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Nate Olson: Thankful for family at home and the (virtual) office

Enjoying a dream career with special people all around

By Nate Olson | Photo by Jimmy Jones 

Where I come from (small-town Iowa and the 1980s), it’s customary to consummate a momentous deal such as a job offer with a handshake and a word of gratitude. 

Thanks to COVID-19, I didn’t get a chance to have that moment when I took a regional editor job with SBLive in the summer of 2021. Had we not been dealing with the pandemic, I would have been flown to Portland, Ore., and met with my boss, managing editor JD Humburg, and vice president for content Ben Sherman.

Thankfully, SBLive CEO Dan Beach brought employees nationwide to Portland this past summer for a retreat of sorts. I finally, at long last, got to shake hands and hug the people that were responsible for making my dream come true a second time — the dream I’ve had since I was in fifth grade of being a media member. I did that for 18 years, mostly in Arkansas, but until 2021 it had been almost 10 years since I had been a full-time sportswriter.

During one of the breaks between meetings, I had a chance to talk to Dan. If there is a cooler CEO in the business world, I’d like to meet him/her, and his innovation and leadership has SBLive thriving as one of the fastest growing digital sports media companies in the country.

“You’ve changed my life,” I told him. “I really appreciate that. You’ve changed a bunch of people’s lives, actually. A lot of us have second chances of doing what we love because of your company.”

As I shook Dan’s hand and patted him on the back at the same time, I wasn’t sure if he was going to laugh or shed a tear. I explained to him that before his offer, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be a full-time member of the sports media again. It’s a fact I had accepted and moved on from thanks to a loving family with two growing boys and some freelance work on the side. But as I have written in this space before, everyone who knows me well understood the sports media is where I truly belonged.

I also told Dan that giving me that chance allowed me to get my good friend Buck Ringgold on board. Buck was worried sick about his status as a newspaper sports editor in Fort Smith. He joined the team as a contributor in Oklahoma shortly after I started, and then last spring he became a full-time regional editor. 

That’s two lives changed for the better, thanks to Dan’s company. But we are only the tip of the iceberg, and within my charges in Arkansas, Iowa and Nebraska – eight former sportswriters, who have different day jobs, are now happily churning out copy, giving you free, top-notch sports coverage of your favorite teams and athletes.

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But not only did Dan, Ben and JD give me a chance to write sports for a national company, but this job allows me to do my most important job – raising my sons – the best way I can. Working at home with a flexible schedule allows me to never miss a practice or school event. I live five minutes from the local junior high and middle school, and I’ve already made several trips there. I drop them off and pick them up from school every day, and don’t have to leave the office early to see J.D. play in an eighth-grade football game at 5 or worry about having time to drive Luke 30 minutes away for baseball practice.

And not only that, but I can take them to work with me. One of the reasons I left magazine publishing in 2012 was because J.D. (13) and Luke (11) were toddlers at the time and the demands were too much. I did healthcare marketing for a year and then landed a job at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as a day-time magazine editor and then it was straight to six years of communications office work. I needed to do that then, during that season of life. My wife, Sheena, was moving her way up the corporate ladder and very busy.

Now almost 14, J.D. helps me. He’s a credentialed ‘intern’ and last fall when I was battling knee and hip injuries, he helped round up players for interviews after games and quite frankly helped me get around. He’s continued that role this fall and shoots some video and photos. He enjoys being around Dad and the other staff and of course the athletes and coaches. He’s also got to rub elbows with University of Arkansas coaches Eric Musselman and Sam Pittman. It’s a good feeling watching him have a chance to do something I would have died to do when I was his age.

Luke isn’t quite as interested in tagging along, but he was in a way forced to this fall. His travel baseball team practiced on Friday nights, so when Sheena was busy with galas and such, I took Luke to practice and left early to head to the Signal Media studios to do the SBLive Halftime show for the 103.7 the Buzz high school game of the week. 

The first time I did that, I realized mid-practice how far the field was from the station. Fearing we wouldn’t make it, I let Luke bat in an intra-squad scrimmage, and then pulled him hurriedly to run to the car. I may have broken some sped laws to get from Sherwood to Little Rock’s Riverdale neighborhood in time, but we nailed it. Luke enjoyed the adventure, and I was happy to experience the best of both worlds – seeing him practice and talking high school football.

So, on this Thanksgiving, I’m most thankful for family and the time spent with them. My family at home – Sheena, J.D. and Luke, who I’m able to see so much — and the staff and co-workers from around the country. I don’t really see anyone in person other than key Arkansas contributor Kyle Sutherland, who has helped our brand so much, and Jeff Halpern, one of the group of former journalists in our three states I mentioned. 

Other than that, it’s only phone calls or zoom meetings. But because we are all passionate about what we do working for an elite company, I don’t feel that distance. Although, I really do wish JD Humburg (JDH in our house) was just down the hall instead of thousands of miles away. A few days with him in Portland only confirmed that we’d be fast friends if we worked in the office together. And I’d like to have lunch with Ben occasionally and hear war stories of his time as the sports director at The Oregonian/OregonLive and other journalism tidbits. There couldn’t be anyone better to lead our content team. But I still enjoy the interaction I do have with them and I am looking forward to other retreats and meetings. It is a stellar group of journalists and people.

The entire situation is such a blessing that I thank God for every day.

To all of you and the administrators, coaches and athletes, I hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving. Thank you for clicking on and sharing our content. We couldn’t do what we love without you.