Sports Doing Good Newsletter, #202

Feb. 14 – Feb. 20, 2016

Welcome to week two hundred two of the Sports Doing Good newsletter. This week’s 10 stories include:

  1. The game nobody could forget
  2. Autism awareness pins have added meaning for two college basketball coaches
  3. Boy inspires Broncos kicker Brandon McManus to do something about bullying
  4. Social enterprise business models in sport
  5. ‘From mid-range he could kill you’: Bernie Sanders’ basketball days
  6. Minnesota Senior’s Teary Post-Game Speech Is College Basketball At Its Best
  7. Herschel Walker wouldn’t let bullying block his way to stardom
  8. Von Miller: A Brief History of Me Being a Nerd
  9. 4-foot-4 Rico Abreu turning heads at Daytona
  10. “Why I Quit the Best Job in the World”

Courting change: Tongan men take a shot at netball
Presidents Who Were Also Pretty Good at Sports
Villanova’s Jay Wright on keeping your players confident and focused
Defining WINNING as a Mix of Outstanding Performance and Outstanding Behavior

In history we are often taught about particular events, some small, that set off much bigger events or movements in society. Whether we are dealing with the environment (Exxon Valdez), healthy eating (Supersize Me), HIV/AIDS (Magic Johnson) or women’s equality (Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs), these seminal moments help craft the story around changes we see around us. And sports has certainly given us some of those moments.

Ten years ago, there was a moment that took place in upstate New York that, when it happened, excited the high school and the local community. On its own, the story of a dedicated basketball manager finally getting a chance to participate in a varsity basketball game was heartwarming. But this story had more to it and due to the power of the Internet and social media, and what we believe is people’s desire to see and hear about good things, this story caught fire and captured the attention of the entire country.

That night, Jason McElwain, or J-Mac to his many fans, transformed his life, that of his coach and teammates, and countless others around the country. To see someone who was diagnosed with severe autism as a child find passion for something, in this case, basketball, and then have a moment that most of us could only dream about, moves us. His story speaks to a life of obstacles, perseverance, love, teamwork, passion, and empathy. His story also sparked a larger movement around sport, development, and social change. The unadulterated excitement and joy that those in attendance expressed in response to J-Mac’s amazing performance and his own pure energy got many to embrace sport as an agent of change. Ten years later we are still inspired by Jason, his coach, his family, and everyone who in their own way big and small encourage each other to strive for what makes them happy. Ten years ago in Greece, New York, we saw that in its purest and best form.

We are happy to also be able to feature the following stories this week: the Autism Awareness effort by college  basketball coaches around the country has special significance for two coaches with autistic children; how a boy was able to inspire an NFL player to not just say something against bullying but decide to become a leader in the effort to combat it; the highlighting of several organizations incorporating social enterprise models to drive their impact; a look at presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his passion for and playing style when it came to basketball; a college basketball player exhibiting heartfelt appreciation for the support from his school’s fans as they upset a highly ranked opponent; Herschel Walker, one of the greatest athletes over the past 35 years and his own fight against bullying; a fun look at the pride of self-admitted nerd, Super Bown MVP Von Miller; the dynamic personality and performance of NASCAR driver Rico Abreu; and a wonderful first-person account of how the power of sport motivated one of its most ardent leaders to make a major move in his life.

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So enjoy. And have a good week.

The game nobody could forget
Though the boys on that 2006 team are scattered all over now, well into their 20s, many nights one of them will come home from work, get on a computer, and watch a moment that should’ve never been taped. Kerr did it just the other night. He somehow found an unedited version of the tape. In it, he can hear Luciano in the background, whispering an “Oh my God.” McElwain still group-texts the guys every so often, and they banter and catch up on each other’s lives, like teammates. All these years later, J-Mac still holds them together. “It was a year that no one would ever believe,” Kerr says. “It was five years, hell, 18 years in the making. He deserved it. “He motivates me daily. I think he is out there at 5 in the morning, when it’s snowing in Rochester, training for the Boston Marathon. You see him pushing and making the most of every day instead of taking that night and saying, ‘That’s it.’ He’s still pushing forward and trying to overcome the next obstacle.”

McElwain is mobbed on the court after scoring 20 points in the final four minutes for Greece Athena on Feb. 15, 2006. His feat made national news and has defined his life since. (AP Photo/The Daily Messenger/Eric Sucar

Autism awareness pins have added meaning for two college basketball coaches
This weekend, on the lapels of more than 250 college basketball coaches around the country, you’ll notice a pin. The pin is blue and in the shape of a puzzle piece. It is intended to raise awareness as well as money for Autism Speaks, the world’s leading science and advocacy organization for autism. For most coaches, it’s a nice little thing to be able to do without all that much effort: Wear a pin, raise some money, speak about the importance of autism awareness, hope it gets a few people talking about America’s fastest-growing behavioral disorder, do something good for the world. On to the next thing. But for Pat Skerry, the head coach at Towson University in Maryland, and Tom Herrion, an assistant at Georgia Tech and former head coach at College of Charleston and Marshall, that little pin is about much more. It’s about the life they live every day having a son with autism.

This Autism Speaks pin will be on the lapels and shirts of college basketball coaches across the country this weekend. Jesse D. Garrabrant

Boy inspires Broncos kicker Brandon McManus to do something about bullying
“I was approached by a guy with the Down Syndrome Association who kind of told me a story about Ryder, who has Down syndrome and was being bullied by his neighbors,” McManus said. He had to do something and decided to show up at Ryder’s house and do the thing he loves most. “He wore me out. We basically played until the sun went down,” McManus said. “I was really excited. I was really excited for Ryder and I just couldn’t believe it,” Hillery said. “I wanted his mom to feel a sense of security. That maybe someone is out there trying to help her son,” McManus said. It meant the world to Hillery, Ryder and the rest of her family. She said Ryder gained confidence and a new source of joy. “Every day he watches the video,” she said. “There’s not even words that can explain our gratitude to him.” The afternoon left a lasting impression on McManus, too. It inspired him to start the Anti-Bully Squad, an organization that takes a stand against bullying.

Social enterprise business models in sport
There are many definitions, but in its simplest form a social enterprise uses business strategies and revenue models to support a social mission. Social enterprises are businesses – they offer goods and services to consumers, and then use the revenue created to support their mission. There are some great examples of social enterprises within the sports industry, several of which were born from within sport for development NGOs and non-profits: 1) One World Play Project sells their indestructible soccer balls; 2)     Senda produces a fair-trade line of sports balls and uses proceeds to support non-profit soccer organisations; 3) Janji makes running apparel that supports global relief projects; 4) World Bicycle Relief sells Buffalo Bicycles, trains bike mechanics and operates bike repair facilities; 5) works with corporate partners to build soccer pitches for communities in need; 6) The recently launched 3rd Half from streetfootballworld brings the concept of “voluntorism” to sport, with soccer themed trips featuring unique destinations, local game experiences and social impact projects; 7) And I’ve been a long-time fan of Kick4Life’s unique soccer facilities in Lesotho, a great example of an NGO using its assets to generate revenue and create a sustainable stream of income.

How can you mix business with social change? More and more NGOs are turning to creative solutions in funding their projects.

‘From mid-range he could kill you’: Bernie Sanders’ basketball days
Last week, after he won the New Hampshire primary, Sanders shot baskets at a high school gym with his grandchildren. The video proved popular. There was Sanders the old man in a tie dribbling with the little kids and then throwing up a few two-handed bank shots. He looked awkward at 74 years old in his suit pants and dress shoes. But even in this setting you could see he knew what to do with a basketball. His form was smooth, his release quick. And as those who had played with him watched on their televisions and computers they were jerked three decades into the past. “There was that shot,” Nilan says. Brian Doubleday is sure he’s the one who brought Sanders to the game. In the early 1970s he filmed commercials for the progressive Liberty Union Party for which Sanders was a perennial US Senate candidate. Though Sanders only earned a tiny sliver of the vote in each election, Doubleday believed in his message and he liked the man as well. Even in his late 30s, Sanders had the rugged savvy of a player raised on the streets of New York. Plus he talked about playing against Connie Hawkins, the great Brooklyn playground legend whose game never quite translated to the NBA. “Bernie loved basketball,” Doubleday says.

Bernie Sanders was elected mayor of Burlington in 1981, as his weekly basketball games were winding down. Photograph: Donna Light/AP

Minnesota Senior’s Teary Post-Game Speech Is College Basketball at Its Best
Golden Gophers basketball is in rough shape. The men’s team entered Thursday night’s game 0-13 in Big Ten play. The team hadn’t won a game since mid-December. And with No. 6 Maryland coming into town, that streak seemed all but certain to keep on rolling. That’s the beauty of college sports. In a passionate, hard-fought game, Minnesota staved off a Terrapins rally, exercised its demons and released months of pent-up stress. That was never more apparent than in senior Joey King’s post-game interview. Speaking to BTN, the reserve forward couldn’t help but show his emotions. It’s a perfect sports moment: “There’s not too many fans that would come out day in and day out for an 0-13 team,” King says. “To have the kind of support we have here is something really special. We haven’t had the best year but we just kept fighting. We knew we’d show up one of these nights.”

Herschel Walker wouldn’t let bullying block his way to stardom
Herschel Walker hardly evokes the image of someone who could ever be bullied. One of the most imposing physical specimens to ever line up at running back, the former Heisman Trophy winner and two-time NFL Pro Bowl selection told that the way he was treated poorly and belittled as a youngster provided the inspiration for his future success. “I grew up a fat kid, overweight, where a lot of kids in my school at the time wouldn’t give me the time of day. They wouldn’t even play with me. For four years I never went out for recess,” Walker said. “And I used to have a speech impediment where the teachers used to put me down. They didn’t think that I could ever learn. “. . . I started training, I started doing these things to feel good about myself and I think that’s when it took off,” Walker added. “Today, I don’t ever want to go back to that place. That’s the reason I speak out against bullying.”

Herschel Walker won the Heisman Trophy at Georgia, played 12 seasons in the NFL and competed in mixed martial arts. Getty Images

Von Miller: A Brief History of Me Being a Nerd
“I got it bad. I got called every name you can think of. But the thing about football is, it’s not the playground. If you call me four-eyes on the playground, you can laugh in my face and I can’t touch you without getting detention. On a Texas football field, I could run your ass over. We had 11 players total on my team. We had to play both sides of the ball. I played every position. There was no sitting out. And we went undefeated. I’d come home after every win and be dying to tell my dad that we were good. But I kept my mouth shut, for my mom. When we made it to the championship, though, I had to tell him. “Hey dad, remember when you said I wasn’t ready? Well, guess what?” You should have seen his face. Seriously, that fifth grade championship game was one of the hardest fought games I’ve ever played in. We played the DeSoto Hurricanes. They had 24 players. They had a whole sideline. They had fly uniforms. It was chippy. It was real football. But we pulled it out by a touchdown. With 11 players. That feeling is indescribable. I don’t care if it’s peewee or the Super Bowl. When you’re the last team standing in football, it’s the craziest feeling. We celebrated at CiCi’s pizza. The after-party was at the arcade. But I remember we all stayed at the field for an hour after the game, tossing the football around. Pretending to be Deion. Pretending to be Michael Irvin. We didn’t want the football to be over.”

4-foot-4 Rico Abreu turning heads at Daytona
This is a sport that has always loved a showman. It is also a sport that loves authenticity and people comfortable in their own skin, and maybe no one does either better than Abreu, who despite looking like no other driver, seems to operate overwhelming self-esteem. He’s not a novelty. He’s Rico. “My unique stature, I’ve never let anything like that bother me,” he said. Abreu was born with Achondroplasia, a genetic disorder that limits bone growth. However, growing up in tiny Rutherford, Calif., in the state’s famed wine country, he was treated like every other kid, especially by his parents. He played sports until they didn’t make sense. He wrestled in high school. He never asked for special treatment. Mostly he never let anyone else define anything about him or set limits for him. He told the Associated Press that he was fine with coming to the conclusion that not everything was for him, but if someone else made that determination, he’d prove them wrong. What he eventually found was a passion, and a talent, for racing, first motorbikes, then karts and now all the way to trucks, taking a season-long deal to operate the ThorSport Racing No. 98 Toyota.–4-foot-4-rico-abreu-turning-heads-at-daytona-010753977.html?soc_src=mail&soc_trk=ma

Rico Abreu is prepping for his first full season in NASCAR’s Truck Series. (Getty Images)

“Why I Quit the Best Job in the World”
The young man who wore his bright Futescola jersey so proudly was never going to be a professional football player – not even close – though that was all he dreamed about night and day. But more and more organizations are now using the power of that dream to inspire, engage, cajole, even near-bribe young men and women from some of the world’s toughest communities into educational programs – and keep them there. That day on the rubbish dump in Hulene was something of a turning point for me, too. All things considered I had things pretty good – as a sports journalist I got to watch and talk about football for a living, which for a boy from the North of England is as close to perfect a job as you can dare to wish for. But that day in Mozambique I started to think about another football, a football far away from the multi-million dollar deals, the lucrative endorsements, the WAGs and the stupid haircuts, a football that had real power. From then on I was obsessed. I made documentaries about football teaching children how to avoid landmines in Cambodia, practice safe sex in Lesotho, stay off the streets in Istanbul, clean up pollution in Nairobi and many more. To get me closer I quit my perfect job and joined streetfootballworld.

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Sarbjit “Sab” Singh