Ivan Maisel spends his days and nights writing college football stories as a senior writer for ESPN.com.
The Mobile native who has called Connecticut home since 1994, and who has written for the Dallas Morning News, Newsday and Sports Illustrated, took time earlier this week before speaking at the Montgomery Quarterback Club on Tuesday to talk about his life off of the field and away from the press boxes.
He talked about another story.
He talked about a story that put Maisel and his family in the news. And a story he said if people ask him about, he will talk about.
It is a story of his 21-year-old son, Max Maisel, who went missing Feb. 22. His body was found April 17.
He was last seen at the Charlotte Pier in Rochester, N.Y., and two months later, was found floating in the water near a Coast Guard station off Saint Paul Boulevard in Irondequoit, N.Y.
“We still officially don’t know what happened, but you don’t have to be a genius to connect the dots,” Maisel said Monday. “We don’t want Max to be identified by how he died. We’d like people to know who he was and how he lived. I think of how people of my generation were raised, and everyone who came before us … suicide was taboo.
“I think we have all come to understand that it’s the last, most significant symptom of an illness. He was sick. And we didn’t understand how sick he was. Of course, there’s regret in that. But certainly we would have done everything we could to help him. We were, but we just didn’t understand how much help he needed. He didn’t tell us.”
“We knew this day would come, and we are relieved that it has,” reads a statement signed by Maisel’s father, Ivan, and Ivan Maisel’s wife, Meg Murray. “But it is merely the postscript to our sad story. We have mourned Max from the night that the Rochester police called to tell us he was missing. There was no other plausible solution to the puzzle he left behind.”
Maisel and Murray also have two daughters, Sarah, 23, and Elizabeth, 18.
Off the field
In front of about 900 people at a memorial service at Congregation Bnai Israel in Bridgeport, Connecticut on March 27, Maisel gave his son’s eulogy. The story of Max is tender, sad, and also shows his realness, and his dry humor.
In part, it reads:
Max was a black-and-white person in a gray world. He came up in a family of Alabama Crimson Tiders, so he was trained by three generations to feel a certain way about Alabama’s archrival. Now, I must tell you my line of work takes me to Auburn regularly, and I have friendships there that have developed over my 30 years of covering college football. But that was a subtlety that escaped our 12-year-old son.
I once introduced the Sports Information Director to Max, as “my friend from Auburn, Kirk Sampson,” to which Max reflexively replied, “But, Dad — you hate Auburn!”
Maisel said on Monday that Auburn’s current problems “are pretty obvious,” and that “Alabama has one of the biggest games of the weekend” against Georgia on Saturday.
Asked whether he favored a team, Auburn or Alabama, he responded: “I’ve been doing this since 1987, so I’ve been kind of cured. I’m a fan for me. If they provide good stories, and they have provided good stories, I am grateful.”
It is what he provided others, though, through his words in the eulogy, that surprised him — and showed him, through his son’s story, a reality he now carries.
“I posted (the eulogy), then tweeted the link out, and I was really stunned at the reaction, and I think what I learned from that and just from people who have come up to me in the last seven months, is that there are a lot of people carrying around a lot of grief and stories and tragedies that have occurred in their lives,” Maisel said this week. “And they have learned to live with it. That’s the task that we’re faced with.
“You have this unwanted companion (grief) at your side for the rest of your life, and you have to learn how to cope with it, and how to live with it, and how to not let it overwhelm you. I am a firm believer that it only helps to talk about it. It firmed up my resolve that I was going to talk about it.”
Max’s death has shone a light on the innate goodness in people, a quality that I am sure I didn’t appreciate until now.
I think of that as a gift from our son. I have to say, Max, that on the whole, I would have preferred a dozen golf balls.
Eight years ago, Meg and I stood here and talked about Max, who on that day became a Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish threshold of adulthood.
Today we are here again to talk about Max, who we presumed drowned on Feb. 22, shortly after he turned 21, the legal threshold of adulthood.
Max always hated being the center of attention. One of the smiles we have allowed ourselves of late is thinking of how Max would have felt about trending on Twitter, or being the subject of a story on People Magazine’s website.
A gift, left
Photography was a passion of Max’s. He studied the visual arts at Rochester Institute of Technology. He loved his camera and photography, and to be in nature. To be alone, but connected.
“I think it was a way for him to communicate,” Maisel said. “It was an escape in a sense that it was easier for him to communicate through his camera than it was to talk to people. He was very shy. He really found it as a powerful means of expression.”
Over the years, Max refused, adamantly, to show his family his work.
But Maisel’s wife told Max last year, that for Chanukah, “I’m going to tell you what I want, and you’re going to give it to me.”
It was a digital photo frame that included 40 pieces of his landscape work.
“It’s all his work,” Maisel said. “We haven’t turned off (the digital frame) since he died. It’s right by our kitchen table.
“It’s always on. And it’s a nice way to always have him present.”
It’s an honor
Players of the week for Sept. 18 football games — Trinity’s Jake Turk and Billingsley’s Derrick Dunigan — were honored at the Montgomery Quarterback Club as private and public school players of the week.