THE YOUNG AT HEART AND SPORTS

image

May 31, 2016

You remember me, I’m sure! Today, I am an Octogenarian. That means I am in my 80’s!

How can that be?

Yet, it was only yesterday that I threw that winning pass for the New York Giants in the NFL Championship…(note: this was before the Super Bowl). While last month, I sunk that overtime goal that guaranteed the Bruins victory against the Montreal Canadians to win the Stanley Cup. Maybe, you remember when under great pressure, I forced Willis Reed to foul me so that my Celtics would move on to the final playoff round for the BBAA, (Today, the NBA), championship.

Of course, all of the foregoing was not real. I was 20, 25, 30 or, at the most, 35. I had no continuing aches and pains. I had never heard of arthritis. My heart was strong and I didn’t suffer from Asthma. Constant leg cramps, which would wake me up many a nights from a sound sleep, just didn’t exist.

Today, those maladies are commonplace among a great deal of my brethren, but no one should despair, we older folks have a lot of fight left in us.

We could sit around, moping and contemplating about how many Sunsets we have left. Or like most of us, we refuse to leave Planet Earth sitting on our duffs and as I said looking at each Sunset. Instead, we realize that life has taught us how to live.

So what if Mother Nature, in the course of normal aging, has taken the zip of our fastball. She no longer will let us lead a fast break, jump as high as we used to, throw a punch with the same speed and alacrity, or play in March Madness.

What she has done, is to allow us to compensate by substituting new sports, exercises and physical challenges geared to helping us lead as healthy and normal a life as we can. All this is done without taxing our bodies too much. She has taught us to use the tools we have been left with.

In essence, by seeking new physical endeavors, we become the teenagers of the future.

As a former member of the “President’s Council of Physical Fitness” I was exposed to a great number of statistics that I hope you will find interesting. Tennis and Golf are some of the favorites among elderly men. My 70 year old friend Dan Millis, once a top tennis player, feels the comparatively new sport of Pickleball fills his needs.

Among the studies that I have always remembered was one from The Idraettens Institute of Denmark. Their statistical results paralleled those of most countries including the United States.

For example, I learned that women prefer recreational sport in groups. Among them are yoga, zumba, pilates, spinning, tap dance, and aerobics.  Many Parkinson’s sufferers use Boxing (sparring) to help control the ailment.

Men, on the other hand, to a larger extent want to be able to compete. They want to measure their performance against themselves or others. To this end as I may have mentioned earlier, golf, softball, cycling, jogging and tennis are some of the favorites.

In addition to friendly daily, or weekly games, organized age group competitions have developed. California Senator Alan Cranston competed as a Senior Sprinter in major track meets well into his eighties. He lived to be 86.

Dr Paul Dudley White, considered the founder of preventive Cardiology, advocated for Cycling for good cardio fitness. He is in the Cycling Hall of Fame. There are Cycling paths named for him throughout New England. Where for over 50 years, he would ride 30 miles daily from his home to his office. He was 87 when he passed.

For the most part, the elderly want to do sports, or exercise during the day and 63% exercise before noon. As a rule, 58% of the elderly prefer exercising in nature/ forests (27%)— hiking, walking; on roads and sidewalks (20%— cycling, jogging; fitness centers (11%).

Elderly people are the most satisfied age group when it comes to utilizing facilities and arenas for sport. Lest we forget, it is the elderly who point out that the facilities and arenas have the biggest influence of their sports participation.

If you have been active while growing up, it is necessary that you stay active in your senior years. Health is the biggest barrier among the 32% of the elderly who remain inactive. As a matter of fact, many inactive elderly think they have become to old to exercise.

To me, as an elderly man who finds the gym both a physical and social boon, this lazy kind of thinking is tantamount to shutting yourself out of the chance for a continuing healthy lifestyle.

Inactive women are hindered to a large extent by bad health and bad physical shape. While inactive men lack interest and spend the time wasting away each day. There has to be a way of using different techniques to stimulate inactive men to become physically active.

Activity has a great positive social affect when the elderly person becomes part of a group and joins others. Exercise is a positive which helps with continuing good health and maintaining physical skills.

Studies tell us that new generations of elderly bring new tendencies in sports participation. They learn that much of the skill set they once possessed has eroded. There is only one alternative… compromise; do the same things, but in moderation.

Still more elders want to do specific sports as well as trying to continue doing the type of sport they did previously. However, we must learn to do these sports in modification. Every activity needs to be tempered.

The competitive flames still burn, but for most, the body moves on. However, with exercise and moderate competition, enjoyment of a healthy being and lifestyle is possible.

Albert Einstein, the World-Renowned Physicist felt strongly that a healthy mind is a product of a physically fit body. He always felt that when it came to fitness and strength it was best to stick to the basics.

This scrawny academic had a set daily pattern of weights and cardio. He never deviated. From his laboratory on the Princeton Campus to his home, he never rode, or drove a car. A bicycle, or his feet were his chosen mode of transportation. He was 87 when he died.

Satchell Paige, the great African-American Pitcher spent most of his best years toiling in the Negro Leagues. Long after the color barrier had been broken by Jackie Robinson, Bill Veeck, brought him to pitch in the Major Leagues with the Cleveland Indians.

Many who faced him including the great Joe DiMaggio thought he was the best pitcher of all time. Yet, he did not throw a Major League pitch until he was almost 50 years old.

His age, until he died, remained a mystery. Often, when asked how old he was, his answer was; “ How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are”.

He would also answer that same question with two other significant quotes; “Don’t look back something might be gaining on you” and “ Work like you don’t need the money… dance like nobody’s watching”.

Satchell was always in shape. He pitched his last MLB game at age 59. However, until he died at age 76, he could be found on any sandlot in Kansas City pitching batting practice, giving advice to youngsters, or just socializing. He lived life to the fullest.

The morale of today’s column, if there is one, is simply that sports and exercise is a great outlet as a way to stay healthy. You do not have to be a sports star, or a celebrity. Participation and making yourself available is what will always bear fruit.

Once I could run and jump. I never enjoyed working out in a gym. Today, I am a devotee of Dr. Einstein.

Why can’t I do Physics???????

THE CODE OF SPORTS ETHICS

IMG_1799

May 22, 2016

For years, I have been bothered by the “win at all costs” philosophy that seems to be predominant among our national thought process. Somewhere, the values we are supposed to have learned while growing up and competing have gone awry.

Years ago, my late friend John Chaffetz, father of Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, along with Ernie Vandeweghe and myself used to meet for lunch on a frequent basis. Ernie and I decided to take John out for lunch to celebrate his six-month anniversary as Commissioner of the AYSO, (The American Youth Soccer Organization).

Instead of it being a happy occasion, we found John down in the dumps.  Upon investigation, we learned that he intended to resign. He turned to both Ernie and myself asking if we would like to take his place.

We were astonished! After all, this was a position he had sought and a most coveted one at that. The revelation he made to us was: he loved his job and had many ideas he wished to implement, but he just couldn’t take the parents.

Parents, with absolutely no knowledge, were trying to dictate to this Professional what he had to do, what he couldn’t do and what he shouldn’t do. Shortly, after that luncheon, John did resign. Overbearing parents had caused a wonderful organization to lose the talent of a brilliant and dedicated leader.

It was at that lunch I first heard the term, “Soccer Mom”. However, that personage was familiar to me from many of the other walks of life that I travelled… ergo, “stage mother, hockey dad” etc;

As many of my readers know, I was involved in the boycotted 1980 Moscow Olympics, as well as the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the President’s Council of Physical Fitness and still, although inactive, am a member of the USSA (United States Sports Academy) Advisory Board.

What triggered this column was the recent flare-up of tempers exhibited when the Texas Rangers and the Washington Nationals engaged in the kind of brawl that besmirches the name of Baseball.

Moreover, I think of all the kids who saw this exhibition by some of the men they wish to emulate. One of the combatants was the Nationals’ Bryce Harper… without question among today’s Baseball luminaries.

Think of what the kids take away from that scene… “If Bryce acts that way, than it’s okay for me to do the same”.

This is wrong! 

Parents and celebrities should be held to a higher standard. As a result, I decided it’s time to review the creeds of various athletic organizations and to get a feel of what their Mission is.

The Olympic Creed: “ The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well”. Literally translated if you do your best, you have a chance of emerging victorious.

The Little League Mission Statement has the same principles but is stated differently. It says in part: “to promote, develop, supervise and voluntarily assist in all lawful ways, the interest of those who will participate in Little League Baseball and Softball”.

In such a way, the league through proper guidance and exemplary leadership assists children and attempts to develop the qualities of citizenship, discipline, teamwork and physical well-being.

The Pop Warner Mission is to enable young people to benefit from participation in team sports and activities in a safe structured environment.

The above lofty statements and those of all other junior athletic organizations in no way accentuates a “win at any cost” attitude. Unfortunately many parents who must live vicariously through their children’s achievements, have hijacked and prostituted these goals.

These bastardizations lead to a complete moral decay and displays by adult athletes, a temperament that demoralizes us all. It is an indication of the feeling that it is alright to cheat as long as you win.

Let me cite a few extreme examples of what has happened.

At a Stockton youth football game, coach Cory Petero rammed a player in the back who had just blocked his son. Petero was charged with felony child abuse.

A T-ball coach from a Pittsburgh suburb offered one of his 8 year old players $25 to throw the ball at a teammate, a mildly autistic 9 year-old, during warm-ups.  His idea, the 9 year-old would be too sore to play in the playoffs. Then, he would not have to be used in the Playoff Game defying the rule that everyone on the team must get into the game.

His first pitch hit his teammate in the groin whereupon the coach ordered the 8 year to throw again, but harder at his head. The 8 year-old did as he was told and hit his teammate in his ear.

Unlike the parent/coach who felt winning was so important, the judge didn’t see it that way and convicted the coach of corruption of minors and conspiracy to commit simple assault.  He was sent directly to prison for six months.

In Boston, a Hockey Father Thomas Junta was charged with manslaughter in the fatal beating of another father over rough play at a Youth Hockey game. He was sentenced to a 6 to 10 year prison sentence.

Then there is the case of Timothy Lee Forbes, his son’s team lost their sixth grade Catholic League basketball championship. So angry, he sucker punched the winning coach before biting off part of his ear. Forbes was sentenced to four years in prison.

The are many horror stories, but one of the worst is about that of a Dentist, Dr. Stephen Cito. Dr. Cito sharpened his son’s chin-strap in an effort to literally slash the competition.

After five kids left a single game due to lacerations, (one went to the hospital for more than a dozen stitches), officials stopped the action to investigate.

For failing to stop his crazy dad, young Cito was expelled from school and his father received a year’s probation plus 400 hours of community service. The irony is the father is back practicing as a children’s dentist. Would you go to him?

There are countless more tales of this nature.  Too many to list in this Blog. To me, it is a national crisis. I do not have any answers. I grew up in quieter times.

We didn’t have fancy civic parks to play in.  We played in sand lots and on the streets. We were our own officials.  We had our fights and our arguments, but without parents and coaches who want to prove they are winners.

You know what, the same kids came out to play the next day.  Oh, we remembered what went on the day before, but the only way to settle the dispute was to play harder and try to win cleanly.

Overzealous parents and coaches who place the emphasis on winning at all costs are a severe detriment to the good that the youth programs can achieve.  In recent years, unprecedented media attention has been focused on youth sports.

I have queried a few of my Psychologist and Psychiatrist friends why it appears the violence in youth sports has dramatically escalated over the past five years. A great deal of it has been because of parent and coaches engaging not only negatively, but often times in violent behavior.

Many times, my friends tell me, the reasons have more to do with personality traits, the rapid pace of modern society and underlying societal pressures rather than actual circumstances surrounding that particular game. Thus, attitude transcends sports and is evident even in today’s political scene whereby so many candidates who have media exposure express callous, thoughtless and unsubstantiated remarks… breeding disrespect

I certainly have no answers.  However, I do believe people smarter than me should, in a calm fashion, look to making positive changes.  This happens first in the home, then on the filed of play.

One thing that some leagues do, I do not believe in.  I believe Trophies, medals, or awards should only go to the victorious.  No child should be honored for just showing up. They have to work hard to achieve a goal.  Which achievement should not be trivialized.

Let me close today with a positive note.

It happened last week in Newton, Massachusetts. In the Newton Southeast Little League, 8 year-old Jordan Bornstein pitched a no-hitter, had three hits including a Home Run and his team won.

But, the nicest thing I learned was that afterwards both teams went out together for Pizza and Ice Cream which the winning team paid for.

That’s what youth sports should be!

WHAT IS A STUDENT ATHLETE

image

May 16, 2016

The headline of today’s Blog is not by accident. Surprisingly, a great deal of thought went into composing the headline. My friend Don Esters called me last week and he was complaining about the plight of what appears to be a high incidence of illiteracy shown by many athletes, supposedly college graduates. To Don, this is most evident when they are called upon to answer interviewers’ questions.

For those who have followed my writings, first in my columns and now on my Blog, realize that I have felt for a long time that a schools’ desire for winning teams does not excuse its shirking its true responsibility of educating our youth.

A few years back, I talked to my cousin who had been a professor of linguistics at a couple of our most prestigious universities. My complaint was that I felt offended by the bastardization of the English Language exhibited by so many former athletes who have become on-air talent.

The utilization of their sports achievements and celebrity is wonderful for securing the job. Their notoriety helps garner viewers and builds ratings. I was taught Standard English both as a College English Major and as an embryo announcer.

After all, most announcers take numerous diction classes and even study speech therapy. I did! As a young announcer, I was required to follow the NBC pronunciation guide, which at the time was the gold standard) and spend hours mastering various challenges that consisted of tongue-twister tests.

I called many of the former athletes ,“deez, dem and dozers”. My cousin pointed out that my attitude was wrong. They were only products of their environment; no different than when my forefathers came over from Europe. My ancestors had accents and they had difficulty mastering the English language.

My cousin, the linguist pointed out how wrong I was to make the assessment of ignorance. It is a mistake made by many of us who are unenlightened. She pointed out that languages are made up of many Dialects. In the case of a great many of these athletes, linguists describe their speech as a Black Urban Dialect. This Dialect is completely consistent within its environment… easily understood.

However, it is not what we consider Standard English. Thus, it is often stigmatize as having no social value. The fact is that many people associate the Dialect with ignorance. Such an association is wrong and without merit.

However, I do believe the NCAA colleges and Universities are doing many of these athletes a great disservice. Not only should communication skills be taught, but also all student athletes should be taught skills that will earn them a living once their playing days are done.

As I have written before, I am a firm believer that “one and done” employed by schools such as Kentucky in the handling of its Basketball program goes against everything an accredited institute of education should be standing for. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
The NCAA Basketball tournament known as “March Madness” dominates sports headlines for an entire month and bleeds over into the next month. The athletic prowess of these young athletes is a marvel to behold. However, what is less noticed is the alarming rate that Black Athletes are dropping out of colleges across the country.
On major college campuses across the country, Black males comprise less than 3% of undergraduate enrollments. However, when we study the numbers on the revenue-generating sports—Football and Men’s Basketball, they make up somewhere between 50 and 60 percent of those teams. It appears that they are only really there to be part of the revenue-generating working class and not necessarily there to be part of the educating class as most everyone else is.
The insidious part of this is that these athletes are supposedly promised one thing for all their blood and sweat. This one item can be a transformative tool in our society. A tool that might help them get a job and a comfortable place in life after athletics.
Unfortunately, all of the incentive is really on winning and not losing on the field, or on the court. Coaches, who themselves make substantial salaries, are not necessarily incentivized to graduate players. With a $10 Billion contract for NCAA Basketball Broadcasts and the knowledge that the five top coaches of the five power conferences make an average of $2.8 million a year, it is easy to understand why this is true.
Then, there is Jay Wright. Jay, whose real name is Jerold is the coach of Villanova, a small Catholic School located in Philadelphia. His school is not a member of one of the five power conferences. Yet, little Villanova is the reigning NCAA men’s Basketball Champion… beating all those vaunted powerhouse teams from the bigger conferences.
Here’s where Jay is different. He looks on getting a degree as the most important thing; an athlete should get out of his/her college experience. All coaches give their team a pep talk about their team and the need to win. Jay goes a step further.
This year, my friend Jerry Berger saw his oldest granddaughter graduate from Villanova… and he learned something that I think is a tribute to the school and to Coach Wright. He not only gives his team the obligatory pep talk, but each year he addresses the entire incoming class. His topic is not basically about sports, or Basketball, but more importantly, it is about studying hard and getting a degree.
In my eyes, Jay Wright is not just a coach, but also an educator. He understands what an academic institution is supposed to achieve and the benefits of a good education.

THE RUN FOR THE ROSES

IMG_1784

April 9, 2016

On the first Saturday every year for 142 years, the Kentucky Derby has been run at Iconic Churchill Downs in Lexington, Kentucky. This year the winner was the overwhelming favorite Nyquist. The odds on Nyquist were 2-1 to win. Nyquist’s record is now 8 for 8.

I have had the good fortune to attend two Kentucky Derbys while working for the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. In 1956, I saw Needles win the Derby. Two years later, I saw Tim Tam have the Horseshoe wreath of Roses put around his neck in the Winners’ Circle.

To my younger readers, I mention the Gillette cavalcade of Sports because prior to the explosion that was to come about for American Sports on Sports Media, Gillette owned the exclusive Broadcast rights to all the major events of the day. Basically, it was Radio.

This included the Triple Crown of Racing which consists of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. All Championship Boxing Matches were broadcast weekly by the Cavalcade as well as all the Bowl Games

At the time, there were only four College Football Bowl Games… The Rose, the Sugar, the Orange and the Cotton Bowl.  Baseball’s World Series, and its All-Star Game rounded out the Gillette package. In that era Baseball was truly America’s National Pastime.

With the advent of Cable, TV and Over-the-Air Pay TV, Radio was no longer the all important medium delivering all news and sports. The new methods of transmission cried for product and thus more events were created… such as the Super Bowl and March Madness.

As my readers know, I have been involved in most sports, professional and amateur. However, Horse Racing is one that I am not well versed in.

In order to report properly, I have turned to my friend Jerry Berger,(the Budweiser guy), for insight, tutoring and knowledge. Over the years, Jerry has not only been a fan, but he has also been a Horse Owner and continues to be a student of racing, constantly studying and following the bloodlines.

In a previous Blog I reported on the “DNA in the NBA”. In Horse Racing, breeding is probably the most important aspect for creating Champions. It is a big business when a Derby champion is mated with a mare that has also been a winner in many stakes races.

For example, Tim Tam, the 1958 winner was sired by 1953 Triple handicap crown winner Tom Fool. Tom Fool’s dam was a champion as well. The $2,000,000 purse is dwarfed by the monies that a winner can return to its owner in retirement.

The mating of Thoroughbreds, is big business and the more races a Horse wins during his racing days, increases his value when he is retired to stud.

The Kentucky Derby has often been called the greatest two minutes in sports. However, those two minutes spawn a week of festivities unseen by any other sporting event anywhere in the world… including the Super Bowl, All-Star Games, or World Series.

There were over 150,000 visitors to the Derby. The results are not in, but in years past, the Kentucky Derby Festival has generated almost $130 million annually for the community and over $300,000 for area charities. To think the whole thing is done with just a professional staff of 23, However, there are over 4,000 volunteers.

Headdresses (Hats) are part of the great Tradition. It is often said that of British Royal Weddings, “Hats must be worn”. There it is a requirement for all female attendees. At the Derby, however, Hats are a cultural and traditional staple. Not only are they steeped in tradition, but when worn, they are also supposed to bring good luck.

Many women travel with more than one hat. So, she wouldn’t be improperly dressed. One lady I met from Oklahoma confided in me that she brought 15.

Women generally wear wide-brimmed Southern-Belle inspired Derby Hats that can be decorated with silk flowers, bows and ribbons among other things. Each day of the week represents 24 hours of partying.

Everywhere you go, the bands, the orchestras, the speakers blast the tune, “My Old Kentucky Home”. When played on Derby Day, it signals the start of the race.

The song is not only an integral part of every party and event. Equally as prevalent as Bourbon, (America’s own liquor) is the Mint Julep. The Mint Julep has been the traditional beverage of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby for nearly a century.

Each year, almost 120,000 Mint Juleps are served over the Kentucky Derby weekend. That amount of Beverage requires more than 10,000 bottles of Bourbon, 1,000 pounds of freshly harvested mint, and 60,000 pounds of ice.

When I realize the odds and the amount of money bet on this year’s winner, it seems to be Dwarfed when you see what happened this past month as Leicester City won the Premier League Soccer Championship in England. The odds against Leicester winning were 5000 to 1 against. The upset cost the bookies over $ 27,000,000. The largest payout in English sports history. The 1913 winner, Donerail a 91-1 long shot, to this day is the biggest upset winner in racing.

Although the Kentucky Derby Purse is only $2,000,000, the after-market for the winner, as a Stud, will pay out over the years, multiple times above the initial purse to its owner.

The Sire depending on its previous success while racing and while impregnating its mares, will get thousands of dollars for each coupling. If a foal is successfully delivered, more often than not, the owner of the Sire receives additional monies and continues to own a dramatic piece of the newborn.

As the progeny grows and competes, the owner of the Sire continues to share in the foal’s/horse’s future earnings. Unlike humans, when we are delivered a newborn, as it grows, we continue to pay forever… in a most pleasurable way.

Happy Mother’s Day!