When to Phone a Friend

Two alumni journalists helped make this issue of the magazine shine.

September 2022

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Illustration of a hand holding a corded phone with a text bubble that says "We need a story that explains..."

Illustration: Squaredot95/Getty Images

I’d consider myself a reasonably average fan of Stanford athletics. I faithfully attended every 1991 home women’s volleyball match as the team romped through the Pac-10 undefeated, then nursed my heartbreak after they fell to eventual champion UCLA in the NCAA tournament. I leapt off my friends’ couch midway through the final minute of the men’s 1998 Elite Eight game against Rhode Island (look it up). I planted Cardinal, white, and green grass in my backyard that had been harvested from the football field moments before demolition of the “old” stadium began.

OK, maybe an average fan for an undergrad alum who makes her home 7 miles down the road.

But I must say I loved living in a frosh dorm alongside varsity basketball, baseball, and soccer players. Attending class alongside Olympic swimmers and NFL prospects. Watching as my frosh RA thrust recruitment flyers into the hands of every woman “5'8"—or tough enough to make the difference,” plus the diminutive one who had coxswain mojo. (I’m also average in height and toughness, so I got to sleep through women’s rowing practice.) Although it wasn’t something I sought out in a college, I’ve always been glad to have landed at the place with the greatest synergy of academics and athletics.

Which is why I’m grateful that sportswriter Ivan Maisel, ’81, took on the challenge of explaining to us all what on earth is going on in intercollegiate athletics these days. When I asked him to show us how money and labor-relations issues are shaking up the playing field, he said, “Good idea. I can clear out a cocktail party talking about that stuff.” 

I was pretty sure that if anyone was going to secure an interview with retiring U.S. Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer, ’59, it would be him.

Ivan has covered college football for the better part of four decades. He understands how quickly the delicate balance between each side of the “student-athlete” hyphen has been upset. (And I understand when to phone a friend.)

Or make a new friend, for that matter. I’d never worked with Pete Williams, ’74, before, but I was pretty sure that if anyone was going to secure an interview with retiring U.S. Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer, ’59, for Stanford, it would be him. Pete covered the Court for NBC News until his retirement in July, and he was the only alum with a “hard pass”—a full-time press credential—to the Court for the 2021 term. 

I asked Pete to conduct an interview by early May so that we could run it in the July issue, and he wrote back in three minutes to say he would put in the request right away. Pete cautioned me that it was the Court’s busiest time: “We face long odds because of the May deadline,” he said. But he’s the persevering sort, and he caught up with Breyer eight days before his June retirement, in plenty of time to bring you the justice’s reflections on 28 years on the Court for this issue.

What I remain most struck by, from Pete’s reply to my out-of-the-blue email, was his immediate use of the word we. In other words, we’re all on the Stanford team.

Kathy Zonana, ’93, JD ’96, is the editor of Stanford. Email her at

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