is putting in for the Orange.

"He's one of those players that doesn't really have to score. He makes plays," Coach Boeheim said. "He makes winning plays. That's what he does."

Resting Sidibe

Freshman center Bourama Sidibe dressed for the game against Colgate on Saturday afternoon, but he did not see any playing time. Sidibe had played in every game this season up to this point.

The 6'10 center has been struggling with tendonitis in his knee and he also suffered an ankle injury in the game against Kansas last Saturday. Sidibe attempted to play in the game against UConn at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, but returned to the bench after only 10 minutes.

Coach Boeheim commented after the game that they are hoping his ankle will be better in 2-3 days.

Old Rivalry

The next game for Syracuse will be on Saturday, December 16th. The Orange will travel down to Washington D.C. to take on their former Big East Conference rival, Georgetown.  

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Performance Behind the Arc Extends Undefeated Start for Orange

Performance Behind the Arc Extends Undefeated Start for Orange
By Erin Fish
Photos by Peter Benson

Monday, November 20, 2017

SYRACUSE, N.Y.– The Orange won their third straight game on Monday morning at the Carrier Dome as they defeated the Hartford Hawks 75-63. The win puts Syracuse at 3-0 on the season and will set Hartford back to 1-3.

Two players put up double-doubles on the stat sheet for the Orange. Redshirt junior Miranda Drummond recorded her first of the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while sophomore Tiana Mangakahia recorded her second consecutive double-double this season with 17 points and 10 assists. This also marks the third consecutive game Mangakahia has tallied 10 assists.

Syracuse point guard Tiana Mangakahia dribbles the ball up the court. Photo by Peter Benson.
It looked like it was going to be a day for the 3-ball for both teams. Sophomore Gabrielle Cooper made back-to-back 3-point shots to open up the game for the Orange. The 3-point daggers and a layup by Drummond initiated an 8-0 start in the Carrier Dome on ‘School Day’ in front of a crowd of thousands of screaming young school children.

Junior Lindsey Abed put up the first points of the game for the Hawks with a 3-pointer. Less than a minute later, Hartford junior Kelly Douglass drained another 3-pointer to pull the Hawks within reach. The Orange responded with a three at the other end of the floor putting them up 13-6 with 6:00 remaining in the quarter. Junior Alexia Douglas of Hartford answered with two consecutive threes to pull the Hawks within one at the 4:15 mark. From there, a fast break Syracuse offense would outmatch the Hawks. They finished out the quarter with an 11-2 run with a score of 24-14 entering the second quarter.

Gabrielle Cooper shooting from the 3-point arc. Photo by Peter Benson.
The Hawks opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer made by senior Janelle Harrison. Cooper continued to lead the Orange in scoring with two consecutive 3-point baskets followed shortly after with another three-pointer by her freshman teammate, Digna Strautmane. The two teams then went back and forth putting numbers on the board, but the Orange ended the half with a 42-32 lead.

Syracuse began to take a heavy lead when redshirt junior Isis Young hit two 3-pointers three minutes into the third quarter. Young and Drummond combined for 14 of the 19 points scored for ‘Cuse. The score was 61-48 in favor of the Orange heading into the final quarter.

Throughout the entirety of the fourth quarter, Syracuse maintained a nine-point lead against the Hawks. A huge part of that was due to their sophomore point guard, Tiana Mangakahia. In the fourth quarter alone, Mangakahia tallied 8 points and 3 assists.

Coach Quentin Hillsman was happy with the overall effort his team put in today.

"Hartford is a really tough team. They've had some games that they've lost the last couple of games but they've been in every game. They are a tough group of kids that work really hard," said Coach Hillsman. "I'm really proud of our team. We did a fantastic job in the second half of speeding up the game and trying to take away their 3-point shots." 

The Orange will travel to Washington D.C to play in the Paradise Jam from Nov. 23-25. On Thursday, Nov. 30, Syracuse will return to the Carrier Dome to host Northwestern as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Syracuse Football Loses Final Game of the Season

Story by Jude Allume 
Photo by Peter Benson

SYRACUSE, N.Y.  The Syracuse Orange (4-8) lost its fifth straight game in blowout fashion to the Boston College Eagles (7-5) 42-14 at the Carrier Dome to end the season, Saturday afternoon.

"When you're playing the type of team that we're playing, you have to be able to exchange punches with them," Orange head coach Dino Babers said. "What you saw was a boxer and a brawler and it's a physical game. You get hit, you get hit, you got to hit back. It comes a point you get tired of doing it."

The Start of a Long Day

From their first possession, the Eagles' offense gave the Orange a taste of what would take place all day. With Boston College backup quarterback Darius Wade filling in for the injured Anthony Brown, the Eagles leaned heavily on their running attack. Running back AJ Dillon capped off the drive with a 22 yard touchdown run for the early 7-0 lead.

With Eric Dungey out for the third straight week, redshirt freshman Rex Culpepper got the start and the Orange responded with a scoring drive of its own. After a kick out of bounds gave Syracuse possession with good field position, the Orange picked up three first downs before the drive was capped off by a 37 yard catch and run by Steve Ishmael to even the score at 7.

That was the closest Syracuse would get for the remainder of the day however, as the Eagles went on to score rushing touchdowns on three of their first four possessions, building up a 21-7 lead halfway through the second quarter.

Have a Day, AJ

The Orange had no answers for the Eagles' running game. True freshman AJ Dillon led the BC running attack with three touchdowns and 196 yards. The Eagles finished the game with 333 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns.

Bright Spot for the Orange

Steve Ishmael had the best game of his collegiate career, finishing with 11 receptions for a career high 187 yards and one touchdown. Ishmael broke two school records with his performance, surpassing the single-season receptions record of 94 catches and career receiving yards record of 2,728 yards. On the season Ishmael has 105 catches for 1,347 yards, good for second and third in the NCAA respectively.

Tough Goodbye for the Seniors

The loss was not the preferred way to end the season for the Orange, especially for the seniors who played their final game for Syracuse and for some, possibly the last game of their careers.

“When a football player retires from college, there’s nowhere to go,” Babers said. “Twenty-two guys aren’t playing in the park with pads.”

Instead of letting the loss sting as the final memory of a long season, with five seconds remaining in the game, Babers called timeout. One by one, he called off the seniors on defense including Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett and embraced them as they walked off the field to the cheers of those left in the crowd.

"I was very surprised," Bennett said. "I definitely appreciated it though. Definitely very emotional. You don't really realize it's your last game at the Dome until it's over with."

What's Next

Boston College completed its regular season at 7-5 and awaits an invitation to a bowl game.

Syracuse finishes the season at 4-8 for the third straight year and fails to qualify for a bowl game for the fourth straight year.

Football vs. Boston College

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Boston College ended Syracuse's football season with a 42-14 pounding of the Orange on Senior Day at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. Here's a look at the game in photos by Peter Benson. Click on any picture to start slide show.

Coach Dino Babers and Athletic Director John Wildhack

The band entering the field

Devin Butler hyped before entering the field

Coach Dino Babers leading out the team for the final game of the season

Christopher Frederick is late to the party

AJ Dillon hurdling through a tackle

AJ Dillon breaks away from Rodney Williams for the TD

Ervin Philips watches his teammate grab a first down

Steve Ishmael for the score

The home crowd gets excited as Ishmael evens it up

AJ Dillon refuses to be tackled

Zair Franklin eventually catches Dillon

Dillon for his second score

The traveling contingent love Dillon's go ahead score

Relief RB Jon Hillman takes some punishment

Kobay White can't haul in the pass on fourth down

Boston College team huddle during TO

Boston College fan celebrates among the home crowd

Ervin Philips splits the defense for the easy score

Philips celebrates

Philips celebrates

Lukas Denis grabs the interception

AJ Dillon splits the defense

The lone ball after a missed field goal at the end of the half

Franklin and Parris Bennett reflect on the difficult first half

Babers with a lot to think about at the half

Devin C. Butler lines up for a route

QB Rex Culpepper goes down in his first start for Syracuse

Darius Wade takes the snap