Booyah

If you are a sports fan who grew up watching or listening to sports, you’ve no doubt had a broadcaster or play by play announcer who impacted how you hear and see sports today. Vin Scully. Harry Carey. Pat Summerall and John Madden. Howard Cosel. Bob Uecker. Bob Costas, sometimes with Bob Uecker and Howard Cosel. For me, one of those iconic voices was Stuart Scott. He started at SportsCenter in 1993 when I was a kid living on a sports island in our little state. Situated in the upper midwest, we got the Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos and Nebraska Cornhuskers games. As I got older and our cable provider expanded, we also got TBS and WGN so we also got to see most of the Braves and Cubs games. When the Colorado Rockies expanded into the MLB, we got them too. NBA games were on sporadically. NFL was on Mondays and Sundays. Saturday was the Huskers and Notre Dame and on occasion, one or two other games. I don’t think I saw a hockey game until I was in junior high school. There was no Sunday Ticket, no Center Ice. National TV deals were a decade away. I had never even heard of the Internet and if I was talking to my friend on the phone, I had to step around the corner becuase our phones still had cords on them. If you wanted to know what was happening outside of our regional sports bubble, SportsCenter was the only way to know. Every night, after the Twins were over, my dad would flip to SportsCenter and we would catch up on how the rest of the world was going. And it was good television. There was Rich and Stuart and Keith and Dan. And they did it all, from sideline interviews to studio segments and anything in between. At the young age I was, I didn’t appreciate what a trailblazing moment I was witnessing; a young black man sitting among the white men. What I did know was he made me laugh. You had to pay attention to Stuart Scott because he would throw one liners out at rapid fire pace and leave you laughing so hard you might miss the next play. And there were no DVR’s so if you missed something you wanted to see, you had to sit through the next hour in order to catch it. And that was fine, because Rich Eisen and Stuart Scott together was pure television gold.

Over the years, Stuart Scott interviewed the who’s who of the sporting world, from Tiger Woods to Michael Jordan to his annual tradition of presenting the NBA Championship trophy at the end of the NBA Finals. Some of the most iconic interviews in sports history were done with Stuart Scott sitting across the table. As quick witted as he was on the set of SportsCenter, he was equally as kind and compassionate when dealing with the tricky issues of the day. To that end, his kindness and compassion always felt genuine. He was one of those guys you could see hanging out in a backyard, beer in hand, listening as intently to a friend as he did to Tiger Woods and you never doubted that image. When he gave his instantly iconic and legendary speech at the 2014 ESPY awards after being presented the Jimmy V Award, his speech solidified that image in my mind. He almost didn’t make the trip to accept the award and when he stood, I was shocked at how frail and thin he looked. As he approached the stage, I remember hoping that his smooth voice didn’t sound as weak as he looked. How selfish of me, this courageous man who literally used every ounce of strength he had for those 10 minutes and it was I who was worried about it not sounding right. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, my friends. Any fear I had was dashed the moment he opened his mouth. The words he spoke are going to live on, much like the words of the awards namesake, Coach Jimmy Valvano. That speech will remain a part of sports history forever, long after the memorials are over, after the tears are wiped away and yes, as his memory begins to fade. If you haven’t seen the speech, it’s everywhere on YouTube right now. And you owe it to yourself, even if this is the first you’ve ever heard of Stuart Scott, you owe it to yourself to watch it. The honesty and genuineness with which he speaks, the way he refers to his young daughters and the way he conducted himself, presumably in the face of death, is a testament to how he truly loved life. Hearing the news Sunday morning was like finding out I had lost an old friend.

Maybe this eulogy of someone I’ve never met is a little on the creeper side. I get it. I struggled with whether I should write this entry or not. But in a way, I grew up with Stuart Scott. He’s part of some of my favorite sports memories over the years. And some of my favorite childhood memories, sprawled out on the floor with my dad, peppering him with sports questions until bedtime. And, if we missed one of those famous one liners, sometimes well AFTER bedtime! Perhaps I’m hypersensitive to this because it comes on the heels of losing my brother in law just 2 weeks ago, ironically at almost the exact same age of Stuart Scott, at 48. He too leaves young children along with 2 grandchildren. He was one of the people in this world to whom I was closest and his death has hit me hard. So, I can’t explain why I chose to write this. I know this much: Life is bigger than sports. Nobody personified that better than Stuart Scott. I will miss his voice, his wit and his ability to make me laugh. He was as cool as the other side of the pillow.

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The Case for Honesty

A story has come out in the past day or so that can serve as a good reminder for anybody in any profession: Don’t lie on you resume. For those who have a life and don’t eat, sleep and drink sports, you can find the story of college basketball coach Steve Masiello here. Now, it’s important to note that we don’t have Coach Masiello’s side of the story yet, so I hate to drag a good man’s name through the mud. However, the facts in this instance seem fairly cut and dry. The obvious questions, of course, is why? Why would a coach need or want to lie on his resume? I can tell you why; coaching is a TOUGH gig. It’s cutthroat, it’s stressful and it is absolutely next man up. If you can’t handle the job, if you don’t exactly fill the needs of the position, there are 5 more guys waiting for it. I can see a few scenarios here. The most obvious being he really wanted a job at Louisville under Coach Rick Petino and said he graduated to make his resume look better. Is it wrong? Of course. Can I see exactly why he did it? Yup. Coach Masiello had played for Coach Petino and let’s face it, Petino can coach. If you want to go places, you find the Petino’s, the coach K’s, and the Callipari’s of the basketball world and you learn everything you can from them. It worked too, because Coach Masiello is 60-39 after 3 years as head coach at Manhattan and even got the virtually unknown team into the NCAA Tournament this year. Of course, this is all speculation. The case can also be made that Manhattan should have checked his credentials a little closer and this would have all been avoided.

Obviously, this is a problem for Steve Masiello. It’s yet to be determined if Manhattan is going to take him back. Heck, he might not even qualify for the job he’s held since 2011 anymore! He already said good bye to his players and packed his things. He would have to face the players, their families, the administration and his fans, all of whom probably wonder how much they can trust Coach now that this has come to light. How can a coach tell his players to live with honesty, integrity and do the right thing when it looks at this moment like he has done anything but for the last almost decade. By all accounts, he is a great coach. He’s learned under some of the best. It would be a shame to see such a bright future to come to such an ending. I have no doubt that whatever his motivation was for lying on his resume, Coach Masiello doesn’t think it was worth it today. This is a good lesson for everyone. Most of us won’t fall from grace as publicly as Steve Masiello, but the lesson is the same. Just be honest. If you’re honest, you don’t have to keep track of your lies. 

March Madness

I was planning on making this blog all about Spring Football practices and all the fun that goes with it. The warmer weather, longer days, spending time outside, some Spring Game tailgating tips, etc. Then our football team spent morning workouts outside in the snow and that kind of dampened my spirits. As I type this, there is a Dodge Challenger trying to get up the hill out my window. It’s not going well for him. The sad part is the snow is only now starting to stick and this hill isn’t THAT steep. Good luck, friend! 🙂 

So, back to the post. Since it’s decidedly NOT spring football weather outside today, I thought I would change it up. Another passion in our house is the NCAA Basketball Tournament, known as March Madness by most. This year has been particularly brutal if you’re a high seed. I’m sure if you follow the tournament or tried your luck at winning a billion dollars from Mr. Buffett, you know how this tournament is unfolding. Madness doesn’t come close to describing what’s going on. Ratings are through the roof, profits for the tournament are up and money is rolling in. As I was watching Duke lose to Mercer on Friday (know where Mercer is? I didn’t. I had to look it up. The Mercer Bears hail from Macon, Georgia. The more you know….) someone who was also watching the end of the game made a comment. He said, “It’s tough to remember that these are kids.” It was an offhand, almost afterthought comment but it gave me pause. We have this discussion during football season about a half dozen times a season. Especially when the major football conferences head toward post season play. People are shocked when this defensive back or that guard gets arrested for something stupid, or gets suspended for a half for a violation of team rules. These kids are just that….KIDS. They usually come to school at 18, some of them have never been away from home and now you’re thrusting them into (in the case of a major DI program) a HUGE spotlight and expecting them to never screw up. That pressure is unimaginable. Most people I know couldn’t handle it, myself included. If I had lived my life under a microscope and had people dissecting every bad decision I made at 18….well, let’s just say they would have had plenty to talk about!! Whether it’s basketball, football or some other sport, these are children. Legally, they’re adults, but they are really only big children. Some of them grow up fast. Can you imagine playing for an NCAA Championship at 21, having thousands of fans screaming for or at you, jugging practice and classes, being known everywhere you go, being criticized for every mistake you make? Wow. No thank you. I get annoyed when I’m stopping at the store for milk and someone asks me how the team looks if I’m in a hurry, there is no way I could handle what these kids do. 

So what is the Madness in all of this? The heart pounding finishes, the buzzer beaters, the last second put backs, watching the post game victory dances or the fact that we are entrusting a multi-billion dollar industry to a bunch of teenage kids who, to this point, have basically made one major life decision. They know (or should) what they’re getting into, I get that argument. They shouldn’t sign with the Kentuckys and Dukes of the world if they aren’t ready for the pressure, I get that too. But let’s not forget as we watch the Madness unfold, for every jubilant locker room and charged fan base, there are tears being shed and jerseys being put away for the final time by a 4th year senior whose one goal in life was to play college basketball. He’s putting that dream to bed for the final time today and entering the “real world” with the rest of us. And yes, he’s still, more or less, just a kid.