July 31 – Aug. 6, 2016
Welcome to week two hundred and twenty-five of the Sports Doing Good newsletter. This week’s 10 stories include:
- With a Million-Dollar Arm, a Softball League Makes Its Pitch
- P.K. Subban’s philanthropy aimed at children
- Rio 2016: Indian ace Leander Paes competing in record seventh Olympics
- Seahawks’ Michael Bennett wants more great athletes to speak out on social issues
- The future of football practice; What a “No-Tackle Practice” Looks, Feels and Sounds Like
- 41-year-old Oksana Chusovitina may be the most incredible athlete at the Olympics
- 12 Sports Happenings That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity
- Israel Premier Sports League Number One Goal: Give Back
- Quioto: This is beyond my wildest dreams
- From clinically obese to the Olympics: Lawrence Okolie’s unlikely journey
Last step of a walk. First day of a truce? (Peace and Sport)
U.S. Olympian Julie Johnston on instilling a love of the game in kids (NAYS)
This Isn’t Goodbye (Amar’e Stoudemire) (The Players’ Tribune)
Stephanie McMahon to Discuss WWE’s Community Initiatives at Beyond Sport United (Beyond Sport)
As we embark on a 17-day journey of incredible individual and team performances and of learning about those athletes who are responsible for those performances, it should not be a surprise that we have a few Olympic-related stories in this week’s Sports Doing Good newsletter. We love the Olympics, for despite all the hand-wringing about the preparation, or lack thereof, of the host city, the event is about the athlete and the fan. As long as both of them are there, we are going to have a good time. Of course, this does not excuse any shoddy preparation but now that the Games are here, let’s make the best of it.
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So enjoy. And have a good week.
With a Million-Dollar Arm, a Softball League Makes Its Pitch
More professional softball teams would enable more college players to stay in the sport after graduation. Some Americans, including Ricketts and Abbott, also play in Japan’s professional softball league, but each of its 12 teams is allowed to have only two foreign players, putting those spots out of reach for most college players. (In recent years, several foreign players have played in N.P.F., which has no roster restrictions.) With roughly 300 Division I college softball teams producing players, N.P.F. could quadruple in size and still not come close to exhausting the supply of players graduating each spring. Despite Abbott’s record contract, most player salaries range from $3,000 to $10,000 per season, and as in other women’s professional sports, players need day jobs to make ends meet. Not long ago, N.P.F.’s future seemed uncertain. Its three stable teams may have been the best in the world, but without growth, the league had little chance of survival. Today, the league is growing and re-energized. A 25-game broadcast deal with CBS Sports Network takes effect next year. The International Olympic Committee will vote this week on whether to bring back softball for the 2020 Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo, where the sport is popular. “What’s happening now is that there’s people saying, ‘Hey, this is a great game,’” DeDonatis said. “I’m always pushing it. All I talk about is women’s softball.”
Abbott’s Scrap Yard Dawgs, like other teams in the league, struggle to fill seats. Credit Todd Spoth for The New York Times
P.K. Subban’s philanthropy aimed at children
Predators defenseman P.K. Subban has collected numerous accolades during his six full NHL seasons, but those accomplishments aren’t necessarily what he wants to be remembered for. He wants to make an impact that will last longer than his playing career, using his platform to help others. In September, Subban and his foundation pledged $10 million to Montreal Children’s Hospital, which the hospital called the “biggest philanthropic commitment by an athlete in Canadian history.” Ten percent of those funds, to be collected over a seven-year period, has been raised so far. “The children are the future, and that’s the way I look at it,” said Subban, whose $11 million salary next season will be the second highest among NHL defensemen. “I feel like if you want to have the greatest impact on a community, you’ve got to do it through the children and kids. That’s the way I’ve chosen to give back.”
New Predators defenseman P.K. Subban poses for pictures July 18, 2016 in Nashville, Tenn. Samuel M. Simpkins/ The Tennessee
Rio 2016: Indian ace Leander Paes competing in record seventh Olympics
Although times have changed, the 43-year-old Paes is still chasing medals for India. “Like my dad says, you’ve got to be a little bit crazy to play in seven Olympics,” Paes tells CNN’s Open Court, crediting the consistency of his supporting cast for his longevity. They include his yoga master of 26 years, his fitness coach of 23 years and his hitting coach of 19 years. “Age is just a number,” he adds. “What drives me is passion. Passion to be everything I can be.” Paes has won a staggering total of 18 grand slams in men’s doubles and mixed doubles. As a testament to his staying power, he’s partnered with both Martinas: First Martina Navratilova, with whom he won the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2003; and more recently Martina Hingis, with the pair sweeping all four grand slams. But there’s one event that has eluded him so far. Although Paes earned a bronze playing singles in Atlanta at the 1996 Games — where he shared the podium with gold medalist Andre Agassi — he’s yet to win medals in either doubles category. “I’ve already got a singles medal in my bag, so I really strive to win a doubles medal and put them side-by-side,” he says.
Leander Paes: Seven up for India’s Olympic hero
Seahawks’ Michael Bennett wants more great athletes to speak out on social issues
The man some thought would be absent turned out to be the most visible Seahawk of the day. The man some thought would make news by sitting out made it by standing up instead. After the Seahawks’ first training-camp practice Saturday, defensive end Michael Bennett emerged from the locker room wearing a “Black Lives Matter” shirt. He knew he would be addressing reporters on the podium, and wanted to make a statement that went beyond contract talks and guaranteed cash. When asked about his attire, Bennett said he felt compelled to be an advocate for social issues and do his part to help the community. He then chastised some of his NFL brethren for their failure to follow suit. A lot of people weren’t sure if Bennett would even practice on Saturday due to his displeasure with his contract. He didn’t hold out, though — nor did he hold back. “In the NBA, the greatest players are at the forefront of the movement. In the NFL, the greatest players aren’t,” said Bennett, who has voiced his support of Black Lives Matter in the past. “Our great players are sitting back just taking the dollars, whether it’s Cam Newton or other guys.” Strong words from No. 72, but he has strong feelings on the subject. He also knows he has a strong following and can spark a discussion that might not otherwise be had.
Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett arrives on the field on the first day of Seahawks training camp at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton on Saturday. (Lindsey Wasson/The Seattle Times)
The future of football practice; What a “No-Tackle Practice” Looks, Feels and Sounds Like
On Aug. 23 of last year, Kastner and Connell pulled an all-nighter trying to prepare the device for its official unveiling. With the team and media ready to see it in action, they scrambled to put on the finishing touches. The debut was deemed a success, even with some notable items they wanted to address, and word of the revolutionary tackling device spread. Calls started coming in almost daily. High schools and college programs wanted more information. The MVP logged hours at Michigan State, Minnesota and Harvard, among other places, leaving players and staff members wide-eyed and intrigued. Stephen Colbert even tackled it on The Late Show, with Teevens and Kastner looking on. As the media tour continued, the engineers improved the look, feel and functionality behind the scenes. They had a working prototype that people liked, but it could be better. Dartmouth partnered with Rogers Athletic, a manufacturer in Michigan, which will produce all MVPs for the foreseeable future. The latest version of the MVP—the third generation—weighs roughly 180 pounds and is capable of running a 40-yard dash in around 4.7 seconds, according to Teevens. They have constructed it to move and feel like a football player.
(Video, https://youtu.be/JilPPZK2ukk) Caption: Dartmouth football players haven’t tackled each other in a practice since 2010. Instead of hitting each other, the Dartmouth defense breaks into various stations. Each station included a unique way to hit the target: the MVP—Dartmouth’s Mobile Virtual Player—a tackling dummy on wheels guided by a remote control.
41-year-old Oksana Chusovitina may be the most incredible athlete at the Olympics
Described as a “practical joker” with an incredible sense of humor, Chusovitina is adored by teammates and opponents alike. Despite the rigid nature of the sport, she is “always joking around and playing pranks on everyone around her,” Boguinskaia said. “People who haven’t met her before are always surprised at how funny she is. We’re sharing a room right now, and if I go to turn a light off a little bit before her, she always goes, ‘Oh yes, yes, yes, the old grandma has to go to bed.’ She’s 41, and I’m 43, and she is always reminding me of the two-year age difference.” Despite the jokes, Chusovitina credits Boguinskaia for keeping her sane during the Olympic lead-up, and appreciates having someone her own age (or two years older) to talk to. The conversations revolve around their children, politics and fashion — anything but gymnastics itself. It’s a far cry from many of her younger peers who live, sleep and breathe the sport. As one of just a few women in the world to ever compete the famed, and controversial, Produnova vault, Chusovitina is expected to attempt the skill in Rio and has been practicing it regularly. Nicknamed the “Vault of Death,” it’s known for its high degree of difficulty and subsequent high degree of danger if not done correctly. It requires the gymnast to perform a front handspring and then two front flips off the table. When not executed perfectly, a gymnast can land on her back, or worse.
Oksana Chusotivina began competing for Germany in 2006, while her son, Alisher, now 16, received treatment for leukemia. Today, Alisher is cancer free. Vladimir Rys/Bongarts/Getty Images
12 Sports Happenings That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity
Many Americans had likely heard the story of Zaevion Dobson before he was honored at the ESPYs. In December, the 15-year-old high school football player from Tennessee lost his life after diving in front of two friends to protect them from gunfire. In July, Dobson’s mother and two brothers accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on his behalf at the ESPY Awards. His mother gave a powerful and moving speech, and ESPN produced an emotional video about Dobson’s life and story. The teenager’s sacrifice will absolutely restore your faith in humanity.
ESPYs Tribute to Zaevion Dobson. Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Israel Premier Sports League Number One Goal: Give Back
It starts from the minute Jewish players from North America arrive at the airport for their Birthright lacrosse trip organized by Amazing Israel. Each player comes with a bag of donated second hand lacrosse equipment that they have collected from their college and community at home. EL AL’s sponsorship to the IPLL covers the extra baggage fees for the donated equipment. On arrival this equipment is dispersed to Israeli youth lacrosse players in the periphery. This season the IPLL is a pilot Masa summer program. Thanks to Masa, players receive Hebrew lessons, travel, and a full Israel experience. The IPLL schedule includes two practices, one conditioning training, and two games each week. Outside of these activities each player is required to volunteer 20+ hours in the community helping grow the game of lacrosse. In conjunction with the local community centers, IPLL players run lacrosse camps as well as visit camps around their city holding introductory lacrosse clinics. According to Shlomi Numa, Head of Education and Community in Beer Sheva, “What a special experience for the kids. Imagine as a kid, Premier sports players coming to your camp and giving you private lessons. The kids are blown away. We have sent players to 40 camps around the city.” Commissioner of the IPLL Ted Bergman explains, “This is a win win win. The program gives players the opportunity to learn and connect to the city that they play for, while building a fanbase and the next generation of lacrosse players. At the same time this also provides Israeli youth in the cities that we work in a sports experience they will never forget.”
Quioto: This is beyond my wildest dreams
Quioto’s beaming smile made it clear just how much he is relishing being in Rio, a feeling obviously heightened by the narrow, yet precious victory over the Algerians. The large collection of pins adorning the credentials hanging around his neck only reinforced this impression. “This is the one that all the athletes get. I got this one from some Spaniards and that one from a group of Canadians,” he said. “These things are what sets this apart from a regular football tournament and I’m loving it. I’m conscious of how far away I was from all of this.” Four years ago, while Quioto was being put through his paces somewhere in Slovenia, Honduras enjoyed a fine campaign that was not far off being an even more historic achievement. After knocking out none other than Spain in the group stage, the Catrachos gave a great account of themselves before being edged out 3-2 by Brazil – led then, as they are now, by Neymar – in the quarter-finals. Their winning start in Rio has given the Hondurans grounds to believe that they can match their London 2012 exploits – or perhaps even eclipse them. “That’s the aim, of course. We came here with our sights set on going further than the quarter-finals,” Quioto said. “But we know we haven’t done anything yet. We’ve beaten difficult opponents to start with, but now we’ve got two more [Portugal and Argentina] to come. We know that nothing is ever easy at this level.”
From clinically obese to the Olympics: Lawrence Okolie’s unlikely journey
He’s no longer the pudgy kid he was then who enjoyed snacks more than hitting the bag. He’s a fit, competitive Olympian. “If I’d known that I’d simply make it onto the podium tier, I’d have been surprised,” he said. “But to have boxed in tournaments across the world in the last year and qualified for the Olympics, it’s surreal.” He’ll meet Poland’s Igor Pawel Jakubowski on Saturday in his Olympic opener. It’s a win for him to be here, but he believes he has the ability to compete for a medal. He’s no doubt destiny’s darling. “Obviously, everyone has their stories and their backgrounds, but I feel that the way that everything has played out and [how I have] gotten to this stage, it seems something special is meant to happen here,” he said.
Lawrence Okolie will compete for Great Britain in the heavyweight division. (Getty)