Where are the Olympics heading

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The dictionary explains the condition “disappointment” with many words: dissatisfaction, distress, discontent, disenchantment and regret. In brief, it means the feeling of being let down, a result of something unexpected and frustration.

In 1980, I saw all these things in the faces of 219 United States Athletes who would not get a chance to compete. They had trained diligently and tirelessly for years preparing themselves for this event… for minutes in the sunlight.

With a single stroke of his pen, President Jimmy Carter completely wiped out their dreams, the dreams of their families, and the dreams of their friends and the hopes of a nation.

To these athletes, it was beyond belief. Years of hard work went for naught.

I shall get back to this premise later in my article, but I want to pay attention to something that happened at this year‘s Olympiad. You know, it takes years to build respect if you can possibly do it. Over the years, I have had the distinct pleasure of being part, or associated with 5 Olympiads.  In that time, I have seen both the good and the bad.

I have had the opportunity to work up close with some of the finest people I have ever known. As well as some of the most opportunistic executives I have ever known. My friend Rene Henry, also a veteran of many Olympiads, has pointed out how the Fat Cats get rich off the sweat and toil of the athletes and as dollars increased, greed has permeated the Halls of Power.

Just look at the fall of FIFA… and that is only the tip of the Ice Berg.

Also, over the years my professional career has seen me plying my wares and working in over 50 nations. This learning experience can never be replaced.

Certainly, not by people who sit at desks, write stories, do research and develop hypotheses without first-hand knowledge.  Neither can academics and sociologists who complete study upon study to reach only the conclusions that make up their theses give answers.

I look on these as exercises in futility. It is the man, or woman who has stuck their big toes in the water of life that have the answers.

William Shakespeare once wrote in part during the soliloquy that Marc Antony delivered at Julius Caesar’s burial, “The good is often interred with their bones.” Simply said, that means you can do something good forever, but one misstep and all the good is forgotten.  The misstep is what people remember.

Among the knowledge I have acquired in the years of being in both the sports and entertainment fields on foreign soil is that the United States was once respected, but never liked.

Do you remember a movie starring the late Marlon Brando entitled the Ugly American? Unfortunately, whether we, in our patriotism and yes, even our smugness, would ever admit it, among most countries; the United States has never been the most liked.

We were, however, always respected.  This respect allowed us to build a great trading nation and overcome dislike. I served in Korea and for a time was stationed in Japan.  For quite a while, wherever we walked we were looked on as the enemy, the conqueror to be feared.

Through careful indoctrination, constant effort and guide lines that our military leaders during a peace time transition, were able to infuse us with, we learned how to properly treat a nation that was once our enemy with dignity.  It worked.

I learned in great part from the Japanese how to be respectful and appreciate the differences. With my Japanese associates, Tee Kuboki in particular, I was able to meet with success.

According to research, the first Olympic games started back in 776 B.C… however, it was generally accepted that they had already been going on for over 500 years at that time.  They were dedicated to the Olympian Gods and were staged on the ancient plains of Olympia.

They continued uninterrupted for nearly 12 centuries until Roman Emperor Theodosius in 393 A.D. enacted a law banning all such “pagan cults”. Thus, this athletic endeavor settling differences on the playing field, rather than the battlefield was outlawed.

It wasn’t until 1500 years later, 1896 to be exact, that King Georgios I of Greece lifted the ban and along with 60,000 spectators welcomed athletes from 13 nations to the first international competition. In Athens, there were 280 athletes from 13 nations competing in 43 events: track and field, swimming, gymnastics, cycling, wrestling, weightlifting, fencing, shooting and tennis. Americans won 9 out of 12 of these events.

The 1896 Olympics featured the first marathon competition. The marathon followed the route run by the Greek Soldier Phidipidies who ran from the site of the battle in Marathon to Athens bringing news of the Greek victory over the Persians.

The next year, 1897, the Boston Marathon was founded and for decades was America’s only Marathon. In addition, it was always free and anyone could enter… the winner’s only prize was a Laurel Wreath following the Greek Olympic tradition. In the 1960’s corporate sponsors put up big prize money. The race requirements changed! Since the potential entrants times are checked for qualifying, plus a fee has to be paid.

Prior to that, everybody who entered was welcomed as a guest in Boston’s home. Our parents always taught us to be respectful when visiting. We also learned that “a man makes money, but money doesn’t make a man”.

The Summer Olympics which costs a fortune to stage, with the exception of L.A. 1984, has never produced a profit for the host city. Yet, the Olympiad  which is held every four years, is constantly sought after by cities with hopes it would add prestige to their municipality. It is hoped the end result would cast a favorable light on the city and help bring notoriety and good will.

Any athlete, who represents his, or her country, is expected to carry on with dignity.  They are not expected to be rowdy and “spit in the face” of their host. Ryan Lochte and three of his swim teammates did just that.  They compounded a minor misdemeanor by making up a falsehood, which brought worldwide attention to the American Team. This was done especially in a country that was facing so many problems and was already being called the worst run Olympics in history.

I started this column talking about President Carter’s misguided Boycott of the 1980 Moscow games. While I created an Olympic week in Washington to help assuage the hurt of our 219 athletes that were going nowhere, I saw how devastated they were.

Thus, when athletes who are privileged to go, have the audacity to undermine the excellent efforts of so many others, to me, it is time for the so-called executives who receive monies out of proportion for what they do, to take stock and somehow penalize the wrong doers.

At these games, the United States team has enjoyed so many outstanding moments.  Their Medal total and victories have been off the wall. It is a shame that one foolish act performed in a moment of weakness might overshadow these feats and not shine the light on those who have accomplished them.

“The good is often interred in their bones”.

WHAT TO DO? WHAT TO DO?

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Today was a beautiful August morning, which I had truly been enjoying. That is until now!

As I write this, I am one of the lucky ones.  You see I Live on a small lake in Southern California. In this little Hamlet, my computer is right by a large picture window that looks over the lake where today and every day, I look at Swans, a family of Ducks, a flock of Canadian Geese and once in a while, an Egret, or two… oh! Oh! There are two Kayaks passing under my window right now!

I imagine I probably feel like Henry David Thoreau as he wrote about his beloved Walden Pond…only one problem, a little rain has fallen today in the form of the front page of the local newspaper. Our village is so small, that paper is appropriately named the Acorn. Someday, when it gets bigger, it might actually grow to be the Oak Tree.

In the meantime, it brings us up to date on what’s happening in our Village.  Today’s headline was quite disturbing. It read, “Post-game puncher K.O.’d in court.”  The sub-headline went on to say “Judge orders him to pay victim $800,000”.

The reason for this heavy punishment was because a parent aggravated by the fact that his son had not, (at least in his eyes), enjoyed enough playing time in the game that just ended. As a result, the irate father attacked the coach as he was getting into his car in the parking lot.

He set upon the unsuspecting coach and sucker-punched him.  The coach fell to the pavement, hit his head and to this day he suffers from cognitive issues, lost his job, has difficulty putting complete sentences together, cannot read for any length of time and still is in his early thirty’s, his eyesight remains impaired.

Where this happened is at a small local Ball Field about a half- mile from my house. Which brings me to the reason for this story.  I think it fits easily into the series of Fan articles that I have been writing.

Many years ago, I was having lunch with two of my closest friends who have since passed on, Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe and John Chafetz. At the time, John had recently been appointed AYSO Commissioner. We were there to celebrate his good fortune. In the job only three months, John stunned us when he said, “ I plan to quit!”.

Realizing that I was looking for something to do, he asked if I would be interested in replacing him.

It was intriguing! Both Ernie and I asked why he was quitting.

John explained that there are thousands of volunteers. However, the parents were impossible to deal with.  Argumentative, overly proud of little Johnny as he was the best at everything etc.

The mothers were the worst.  They always refused to listen to any reasoning.

Enough said.

Unfortunately, this parental interference trickles down directly to the playing field.

Imagine a beautiful sunny afternoon at a local youth soccer match. The game starts simply enough in an atmosphere that is both enjoyable and exciting. The children are playing their hearts out running up and down the field.  Suddenly little Paul, or Suzie accidentally trips and quickly gets up unhurt. But the player’s parent erupts in a torrent of invectives claiming their child was fouled.

In fact, the parent gets louder and when the coach goes over to calm he, or she, down, the parent hauls off and whacks the coach, he is met with a punch…  a fight ensues, the game is halted and everyone goes home disappointed.

We have all seen it with our own eyes where a parent’s obnoxious behavior escalates to irrational violence. Like so many parents when my children were young, I coached many of their teams. My motto was simple!  Teach the youngsters the best you can, let everyone play and enjoy the learning experience.

To me, that’s what youth sports should be about.  However, there are too many adults who are there for other reasons. The wrong reasons. All too often they become overinvolved. As a rule, there are warning signs that make them easy to spot at a youth game.

There’s the danger of the overzealous parent. He/she is the one who becomes involved in the child’s efforts and may not be able to distinguish between his/her own needs and those of the child. Sports is often more important to the parent than to the child.

The clearest and scariest sign that the parent is merging with the child is when the parent enters the “We” zone… “We won today”, or “We have a tough opponent next week”.

Many  “We” parents, especially those who have never achieved in sports, live vicariously through their children.  It’s healthy to encourage the kids. It’s normal and healthy to be excited for their successes and be disappointed for their failures.

Yet, sharing the child’s participation should not be… living through them.

It’s tough being a kid these days. They have a lot on their shoulders: school, family, social participation. When the parent becomes over invested in the child’s sports, an extra responsibility is put on their young shoulders… one they do not need!

The worst thing that happens is when a parent loses perspective. The seductiveness of sports means to many that their child might bring fame and fortune. Who knows Johnny may be the player to break Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game streak, Ted William’s .406 average, or score that all important tie-breaking goal in the Olympics.

This kind of dream and the pressure it puts on the child cause many parents to lose perspective. Such loss of perception has caused many heinous moments connected to youth sports.

There are many cases of undoing the good that organized youth sports are trying to achieve.

In Stockton, California, youth football coach Cory Petero rammed and hurt a player who had just cleanly tackled his son.  He was charged with felony child abuse.

A father in Philadelphia pulled a .357 Magnum on his son’s football coach.  He was enraged that his son was not getting enough playing time in an Under-7 Pee Wee football game…WOW!

How about the T-ball coach in a Pittsburg suburb who received a six year sentence for offering one of his players, an 8-year-old boy, $25 to throw the ball at a teammate during warm-ups. The teammate was a mildly autistic 9-year-old.  The coach felt if the 9-year-old was injured so he would be too sore to play in a playoff game… WOW!

The 8-year-old testified that he first hit him in the groin.  The irate coach told him to throw another, only harder. This time, following instructions, he threw the ball at his head, hitting his ear. Yet, the sad thing is that this is T-ball where teams don’t even have pitchers, the young children hit off a tee. Still winning was so important to this coach who had two of his own children on the team, he had one of his own players beaned.

The coach was convicted of conspiracy to commit simple assault and corruption of minors. At the sentencing the judge was so incensed, he sent the errant coach directly to prison.

The epitome of the seriousness and the rise of this type of activity is the Massachusetts Hockey Father, angered at another parent during a practice feeling that the man had pushed his son he attacked the other father after practice with a Hockey Stick. The victim never regained consciousness.

Such bad parental behavior is a severe problem.  It brings about pressure-filled, unhappy situations for everybody involved. Instead of being supportive, many parents become verbally and physically abusive. I have an idea, but I don’t know if it will work… let’s try it!

The by-laws of every league should contain a stipulation that before a child is allowed to sign up to participate, all parents should be mandated to attend a seminar on good sportsmanship and good behavior taught by a coach who has already been screened and accepted…. Plus a child psychologist paid for by the league.

Once evaluated, the parent, if qualified, can be part of the coaching staff, or allowed to attend. I like the idea, but I know it can never pass.

In addition, I go back to the days I held an Executive position with the Los Angeles Lakers.  At the time Pat Riley, the great coach was the team’s 6th man.

Whenever a request came in from any organization for the Lakers to provide a speaker, Pat was the first to have his hand up. He was a one-man goodwill ambassador. This gives me an idea.

Every contract in every professional Major league should have a clause that each team member… players, coaches etc.; must do so many hours visiting youth teams in meetings before and during each season.  The message should be one of cooperation, team play and togetherness.

This alone won’t solve the myriad of problems that manifest themselves every season, but it could go a long way toward helping.  After all, these are professionals both the parents and children look up to and aspire to emulate.  In fact, the various commissioners’ offices could make this a negotiating mandate.

What do you think?

SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!

SOME FANS GET CARRIED AWAY

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“Rage is an intense uncontrolled anger or a great force. An example of rage is someone screaming at the top of their lungs holding a bat and charging forward”

………. Miriam-Webster Dictionary.

In my last column, I wrote about the value of being a good fan. I talked about the enjoyment and pleasure that it brings and how, in many cases, such support actually plays a role in helping a favorite team win. I cited the Seattle Seahawks and how their noisy fans, in the eyes of Coach Pete Carroll, effectively make up the “12th man” giving visiting teams more to worry about. Also, the Green Bay Packers with its 100,000 shareholders were mentioned.

However, there is a dark-side! I call it “Fan Rage”. Most of us know and understand “Road Rage”. This is the same, but without the wheels.

So, I decided to take a look at a few selected incidents that took place over the past decade. New research has come about due to a great extent because of the increased violence in recent years among sports fans. There are some long-held ideas the link between highly competitive games and the fans they enthrall.

Both psychologists and sociologists now have come to the conclusion that much of the violence occurs when there are traditional rivalries, personal relationships involving participants, or many times possessing an overreaching ego, which tells the enraged fan that he knows more, then the coaches, or the officials.

“Fan Rage” is nothing new. This phenomenon has been around for centuries. In 532 A.D., the rivalry between supporters Blue and Green chariot-racing teams in Constantinople, (today: Istanbul), led to 30,000 deaths in the Nika Riots.

However, modern instances are numerous in all walks of sports and for multitude of reasons. Let’s look at a few examples.

In 1975, cyclist Eddy Mercx was viciously punched by a spectator as he climbed the Puy de Dome in the Tour de France. Earlier, he had won the Tour five times and at the time of the incident was leading. He finished the stage barely able to breathe and went to finish the Tour in second place overall.

In 1980 at London’s Wembley Arena, Boxer Marvin Hagler scored a three round knockout over Englishman Alan Minter. Many of Minter’s fans began to throw beer cans, bottles and other objects into the ring. The fighters had to be escorted out by Scotland Yard.

In 1984, a Braves/Padres game degenerated into a Beanball war. At least five Atlanta fans were dragged from the stadium in handcuffs after being part of a bench-clearing brawl.

In 2000 at Reading, Massachusetts, the beating death of a volunteer youth hockey coach, sent shockwaves throughout the country regarding the escalating violence being displayed among adults at youth athletic events.

Death is the epitome of “Fan Rage”. It is an unspeakable indication of how far rage can be carried. However, as heinous as the previous action was, what happened at Dodger Stadium on opening day 2011 was another indication how “Fan Rage”, in this case, fueled by alcohol, can get out of hand.

After the game, a San Francisco Giant fan named Bryan Stow was accosted in the Dodger parking lot. In front of a milling crowd and in the presence of his young children, two hooligans set him upon as he walked to his car. He was beaten to an inch of his life and was forever left Brain damaged, a paraplegic who will never walk again.

His only crime he was dressed in a San Francisco Giants jacket.

There have been countless studies as to what causes such outbursts of fury. Some researchers say it has a great deal to do with the easy access to violence on TV, or the massive number of video games which show little regard for life and limb giving impressionable minds with the belief that life and well-being are cheap commodities.

Others say it’s the ranting and raving of those who have the public’s ear emphasizing victory at whatever the cost may be. Sometimes it’s related to nationalism or as an outlet for social tensions.

Basically though, most studies agree. A person’s home atmosphere often spills out into how that person reacts in societal situations.

The days when we could go to a Ball Game, a Tournament, a Match, or a Race, just for the simple enjoyment seem to be gone. For a myriad of reasons: we are checked by security guards, we are not allowed to bring in certain items and we are constantly being scrutinized as we sit in the stands.

In many Ball Parks, because of unruly instances over the years, alcoholic beverages are not served after a definitive time. For example, that time in Baseball, is after the 6th inning. Also, because glass bottles and cans have been used as missiles of destruction. The beverages are served in plastic containers.

The times are tense. An afternoon at the Ballpark is supposed to relieve tension. It is supposed to be entertainment, not life, or death.

After all, they are just games.

A SINCERE SPORTS FAN REMAINS FAITHFUL

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There is something that even the most avid sports fan will agree on.  It is simply this!  The teams you are backing win or lose, is the one you remain faithful to.

I am an octogenarian.  This means I have been to a great number of events, seen a lot of action and, on occasion, if my favorite team was not involved, I would, in a lukewarm fashion; root for a team that normally was one of our rivals.

In my case, I draw the line at rooting for the Yankees. After all, throughout most of my formative years, my beloved Red Sox always finished second to the so-called “Bronx Bombers”.

You may ask yourself, “Why has Shelly decided to devote an entire column to the subject of fandom? Being a fan… it’s simple to understand.

The fan may not be actually part of the team, but  true fans eat, breathe, sleep and even have an imitated death over the success and failure of their favorite team.

I have many friends including Carol and Frank who belong in that category. I do not understand such fervor, but applaud their right to feel the way they do. Why shouldn’t I.  It is fans that helped me earn my livelihood during the years I worked.

Among my Fan friends are many who graduated from their respective schools over a half century ago, but come football season, there’s no talking to them on Saturdays. They even dress in school colors. One couple I know have pajamas in their school colors and the entire Saturday they remain in their P. J.’s Often, they bring food in.  This way they can eat , never moving from in front of their  TV Set until the final snap of the game… genuine hermits.  A true fan supports his team through not only the winning years, but never deserts them even in the lean years. Needless, to say, they too follow every bounce of the ball.

Some schools are coached by coaches destined for the Hall of Fame. As great as these coaches are or were to become, it never stops the fan from criticizing every call. One of the facets of being a true fan, is to adapt. Many fans actually feel they are a part of the game.  The fan, however, never takes blame for a bad call.

Then, of course, there is my son-in-law Danny. Danny is a certified Basketball referee. So in all the games he watches, or listens to… pro, collegiate, or high school… he focuses in on the Officials’ calls … commenting on what was missed and what should have been called. He’s more right than wrong! However, he has the benefit of TV and not having to make the call under duress of the actual game.

Actually, most fans feel they can coach, or call a game better than an Official.  Thus, those fans not only do this during the game… long after it is over, they will continue to sit and analyze each play.

The real  fans go all out. This phase, “Tail Gating,  has been covered extensively by all networks and even the Cooking Channel. It is a great phenomenon that I have often  salivated as I watched.  In fact, I dreamed of being part of such an obviously delicious event.

Eventually, as luck would have it, I met Bunny and Bob avid USC fans. During football season, they host a tailgate party at their home, supplying food, drink and multiple TV sets for their  friends to view all away games.

On home game days, they start at 6 A.M. Actually, they start the night before.  Their truck is loaded with all the Bar-B-Q accouterments you can imagine. They  leave around 7 A.M. for the  Los Angeles Coliseum in preparation for the game and  are set up for both breakfast and lunch long before the 12:30 kickoff.

I am a fan! Although I worked in many sports as a player, a coach, a referee, an owner and an executive, I always have remained true to my roots. My work itinerary in sports saw me based in New Jersey, Colorado, Ohio, New York and California. I enjoyed all the teams, or games I was involved in.  Yet, if they were playing against any of my Boston teams, my passion for the Red Sox et al rose to the fore. I have to be true.

Without fans, the games would never achieve their place on the American entertainment firmament, or for that matter, the world’s stage. Men make up the preponderance of fans.. but many women are right there with them.

Look at the fan base for NFL Football every Sunday.

Although, Baseball has been called the “National Past time”, fans of Professional Football even in a much shorter season is truly “America’s Game”. The Green Bay Packers ownership is a good example.  Over 100,000 fans each own a share of the team.

Then there are the fans that support the Seattle Seahawks.  The noise that they create and the cacophony that results, has caused coach Pete Carroll to label them the  “12th Man”. They are so loud that twice they have established the Guinness World record for the largest noise at a sporting event…September 15, 2013 against the San Francisco Forty Niners, (136.6 db)… December 2, 2013 versus the New Orleans Saints, (1376 dB)….THAT’S LOUD! 

By the way, they won both games.

Multiply my friends by millions across the country who each game day act exactly the same way.

It always amazed me that even when I was a lowly sports executive that when my wife and I would attend a party, for example, every man there would gravitate toward me for conversation.

The reason I was amazed and continue to be amazed is because in attendance at the parties often times there might be a multimillionaire builder, the largest car dealer in the area, an insurance agent that just made a million dollar policy sale and others like that.

Made no difference, I was connected to the local team and in their minds I might have some insight to share with them.

It is the fan that paid my salary for many years.  This fact is brings me, I guess that goes to the reason why I wrote this column. The owners and the players, to a great extent, have forgotten the nucleus of where their wages originally are derived.

Basically, the humongous TV deals, spending billions of dollars for the right to broadcast the games, have created an atmosphere where the fan is secondary to the quest for as much lucre as possible.

Now, don’t get me wrong!

I believe in capitalism and the ability to make the most money you can. However, when a utility such as Cable and Over-the-Air TV came into existence licensed by and with the support of government action as something that was conceived for the good of the public, it is wrong for rights holders to withhold the product from the most viewers in a community.

When in 1948 John Walson, Sr created the first Community Antenna Television, (CATV), signal to Mahanoy City, Pa, his intent was to deliver a signal to rural, urban and poorer areas where they couldn’t get Howdy Doody, Dave Garraway, the News, or Jack Paar. Neither did Bob Block have any idea of depriving the public, when he founded Select TV, the first over-the-air pay TV system.

The fans clamor for sports on TV!  Most average fans cannot afford the ticket prices so TV is the only way than can enjoy and support their team. Unfortunately, in many markets there is a competition between systems that preclude the maximum number of fans from viewing.  Many individual teams have made deals with one system and unless competing systems pay an exorbitant price, they will not share those rights. Such is the case in Los Angeles, where Time Warner owns the rights and does not with either the Dish System, or Direct TV.

The owners are hurting the fans that stuck with them for years. Unfortunately, all too many fans are lemmings and accept the situation.

We have all heard about “Road Rage”.  My next column shall be about “Fan Rage” which is ugly and ruinous.