Sports Doing Good Newsletter, #239

Nov. 13 – Nov. 19, 2016

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

  1. Russell Westbrook, Honorary Son of Oklahoma, Calls for Unity
  2. How Randall Cunningham Taught NFL Quarterbacks To Fly
  3. How hosting a startup accelerator can help pro sports franchises be more innovative
  4. Here Is The Most Kick-Ass Way (Literally) To Fight Anxiety And Other Mental Health Disorders
  5. The moon shot: P.J. Fleck rowed Western Michigan into a mid-major power and transformed a town. Now will he stay?
  6. Manchester City Announces the Return of Cityzens Giving
  7. NBA 2K partners with Fitbit to get gamers off couch
  8. LeBron James donates $2.5 million to National Museum of African American History and Culture
  9. For Sponsors of World Chess Championship, the Return on Investment Is Intangible, but Significant
  10. The Alabama Crimson Tide of Mexico

Laureus Ambassador and Netherlands Royal Visits Coach Eoin at Harlem Lacrosse (Up2Us/Laureus)
Young girls in far regions in Djibouti benefit from FIFA grassroots program (Beyond Sport)
2,500 Euro per Rocket (Antti Raanta) (The Players’ Tribune)
We All Need to Do Better (Richard Sherman) (The Players’ Tribune)
The First Six Months: Nonprofits Need to Hire Veterans (Up2Us)

We are fortunate to be able to highlight stories with an international flavor. Our friends at Beyond Sport and Laureus are regular sources of wonderful activities involving sports legends and non-profit organizations and their work to extend the reach and effectiveness of sporting activities and programs to various populations. We also see the occasional story detailing the growth of a sport in an unexpected location.

College football is big. Sports in Mexico are big. But college football in Mexico? The 10th story this week, “The Alabama Crimson Tide of Mexico,” is an enlightening look at how American football, wildly popular here but still trying to find acceptance in other markets, is actually making progress in select locations. And this is very encouraging, not just for the corporate heads of the league and its partners. Rather, it is the spread of passion, love and support for sport that extends beyond just the players to the greater society. We certainly applaud that development.

The other stories we are happy to feature this week include: NBA superstar Russell Westbrook and his call for unity in our society; the transcendent talent and influence of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham; the amazing potential for emerging companies, the sport industry and society overall via the cultivation of entrepreneurial ventures; the “fight” of those involved in martial arts to “submit the stigma” involved with mental illness; the transformation of the football program and campus-life at Western Michigan University; the ongoing philanthropic work being done by English football club Manchester City and its legion of fans worldwide; the necessary intersection of video games, wearable technology, and physical activity as seen with NBA 2K and Fitbit; a major donation by LeBron James to the National Museum of African American History and Culture; and a look at the global reach of the most cerebral of sports, chess.

Finally, we would like to extend our congratulations to Billie Jean King, Sherice Perry and the whole team at the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative for a very thought-provoking, and maybe more important, action-provoking day of discussion and debate at the 3rd Annual BJKLI Symposium and Gala. We look forward to further symposiums helping to shape the development of not just sport but our society overall.

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So enjoy. And have a good week.

Russell Westbrook, Honorary Son of Oklahoma, Calls for Unity
But Westbrook, the high-motor point guard of the Oklahoma City Thunder, stood apart. He stood apart because he had grown up in Los Angeles. He stood apart because of his job. He stood apart because of his race. And he stood apart because of the message he chose to deliver. “After witnessing the divisions and challenges of our nation that we’ve been facing over the last several months, I’ve realized this honor is not about me, nor is it about the people in this room,” he said. “Oklahoma is an unbelievable community. I’m so appreciative of the fact that the people of Oklahoma have been so supportive of welcoming my family and I. However, there’s always room to grow. I can be better, you can be better, and we can be better together.” He went on: “Our state is made up of unbelievable, talented individuals, and I look forward to celebrating them no matter their race, gender or creed. I accept this award for all the kids who are told because of the color of their skin, where they come from or what talent they don’t have, they somehow can’t achieve.”

Russell Westbrook was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame on Thursday night. Michael Jordan, left, introduced him. Credit Steve Sisney/Oklahoma Heritage Association, via Associated Press

How Randall Cunningham Taught NFL Quarterbacks To Fly
“Buddy Ryan allowed me to be the player he believed I could be,” Cunningham told me. “He saw something in me and gave me an opportunity to flourish as an athlete, and not just a quarterback, but to really take it to a whole other level.”… Cunningham ushered in the age of the running QB. In 1987, his first full season as Philadelphia’s starter, he passed for 349 more adjusted net yards than a backup-level QB (16th best in the NFL that year) and rushed for an additional 125 yards above backup (which easily led the league). It was the third time in history a quarterback had hit both of those benchmarks in the same season, after Landry in 1972 and Steve Grogan with the New England Patriots in 1978.5 And Cunningham was just getting warmed up. In 1988, he piled up 336 YABQ through the air and 171 on the ground, the first time in league history that combination had ever been achieved. In a “down” 1989 season, he notched 248/147, a combo that had only been reached twice before (by Landry in ’72 and Cunningham himself in 1988). And in 1990, Cunningham set a standard for dual-threat seasons that has yet to be eclipsed in the 26 years since. That year, he was 750 yards better than a backup through the air, and he tacked on another 249 YABQ on the ground; if we take the harmonic mean of those two numbers (a particular kind of average that emphasizes high values in all numbers being averaged, in order to capture seasons when a player produced a lot of passing and rushing value), it’s the single best combined passing-rushing season by a QB in the Super Bowl era.

Illustration by Holly Wales

How hosting a startup accelerator can help pro sports franchises be more innovative
The Los Angeles Dodgers broke new ground in the sports and entertainment industry last year when it partnered with New York-based advertising agency R/GA to launch its own startup accelerator. Since then, more professional teams like the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings have followed suit. The Dodgers, meanwhile, just graduated its second accelerator cohort last week. You can expect more and more franchises to do the same, according to Dodgers CFO Tucker Kain, who helps run the team’s accelerator and is also managing director of Guggenheim Baseball Management, the firm that owns the Dodgers. He told GeekWire that over time, he expects this to “be a real portion of what it means to operate and own a sports team.” “The accelerator model is one that can position an organization to be open to change and innovation,” Kain said. “I like seeing other organizations do this, because one of us is going to help incubate and accelerate something that will change the face of our industry and benefit everybody.”

ShotTracker CEO Davyeon Ross pitches at Demo Day last week.

Here Is The Most Kick-Ass Way (Literally) To Fight Anxiety And Other Mental Health Disorders
Once the site went up, Herle quickly discovered she wasn’t alone. Many people were, on some level, using BJJ to help manage their mental health. For Herle, it’s about being able to exist and engage without the specter of mental illness looming—and indeed, there have been studies suggesting participation in martial arts might have a positive impact on mental health. Some of these effects also result from participation in other athletic activities, but some seem unique to martial arts. “It allows me to focus on just that moment,” Herle says. “Just that technique, just that roll, just that match. So for the length of class time, I’m all there. And jiu jitsu is so much like chess and you have to have both muscle memory and quick thinking.” Other tournament champions began holding up “Submit the Stigma” signs. #SubmitTheStigma became a hashtag, and Herle began selling #SubmitTheStigma gi patches and donating the money to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. When that wasn’t raising money fast enough, she started to do a series of charity seminars at BJJ schools across the United States. So far, she has raised roughly $20,000 and sold hundreds of patches. Now, she’s is in the process is developing another seminar.

The moon shot: P.J. Fleck rowed Western Michigan into a mid-major power and transformed a town. Now will he stay?
Fleck rattles off some of the unprecedented moments—49 Nevers, he calls them—that Western has conquered the past two seasons. Never had a Heisman Trophy candidate. Never been nationally ranked. Never won double-digit games. Never beaten two Big Ten teams. The latest and most outlandish of all those Nevers comes this weekend when ESPN’s College GameDay visits Kalamazoo for Western Michigan’s game against Buffalo, a captivating crescendo for a program that had never even won a bowl game until last year.  The most compelling part of the Broncos’ run transcends the field, as it’s hoisted the campus and community to an ethereal state. They’ve accomplished so much, so quickly and with such verve that they have vaulted a city and a program to an appropriate utopia—Never Never Land. “This is something you dream about your entire career,” says Western Michigan athletic director Kathy Beauregard, who has worked at the school 37 years. “To really find it all happening, it’s very surreal.” How much can one coach, one team and one run impact a community? At Western Michigan, the changes can be seen on campus and off, from the local businesses to the local children’s hospital. There’s a power of collective spirit that comes with a run like the one Western is on, a saccharine purity that only comes when things are accomplished for the first time. When asked to quantify it, Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell smiles and says, “What he’s done for this program, this community, just look around. It speaks for itself.”

David Richard/AP

Manchester City Announces the Return of Cityzens Giving
Fans of City Football Group’s family of clubs – Manchester City, New York City FC and Melbourne City FC – get the chance to decide how projects are funded by voting for the cause that inspires them the most. The more votes a project gets, the more funding it will receive. Cityzens Giving will now fund 12 projects in total worldwide. City Football Group Chief Executive, Ferran Soriano said: “Our Cityzens Giving initiative, now in its third year, gives our fans around the world the chance to empower young people through the universal language of football. We are proud to support young community football leaders doing inspiring work in their communities and are delighted that so many fans have chosen to participate.” So far, more than 16,000 children and young people in nine cities have benefitted from long term community football projects funded by Cityzens Giving. In addition to funding, all projects access leading edge training in community football and opportunities to share learning about how they are using the football effect to tackle social issues.”

NBA 2K partners with Fitbit to get gamers off couch
Just like real NBA players, video gamers who put in the pain are going to see the gain. Only in this case, the pain comes from real-world practice for rewards enjoyed virtually. Video game developer, San Francisco-based 2K, has figured out a novel way to deal with one of the biggest criticisms leveled at the industry, that it promotes lethargy. 2K, makers of the best-selling NBA 2K17 basketball game, will reward players who manage to take 10,000 steps a day, as measured by a Fitbit fitness tracker. They will get some extra advantages when they play the game. Suddenly, their character in the game will be doing a better job of competing against the NBA’s best. They will be more agile and capable of more layups and dunks. Their game performance temporarily improves over the next five games they play that day as a reward for the physical exercise they accomplished. Gamers will see the benefit when playing in the MyPlayer and MyPark game modes, where users can create their own characters and pit them against NBA players in a virtual career or take them online to play against other gamers’ players. For Fitbit, the goal of the partnership is to lure millennials to the company’s line of trackers. Around six months ago, the wearables company reached out to game maker 2K to explore a potential partnership.

Harrison Barnes in NBA 2K17. (Photo: NBA 2K)

LeBron James donates $2.5 million to National Museum of African American History and Culture
When Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James has a passion for something, he will absolutely support it. He recently announced that he will donate $2.5 million to support “Muhammad Ali: A Force for Change,” an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. “Muhammad Ali is such a cornerstone of me as an athlete because of what he represented not only in the ring as a champion but more outside the ring — what he stood for, what he spoke for, his demeanor,” James told USA Today Sports on Thursday. James, along with his charitable foundation and his business partner Maverick Carter, are pledging the donation. “His support will help us to continue the story of Muhammad Ali and will encourage athletes to realize how important athletics is in terms of social justice,” said museum founding director Lonnie Bunch, according to USA Today. Before the opening in September, Michael Jordan pledged $5 million to the museum.

LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers smiles during the game against the Indiana Pacers on November 16, 2016 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

For Sponsors of World Chess Championship, the Return on Investment Is Intangible, but Significant
Stanton added that he did not expect that sponsoring the championship would have an immediate tangible effect on the firm’s bottom line. “It is more of a philanthropic aspect because we are in the institutional money-management business, so we don’t have that many investors and we are not raising retail money. I don’t expect an ROI [return on investment] tomorrow from this.” Guryev agreed that the return was not likely to be immediately tangible. But he said that it was an easy decision to become a sponsor. “This is a fantastic opportunity for public relations and investor relations as well, and an ideal marketing platform to further increase PhosAgro’s brand awareness on the global level” he said. Stanton said that for EG Capital Advisors, the decision to invest in the championship was actually not so easy – “spending money never is” – but that he had received good feedback about the idea. “There is no spreadsheet involved for something like this,” Stanton said. “We spoke to our investors, we spoke to our staff and everybody was incredibly supportive of the idea and we felt it was the right thing to do.”

Anastasia Karlovich, the World Chess Federation’s press officer, Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion, and Sergey Karjakin, the challenger, during media day on Nov. 10, 2016. Behind them the wall is covered with the sponsors’ logos. Rob Kim/Getty Images for Agon Limited

The Alabama Crimson Tide of Mexico
It makes Tec de Monterrey, one of the highest-ranking universities academically in Latin America, something more of a Stanford, then. But, with more championships than any other college, it can brag of the winning tradition of an Alabama. “I would say they are like a midway Division II team or a strong Division III,” said Frank Gonzalez, a former longtime coach who unsuccessfully sought to have the university join the N.C.A.A. “There have been many players good enough to play in the N.F.L., but there are many more players good enough in the United States. There is no pipeline here to send them to the league.” The players say they are in it more for the game than for the fame. Unlike soccer, with a powerful professional league and a system of clubs and academies to recruit and mold young players, the American football pipeline is more ad hoc. Many have followed a similar progression, the sons of players who joined one of the hundreds of youth football clubs in the country and then landed on high school and college teams, most often with the help of scholarships. Tec de Monterrey has had a football team for nearly 70 years, an outgrowth of the sport carried to Mexico by American visitors years before. Television, and more recently the internet, have helped stoked interest in the game; N.F.L. and college games have regularly aired for years, and cable and satellite television has expanded the offerings.

The Rams practicing in the shadow of Cerro de la Silla (Saddle Hill), which overlooks the city of Monterrey.

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