Eric Drath was heading to indoor lacrosse practice in the old Ferris Booth Hall when he made a wrong turn into WKCR, Columbia University’s student-run radio station. This serendipitous misstep evolved into a prolific career as a writer, producer, and director, garnering him two Emmy Awards in recognition of his excellence in the television industry.
“It was love at first sight,” Drath said, describing what he witnessed at the station. “It was in November and during the elections, and the excitement and importance of communicating news and telling stories immediately hooked me.”
Drath’s time at WKCR led to an almost decade-long career in network journalism, starting with an internship at ABC News, followed by a stint in Atlanta at CNN, and finishing with the launch of Fox News Channel in New York City. While on an assignment in New York, Drath covered a boxing match at Yonkers Raceway. The match led to another fateful choice: to become a boxing agent. He proceeded to represent over 40 fighters and traveled to championship matches around the world.
In 2008, Drath combined his two passions to make Assault in the Ring, a compelling documentary recounting the scandalous boxing match between Billy Collins Jr. and Luis Resto—a story of the most heinous crime committed inside the ring, little known outside of boxing. “College helped create a curiosity and prompted me to look underneath the surface,” Drath said. “It also led to a desire to better understand the plight of humanity, and in this case, to understand why some would go to any lengths to win.”
Nevertheless, the story of Assault in the Ring was not so straightforward, and Drath almost abandoned the project when it seemed like a pointless endeavor. “There were moments making the film when it would have been easy to stop rolling and quit,” said Drath. Yet the hard work paid off when he received his first Emmy for Outstanding Sports Documentary after it premiered on HBO. “It really showed me that if you want something bad enough and are willing to work for it, you can do anything.”
Since then, he has produced and directed more than 15 films and shorts including Renée, the story of a transgender pro tennis player and Yale graduate Renée Richards, which aired on ESPN after its 2011 premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Other projects included a short film series for Marvel and ESPN titled 1 of 1 – Origins, which used animation and interviews to explore how professional athletes harness and develop their superpower-like abilities and athletic talents. He won his second Emmy for No Más, about Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard’s infamous 1980 boxing match.
Drath has expanded into areas other than sports. He produced a feature documentary, Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem, about Yiddish theater and culture. In March 2016, at the Tribeca Film Festival, Drath debuted A More Perfect Union, a short film produced for FiveThirtyEight.com about the 2008 presidential election controversy surrounding remarks made by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, longtime pastor of then-candidate Barack Obama ‘83CC. His current projects include a documentary for ESPN on the 1995 NCAA champion Nebraska Cornhuskers football team, and he recently returned from Panama, where he spent three days filming with former dictator Manuel Noriega for an upcoming project.
“It’s most satisfying when you can evocatively communicate a story to a wide audience,” Drath explained.
The director and producer is now launching another story. Drawing on his passion for sports and inspired by his two young daughters’ athletic activities, Drath, alongside his former Columbia University roommate, John Trbovich ’93SEAS, is currently starting a nonprofit called EvenFooting.org. The mission of the organization is to empower underprivileged girls through athletics. EvenFooting.org is collaborating with the New York City Department of Homeless Services to create events that cultivate community building, where free sneakers and youth coaching are provided. The inaugural EvenFooting.org event is planned for fall 2017 in New York City.