Sports Doing Good Newsletter, #238

Nov. 6 – Nov. 12, 2016

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

  1. Pro Teams and Players Sign On With Causes
  2. Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi Can Take a Hit and Keep Going—and Not Just on the Field
  3. IOC approves half a billion dollars for sport and athletes for the next four-year Olympic Solidarity plan
  4. Cubs Manager Joe Maddon Goes to Bat for Hometown Hispanics
  5. C.J. McCollum Makes His Case As A Pantheon Shooter
  6. Usain Bolt: ‘I feel good because I know I’ve done it clean’
  7. How MMA Finally Made Its Way to Madison Square Garden
  8. EduSports launches ‘MILES’ for adolescents and youth students
  9. Who’s Next? NASCAR’s unique search for their next superstar reaches far and wide
  10. China Has Its Own Football League, And Their Celebrations Put The NFL’s To Shame

Exposed: The secrets to developing confident young players (NAYS)
Letter to My Younger Self (by Alex Morgan) (The Players’ Tribune)
Marathon in Bamiyan a symbol of freedom for Afghan women (Peace and Sport)
Ignore women no more (Sport and Dev)
Can I Kick It? (by Marquette King) (The Players’ Tribune)

One of the funnier things that we have seen in a long while comes to us from a football (American football) league in China. That’s right, our version of arena football has made its way to China. We don’t know too much about the league other than many of the players are American and they really know how to celebrate a touchdown. You will see examples in our tenth story this week. We loved what we saw and long for the day when we will hopefully see this in the NFL. Unfortunately, based on what we have seen over the last 10 years, it seems unlikely. To many people, the NFL, aka No Fun League, has forgotten what it means to be a game and to have fun. Arguing, unconvincingly, that such celebrations are not in line with football tradition nor sportsmanship, others point to this overly buttoned-up approach as being one of the reasons the NFL’s ratings are taking a hit this year. Our hope is that the NFL, and other leagues, will allow their players some freedom to show who they are, have some fun, and entertain their loyal fans.

The other stories we are happy to highlight this week include a look at: how athletes across sports are spending more time engaging in social causes; the emergence of young NFL star Jay Ajayi of the Miami Dolphins; the IOC’s commitment of funding for grassroots sports development around the world; work being done by World Series winning manager Joe Maddon to help connect people of different backgrounds in his hometown of Hazelton, PA; the wondrous development of NBA All-Star C.J. McCollum; a first-person account from the greatest sprinter in history, Usain Bolt; the long-awaited appearance of the uber-popular UFC and mixed martial arts in New York state; the expansion of the wonderful program ‘Miles” by the non-profit EduSports in India; and how NASCAR, like many other professional sports, are trying to find the next wave of breakthrough athletes that will, pun intended, drive its business into the future.

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So enjoy. And have a good week.

Pro Teams and Players Sign On With Causes
In Philadelphia, the former first-round draft pick of the Eagles, Jermane Mayberry, started providing vision care to uninsured children in 1996. The cause was dear to him because he had an underdeveloped optic nerve in his left eye. Years after he left the Eagles, the team continues his effort in the form of the Eagles Eye Mobile. Mr. Mayberry said that although he started the program, the Eagles had taken it to a new level because of its prominence in the community. “That’s what gets the kids excited about getting their glasses and getting on the bus,” he told “It’s that the Eagles are behind it.” For some teams, giving is not just an obligation, but also a way to bond with a community. After Jeff Vinik bought the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010, he wanted to find a way to better steer the team’s charitable giving to the people most in need. But as a newcomer to the city, he did not know the best way to do that. So he pledged $10 million and asked fans to nominate community heroes, who once chosen would tell the Lightning to whom to give money. The Lightning Community Hero program has achieved multiple goals by helping the team help the community and getting fans involved in the process. Because the winners are introduced at every home game, fans can put a face with a name of a charity. That, in turn, can add to the glow of the team.

The Cincinnati Bengals decked out their goalposts in pink for breast cancer awareness in October. Credit Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi Can Take a Hit and Keep Going—and Not Just on the Field
The Dolphins haven’t had a player who really captures the imagination of fans since Williams in his first Miami season in 2002—when he ran for 200 yards in consecutive games. That may be changing. On the cover of the Dolphins program Sunday was a photo of Ajayi pumping his arm as if pulling the cord for a train whistle. “JAY-TRAIN,” it read. Every time he has a big play at Hard Rock Stadium, the whistle blows. Success always changes things. Success already has changed things for Ajayi. But not in the usual ways. “He’s handled the last two weeks so well, he’s almost gone the other way that you’d expect,” Gase says. “He’s gotten quieter and worked even harder, which is not easy to do.” Ajayi, 23, still is figuring it all out, but he values the advice of his mother, Kemi, and father, Ibi Ajayi. “We keep telling him the key is to stay humble, and be grateful to God for where you are,” Kemi says…This is how Jay Ajayi usually begins a run. He gets hit. Sometimes in the backfield. Sometimes at the line of scrimmage, sometimes after a couple of steps. But then he trucks through the hit. He keeps going. And going and going. The runner, it seems, reflects the man. If he is one part recklessness, he is two parts resiliency. “Perseverance, being able to fight through challenges and adversity—that has been defining for me,” he says.

Jay Ajayi celebrates his second straight 200-yard rushing day on Oct. 23. Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

IOC approves half a billion dollars for sport and athletes for the next four-year Olympic Solidarity plan
The Olympic Solidarity development and assistance budget approved today amounts to USD 509,285,000 and corresponds to the share of the broadcast rights from the Olympic Games (Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018) which will be distributed to the National Olympic Committees (NOCs). This represents an increase of 16 per cent in comparison with the 2013-2016 Quadrennial Plan, whose budget amounted to USD 439,870,000. “This increase shows that the athletes remain at the heart of all our activity.  The huge worldwide success of the Olympic Games Rio 2016 also means that the Olympic Movement continues to enjoy a sound financial situation. This enables us to distribute more than half a billion dollars over the next four years to the National Olympic Committees,“ said Pere Miró, Deputy Director General for Relations with the Olympic Movement and Director of Olympic Solidarity. The aim of Olympic Solidarity is to organise assistance for all the NOCs, particularly those with the greatest needs, through a variety of world and continental programmes prioritising athlete development, training of coaches and sports administrators, and promoting the Olympic values. Olympic Solidarity will propose 21 programmes to NOCs across the world with a high focus on athlete development and education.

Cubs Manager Joe Maddon Goes to Bat for Hometown Hispanics
“It’s truly a great concept he put together,” said Hazleton Mayor Jeff Cusat, a Republican. “They feed the kids, they give the kids a place to play sports, it’s a great overall project that’s done a lot of good for Hazleton.” Curry said in the beginning “there was a lot of pushback against what we were doing.” “You’d read the negative comments online,” he said. “There were people calling this yet another big giveaway for Hispanics, which it’s not. But as time has gone on, there’s been a big shift. Usually the big moment for the skeptics is when they get into building. It changes their minds. We just have a nice group of kids here.” Arroyo, who runs a local Spanish-English media company called El Mensajero, said most of those kids are minorities. “We have to be honest, the majority are Latino,” he said. “We have some children from Syria, some are African-American, but only a few are white.” Still, Arroyo sees plenty of progress. “The entire goal was to create a community center to serve the community and put the community together,” he said. “That’s still our goal and slowly, slowly we are getting there.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon sits with kids at the Hazleton One Community Center he helped found to improve relations in the Hazleton, Pennsylvania between whites and Hispanics. Bob Curry / Hazleton One Communi

C.J. McCollum Makes His Case As A Pantheon Shooter
Being a shooter in the modern NBA, after all, is rarely about just being a shooter. At the root of purpose is application. The most accurate marksmen in the league are only as effective as the shots they can actually attempt. McCollum has great command in that creative process because so much of his game builds, one layer enabling the next. The threat of three creates near-constant opportunities for step-in jumpers. That shot, coupled with some sleight of hand, makes it easy for McCollum to access his array of runners and floaters. That chain of events clears out passing lanes all around McCollum and his movement without the ball is a nagging defensive stressor. Every year McCollum can add new features and flourishes. Thus far, he’s manipulating defenders into more fouls than usual—resulting in the highest free throw rate of his career. Next might come some other counter to make the prospect of containing McCollum that much more confusing, all because he’s able to root his game in this single, standout skill. The entire sport has been shaped in this way as players and coaches have grasped the implications of shooting more fully. Hit your shots and the game changes. Hit them at a superior level and it’s yours.

Usain Bolt: ‘I feel good because I know I’ve done it clean’
“Everybody says winning’s easy for me,” he says. “I’m like, ‘Why would you say that?’ Yes, it looks easy. But it’s not. There’s a lot of work and dedication. It’s rough. I want people to understand that what they see on the track is because I work so hard to get there.” I have seen only 18 minutes of the film, and it was certainly eye-opening. We see Bolt run dragging a weight that looks like a lawn roller strapped to his waist, and hear him talk about training until he vomits. We meet his parents in the impoverished rural community where he grew up, and also his coach, Glen Mills, a formidably hardboiled character whom Hollywood should cast as a boxing trainer if they ever make another Rocky film. Having coached Bolt for 12 years, Mills is the reason the sprinter always looks as if he’s having the time of his life when he lines up beside a row of tense, anxious rivals before a race. “My coach is always telling me, ‘Never start thinking about defeat at any point. The moment you start thinking about defeat, you’ve already lost the race.’”

Bolt’s famous ‘smile’ during the 100m semi-final in Rio. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

How MMA Finally Made Its Way to Madison Square Garden
But 2016 began in a burst of MMA optimism. On January 13 Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo released his annual Executive Budget proposal for 2016-17, and for the first time ever it included support for MMA in New York. “The Governor seeks to authorize both amateur and professional MMA,” the proposal stated, “and will ensure that contests happen under either the supervision of the New York State Athletic Commission or an alternative authorized sanctioning entity.” Three weeks later the New York State Senate passed an MMA bill for the eighth straight year. Then the big news broke: On March 15 the leaders of Democratic Conference of the State Assembly informed its members of their intent to bring a pro-MMA bill to the Assembly floor, confident now that there would be enough support within the conference to pass the bill even without Republican votes. Over the next week the bill was blessed by all the necessary committees and on March 22, after three hours of heated and ridiculous debate, the New York State Assembly voted 113-25 in favor of legalizing mixed martial arts. One month later, on April 14, Governor Cuomo signed the bill into law, and 120 days later, on September 1, 2016, New York State finally shook off the shackles of superstition and paranoia and joined the rest of the civilized world.

Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC

EduSports launches ‘MILES’ for adolescents and youth students
EduSports has been instrumental in making a fundamental change to the education system by getting schools to adopt a curriculum-based, age-appropriate and structured Physical Education and sports program. Working with over 650 schools and covering over five lakh children, EduSports has successfully implemented an inclusive and positive sporting experience across the country. With their strong understanding of sports and PE, they are constantly innovating by developing new products for enhancing the sports experience for children. The launch of MILES program for older students in middle-high schools and colleges is a step further in that direction that helps college students improve their interpersonal and leadership skills and make them career and life ready. EduSports aims to target over 10,000 students and plans to partner with over 50 schools and colleges in next 12 to 18 months. “We are extremely happy to offer another pioneering sports program, which focuses on ‘beyond the physicality’ of sports and reaches out to a very large community of teenagers and adolescent students who are increasingly getting disengaged from the idea of sport in our school system.

Who’s Next? NASCAR’s unique search for their next superstar reaches far and wide
Alon Day is from Israel. He’s 24. He hopes to become a NASCAR driver. “First of all,” Alon Day is saying, “there is absolutely no motorsports here. At all. We have only go karts. This is the only thing you have. It makes me laugh. We have only desert and some camels and go karts.” Day is part of a program called “NASCAR Next” which, as the name suggests, is a company-wide effort to identify and develop future stars of the sport. “When I was 17,” he says, “I won the Asian (Formula Renault Challenge). It was a pretty big deal for a guy from Israel to win an international championship. Everyone knew who I was here. We don’t get a lot of sports here. If someone has success, everybody in Israel knows about it. Basketball is one of the only sports we’re good at, you know, along with wars and weapons. “So when I went into the army — you know everyone here must go to the army — I was able to enter the athlete program. So I didn’t have to live on the base. I had the privilege to go home, train in the gym, work in simulators. Every day I would go to the base, go from 8-5, then go home and train.” “How many people were in the racing program in the Israeli army?” I ask him. “Only me,” he says. “Now, I think there are two or three. I put racing on the map.”

China Has Its Own Football League, And Their Celebrations Put The NFL’s To Shame
While the NFL is pushing back against any player bold enough to enjoy themselves during a game, it looks like the on-field parties and celebrations have moved eastward to the Chinese Arena Football League, where choreographed celebrations seem to be as much a part of the game as blocking and tackling. The league may be in its inaugural season but as the below highlights from its championship game demonstrate, they’re already busting out dance moves the likes of which we’ve never seen. The China Bowl saw the Beijing Lions take down the Qingdao Clipper on a game-ending field goal, 35-34 in a game that featured eight lead changes. The game was relatively low-scoring by arena football standards, but that didn’t keep the players from making the most of their big plays. It might seem a little counterintuitive to some that a Chinese league is goffing off so much, but to some extent you could chalk it up to the flight of western players to the CAFL, enjoying a fresh start and a little more latitude to treat the game like, well, a game. Of the 120 players in the league, 60 of them are American, and 43 of those 60 have American AFL experience.
(Video,  Caption: Celebration highlights from the 2016 CAFL China Bowl as the Beijing Lions took on the Qingdao Clipper.

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