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One in a series of stories about student-athletes who have exhibited exceptional educational motivation in their field of study.
By Andrew Crum
Sometimes perspective is everything.
The way you see something depends on your outlook and your point of view.
For Joseph Cross, football transformed into art and a passion for photography.
Cross came to Bridgewater College (Virginia) because his sister was a student-athlete there. He wanted a similar situation.
“I just wanted to play a little longer, to be a part of a team,” Cross said.
He met with head coach Michael Clark and soon became a member of the football team.
“He’s a profile kid,” Clark said, referring to Cross as a student-athlete who was from a good family, a good student and had a family connection with the school.
He chose a major in physics, due to his analytical thinking and interest in the subject. And the chance to play football in college was welcomed with open arms, even if it wasn’t in a starring role.
“He played behind two very good tight ends, he was valuable to the team, but not on Saturdays,” Clark said of his role. “He stood out for his work off the field (as a student). Football was a bonus.”
Over the next three years, Cross played football and continued his studies in physics.
He had completed an estimated 80 percent of his major, but unfortunately, Cross was struggling. He was dealing with family issues, having trouble with his studies and became disinterested in a future career in physics. And then football was taken from him.
During an early morning session of spring conditioning, Cross tore his hamstring.
After the injury didn’t heal, he spoke with Clark and some of the assistant coaches about his best interests and his future with the team. Cross decided to end his football career.
“Sometimes athletes have to know when to let go,” Clark said. “But I didn’t worry about Joe. He could now focus on school.”
Cross was not bitter. And after a friend asked for his opinion about an art project, Cross, who was already working on a minor in art, found something he had lost.
“I found art again, something I hadn’t thought about since I was a kid,” Cross said.
Cross seized the opportunity for a much-needed change. He decided to discontinue his physics major and work on an art major instead. He then went to art department chair Nan Covert and art professor Scott Jost with a plan to complete the art program in an expedited timeframe.
“Are you crazy?” Jost said.
Cross brings the unique perspective of a former athlete to his sports photography.
Covert was also hesitant at first. He proposed to complete the program in two years, even though the normal time is three or four.
Cross wasn’t crazy, though. He was just ambitious.
His program is a concentration in digital media, particularly graphic design and photography.
“I see what others don’t see, and I want them to see it (in sports through photography),” Cross said. “My mind and my eye work together.”
Covert has noticed his development as an art student and photographer as he has learned to use the camera more than the computer.
“He has learned an enormous amount,” Covert said, “He jumped into deep water and learned to swim.”
Another element to Cross’ success has been self-learning. Covert spoke of him taking it upon himself to learn Photoshop through online tutorials and instructional books before he was scheduled to take her class. Cross even taught Covert a few things he learned that she didn’t know.
Cross’ other photography interests are portraits, “because he’s a people person,” Jost said. He also enjoys abstract photographs (“how-did-you-do-that” photos, as Cross refers to them). But the inspiration always led back to sports and competition.
“It’s like a circle; it keeps coming back to sports,” Cross said, “Art is like a competition, striving to get people to see it differently, I’m inspired to be the best, to ‘wow’ them.”
His senior thesis combines his two passions, sports and photography. He is photographing Bridgewater athletes in various sports to portray the life lessons he has learned from sports, especially integrity and character.
His senior exhibition is even set up in the hallways near the athletics offices on campus, and his art-appreciating coach is eager to buy one of his pieces. Clark’s office is decorated with former players’ artwork, and he will “keep up the tradition” with Cross that he started several years ago.
Covert and Jost have both noticed the role that athletics has played in his photography.
“Athletics and art meeting together, the feelings (he shows) in his sports photos,” Jost said.
“He has really impressed me,” Covert said, “His background in athletics has helped his success.”
Being a former athlete, Cross has a different insight on sports and a unique perspective in photography. It stems from his physics background as a “thinker,” a self-described “coach’s mentality,” the way he sees the game, and from his position on the sideline as a back-up player.
He saw the game from a close vantage point and that formed the way he takes pictures. He uses the camera from a player’s perspective, rather than a photographer who has never played sports, so his action shots reflect that perspective.
His unique perspective of photography and sports is the same.
“It’s more than just a game,” Cross said.