Nov. 5 – Nov. 18, 2017
Welcome to issue two hundred and seventy-five of the Sports Doing Good newsletter. This week’s 10 stories include:
1. Sports shape the success of barrier-breaking West Point first captain Simone Askew
2. The Secret Life of Live Mascots
3. How a Global Nations League would better international soccer
4. The Mad Scientist of the NFL
5. Now in the Olympics, climbing bounds above more earthly sports
6. IOC launches toolkit to safeguard athletes from harassment in sport
7. Running Through the Heart of Navajo
8. How Iceland (population: 330,000) qualified for the World Cup
9. Keep your ear on the ball
10. The Unstoppable Shaquem Griffin, UCF’s One-Handed Star Linebacker
In Honor of Veterans Day: Support Our Troops Once They Return Home (Up2Us Sports)
England players visited a Buenos Aires based rugby project that supports prison inmates (Beyond Sport)
Letter to My Dad (by Charlotte Flair) (The Players’ Tribune)
7 Steps to Teaching Respect for Umpires and Referees (TrueSport)
Footy feat heightens Hala’s hunger to help (Sport and Dev)
A great thing about sports is that you don’t have to be a fanatic about it to get long-lasting fun and enjoyment. In sports, even a casual fan can be amazed by a great play or an exciting game. And we don’t have to be from a specific city or state, or even country, to be become a fan of a team battling its way to a potential championship.
My uncle moved to the U.S. from India in September 1970, 5 months after I was born. A smart, handsome, funny guy, he was not overly taken with sports while in India. Even if he was, he would be hard-pressed to be ready for the swarm of sports success that was taking over the NYC-area just before and after he got here: a Jets Super Bowl (that’s right, the Jets won the Super Bowl once), two Knicks championships, two Mets pennants and a World Series title, and the emergence of the one-of-a-kind New York Cosmos with the world’s greatest player, Pele. You could see why I was always jealous of my uncle and the early ‘70s!
While all of this wining was going on, my uncle was living the American immigrant experience, a young man going to school and working almost full-time to make it in the U.S. It was not easy, but he had our family and a growing group of friends, many living the same experience as he was. As he made his way, he did not have a lot of time for sports, but found some whenever my brother and I would bring it up, including our pleading with him to take us to our first pro sporting event (New York Knicks vs. Seattle Supersonics at MSG in 1978). And while we did not go to many sports events after that, we definitely had occasion to talk sports, mostly about how the current Knicks, even with Patrick Ewing, were no match, as my uncle would say, for “DeBusschere, Bradley, Monroe and Walt “Clyde” Frazier.”
We also had professional wrestling. We loved watching and then recounting the exploits of wrestling greats like Andre the Giant, Superstar Billy Graham, Chief Jay Strongbow, The Nature Boy, The Road Warriors, and the newer guys like The Rock and John Cena). Over the last twenty years, while my sports interactions with my uncle involved the occasional Giants Super Bowl and an all-too-regular Jets loss, maybe the most fun we had was talking about how Vince McMahon was creating a billion-dollar sports spectacle known as professional wrestling.
Over the past five years my uncle was stricken with a neuromuscular disease which slowly but surely robbed him of all muscle movement (think ALS). He eventually could not move, speak, or even swallow on his own. It was incredibly hard to witness but like athletes I have read about, he fought, and fought and fought. His style was not to complain and he never did (I would have).
We lost my uncle this week. It was even harder than I thought it would be. But it was also better in a way. He was not suffering anymore. And I was treated to a flood of wonderful memories of our family and friends, which led to a lot of smiling through the tears (I remember my uncle telling me how Clyde Frazier had two parking spots for his Rolls Royce because he wanted to make sure it did not get scratched). My uncle was not a “sports guy,” but he certainly liked sports and knew how it brought us together. I am grateful for the 47+ years I had with him and hope to one day toast him and tell him the Knicks can finally match up with “DeBusschere, Bradley, Monroe and Walt “Clyde” Frazier.”
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Sports shape the success of barrier-breaking West Point first captain Simone Askew
Askew grew up with sports in her hometown of Fairfax, Virginia. In addition to the football games her mother, Pam Askew, took her to as a way for Simone to interact with male mentors, Simone has been running triathlons with her mother and sister since she was 10. She played volleyball, basketball and ran track. She tried swimming but was turned off because she didn’t like having only her success be the focus, instead of how she contributed to a team. “I very strongly prefer team sports,” Askew said. She did crew for one year at Fairfax High School, then walked on to the team at West Point during the second semester of her first year, or “plebe year,” as she put it, after hearing what an amazing experience some of her friends were having. She was drawn to the inclusivity of the team and rowed with the team for two more seasons. Having a common goal is something Askew enjoys, and the relationships she built through working through a shared struggle are ones she holds dear. “Anyone can relate to that on any team that you’re on,” Askew said. “I would say that it was the best decision I made since being at the academy.” It was from these experiences in sports that Askew learned both what she idealized in leadership and what she did not.
Simone Askew is making history as the first black woman to lead the Long Grey Line at the U.S. Military Academy. She is responsible for the overall performance of the roughly 4,400 cadets at West Point. Austin Lachance/U.S. Army via AP
The Secret Life of Live Mascots
On Aug. 21, the first day of classes for LSU, students were joined by another new Baton Rouge resident. After a week of indoor observation, Harvey, an 11-month-old rescued Bengal-Siberian mix tiger, was given the green light to step out into his outdoor habitat, alongside the stadium named for his species. His new home is an obvious improvement over the living quarters of his predecessors, who have lived adjacent to Tiger Stadium since 1936. Back then, it was just an old, steel-barred zoo cage. Eventually, those quarters expanded to 400 square feet, still way too small for a 500-pound, 10-foot-long cat. In 1981, his digs grew to 2,000 square feet. One night, Mike IV managed to sneak out and wandered campus until he was spotted, tranquilized and returned. Finally, in 2005, the space grew into its current roomy area of 14,010 square feet, 15,105 if you include the indoor night house. “What you see now looks like something you’d pay money to see at the San Diego Zoo or something, but it’s on a college campus,” says former LSU star Leonard Fournette. “I used to check in on Mike. But I saw those old photos of that cage they had and that wooden box they’d use to bring him into the stadium. I probably would’ve been too scared to go over there then!”
LSU Mike VII
How a Global Nations League would better international soccer
A Nations League, whether organized by FIFA or a separate entity, would adopt a similar revenue sharing scheme to the one that’s been lucrative for UEFA at both club and international levels. It wouldn’t just give minnows championships to play for, it would give them cash to play with. Even if relatively very few people would watch a League 6 quarterfinal between Kosovo and Bhutan, that game would garner more interest than a first-round World Cup qualifier between Bhutan and Sri Lanka – and certainly more than Bhutan’s mostly non-existent friendlies. The centralized marketing would also benefit the big boys – if it wouldn’t, they won’t agree to it. But it surely will, because they’ll have a better product to sell. An England-Germany game in the Nations League group stage is more marketable than an England-Germany friendly, even if its meaning is somewhat manufactured. On the surface, the league system, which essentially divides the world into soccer’s haves and have-nots, seems to drive home the wedge between the two groups. But in reality, it’s the have-nots – a majority of FIFA members – who would benefit more than anybody. If a Global Nations League can replicate UEFA’s all-encompassing commercial success, it will change international soccer for the better.
The UEFA Nations League format (via UEFA.com)
The Mad Scientist of the NFL
McVay has never been intimidated by coaching players older than himself, most recently transforming Washington’s offense as coordinator into one of the league’s best and mentoring fourth-rounder Kirk Cousins into an elite quarterback. Of course, while climbing the ranks of Washington’s offensive staff, mostly as tight ends coach, McVay frequently popped into the office of defensive backs coach Bob Slowik, with questions about the defense. “That’s not a normal characteristic in this day and age in the coaching world,” Slowik says. It should come as no surprise that during a Rams game against the 49ers on September 21 of this year, with his team on defense, McVay was otherwise occupied, sitting on top of a water cooler, tap-tap-tapping his tablet for offensive stats and schemes. He is a perfectionist constantly in pursuit. Could he be the one to end the Rams’ 12-year playoff drought?
McVay became the youngest head coach in the NFL at 30 when he was hired by the Los Angeles Rams in January. (Getty Images)
Now in the Olympics, climbing bounds above more earthly sports
Athletes typically push themselves beyond barriers and past personal limits. And for competitive climbers, the force they defy is Earth’s gravity itself. Climbing is an evolutionary holdover. As our ancestors learned, if the animal trying to kill you is unable to climb a tree or rock, that’s where you’re safe. That survival skill is rarely called upon in modern life, but it remains in our DNA, often surfacing as a passion among kids and speaking to the innate joy of going up! Competitive climbers never lose that love, even as they struggle to perch on a postage-stamp-size piece of real estate, leap from one egg-size outcrop to another, or scale inch by inch up a sheer wall, then an inverted wall, then a nearly upside-down wall. These spider-men and -women flex taut muscles in their backs, shoulders, arms and legs — muscles that are soft and undefined on non-supers like the rest of us. And more indoor climbing walls are opening to fulfill that love, with international competitions following.
The Edinburgh International Climbing Arena, which hosted the event, is one of the largest indoor climbing centers in the world.
IOC launches toolkit to safeguard athletes from harassment in sport
“As an Olympian, the voices and concerns of athletes resonate with me,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “We praise the athletes’ courage to speak out on incidents of harassment and abuse, and we support them in their action. The safety and wellbeing of athletes are paramount to the IOC and the Olympic Movement. It is the responsibility of all of us to keep athletes safe and to guard their rights. Through a collective effort, I am pleased that we can launch this toolkit to assist sports organisations in this important area of athlete welfare, reinforcing our stance against all forms of harassment and abuse in sport.” The toolkit was officially presented this week at the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) General Assembly in Prague, Czech Republic, by IOC Member and Chair of the IOC prevention of harassment and abuse in sport (PHAS) working group HRH Prince Feisal. “This toolkit aims to provide solutions and guidance for sporting organisations based on experience and expertise from all over the world,” he explained. “By following the steps in this toolkit, we hope that all sports organisations will implement policies and procedures which are effective, and have a true long-lasting positive impact on athlete wellbeing.”
Running Through the Heart of Navajo
Running is woven into Navajo culture. Their running tradition goes back more than 1,000 years, to the time when they wended their way south from the Northwest Territories to the high desert and buttes of the Four Corners. When a girl undergoes a puberty ceremony, the kinaalda, she sleeps on the dirt floor of a traditional Hogan, which represents a mother’s womb. When the rays of the sun strike the east-facing door, the girl must take a long run. Martin gathered the runners in the campground the evening before the ultramarathon. He recounted the origin story of this race. It was born of despair. Martin, 5-foot-11, lean and angular, is from the western edge of the Navajo nation. He married a woman from Chinle — a four-hour drive to the east — and settled here and coached the high school track team into a power. Poverty casts a long shadow, as do the ravages of booze and dope; Martin was one of four close childhood friends and the only one to have pulled free of that terrible gravity. He watched carefully over his Navajo teenagers, their nutrition, their academics, their emotional state, as they won races and grabbed coveted college scholarships. Jealousy and politics at the school laid him low; his team was starved of funds and he resigned. The team disintegrated.
Smiles were abundant at the start of the grueling 34-mile race.Credit Caitlin O’Hara for The New York Times
How Iceland (population: 330,000) qualified for the World Cup
IT HAS become a familiar ritual. A drum beats twice. A wall of blue-shirted fans grunts and lets rip a thundering clap. The pace quickens, like a Viking horde charging into battle. After every victory—and there have been many in recent years—Iceland’s football players and fans unite in performing the clap, which has become one of the sport’s most loved traditions. Last month it boomed out once again. After a 2-0 win against Kosovo on October 9th, Iceland, with a population of just 330,000 and a manager who doubles as a part-time dentist, became the smallest ever country to reach the 32-team finals of the men’s World Cup. They will be one of 14 European sides to compete in the 21st edition, hosted by Russia next year. “It means the world,” says Gudni Bergsson, a former national captain who is now president of the Icelandic Football Association. “For years we have watched the major tournaments on television. People would choose their sides and which countries to support. Now we are actually going there.”
Keep your ear on the ball
Beep Ball is essentially a modified game of baseball or softball, using a ball that emits a beeping sound. After the batter hits the ball, one of the two bases — first or third — emits a buzzing sound, and the runner must reach that base before a fielder can secure the ball. If the fielder can control the ball and hold it off the ground before the runner reaches the base, it is an out. If the runner successfully reaches the base before the ball is secured, they score a run. The pitcher and the catcher are on the offensive team and are the only ones on their side who can see. On the defensive side of the ball, there are sighted spotters in the field to assist the players and try to keep them safe from collisions and line drives. The rest of the team must rely on their ears as they try to catch the ball and put the runner out. Walker’s teammate Ethan Johnston was named a defensive All-Star for the National Beep Ball Association World Series and says, “Listening and tracking the ball is my strength. When it hits on the ground, I can pounce on it like a lion on a wildebeest.” When he is in a rhythm with his pitcher, he says there’s nothing like the satisfaction he gets when “you get a money pitch, and you can hit it and launch it. The freedom to bust out of home plate, to get to the base and knock it down and hear ‘Safe!'”
John Margist dives for the ball and is backed up by Storm teammate Demetris Morrow as they take fielding practice before a game.
The Unstoppable Shaquem Griffin, UCF’s One-Handed Star Linebacker
He won’t say it, and he hopes he can inspire others the way Jim Abbott—the only one-handed modern baseball pitcher to throw a major league no-hitter—did when an elementary school teacher showed Shaquem a video of Abbott. Shaquem tried to copy Abbott’s technique of shifting the glove from his handless arm to his hand. “I ended up throwing the whole glove,” he says, cracking up. “I just kept the ball inside the glove and threw the glove.” When the children who work with Orlando’s Limbitless Solutions—a company founded by UCF grads that uses 3-D printers to make prosthetic limbs—come to games, he wants them to understand that they’re not defined by what they’re missing. “If I keep doing what I’m doing, it’s going to create a better future for someone else,” he says. “It just goes on and on. … Maybe I can help this kid who can help another kid who can help a thousand kids later.” Shaquem’s platform will get bigger next year, when he gets his shot at the NFL. At some point during the predraft process, a league general manager will take one look at Shaquem’s left arm and say, “No. Not him.” That will only open an opportunity for another team to land a player who won’t stop until he proves all his doubters wrong. “I’ve been ready since I was a kid,” Shaquem says. “I’m waiting for somebody to say, ‘You can’t do it.'”
Willie J. Allen Jr./AP