Sports Doing Good Newsletter, #243

Dec. 18, 2016 – Jan. 1, 2017

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

  1. After Terror, Berlin Finds Comfort and Joy in a Soccer Club’s Ritual
  2. Once poor, Zach Randolph is happy to give back
  3. Making of ‘The Franchise’: Northwestern’s Anthony Walker takes hard road to stardom
  4. Stephon Marbury: Remade in China
  5. Here’s What Media Coverage of Female Athletes Should Look Like
  6. Tragedy Made Steve Kerr See the World Beyond the Court
  7. NFL kicks off search for startups to join pitch competition
  8. Uganda’s ‘Rugby Cranes’ rising on a hymn and a prayer
  9. No Cinderella Story (Coach Brunson)
  10. Athletes Who Inspired Off the Field In 2016

2016: Looking Back on a Year of Up2Us Sports Coaches (Up2Us)
Inside My Second Season (Stefon Diggs) (The Players’ Tribune)
No goal is reached without a struggle (Peace and Sport)
Santa Cam’s Surprise Sleigh (Cam Newton) (The Players’ Tribune)
Empowering New Orleans (Laureus)

One of the themes that often ends up in the Sports Doing Good newsletter is that of being “underestimated.” Whether that underestimation is by society, by critics, or even family, friends, or oneself, the story involves the individual or group finding the resolve to change their predicted path to forge new opportunities and success. The courage and tenacity such efforts require qualify for inclusion in the Sports Doing Good newsletter on a regular basis.

This week we had several stories that dealt with that theme of being underestimated. First, in response to a terrorist attack in Berlin, the fans of one of the city’s football teams used an annual tradition to express solidarity and resolve to themselves and the world at large. They will not be scared into submission. NBA All-Star Zach Randolph has used his success – fought for with tremendous effort and in the face of diminished expectations – to improve the lives of many he encounters. There is Northwestern student-athlete Anthony Walker, who has overcome doubts that he could succeed at the college level to position himself as a future star in the NFL. We also highlight the story of Miami high school football coach Lakatriona Brunson, aka Coach B, who this year became the first female to hold a head coach position in the very competitive world of Florida high school football. In many sectors of industry women have made tremendous progress, often in the face of private and institutional discrimination and mean-spiritedness. As Coach B points out, “this ain’t no Cinderella story,” but it is a story of a woman fighting for her players to educate them about their own potential in the future.

Finally, in one of the greatest examples of succeeding in the face of doubt, former NBA guard Stephon Marbury has forged an incredible second career in the Chinese Basketball Association by winning championships and embracing his time in a different marketplace. His story is special in that for so long, many heaped too much when it came to expectations, labeling Marbury as a failure when those predictions did not come to fruition. Late in his “basketball life,” he took a road many would say he was not suited for and has become a legend in China and reestablished himself as a star in the world of professional basketball.

In addition to those five stories we introduce five more that will help you look back fondly on 2016 and get you started on a good path in 2017.

We want to thank all the subscribers to Sports Doing Good for your ongoing support. There are many of you who have shared this newsletter with others, who have sent words of support, and helped by making us aware of stories that should be included in the newsletter. We also want to acknowledge those organizations who are a continual source of inspiration and good deeds, the 10+ group of: Up2Us, Laureus, Beyond Sport, Sport and Dev, Peace and Sport, and The Players’ Tribune.

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So enjoy. And have a good week…and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

After Terror, Berlin Finds Comfort and Joy in a Soccer Club’s Ritual
They matched Santa hats with soccer scarves. They sang hymns in cherubic voice and screamed sports chants at the top of their lungs. They held ceremonial white candles and swigged mulled wine from plastic cups. On Friday night, for the 14th year in a row, the home stadium of F.C. Union Berlin, a second-division soccer club in the eastern corner of the German capital, became the site of the country’s most discussed Christmas celebration. What began more than a decade ago as an improvised gathering of 80 people has since morphed into an ostentatious event — part pep rally, part church service — attended by an arena-stuffing crowd of 28,500. But this year, four days after an alarming attack on a popular Christmas market in the heart of the city left 12 people dead and dozens more injured, the celebration known as Weihnachtssingen (Christmas caroling) felt like something more still: a vigil, a demonstration of solidarity, an exercise in resolve. “I’m here because it’s important to be here,” said Mario Schacht, 36, of Dahlem. “It’s Christmas. It’s our culture. I don’t want to think that I can’t come here because there’s one idiot, or some idiots. I want to be happy here. It’s a statement for us.”

A crowd of 28,500 at F.C. Union Berlin’s celebration known as Weihnachtssingen on Friday. Officials allowed the event to go on with increased security after 12 people were killed in a truck attack this week on a Christmas market in the city. Credit Daniel Etter for The New York Times

Once poor, Zach Randolph is happy to give back
All NBA players do some charity work, at least the team-mandated appearances. Few, if any, do as much as Randolph, who frequently pitches the Grizzlies’ community relations staff with ideas. For example, Randolph heard about people freezing to death during a particularly harsh winter seven years ago and pledged $20,000 to Memphis Light, Gas and Water to cover unpaid utility payments. He’s done the same every winter since. Why? Because Randolph knew how it felt to shiver in a home without heat. “Hell, yeah!” said Randolph, chuckling. “But when I think about my mama, though, if my mama had to borrow some money to make sure them lights didn’t go off before she got her check on the first of the month, she borrowed money. My mama never let us go without. She did what she had to do to make sure we was good in whatever hood we stayed in, whatever block, whatever small house…That’s why Randolph takes so much pride in helping the poor, such as teaming up with Grizzlies shooting guard Tony Allen to take 200 kids on a Toys R Us shopping spree to working with the Memphis Police Department to donate coats to an entire economically disadvantaged elementary school. Randolph hopes to make charity work his primary focus when he retires, preferably in a position with the Grizzlies. Randolph treasures the personal connections he makes in the community, some of which have turned into long-lasting relationships. He keeps in touch with a few dozen “young boys,” as he calls them, exchanging occasional texts and calls, encouraging them to focus on academics as their path out of poverty.

Joe Murphy/NBA/Getty Images

Making of ‘The Franchise’: Northwestern’s Anthony Walker takes hard road to stardom
Three years ago, Walker was hardly a big-name recruit set to go bust. The 6’1”, 195-pound linebacker had been ranked No. 61 at his position in the class of 2013 and was an undersized but versatile player when Northwestern discovered tape of him at Monsignor Pace High in 2012. Coaches loved his feet and his versatility, and it took just one visit to Miami to convince Bates that Walker could play linebacker in the Big Ten. With his 4.7 GPA, Walker was a perfect target for a rigorous school that struggles to compete for recruits in SEC country. When Walker picked Northwestern the summer before his senior season, it was over Minnesota, Purdue, Florida International, Bowling Green and Buffalo. A lifelong Miami Hurricanes fan, he’d been overlooked by Florida’s major programs until the last minute. But not long after Walker committed to the Wildcats, Mario Cristobal approached Anthony Sr. He’d just left FIU for Miami, where he was set to be the associate head coach. Cristobal had previously recruited Walker, and he wanted him to visit the Hurricanes. When Anthony Sr. told his son the news, he advised against doing so. Walker agreed. He’d given his word to Northwestern. A year later, Northwestern did the same. Coaches gave Walker their word, hoping for a Big Ten linebacker, without a clue they’d end up with so much more.

An average recruit who seemed destined to become an oversized bust, Anthony Walker now could be the first Northwestern player to leave early for the NFL in 20 years.

Stephon Marbury: Remade in China
“Basketball is basketball,” Silver told Marbury in the suite. “I think he’s demonstrated that. Fans have continued to follow you from the States and see your success here. It’s fantastic. It just shows that basketball is played at a high level all over the world…“Steph is a trailblazer to a lot of players who have followed you here, a lot of other American players. If you look at the quality of the CBA, before it was the EuroLeague. This is the next best thing to the NBA. We’ve done a lot of things with Yao [Ming] with the Sharks [Shanghai]. The way we’re trying to help China is to develop more of their players.” Before Silver departed, he asked Marbury to visit him at his Manhattan office the next time he was in New York. Marbury embraced the NBA reunion that nearly brought him to tears and says he feels a “different energy” about the league now from Silver. “Now I feel like I can walk into the NBA office and say hello,” Marbury said. “[Silver] didn’t have to come up there to the suite. I felt really good about that. It was so positive.”

Stephon Marbury of the Beijing Ducks cries after winning Game 5 the 2012 CBA Championship Finals against the Guangdong Southern Tigers at the MasterCard Center on March 30, 2012 in Beijing, China. Li Linlin/Sports Illustrated China/Getty Images

Here’s What Media Coverage of Female Athletes Should Look Like
This frustrated Naomi Lang, a 22-year-old native of Melbourne, Australia, and member of the Radcliffe lightweight crew team at Harvard. After feeling outraged about the inept coverage of women in sports, she reflected on the female athletes she knew personally, “My friends are so talented, and I thought, they would never put with that crap, or put up with being photoshopped, or being asked what they’re wearing, or who they’re dating.” In response, Lang created the Female Athlete Network, or FAN, specifically to combat widespread sexism in sports coverage with real women—from accomplished to amateur—sharing their personal experience and passion for sports, along with a powerful image to match. For her part, Lang counts herself as lucky. Her treatment as a college athlete was overwhelmingly positive. “In a weird way though, that made me more impassioned about this project,” she says. “I felt very well-respected by the men’s team at Harvard and the women’s team felt empowered. So with this personal experience, it really bothered me when I saw on Google how female athletes were portrayed in the images section.” Inspired by the impromptu, street-portrait style of the hugely successful Humans of New York series, Lang emailed all the women’s teams at Harvard, asking for personal stories. The feedback was immediately positive, and she soon gathered enough responses to schedule a photo shoot inside the Harvard football stadium. She’s since launched a blog, an Instagram account, and Facebook page.

(Image via Twitter)

Tragedy Made Steve Kerr See the World Beyond the Court
In hindsight, though, his family’s long history in the Middle East, beginning nearly 100 years ago, shaped him in ways that he only now realizes. “It’s an American story, something I’m very proud of, the work that my grandparents did,” Kerr said. “It just seemed like a time when Americans were really helping around the world, and one of the reasons we were beloved was the amount of help we provided, whether it was after World War I, like my grandparents, or World War II. I’m sort of nostalgic for that sort of perception. We were the good guys. I felt it growing up, when I was living in Egypt, when I was overseas. Americans were revered in much of the Middle East. And it’s just so sad what has happened to us the last few decades.” Kerr was in high school when his father was named president of A.U.B. in 1982. It was Malcolm Kerr’s dream job. But the appointment came as Lebanon was embroiled in civil war. Yasir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, expelled from Syria, had its headquarters in Beirut. Iranian Shiites, followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had moved into Lebanon and given voice to the impoverished Shiite minority there. The Christian population was shrinking, and Lebanon was in the middle of a tug of war between Israel and Syria.

The Kerr family, wearing American University of Beirut sweatshirts, in December 1982. Steve Kerr is seated on the far right.

NFL kicks off search for startups to join pitch competition
Innovative sports-related startups once again will have a chance to woo the NFL to win some cash and go to the Super Bowl. Startups can apply for the NFL’s second annual 1st & Future startup pitch competition on Feb. 4 in Houston. The NFL is teaming up with the Texas Medical Center to find up to nine companies at all stages focusing on player health and safety. They will compete in three categories: Communicating with the Athlete, Training the Athlete and Materials to Protect the Athlete. Besides pitching in front of NFL team owners, execs and the TMC, the three winning startups will each receive a $50,000 check from the NFL’s Strategic Investment Fund, two tickets to attend Super Bowl LI at Reliant Stadium on Feb. 5 and entry into TMC’s Accelerator, TMCx. The deadline to apply is Jan. 20. Earlier this month, the NFL players’ union said it’s launching a business accelerator dubbed OneTeam Collective for sports-focused technology companies with a possible pitch day held during Super Bowl week.

Uganda’s ‘Rugby Cranes’ rising on a hymn and a prayer
The singing might not quite be at the level of a professional choir, but the words say it all for Uganda’s rugby sevens team. “I know the Lord will make a way for me.” It’s been a long wait for the African side to make its debut on the elite Sevens World Series circuit, and now they’ve had a taste of top-level action the players can’t wait for more. “This has really opened up big doors and windows for the young players back at home,” team captain Eric Kasiita told CNN’s World Rugby show at December’s Dubai Sevens. “I guess they are looking up to young boys, because this is a very young team, and I’m sure very many want to break through and join the team.” Uganda’s “Rugby Cranes” finished 14th of the 16 teams taking part, but notched up a notable win over Japan — which reached the semifinals of the Rio 2016 Olympic men’s tournament in August. They followed it up with another win over Japan in the Cape Town Sevens, again finishing 14th. Apart from their refreshing brand of rugby, the players’ performance of a motivational hymn was also notable.

No Cinderella Story (Coach Brunson)
Despite the unwavering loyalty from her players, they haven’t exactly had a dream season. After only a few games, half of Brunson’s coaching staff — including assistant head coach Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew fame — quit unexpectedly. The team was left with a skeleton coaching staff for the remainder of the season and finished 3-7. “A lot of people don’t think a woman can coach this sport,” Brunson said. “My first year has been tough, I can tell you that. It ain’t no Cinderella story.” Despite the ups and downs, Brunson — who spent eight years playing professionally in the Independent Women’s Football League — has tried to be a positive figure for her players both on and off the field. From encouraging them to do well in school as a means to better lives, to teaching them to respect women, Brunson knows she’s in a unique and important position. “I’m like doing this for a million women out there who probably want to be in my shoes, even 10 million men who want to be in my shoes,” she says. “So I have to stay firm and stay strong and make it happen. I want to build a program here at Miami Jackson, and I want to go somewhere else and go higher and higher. “I just don’t want to let people down.”

Meet Coach Brunson, the first woman to be named a head football coach in the state of Florida, and who fought an uphill battle to teach her players discipline, the importance of education and respect.

Athletes Who Inspired Off The Field In 2016
Athletes flexed their muscles off the field on a wide range of social and political issues in 2016. Star players from the NBA, the NFL and women’s soccer showed their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and eliminating the pay gap between men and women, while the Olympics provided a stage for a marathon runner to highlight a persecuted ethnic group in Ethiopia. Other sports figures made their voices heard on issues like medical marijuana and the refugee crisis. It’s not a new trend, of course. Athletes have used their profiles to express political viewpoints for decades, whether it was Muhammad Ali denouncing the Vietnam War or Billie Jean King advocating for women’s equality. There’s been a resurgence in recent years though, as seen by players from the Miami Heat donning hoodies to show solidarity with unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, who was killed in 2012 by George Zimmerman, or in 2014 when star University of Missouri linebacker Michael Sam revealed he was gay. Here’s a look back at the year in athlete activism.

OLIVIER MORIN via Getty Images

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