Archive for the ‘dealing with adversity’ Category

Let’s Focus on Something Positive

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

With all that’s going on in the world of sports, I thought something a little lighter might serve everyone better. The following is an edited story from my book, Life’s A Joke. It deals with a culture shock I experienced as a young man.

I lived the first 24 years of my life in New Jersey. Other than the occasional trips to New Your City and Philadelphia, two spring breaks in Miami - both of which were combined with cruises to Jamaica (when I was 21 and 23) - every living day I spent in NJ. Then, in 1972 I accepted a graduate assistant position in basketball at the University of Vermont.

One of my early days in Vermont, I was stopped at a red light, the second car behind an elderly couple. When the light turned green, their car didn’t move. Now, in New Jersey, people pretty much belong to one of two groups: 1) the rotten guy who leans on the horn and spews expletives and 2) the polite gent who simply taps his horn to alert the person, who is undoubtedly lost in a reverie (this was before cell phones), that it’s time to move.

Since I had recently become a resident of Vermont, I knew my only choice was politeness, so I gave them a light tap. What next occurred is something that, not only I will never forget, but it was something of an epiphany. Simultaneously, the couple turned around - and waved to me!

You see, in Vermont, you don’t blow your horn at someone unless you know them. Although I was tempted many a time during my year in Burlington, I can honestly say my horn was never used again at stop lights.

It was Randy Pausch who said:

“Wait long enough and people will surprise and impress you.”

Sometimes a Debate Just Needs to End in a Stalemate

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Every so often, a story comes along that captivates the nation. Unfortunately, due to 21st century human nature (or maybe that’s the way it’s always been), the story is nearly always negative. Emotions run high and people feel strongly. The Ray Rice situation is one of those.

Last night as I was scrolling through what my Facebook friends had posted, I came across someone I hadn’t seen in 20 years. In the early ’90s he and I had a wonderful relationship. I disagreed with him on the Rice issue and, wrote (summarizing my responses), When they asked Ray Rice (initially), what happened, he said his fiance went after him and he DEFENDED HIMSELF. That video shows he just cold cocked her. . . We can certainly disagree but I think you’re on the wrong side of this one, meaning if you went on TV and debated your side against the other, you’d have a tough time convincing an audience.”

There were numerous people making comments, so in the name of brevity, I’ve summarized my posts and another of his friends who took exception to much of what I had to say. Following my comment above, he interjected: “If you watched the video you will see her swing at him in the lobby.”

One thing about non-verbal communication is you can’t tell sarcasm, inflection or tone, so I asked, “So you’re equating her swinging at him with him knocking her out?

Him: If you are big enough to pass a lick you gotta be big enough to take one!!

Me: Are you serious? C‘mon, man, do you really believe that if a female can pass a lick, she oughta be able to take one? From an NFL player?” Then, to my original friend, who is certain the NFL had a copy of the video (which, after yesterday, do we really know?), “You really think the NFL had this video but didn’t think it would get out? With people like TMZ around?

My “new” friend chimed in (which happens on Facebook - whoever posts first is next): Man what league do you follow?? This is the NFL this is the biggest cover up organization ever!! . . . What about the ATL owner who said his team is too black that’s why sales are down, swept right under the rug huh??

Me: If you think Goddell would do anything to protect the shield” (from a previous post), “at least know that the ATL owner you’re talking about is the Hawks, not the Falcons.

Him: Big money organizations are all connected in done (sic) way believe.

In between his and my exchanges, others were making their thoughts known and the overwhelming majority of the comments were supportive . . . of his side! (At least up until that last comment).

Whoever said, “There are two sides to every story” would have been quite proud. It was an instance in which the late Stephen Covey’s famous quote most definitely applied:

“Let’s just agree to disagree, agreeably.”

Pat Haden Gets Fined by League, Supported by Executive Director

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

By now, everybody in the world of college football knows that USC athletics director Pat Haden, at the request of his head coach, Steve Sarkisian, left the comfort of his suite in the Coliseum to move down to the field in order to bring calm to a situation. By the time Haden arrived, calm had already been restored. In subsequent television interviews, Sarkisian seemed quite sheepish (the kind of feeling that comes over you when you let your emotions substitute for your brain and the result is your AD being humiliated on national television and his billfold lightened by $25K). With the numbers in Sark’s contract (the one Haden offered him), the coach might consider subsidizing the fine - by somewhere in the neighborhood of 100%.

“The conduct by USC Athletics Director Pat Haden was inappropriate,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, no small potato in the world of Power 5 (or whatever it’s called) college football, said. “Such actions by an administrator in attempt to influence the officiating, and ultimately the outcome of a contest, will not be tolerated.” Scott is the one who levied the fine.

Haden’s acknowledging his coach’s request are more in line with actions like those of the Trojans’ previous AD who had been known, on occasion, to embarrass an institution as prestigious as USC. Knee jerk reaction by many fans was that Haden should step down from his position as one of the 12 (plus a chairman) committee members who will decide the four teams that will play in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Initially, Bill Hancock, College Football Playoff executive director, said, “We have to look at his ability to select teams. He was placed on the committee because of his judgment and his integrity and this doesn’t affect that. I think this does show the level of attention that people will be paying to the committee members and their work, and that is completely understandable. This doesn’t affect his capability as a committee member.”

The following day, after realizing the previous quote was too human, Hancock came out with a more administrative sounding statement. “Emotional outbursts at games are not a matter for the playoff selection committee to deal with. This does not affect Pat Haden’s capability as a committee member. We recognize that athletics directors cannot be dispassionate about their own teams, and that’s why we have the recusal policy.” It’s almost like administrators feel the need to distance themselves from the rest of us (down here) or else, why would he not simply let his initial remarks (which perfectly stated his case why there was no need to remove him) stand?

For those up in arms about Pat Haden being given a pass, here’s why it’s OK with me:

“It’s one of the privileges you get when you’re a Rhodes Scholar.”

That accomplishment, sitting up high on an administrative throne, is impressive. A quote regarding the exalted world of the high and mighty is by Michael de Montaigne:

“Even on the highest throne in the world, we are still just sitting on our ass.”

                     

Is Levenson the Last, or Just Latest, NBA Owner to Fall?

Monday, September 8th, 2014

When Donald Sterling was forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers, it was due to his being exposed as a racist (a fact most of the nation knew decades ago). Now, the Atlanta Hawks’ managing partner for the past decade, Bruce Levenson, has voluntarily submitted to the NBA an email he wrote in 2012.

In the correspondence Levenson opined, “My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base” (the Hawks’ fan base is 70% black). Levenson said he felt “Southern whites simply were not comfortable being in an arena or at a bar where they were in the minority.” In addition, he wanted “some white cheerleaders, . . . music familiar to a 40-year-old white guy” (the concerts after games were either hip hop or gospel) and that he thought “the kiss cam is too black.” Also, there (were) few fathers and sons at the games.

Could the move have been made because of Sterling’s threat to expose other owners as businessmen like himself bigots? Or was it done because Levenson had already been made aware Sterling’s undercover agents knew of it? It’s another example of the cultural and racial divide that exists in the NBA between its white owners (MJ excluded) and its players, the majority of whom, independent of the fact many of them are wealthy, are black. The mega wealth the top players is light years from that of the owners, as are their cultures (Cuban and Prokorov excluded).

The main difference between Sterling’s quotes to . . . what’s-her-name and Levenson’s email is that what Sterling said was flat out racist, while what Levenson said was marketing strategy to increase ticket sales.

And flat out racist.

Bruce Levenson is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis (one of the top academic institutions in the country) and the American University School of Law (one of the best law schools). Yet, undoubtedly, the lesson he’ll remember most is the one he learned yesterday. Or the day of Donald Sterling’s threat. If his comments to reporters yesterday are sincere, he understands the mistakes he’s made:

“If you’re angry about what I wrote, you should be. I’m angry at myself too.”

 

Finally, It’s Johnny Manziel, Act One

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

Last football season Johnny Manziel was America’s darling. When it came time to evaluate him for the NFL draft, however, there were no shortage of critics. Johnny Football’s off-the-field escapades gave them additional fuel for their fire.

NFL Films producer Greg Cosell said Johnny Manziel was “almost undraftable after viewing his games against LSU and Missouri this past season. Former NFL general manager Charlie Casserly also offered some negative feedback wondering, among other complaints, “Why are you running when you don’t have to run?”

ESPN’S Merril Hoge added what he thought of Manziel. “His skill set does not transition to the National Football League, and it is a big, big risk.” Hoge later was quite a bit more cruel in his assessment of the young QB when he called him “a juvenile punk.”

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” Manziel’s response was when informed of Hoge’s criticism. “He’s never met me. I’ve never met him, so I guess he thinks I’m not a very good football player.” That was probably the best response Manziel could have come up with. In his defense, at that time, he had been studying under quarterback guru George Whitfield, and it was written that he was working hard . . . to improve his mechanics and overall thought process.

Browns coach Mike Pettine said “that in the age that we’re in of sensationalism, a lot of time people that want to be heard have to make bold statements in order to bring attention to themselves.” Terry Pluto of Cleveland’s Plain Dealer agreed with Pettine, adding, “So they scream louder and attack personally.” The title of the article Pluto wrote was, “When it comes to Johnny Manziel, critics can do better than fall into personal insults.” You have to wonder if Manziel did or said something to Hoge that was so offensive, the reporter felt a need to spew such venom.

Dane Brugler, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com wrote an even-handed evaluation of Manziel. Quoting Brugler, “To be fair, Manziel has plenty of qualities that stand out in a positive way. He has more than enough arm strength. He’s extremely fleet of foot with the scrambling instincts to create like no one else. He’s smart, ultra-competitive and displays the supreme confidence needed to excel at the position on the biggest of stages. But while the positives are intriguing, the negatives can’t be ignored.”

Criticism is inevitable in this day and age of the 24 hour sports cycle we’re in. Added to that is the fact that we can never expect 100% agreement on anything in this country, if for no other reason than some schmuck would disagree just so he could be the one person who was on the other side. The best anyone can hope for is fairness, even if one might be the subject of a bit of creative thinking.

Playing off his widely known nickname - and the fact he won’t be the Browns opening game starter - the Houston Chronicle coined a clever nickname for the player many people begged the Texans to take #1:

“Johnny Bench”

I Didn’t Lose Faith in Federer, Just Had to Leave

Friday, September 5th, 2014

Several of the past few blogs have dealt with the U.S. Open. Prior to my multiple back surgeries, I used to play tennis, hacking around on and off for years. When I got to the University of Tennessee as an assistant basketball coach in 1980, I became more serious because short time later, Mike DePalmer, Sr was named the head tennis coach. At one time, Mike and Nick Bolletieri started a tennis academy. The first year, there were six kids, all of whom lived in Mike’s house, a far cry from the IMG grounds that houses the students in Bradenton, FL today. Mike and I became fast friends and, up to 4-5 days a week, we’d play tennis at 7:00 am.

When I asked him to give me lessons, I remembering him tell me, “Jack, I’m on the court all day, basically, giving lessons of one kind or another. Let’s just play. I promise you’ll be getting lessons.” And he was right. When we started, Mike would hold his racket in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. He would hit the ball deep to the corner, I’d run it down and return it to him. Then, he’d hit it to the opposite corner, and I’d run that down and return it to him. On and on until I’d miss or, not so often, he did.

One day a thought crossed my mind. “Why the hell am I constantly hitting the ball right back to him!” Displaying my ability as a student, I started returning his shots to the corners, rather than directly at him. The next day we played, I noticed the coffee cup was gone. “What, not thirsty this morning?”

“I told you that you’d learn,” he said, smiling. We continued to play the entire seven years I was at UT. Since I was a coach, I’d pick Mike’s brain as far as strategy and motivation went, figuring there had to be similarities in our sports, even though his was an individual sport while mine dealt with a team (side note: he also had been a highly successful junior college basketball coach). He would explain nuances of tennis to me. I’ve never watched tennis matches the same way again. Years later, Mike was inducted into the National Tennis Hall of Fame.

Which brings me to today’s blog topic. My wife, Jane, and I have been watching the U.S. Open the past few days. One of our favorite players is Roger Federer (not only because we’ve had numerous people tell us our younger son, Alex, looks like him - although those comments don’t bother us in the least).

Yesterday, we were watching his match against Gael Monfils. Prior to the match, one of Federer’s former coaches (as well as one of Pete Sampras’), Paul Annacone, who happened to be Mike’s #1 singles player for his early Vols’ teams and, not so coincidentally, one of the original six students at the DePalmer-Bolletieri Tennis Camp, had this to say about Monfils, “He is the best raw athlete in tennis, maybe ever.” If the moniker, “Human Highlight Film” wasn’t already taken by Dominique Wilkins, it would be apropos for Monfils.

Thus, it wasn’t surprising to see him take the first set from Federer. What was amazing was to see him take the second set - and with greater ease than the first. Wouldn’t you know it, we had a surprise birthday party to go to (happy birthday to loyal reader, and more loyal friend, Shawn Carey) just as the second set ended. Hearing the bleak commentary from the best tennis commentators, the brothers McEnroe, made it feel like were leaving a funeral early.

Late in the party, Jane turns to me and says, “You won’t believe this,” then shows me her SportsCenter update (which our Federer look alike installed on her phone but not mine - people tell me it’s easy but, as of yet, I haven’t found the time or interest). Sure enough, Roger did it again - won a match after losing the first two sets. For the ninth time. The mental and physical toughness might not be unmatched, but there can’t be more than a handful of athletes who are better at staring down adversity.

While it might be stretching the meaning of exactly what the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said, there’s little doubt he would have admired the effort displayed by one of the all-time greatest tennis players, Roger Federer:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Skill and Mental Toughness on Display Early at U.S. Open

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Absolutely exhausted after watching the U.S. Open match between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Early on, the tennis bordered on perfect, in that it took a “perfect” shot to win a point. What set it apart from most tennis matches was that while both players possess quite formidable serves, it’s their return of serve that made it must watch TV.

It began as a match for the ages. As far as records and head-to-head competition, Djokovich owns the advantage over Murray (as he does against every tennis player in the world not named Nadal or Federer) but last night’s match was a true heavyweight fight. It was almost as if the players were standing in tennis’ version of toe-to-toe, throwing haymakers at each other, with rallies upwards of 20, until someone would finally scream a blistering, unreachable winner. One of the players (more often Djokovich but Murray as well) would, seemingly, be in control of the set until, all of a sudden, some devastating, loosely played point in which one of them looked like he’d lost focus, would bring the other up from the dead.

Possibly against another competitor, on another night, “taps” would have been heard, but not with these two. The viewer would see a summoning of focus and intestinal fortitude - along with scorching passing shots -and fortunes would be reversed. There were major shifts in momentum, each player (more so Djokovich) feeling a sense of “letting one slip away.”

Near the end of the third set, commentator John McEnroe (who is to tennis what Gary Danielson is to college football, i.e. unparalleled) made the comment that Murray looked “spent”  and questioned whether he could go five sets if need be. Murray, then, began to look as though he might be more injured than spent, grimacing and gingerly walking between points, no upset in sight.

With the clock about to strike midnight, fans were cheering for the guy who was down a set to tie the match - so they could see more tennis (the night before they many stayed until 2:30 am to watch). Only in New York (and maybe Las Vegas) do fans ignore time for sporting events. Although he did play some extremely good points down the stretch, the young Brit couldn’t seem to muster enough of them to overtake his nemesis, eventually falling 7-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4. Had his opponent been someone other than Djokovich would Murray been able to summon the effort to pull out a victory?

Always blunt, McEnroe, who made reference to Murray’s difficulty playing the Serb, summed up the final couple games with the following, thought-provoking (for Murray’s camp) comment:

“The question is ‘How is this affecting him? How much of it is in his head?’ ”

Prediction: NFL Domestic Violence Cases to Take Sharp Decline

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

If ever a line has been on the money, “Life is all about timing” has got to be it. Domestic violence is a topic no one seems to know all that much about (in terms of actual cases, certainly, because so many go unreported). In 1988 the country was shocked when Mike Tyson and Robin Givens, married just a few months, gave an interview to Barbara Walters in which Givens made on-air accusations of emotional and physical abuse.

The following decade gave us another abusive relationship from the world of sports when it was reported David Justice got physical with Halle Berry. In an article on the NFL and domestic violence, author Justin Peters “found that 21 of 32 NFL teams, at one point this year (2012), had employed a player with a domestic violence or sexual assault charge on his record.” First of all, it must be stated that, while it seems as though more of these situations occur with football players, the problem isn’t isolated to only football - or even to sports.

The obvious problem with football players is that the these offenders have a difficult time separating the violence that’s vital with their job with the fact that there is no place for violence in a relationship. At issue is how athletes are, and have been, treated throughout their careers - beginning at a young age. Seldom, when they are recruited, are they criticized because recruiters live by the adage, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” The amount of praise and lack of criticism can cause a youngster’s ego to swell.

Fast forward to the now infamous Ray Rice case in which he was seen dragging his fiance, unconscious, out of an elevator after, reportedly, knocking her out. Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner suspended Rice for two games. Since that ruling, he has come out and admitted he made a mistake and that the penalty should have been longer. The new penalty for domestic violence is six games for the first violation, followed by a lifetime ban for the second.

Apparently, Goodell had been influenced by Rice’s fiance, now wife, who went to the commish and requested he not be so harsh. While I am about as far removed as as someone can be from the characters involved, it always seemed to me that it would only be natural for Rice’s fiance to ask for a break because if he’s suspended and not getting paid, who’s that hurting?”

In any case, Goodell apologized and strengthened the penalty. Wouldn’t you know it but the 49ers’ DE Ray McDonald goes and commits, believe it or not, domestic violence so soon after the national uproar. Did he think Goodell was kidding? McDonald’s response was, “I can’t say too much, not right now, but the truth will come out. Everybody knows the kind of person that I am. I’m a good-hearted person.” While all that may be true, what else could he say?

Without trying to overstep my educational bounds, let’s think about what causes a fight? In 99% of the cases, it’s anger. People will “crack” during an argument and become physical when they’re pushed beyond a certain limit. What Ray McDonald allegedly did, so soon after Goodell’s edict, might just be the best thing that could ever happen to decrease the number of domestic violence incidents.

Now, these guys, especially the one-time offenders, are going to hesitate before touching a woman because, even greater than proving to her who’s right, or what her place is, or any other macho idea that pops into his head, there will be someone (a parent, coach, agent, whoever) who has warned him, “Do it and you’re through.”

And if that’s what comes of the Ray Rice/Ray McDonald violence, we can be thankful that another old saying is indeed true:

“Every cloud has a silver lining.”

ESPN’s Anderson’s Characterization of USC a Little Harsh

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

After the Josh Shaw fiasco was uncovered, ESPN’s John Anderson went on air and called USC a “clown college.” He mentioned the embarrassment of Pete Carroll and the national championship of 2004 being stripped, Reggie Bush’s Heisman being taken away (which was why the championship was stripped), how they handled Lane Kiffin’s firing and the probation. The Shaw “heroic act” story, followed by his admission of fabricating it must have been too much for Anderson. Thus, the “clown college” reference.

John Anderson attended the University of Missouri. Any embarrassing issues ever transpire there? Well, there was an ESPN Outside the Lines story on far more severe problems than bungled coaching firings and football players lying.

The report from the OTL piece said, “At Missouri, the final count was four — one alleged rape, one alleged physical assault, one sexual assault and one domestic assault - before one of its star athletes left campus in 2010.” Rather than rehash how poorly Missouri handled these crimes, the reader can Google OTL: Athletes, Assaults and Inaction.

Full disclosure: it is true that Mizzou has never had a national championship stripped by the NCAA. Both the 1954 baseball and 1965 track & field national championships proudly remain on display.

How about his current “college,” i.e. Bristol U? Did Anderson miss the June 7, 2013 article in the New York Post by Leonard Greene, entitled ESPN Cracks down after affair reveals culture of sexual harassment?

For years, ESPN operated like a lawless frat house, with more sexual shenanigans than a roadside brothel. A married executive was sleeping with a senior vice president. A female manager told an assistant that men acting like pigs was routine at the network,” it began. The article continued with an interview of a female employee. “If I had a dollar for every time I was sexually harassed at ESPN, I would be a millionaire. . . This is television,” she continued. “That’s what happens. It goes with the industry.”

ESPN’s initial reaction to Greene’s story? According to his article, “ESPN execs tried to punish The Post for its coverage by banning all of the newspaper’s reporters from appearing on any of its programs.

USC a clown college? Anderson might want to temper his remarks next time. Or at least delve into history a little deeper.

As the late Stephen Covey said:

We judge others by their actions, ourselves by our intentions.”

How Would Today’s Challenge System Have Changed John McEnroe’s Career?

Monday, September 1st, 2014

The age of computerization has changed the athletics world is so many areas, not the least of which is the use of instant replays. The reason for using replays is to get the calls right, i.e. eliminate “human error.” In football the main complaints regarding the instant replay system is the length of time it takes the officials to determine what the correct call is. “Indisputable information” is the catch phrase used and, in many instances it takes several camera angles and more than one (or two, three, four, . . .) looks - in slow motion - to overturn (or support) the call. In basketball and baseball the number of these type of instances aren’t as bad but, still, there are complaints.

The sport that seems to have this controversial aspect figured out is tennis. While other systems have been used in the past, the “Hawk Eye” has become the end all as far as correct line calls are concerned. According to the U.S. Open tournament website, “each player is allowed a maximum of three incorrect challenges per set after which they are not permitted to challenge again in that set. If a set goes to a tiebreaker, each player will receive one additional challenge. Challenges may not be carried over from one set to another.”

Before electronic assistance, claims were made (probably by the players) that the vision of the top players was so acute, when they challenged a call, more often than not, they were right. With the exception of one player in particular - John McEnroe.

Possibly because of McEnroe, some computer wizard(s) invented the aptly named “MacCam.” Progress in the “instant replay” computer world of tennis has now brought us the “Hawk Eye.” In a Q&A session from Line Call, an obvious Johnny Mac fan said he’d heard that McEnroe “was often more right than wrong on line calls and when they went back and analyzed the video he would have won more tournaments” and wondered if that was so. The answer probably wasn’t to his liking (and, fans being fans, might have even cost the guy a few shekels).

Actually, this is not true.” In fact, the answer continued, during the 2005 WTT season he was wrong nearly every time that he challenged a call.” It continued, “many of his peers would have welcomed the challenge system back in Mac’s heyday, because it would have eliminated his long and boorish outbursts. Today’s rule is reasonable: If you do not like the call, then challenge it. Instead, his rivals would suggest, McEnroe used these (sometimes ridiculous) arguments to manipulate the flow of the match until it favored him.”

McEnroe has been asked whether he used those famous tantrums as a way of motivating himself? He’s said he felt there certainly would have been more positive ways of firing himself up. However, he did admit it became somewhat of a defense mechanism, that when he was on court and things were going badly, . . . hey, it beat “crying or breaking down?” As with any superstars, McEnroe had his detractors (many of them being his opponents) as well as his loyal fans who felt others were whining because they weren’t good enough to beat Johnny Mac or they’d say, “Deal with it, it’s time tennis dropped all that staid, stuffy attitude.”

The greater discussion would be, if there was such a tool as “Hawk Eye” in McEnroe’s era, how would it have affected his behavior? Would he have complained about as many calls, knowing that his tirades would be soon ended - whether in his favor or against him? How about his overall won-loss, including tournament championship records? Would he have been as dominant just another really good player?

The answer to those questions can be found in the words of one of tennis’ all-time greats:

“You cannot be serious.”