Understatement alert: NYU is a big, big place. Think of the dozens of people you might nod hello to on a typical day—in the dining hall, at the library, between buildings, or behind a particular desk. How many do you know by name? What do you know about their lives?
By day they are office administrators or landscapers, technology specialists or event managers; by night they’re parents and poets, activists and athletes—and so much more. They’re the dedicated staffers who keep this place running, and in this series NYU Stories will go behind-the-scenes at their day jobs—and also reveal how they let off steam after work. (We’re coming for you, dude in the Bon Jovi cover band!) Look for a new and often surprising interview every other week or so. You might just see a familiar face.
Name: Jeff Bernstein
Title: assistant athletic director for sports information
Years at NYU: 16
Hometown: Brooklyn—specifically Coney Island.
What’s the most important part of your job?
I keep track of everything that happens within our athletics department, and in addition to putting that information out on the website and through social media, I keep a history so that years from now when someone's kid says, “Hey, my grandfather went to NYU in 2012 and I really would love to see a picture of him playing baseball,” I’ll be the one who made sure that's there.
You’re also the guy reporters call if they want to write about our sports teams, right?
Yes, I’m media contact when anyone wants to do a story, and it’s kind of a give and take—I pitch stories and also field inquiries. Usually it’s more me pitching because of all the competition for the attention of a New York City sports fan—we have to go out of our way to find things that are extraordinarily interesting if the local or national media are going to take an interest. When we get a good story placed in the New York Times, that’s a really big deal. I have framed copies of them up on the wall.
I heard you also cover pro sports as a stringer for AP. What’s that like?
Yeah, I’ve been doing that for 15 or 20 years, when I have time. Knicks games and some baseball—it puts me in the major league arena, though I have learned to dislike certain professional athletes who treat the media like crap. Worst of all are the ones who make you wait and wait to get a quote—they’re hovering around the locker, they put cream on their face and fix their tie, they tie their shoe, they get a snack, they sit down, they stand up and go to the bathroom and then sit down again. But it is always nice to get a byline.
Who are the nicest and most decent pro athletes you’ve worked with?
There used to be a player on the Knicks by the name of Kurt Thomas—he was really a nice guy. Best are the guys who kind of go back at you and might even ask you a question. I've interviewed this year Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers, and a year or two ago Derek Rose of the Chicago Bulls, and they were both friendly and cooperative—didn’t show any arrogance despite being millionaires and really high-profile people. As for the bad guys, I’m not gonna badmouth anybody by name! But my son knows who they are.
What can you do to make sure student athletes don’t develop huge egos?
Well I've worked in Division I athletics departments before, where the athletes are a lot more famous, and I find the Division III athletes to be a lot more unassuming and realistic—probably because they realize they’re probably not going to the pros, and this is just part of their education. We try to make their experience as great as it can be, with the understanding that the education is the most important thing. I also have students who work for me—probably now hundreds over the years, and I try to instill in them that a smile or a “thank you” doesn’t cost anything, and you should take nothing for granted. Sometimes I can be a little harsh, just like coaches can be, but only because I’m supportive and I want them to succeed. And if they get a job and call me to say, "Jeff I really appreciate it—the experience I gained working in your office,” that means a lot to me.
Were you a student athlete yourself?
I humbly admit that I was not. I did try out for the baseball team at Baruch College, and even though I thought I did okay in my two-hour tryout, it just never happened. Certainly I was never good enough to play professionally but I tell you for an amateur, I'm pretty darn good, you know? I can still play the crap out of shortstop—in softball, that is. I still play tennis, golf, basketball, and football, too.
But baseball is your first love?
Yeah, I think so—that’s why having baseball back at NYU is special to me, especially since we’re playing in Coney Island, where I grew up. Two or three years ago I actually went back to playing baseball myself, after like 30 years—I was playing in an older group, a local baseball team out of New Jersey. One of the highlights was getting to play in Cooperstown on the famed Doubleday field, where the pros play once a year. I brought my son with me—he was about seven at the time, and I can't remember ever being prouder of anything.
Which teams do you follow—besides NYU, of course?
I'm a New York fan. People say you can’t root for the Mets and the Yankees. Well, I don't see why not. Same with the Jets and the Giants. But of all the teams, I most closely associate myself with the Mets because they began about the time I began. I kind of grew up with them.
What else marks you as a lifelong New Yorker?
The first thing is the way I talk—people think that I have an accent. And then probably the way I drive: I remember visiting relatives in Michigan and as soon as the light turned green I made my left turn before the oncoming traffic came. They started referring to that as “a New York turn.” Everything is just a little faster, a little more aggressive here. If other people are moving a little slower, that just means I’m going to get to the front of the line, if I can.
What was your very first job?
When I was about 10 years old, a friend and I decided we were going to start a bagel business where we would go to the store early Sunday mornings and deliver bagels to people’s apartments. We knocked on doors one day during the week and we kept a sheet of how many bagels people wanted. I’m trying to remember how much we charged—maybe eight cents a bagel? Of course we were too young to get to the bagel store by ourselves so my father would have to wake up early Sunday mornings to drive. Then we’d bag the bagels and drop them in front of people's apartments and collect the money. And when we’d made like two dollars and fifty cents, we'd go down to the local hangout and play pinball machines.
What brings you peace?
Physically, a good massage every now and then. I also like to be outdoors. To me, a great vacation is going with my family to a state park or a national park—Yellowstone, Shenandoah, the Dakotas, Utah. When I’m in a beautiful place I realize that nature and the world is much bigger than me, and that the work that's on my desk can wait. This is really what we should appreciate.