I’ve talked about this before, but the first thing I ever wrote for Hot Time In Old Town way back in 2014 was a guest column on who the team captain should be. This was when Logan Pause’s future with the club was very much in doubt, and it wasn’t immediately obvious who would— or could— replace him as the squad’s locker room leader and moral compass.
There was one central question in that column: why anyone should care who the captain of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club was. In what otherwise should’ve been a straightforward preseason predictions article, I wanted to argue for why the armband, and who wears it, mattered.
Hot Time is a machine that mostly runs itself. There’s a lot of little things that have to happen behind the scenes to make it all work, but for the most part what we do here is straightforward. We tell the story of Chicago Soccer. We tell the stories people care about, but more to the point, we pick out stories that some might not care about and argue for why they should. The work that goes into Hot Time isn’t always easy, but it’s fairly simple.
But I do think it matters who wears the armband at Hot Time.
My editor for most of my time here was Sean Spence, who gave me a chance when a lot of folks in similar positions wouldn’t give me a second look. Other people may have coaxed Hot Time into existence, but it owes much of its current shape to Sean. He set the tone for game recaps. He established the norm that we do not shy away from politics or difficult topics, and that we absolutely do not Stick To Sports.
I owe a lot of my career to him. I owe him for teaching me how to survive the grind of covering the same team week in, week out. I owe him for teaching me how to navigate an adversarial relationship with the people you’re supposed to cover in the name of sticking to your principles. I owe him for showing me how to stay centered even when a mob is calling for my head.
But mostly, I owe him for giving me the opportunity to write about Chicago Soccer for almost six years. A lot of what I tried to do here at Hot Time was to preserve the spirit of Sean’s work and Sean’s legacy. I’ll leave it to others to decide how successful I was at that— I can only speak to my intentions, for all that it matters.
There’s another lesson I learned from Sean: knowing when it’s time to go.
And so: I’m leaving. My last day at Hot Time In Old Town is New Years’ Eve, but the holidays are coming up soon, so I’m writing my sign-off a little early.
I’m leaving at a time when Chicago’s two professional teams are heading into a time of big changes. The Fire have a new owner, a new stadium, and a new visual identity. They also, at press time, don’t have a head coach or enough of a roster to name a full gameday 18. All the core members of the 2017 squad that made the playoffs and challenged for the Supporters’ Shield— Basti, Niko, Accam, Dax, Polster, Vincent— are long gone. The club is starting over nearly at Square One, and their margin of error is razor thin. Most of the fanbase doesn’t trust them to get it right— and if you’ve followed this team over the past decade, you couldn’t really blame them.
Meanwhile, the Red Stars are facing their own challenges. They’re still licking their wounds from a heartbreaking loss in their first NWSL Championship Final. Their star player just left for England. The league is expanding. 2020 is an Olympic year. For better or worse, next season is going to signal the start of a new chapter for the club.
Chicago Soccer will look very different in 2020. New stories will need to be told. It seems right to step aside now and let other people tell them.
For all the turmoil and challenges of the past few years— and there were many— working at Hot Time has been tremendously fulfilling. I got to write about my two favorite soccer teams on the regular. I was able to cover some of the biggest moments in Chicago Soccer in the past decade. I met and connected with beat reporters for both teams. I got to report live from the MLS and NWSL drafts. I got to mentor young writers and watch as they honed their craft with every passing week. And I got to talk to many people in the Chicago Soccer community and see for myself what makes this sport thrive in the best city in the country.
One more thing I want to say: cis-hetero white men are vastly over-represented in sports media, and when I first started writing here, HTIOT was no different. When I joined, there were no women contributing to Hot Time at all; this year, there was a 50/50 gender split. (I’m cheating a little bit here, because I was still in the closet when I first joined Hot Time, but still.) The editors consisted of a Latinx woman, a Jewish man, and a transgender woman. That kind of diversity in leadership positions is extremely hard to find in this business. If I’m proud of any part of my legacy here at Hot Time, if there’s one thing I hope survives after I’m gone, it’s that Hot Time In Old Town became a place where marginalized voices are valued and amplified.
This letter is already running long, so I’ll end with this: Chicago Soccer is worth loving and worth fighting for. I’m thankful for the opportunity to do that work for HTIOT for six years. And I can’t wait to see what happens next.