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Alum Profile: Stephanie Apstein ’06

When Stephanie Apstein ’06 was at Dana Hall, she was not a member of the Hallmanac student newspaper, but she did enjoy sports, and she also liked reading and writing. “I don’t think it occurred to me that I could do all of those things at once,” she joked. Years later, Apstein would combine her passions into a perfect position for her: senior writer at Sports Illustrated (SI) magazine, a job she’s held since 2021; she’s been at SI since 2011.

It wasn’t until she got to Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., that she began pursuing journalism in earnest as a member of The Trinity Tripod student newspaper. They were looking for a sports reporter, so she started covering swimming and diving. By her senior year, in addition to the school newspaper she was interning at the Hartford Courant. “I did a lot of collecting scores from high school coaches,” she said. “Occasionally they let me write about the Trinity baseball team or some short thing on a softball player.” The newspaper’s content management system allowed Apstein to see how stories got filed and edited, and she enjoyed seeing what the editors would change.

Grad school was her next stop, where Apstein not only honed her craft, but made indispensable mentors and connections. Because Columbia University has the only ivy league graduate journalism program, it was a level of access she hadn’t anticipated, from guest speakers to networking, and she found herself among classmates who were older and had professional working experience. “These people were not fooling around,” she said of her classmates who were in their mid- to late-20s. “They understood the value of the [tuition] dollar. It was cool to be around that level of intensity.”

Her thesis advisor, Sandy Padwe, encouraged her to apply for the SI internship program, which she landed and found herself half fact checking and half serving as secretary to the editor, “photocopying and mailing stuff to his kids,” she said. They asked her to stay on as a full-year intern and she stuck around long enough that they hired her as a copy editor. She was writing on her own time, but the opportunities were few and far between.

Apstein recounts a memorable clip during this time. “The year the Miami Heat lost the NBA Finals, one of our writers, Lee Jenkins, asked me to help him do some stringing ahead of time,” she said. “I called a bunch of bars in Cleveland, befriended the bartenders and asked if I could call them after the game. I did and they told me everyone was chanting, ‘No ring for the king!’ It was part of a sentence; they used it as a clause. My parents bought a copy of that issue.”

Along with Major League Baseball, which has become one of her beats, Apstein has found herself as a golf writer. She tells a story about a party for Sportsman of the Year at the time SI had just sold off Golf Magazine; along with the sale went the magazine’s sports writers. She was talking to a colleague when they were approached and asked if they wanted to be the new golf writers.

“If I had been in the bathroom, I wouldn’t be doing this,” she laughed. As for not knowing much about golf before she began covering it, she said, “Golfers are not playing defense; their competition is against the course. There’s not a lot of secrecy the way there is in team sports. They’re very good at explaining what they were thinking and why they made the decision they made. If you don’t know anything [about golf], they’ll explain it to you.” 

“One of the best parts of this job is that it puts me in contact every day with people who are the best in the world at what they do.”

Writing for SI has also been Apstein’s ticket to two Olympics — Tokyo and Beijing — though both were in the time of COVID-19 with limited spectators, reporter quarantines and nearly no sightseeing. “I’d just imagined it very differently,” she said of covering the games in the summer of 2021. “They kept calling it the closed loop: hotel to bus to arena to bus to hotel.” After 14 days of quarantine in Tokyo, she was allowed to take public transit. “I was out-of-my-mind excited to get on the subway. It probably was the worst Olympics, but it was my best Olympics.”

While the pandemic has been hard on everyone, she’s felt that even more so working in sports journalism. There are days when Apstein questions what she does — if she’s making a difference, any difference, through her writing. She’s found a lot of colleagues who’ve had similar thoughts over the last two-plus years. But for her, it boils down to two things: improve the world and have fun.

“The way we try to make the world better is by connecting people,” she said. “Sports is one of those rare fields where you can get somebody to care about something they normally wouldn’t have cared about. These athletes from different backgrounds affect how their team does. I’m more interested in failure than success as most of these people have not succeeded: They’ve failed and they’ve been embarrassed. And people can relate to that.”

Photo: Stephanie Apstein ’06 in Tokyo, covering the 2020 Olympics