Column: Hanging up the Cleats, Gracias Totales Phoenix

Sports Editor Fernando Molina Bier — a Honduran citizen graduating with a degree in economics — reflects on his limitations as a foreigner and his early retirement from sports journalism.

There are three more issues left of The Loyola Phoenix in the 2022-23 academic year, which means there are three weeks left in my career as a journalist. It might come as a surprise to you that I have never taken a journalism class in the four years I’ve spent at Loyola. It might also surprise you that I am a Honduran citizen who lived in Latin America until I moved to the United States for my first year of college at Loyola.

Graduating with a BBA in economics and having English as my second language, you might ask yourself what I’m doing as sports editor for The Loyola Phoenix. The answer is sports.

In a culture where fútbol (or soccer) is religion, I grew up worshiping F.C. Motagua — one of Honduras’ most popular clubs. My earliest, and to this day most vibrant memory of sports, came — ironically — on a rainy day in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 

F.C. Motagua was playing C.D. Vida in the semi-final of the Honduran league. Down 2-0 late in the game, I witnessed my first “anything can happen” moment in sports. Three unanswered goals in the final minutes of the game gave my team the win and made me fall helplessly in love with sports.  

As time went by, I diversified my taste in sports thanks to my uncle Fofo, who taught me about American football, baseball and a bit of basketball. I became obsessed with American football and thought I could make it to the NFL if I practiced throwing the pigskin in buckets in my backyard.

As I approached college, my future’s expectations became more realistic. I applied to Loyola undecided, even though I already knew I would end up studying economics. Regardless, I had a passion for sports and writing, so I decided to join The Phoenix in 2021.

“So why don’t you follow your passion?” “Why don’t you major in sports journalism?” Most people have recommended I dive blindly into dedicating my life to what I do at The Phoenix, but the panorama changes in the shoes of a foreigner.

As a Honduran citizen on a student visa, I have no choice but to think of the rather high probability of not being able to get a work visa in the United States, finding myself forced to return to my home-country. 

Hypothetically speaking, if I went back to Honduras with a journalism degree, my options would pretty much be narrowed down to writing about the Honduran soccer league — which pays horribly and is at an extremely low level — or writing about economics and politics. If I decided to do the latter and preserve my journalistic integrity, I would inevitably be forced to write negatively about Honduras’ political climate, consequently risking my freedom under a government that stands above the law. 

In 2022, a mere 18% of applicants for the H-1B (employment) visa were approved, most of which were selected in a lottery round. Despite how much I would have wanted to pursue a career in sports journalism, I can’t roll the dice knowing there is a 88% probability I’ll be sent back home with a degree that would turn my passion into a life of fear and misery.

I would have loved to cover a game on an NFL field, but I never thought I would be sitting on press row at March Madness, across the court from the likes of Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller. I would have loved to interview professional athletes, but I never thought Drew Valentine — head coach for the Loyola men’s basketball team and youngest head coach in Division 1 basketball — would shout me out on Twitter and know me by my first name. I would have loved to write for The Athletic, but I never thought I would work with what I will always remember as the most talented, kind and driven journalists I have ever met at a student-run, award-winning newspaper.

Regardless of where my future lays, I will forever be grateful for The Phoenix and everyone I worked with in it for giving me a glimpse into what my career in sports journalism could have been.

I want to thank Gabbi Lumma, assistant sports editor of The Phoenix, for helping me run the sports section, brightening up the newsroom and so much more — I could not have done it without you. 

Former editors for The Phoenix Lu Calzada, Amelia Ickes and Z Miller for their mentorship, guidance and trust in me to run the sports section. 

To the Sports Information Directors Ryan Haley, Bill Behrns, Kristen Keller, Dan Wallace and Derrick Blyberg, for treating student media with the same respect and attention they would other media outlets. 

To every coach and athlete at Loyola that I ever interviewed, my job would not be possible without our shared love of sports and the respect you treated student media with.

But the job’s not done yet. I am not publishing this column in the last issue because I have better stories to finish my career with than a goodbye letter. Not that I needed the motivation that comes with this column, but a little reflection never hurts in the final stretch. My best stories are yet to come.

Stay tuned.

Featured image courtesy of Fernando Molina Bier

Fernando Molina Bier

Fernando Molina Bier