By SAM MATHAI
At 4:13 p.m. on a Tuesday, I walked into the office of Jess Bennett. I wanted an interview. What I got instead was a lesson in life, nagging, and names. And I walked out by 4:15 p.m. She is a busy woman.
For those of you who are not familiar, Jess Bennett is the Director of Athletic Marketing. Standing at 5-foot-1, her persona is somewhere closer to 6-foot-7. When she walks into a room, people stop talking. When she asks for something, she gets it. I have never seen someone command the obedience of an entire department like Jess Bennett. From first-year athletes to coaches who have been around for a decade, no one messes with Jess. Well, I mess with Jess. I also live in constant fear. It keeps me young.
I sat down with her to find out what it was like to intimidate people for a living. I had to ask how she did it. Does she carry a baseball bat? Do people think she carries a baseball bat? Because that would be just as effective. Oddly, no, the school looks down on that kind of thing. What she does have on her side is a unique brand of aggressiveness, and she will admit that. She only has so many minutes of her time to give to you, and she does not waste them mincing words. She minces souls instead.
I asked her about our volleyball team, 14-0 and currently sitting at number two in the nation. Unfortunately, I used the terminology “Lady Tigs.” Instead of a productive discussion about the incredible season our volleyball team is having, I got a lecture about how much disdain Jess carries for the moniker “Lady Tigs.” Though I wanted to probe more about why this name grinds her gears, I would rather cuddle a grizzly than mess with Jess like that.
If you were to ask around the athletic department, you may hear Jess’s job described as “professional nagging.” I would certainly never, ever say that, but I know some people who would. Jess declined to comment.
In all reality, Jess is not some ego-destroying machine. I mean, she will do that to you if you deserve it. But, all in all, she is one person to whom I will always enjoy talking to. She is direct, hilarious, fun, efficient, and genuine.
In her line of work, she has the pleasure (or displeasure, depending on who you ask) of interacting with student athletes daily. She is co-advisor to the Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC), which should seriously consider rebranding with an acronym less likely to be the butt of ill-executed jokes. I was sure this was taking years off her life, even as we were speaking. The joke was on me, I guess. According to Jess, it is the student athletes who keep her youthful and full of energy. I got some warm fuzzies at that, but I hid them.
At one point, I asked Jess her favorite team. I figured it would be our most marketable and profitable team: swimming and diving. Wrong again. Jess said she does not have a favorite team. Then again, Jess is a mom and probably has had to be diplomatic about that answer before.
At the end of the day, she is just like the rest of us. I found her stress-eating cheese balls and complaining about the U.S. Postal Service. In that moment, she could have been any of us. The next moment that all ended. I was being shooed out of her office.