I've written a lot of words about FanNation over the years... six years of constantly shifting definitions of what the site offers will bring out plenty of words, especially from a guy like me who is never shy about dispensing of every last word possible on a subject. Longtime members like to gripe about the "glory days" of the site, decrying what it has become. But today I can only sit and think about the loss of a dear friend who I never would have had the honor of meeting without this platform.
One thing that has always been a constant with FanNation is the fact that -- like any other social media site -- it provides the venue for bountiful interaction with sports fans from around the globe. I've had the pleasure of encountering a lot of new acquaintances on this site over more than half a decade dallying around on the throwdown page, in private threads, and in public groups like Puckheads and Zingers.
Some people have truly resonated with me over the years and have become what I would characterize as among the truest friends I have ever known in my life. A few I have had the pleasure of meeting in person, I have developed professional relationships with other aspiring writers through the site, and a select few have become mentors and sounding boards to help guide me toward my real ambitions and right livelihood.
One of the people who is the epitome of that last category sadly succumbed to cancer in early May. Chuck, a Canadian who went by the name Baun-ded on this website, quickly became a close friend soon after joining the site in February 2008. We first met on the Throwdown page, a vibrant starting point for many a FanNation stalwart in that era; immediately I saw in Baun-ded a fellow appreciator of quality debate and a kindred spirit who loved a lot of the same sports and worldview.
With a final record of 63-8-2 (.877) in his three years of active time debating in throwdowns, Baun-ded was easily one of the most talented and insightful scribes to tackle the discursive format on this website. I remember his elation when, for a short period of time, Sports Illustrated teamed up with a sponsor to print the top ten of the throwdown rankings every week. That first weekend that they ran in November 2008, I awakened to a FanMail in my inbox from a giddy Canuck who saw his pseudonymous moniker printed alongside the other luminaries at the top of the leaderboard.
But Baun-ded was so much more than that. He was the one who convinced me to expose my true face and personality to the FanNation website, to fully disclose rather than cloak myself and to utilize the site as a platform for a burgeoning writing career. He was consistently among the first people to read what I had to offer, whether online or as a willing reader of various longer-form works on which I was toiling. Always offering up encouragement and counsel, we symbiotically provided mentorship in different ways to one another despite our age differences and our divergent backgrounds.
As his closest friends and family gathered this weekend to celebrate his life at a memorial service in his hometown, I found myself once again thinking about this man who I never had the chance to meet in person but who nevertheless was an invaluable friend at a crossroads in my own life. Even as his struggles intensified, first with a spinal cord injury and later with the diagnosis that would ultimately prove fatal, Chuck continued to reach out via email.
Our last long conversation came last October, when Baun-ded reached out to me about the possibility of collaborating on a memoir. Unfortunately we never were able to follow up on this goal, a stillborn project that proved too ambitious for those final months. But when I sit down to write, it is a reader like Baun-ded who I keep in mind as I craft my work.
The beauty of a site like FanNation is not that it provides a sounding board for sports fans to bicker all day, but that it provides a virtual venue to connect with like-minded souls who otherwise would never have crossed one's path. It isn't the debate, but the person behind it, which enriches any community. While I visit this site less than I once did, my time at FanNation has afforded me the opportunity to create a broader community that has offered support over the years.
Chuck was a crucial component of that community. While we were friends for but five short years, and never did get to meet in any way but through the magic of the internet, his memory will stick with me for decades to come. He was the kind of reader and debater who challenged me and helped force me to become a better writer. Because he passed away four days shy of his birthday, I'll never get the chance to properly thank him for all the wisdom he imparted over the years. But I can hope for his sake that he is resting in peace with an afterlife of Puckhead bliss to keep him suitably entertained... nobody deserves more after a life well lived.