In one corner of Las Vegas: Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao are barefoot and before the scales a day before their much-anticipated boxing match at MGM Grand Arena.
In the other corner: Jon Castagnino, a longtime sports reporter, is missing his assignment to cover the weigh-in for Fox 5 KVVU-TV. Instead he’s preparing for another fight that would test him but wouldn’t knock him out.
That day — May 1, 2015 — Castagnino, ’03 BA Communication Studies, ’03 BS Sports Injury Management, found out he was diagnosed with carcinoid cancer, a rare and difficult-to-detect form of the disease. He returned to work the next day to report on fight night, and then — taking a cue from covering the highs and lows of athletes for the last 10 years — he turned the camera on himself.
“You have to push forward and I think that’s setting the best example. If I can be at work functioning and doing my job, despite fighting something invisible in my body, I’m going to do that,” said Castagnino, 35, a father of two kids. “Athletes have a duty to their team and teammates and to the city, so I felt the same way.”
It’s a lesson he’s imparting on students as the new sports and social media coordinator at the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism & Media Studies.
Before his surgery to remove three feet of intestine, he covered his experience for a story on Fox 5. It was an unusual journalistic move for Castagnino, who didn’t want to make the story about himself but wanted to call attention to the need for early detection.
“It detached me from the illness too. I just thought, ‘I have tell a story’ – that’s always my first priority,” Castagnino said.
“(I tell students), your duty is to tell stories the right way and inform the public about what’s going on. The air time you’re given isn’t for you personally. It’s public time. They are entrusting you.”
Born and Raised a Rebel
Admiring the bravado of Major League Baseball announcer Harry Caray, who covered Castagnino’s favorite team, the Chicago Cubs, Castagnino thought he’d end up doing the same thing. But what he discovered inspired him the most was watching the fans’ reaction to Caray and their favorite teams.
“Sports really brings a city together. Everybody’s fighting for common goal to be a winner, to be the best. There’s pride in the city and teams can bond the city. It’s a rallying point, much like the Rebels are for Las Vegas,” Castagnino said.
A Green Valley High School graduate, Castagnino attended UNLV and began his career as a student journalist for the show UNLViews, broadcast from the basement of the Flora Dungan Humanities building. (That’s before the journalism television and radio studios were built in Greenspun Hall).
He also received a degree in sports injury management and went on to write and produce for TV news in Wyoming and Texas before returning to Las Vegas as an anchor for Sports Plus on Fox 5.
Castagnino left Fox 5 last October to join the UNLV Greenspun College of Urban Affairs. This past fall, Castagnino launched The Rebel Report, a show out of Greenspun studios covering UNLV athletics and sports-related news throughout Las Vegas. He’s incorporating social media platforms for viewers thirsty for content. He’ll teach sports broadcasting courses this spring.
Castagnino’s cultivated a wide range of sources in the sports world, giving his journalism students access to Las Vegas-wide sports events.
Journalism students have already produced segments on NASCAR, the UFC, and a surprise visit from musician Drake at a Lady Rebels game. Students work behind the scenes and in front of the camera. This semester, Castagnino’s sports broadcasting class will expand The Rebel Report into an anchor format, with students working all angles of the show from writing and editing to booking guests, videography, and reporting.
Now, after eight months of illness leading up to the diagnosis, and six months of treatment, Castagnino wears a bracelet on his hand with the hashtag #ImWithJC and a biblical reference to David and Goliath, another fight that resulted in triumph.
And he gets his inspiration from a new group of fans – his students.
“I live vicariously through them now to see how excited they get. It’s refreshing,” Castagnino said.