Step Forward, Rise Up, Always Remember.

I started this blog four years ago – a challenge for me to 1) create a website and 2) write a blog on top of mind things I think….without the inference of politics or religion. This is the 185th post which has a focus of inspiration and remembrance. Whether good, bad, or ugly I really do appreciate everyone’s support and comments.

I always look for inspiration through the business world or sports. This take may be a bit bias due to my Miami roots, but this story about Eddie Alvarez is all about inspiration. A kid growing up in Miami, the son of Cuban immigrants, who as a young boy put on inline skating shows on the sidewalks of Ocean Drive. As he states, a random woman approached his parents and suggested that Eddie use his inline skating abilities on the ice as a speed skater. Much to the chagrin of his older brother, a youth league baseball star who went on to play professional baseball, Eddie pursued speed skating and put baseball on hold. The cliff notes: Eddie, the kid from Miami, went on to win a silver medal in speed skating at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games….and then, at the ripe old age of 30, was called up to the major leagues and made his first start with the Miami Marlins a few weeks ago. A kid from Miami, who turns inline skating into speed skating, and after earning an Olympic medal, rekindles his passion for baseball to the extent that he makes the major leagues. Don’t tell me you “can’t do it”. Note: the full segment about Eddie Alvarez can be seen on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.

Eddie Alvarez – from Olympic medalist to major league baseball player.

I have heard many motivational speakers. Some were renowned for their spit and fire, some followed the path of speaking in “business tongue” to the point of ad nauseam. Don’t get me wrong, ALL OF US need motivation. All of us need to be inspired. For me, this 3-minute video says more to me than the majority of speakers I have heard combined. Remember, it is just my take.

A lot said in three minutes………

Do not fret Tom, Ben, Doug, Brendan, Mark, Mario, Dave, Guy, Aaron and all the rest of my golf buddies. In our minds, we are all excellent golfers who strike the ball well and are excellent around the green. We have perfect swings, tremendous poise, and manage the course so very well. We rarely lose our tempers, are so cordial to each other, and never get easily distracted. So don’t let the video below influence your decision to just give up the most frustrating sport on earth. Don’t.

There is no telling what the heck I was doing at four years old.

Leslie and I knew each other for a long time. Though mutual friends and the tennis club were our only common threads, we always got along well, shared great stories and had many laughs. I did not laugh when she showed up thirty minutes late for a Saturday morning mixed doubles match, on a hot June morning, without water, a towel, or her tennis racket, but that is who Leslie was and she was proud of it. Fun-loving, genuine, and so sweet we admiringly called her ‘sweet tea’. Sadly, Covid-19 took her life after a six-week battle. She was something else in many great ways. RIP Leslie Bryant.

Leslie’s smile said it all.

The cause and effect of Covid-19 really hits home when you lose a family member or friend. Leslie put up a tough fight and battled to beat this virus – which makes the quote below more than relevant:

“None of us are getting out of here alive, so please stop treating yourself like an afterthought. Eat the delicious food. Walk in the sunshine. Jump in the ocean. Say the truth that you’re carrying in your heart like hidden treasure. Be silly. Be kind. Be weird. There’s no time for anything else.” Sir Anthony Hopkins

Adios, pay if forward, be safe and always remember.

The Future of Sports Journalism?

We discover every day how the onslaught of Covid-19 has created the new “not normal”. Almost all business entities and professions have had to alter the way they provide goods and services. Last week a guest was nice enough to offer up his perspective on issues with the pandemic and college football. This week I am thankful that Doug stepped up to provide an insightful perspective with his profession and how the pandemic has changed the way he works. While I we be back with my random takes next week, I do think it is important to understand the challenges we all face until a vaccine is in play.

Hi, my name is Doug Roberson. I’ve known Gary for a long time. He and my dad played soccer together in Atlanta. Little did either of us know then, but 30-plus years later he would graciously host me a few times at his wonderful condo in downtown Orlando when I was in town for business.

I am a sports journalist. I cover Atlanta United. I’ve traveled everywhere from Costa Rica to Vancouver to Montreal. Because of COVID-19, I’m not sure if I’ll ever travel again. It’s not because of the risk of catching the virus. It’s because of the sea-change that COVID-19 has brought to my segment of news gathering and reporting.

Instead of face-to-face interviews before or after training sessions and games, we talk by Zoom. Instead of watching games in person, I watch them from our living room in Carrollton, Ga. on our 70-inch TV. It’s a very odd experience. I have always been proud of the paper’s ethical and financial decision to have boots on the ground when we cover teams. It’s expensive but hopefully the coverage merits the expenditure. Before COVID-19, I was one of perhaps no more than five Major League Soccer reporters in the entire country who traveled and covered games home and away. I joke I’ve watched more games live than any other Atlanta United employee. When you are at venues live, you typically are able to provide better coverage. You can see things that the TV cameras aren’t focusing on. You can ask a player something as they are leaving or standing around that won’t be possible through a single-lens medium. I don’t know if we will get that chance any more.

Some professional teams and colleges value media coverage. Some used to, grew frustrated and don’t. Some never have and never will. I can easily see owners of professional teams or college athletic directors taking a look at their stadiums and asking themselves, “Why do we need that press box when everything can be done by Zoom? Let’s turn that valuable space into suites and make some money.” If I were an owner or athletic director, I know I would consider the possibility of at least shrinking the size of my press areas. If I were a sports editor or publisher, particularly at a smaller paper, I know I would at least consider asking if Zoom is the future.

I hope that a vaccine is soon developed and that we can all return to what our lives were six months ago. I do miss the travel. I miss exploring. I miss meeting new people in press boxes. I miss trying new food at different restaurants and seeing cathedrals. The driving back and forth to the training center and airport…I don’t miss that but would give anything to do it again.

Adios, pay it forward, stay safe, and have a Sunday Funday!

Top Of Mind For Mid-August.

Another Labor Movement? Let Us Never Forget. Real Music. Transparency with VAR. Departing The City. A Day In The Park.

I am a huge fan of college football. Saturday afternoon and night games, especially involving the SEC, ACC, and Big 10 schools, have for a long time been an important part of weekends between September and December. The following take on the college football season was written by a subject matter expert, a friend who was the CEO of a major college alumni association and has held executive positions in the sports and entertainment spaces. His take sheds a bright (or dim) light on reality:

Is the issue with playing College Football the Virus? Liability? Labor?
As we have all seen over the last few weeks, college football has continued to march towards a spring season or no season. Some say this is political, others believe it is due to the lack of adequate testing for players and coaches but really this is a classic labor issue. Management (college presidents, conferences & athletic directors) and Labor (players) have an issue. 
Like all good labor issues in our countr
y’s history, there comes a point in time where Labor feels like they have the leverage and that time is now. Covid and the desire to feel normalcy through college football are the leverage. Management continues to say  “Not so fast….let’s slow down and figure this out” while Labor is #wewanttoplay pushing for a season and a platform to unionize. 
This is an uncomfortable truth in business of college athletics where athletic departments make tens of millions of dollars on a football program, head coaches make millions, offensive coordinators make millions and strength coaches make millions all while student athletes earn a degree. Higher educations warped capitalism is prime for a labor movement. 
Let’s hope I am wrong….because if I am right there will not be any college football in 2020.

In light of Beirut’s massive ‘man-made’ explosion discussed in last week’s post, I bring you back to the reality of 1954 in post-war Japan. The director of the first Godzilla movie tells the world: “As long as nuclear weapons or nuclear power exists, Godzilla will never not be relevant. Godzilla reminds us that we have the terrible power to create our own monsters and contribute to our own destruction.” In previous posts I have written about my admiration for Godzilla – and will never broach the subject of politics with this massive creature. Godzilla, as I have now learned, was created by the Japanese after the devastation incurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the hands of atomic bombs dropped by the United States in August of 1945. Godzilla’s first movie shows a scarred monster, angry to the core from the effects of radiation, wreaking havoc and genuinely not happy. Godzilla remains my favorite, even more than the beloved King Kong, due to His (or Her) passion to do the right thing. Don’t even go with the King Kong comparison; there is no comparison. My point: whether it is radiation or the combination of fire and ammonia nitrate, the pure devastation due to negligence at the hands of fellow humans must not be forgotten. Could negligence similar to the Beirut explosion happen in other parts of the word? Absolutely. Note: the United States made the decision to attack Japan with atomic bombs in response to the devastating attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. Let’s never forget the dates of December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001, along with August 4, 2020.

A general view shows the damage at the site of Tuesday’s blast in Beirut’s port area, Lebanon, Aug. 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
Devastation in Beirut, Lebanon from the ignition of 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate that exploded on August 4, 2020.

On the lighter side, a video I watched last week reminded me of an Uber ride with a young driver who thought his music playlist was in his words “ratchet”, which in rap or hip-hop slang refers to off-the-hook or crazy (yes, I had to Google ratchet). This young man was polished, polite, and very smart. I asked him about old R&B, funk, and soul music, which I was a huge follower of in my earlier years unless I was in my room with my brother, who played the Woodstock album as loud as possible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The kid said his dad played some of that music but he never bothered to listen. Knowing we had plenty of time to my destination, and noticing he was using Spotify in his car, I asked him to play the Brothers Johnson song “Stomp”. His reaction was classic and to my horror he began dancing while driving. He proceeded to ask me many questions about The Brothers Johnson and their music. A funny experience and at the same time satisfying that I had introduced this great kid to music that I am not sure will ever be replicated.

The song ‘Stomp’ by the Brothers Johnson

Below is the video that reminded me of that infamous Uber ride. These young men host a YouTube channel where they listen, for the first time, to various artists and their top songs. Watch the reaction from these very talented and successful young men, who obviously had no idea of Phil Collins and his ability to sing while playing drums.

Kudos to Major League Soccer and their broadcast partners for pulling off a successful restart tournament at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex outside of Orlando, Florida. One of my takeaways was the bold step the league took with providing viewers with live video and sound when the referee was consulting with the video assistant referee (VAR) on a crucial call. Will this innovation spill over to other sports? It should.

We find ourselves in the middle of August. There remains the disparities of information coming from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and government authorities. Grade schools, colleges and universities continue to struggle with opening their campuses and keeping their students, faculty and staff safe. Some businesses remain closed, and many have closed their doors for good. Both businesses and families have left large metropolitan areas (for example New York City and Los Angeles) and are relocating to small towns across the United States. The areas of the Hudson Valley, north of New York City and Ojai, California have seen unprecedented growth – people getting away from large metropolitan areas. The reality and good news is obvious: real estate investors will jump on the opportunity to lease or buy office buildings in these large cities as values decrease. There will eventually be a swift migration back into cities once a vaccine is available to control Covid-19 and other pathogens. Testing will become less problematic, especially considering the Food & Drug Administration just approved a quick saliva test that will yield a positive or negative result in a matter of minutes (the National Basketball Association who is using these types of tests daily with their players and staff in their restart of the season). Yes, we have developed ‘virus fatigue’ but after way too many months there is some good news coming. Hang in there, live your life, but be cautious and safe.

As I posted a few weeks ago, I remain amazed with people thinking that wild animals will not be wild. Another person was attacked last week by a bison when they figured it was okay to get right next to a calf to take pictures. The outcome for this woman – she remains in critical condition in a South Dakota hospital. Why people figure that it is normal to get into a wild animal’s space is beyond my wildest thoughts. Then again, I can be proven wrong. Just another day at the park with a fun picnic and a large black bear. Really?

Adios, pay it forward, be safe, and have a Funday Sunday!

Beirut – What Could Have Been.

It Is Not So Simple.

The country of Lebanon and the city of Beirut. From many aspects the former and current Beirut has been an enigma, with it’s myriad of socio-economic and geopolitical strengths and weakness. Before their civil war that lasted almost fifteen years and in theory ended in 1989, Beirut had a thriving economy bolstered by natural gas reserves, banking, tourism, and fashion. From colony to couture, no other Middle Eastern city had proved itself to be a hub of art and fashion quite like Beirut. The fusion of East and West, of tradition and modernity, earned the Lebanese capital the nickname: The Paris of the Middle East. The name Paris resonates within the city of Beirut not just for its cultural vibe, but also for the remnants of its status as a French colony during the Second World War. The cultural revolution remained strong until the start of their civil war, a war that changed Lebanon forever.

I asked a close friend of mine, who was born and raised in Beirut, to provide his feelings about his country and what it could have been. In light of last week’s massive explosion at the port of Beirut, the city and its country will have a very tough time recovering. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in Beirut, especially my friend’s family. This has not been edited:

Imagine ….. Beirut. Paris of the Middle East and the Cote D’Azure of the Orient. This is what Beirut used to be called in its golden days.

Imagine if the war never happened, how would Beirut be?

Would we still call her “Paris”? Would we still have the old shopping district or ‘Souks’? Would the St. Georges hotel, with its amazing bar, the stumping ground of every spy agency in the world, still be there? Would the American University of Beirut have remained the Mecca of the Arab elite? Would the Beirut Sea Boulevard or “Corniche” have remained unspoiled? Would the Lebanese banking sector have remained the growth engine of the Middle East? Would the Lebanese press have remained the only free press of the Middle East? Would the Lebanese Medical sector and Hospitals have remained the envy of the Middle East? Would Pigeon Rock have remained the big prize of every dare devil diver in the Middle East? Would we possibly have another Lebanese Miss Universe? 

I left Beirut in 1990, just when the war was ending. I left it in ruins, I left it bleeding with no hope. For many years I imagined that one day I will go back, pretend that war never happened, that Beirut was never destroyed, that the Lebanese people are still living in peace, most of them deserve that.

Beirut was destroyed again this week.

A view of Pigeon Rock from Sea Boulevard
The Sea Boulevard
The American University in Beirut
The famous St. Georges Hotel in the old days. Pre-war.
Lebanon’s Georgina Rizk – Miss Universe 1971

Thank you to my friend for your heart-felt perspective on your hometown. I could follow this with my usual banter and takes, but that would be inappropriate after reading about the city of Beirut and the country of Lebanon.

I will wish all of you a safe and healthy week. Adios.