On Sport

Ghosts of Football Past : A history of violence, racism, cheating, and innovation.

In preparation for Super Bowl LII:

It's the end of the 19th century -- the Civil War is over, and the frontier is dead. And young college men are anxious. What great struggle will test their character? Then along comes a new craze: football. A brutally violent game where young men can show a stadium full of fans just what they're made of. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn -- the sons of the most powerful men in the country are literally knocking themselves out to win these gladiatorial battles. And then the most American team of all, with the most to prove, gets in the game and owns it. The Carlisle Indian School, formed in 1879 to assimilate the children and grandchildren of the men who fought the final Plains Wars against the fathers and grandfathers of the Ivy Leaguers, starts challenging the best teams in the country. On the football field, Carlisle had a chance for a fair fight with high stakes -- a chance to earn respect, a chance to be winners, and a chance to go forward in a changing world that was destroying theirs (via).


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-N- Stuff  :  History  On Sports

Pat Tillman : A Life of Character

So much about this story is challenging. And because I don't want to steal away from Tillman, from his character, his loyalty, and his overall Person, I will stay very far away from anything political. 

Like many, I came to know Tillman's story when he walked away from football to serve his country. Since then, I'll admit, I've kinda idolized the man as best I can through books, documentaries, and daydreams. Because in so many ways, like Jake Plummer says, I wish I were more like him. 

As devout.

As loyal.

As confident. 

Because I can't help but watch this short clip and want to be a better person, to teach my sons and daughters about Tillman and hope they grow up as such, and to align myself with men and women of his stature, conviction, and joy of life.

He is a man of intense and genuine character, a man guided eulogies virtues, and although his death was a deep and devastating shame, his life was not. 

Because he lived for something much bigger and better than himself. He lived for others. Which is why he's still around. Why he's bigger than his name, than his stats, and his service. 

Which is why he' be remembered for as long as history can tell the stories of heroes.

Which is why he's a "fucking champion."


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-N- Stuff  :  Sports  :  Character



One Team - One Country : When a President embraced a controversial sport


Every now and then, Sports and ESPN actually have something worth sharing.

The documentary, The 16th Man, is perhaps one of the greatest short films about race, love, reconciliation, and humility that I've ever seen. 

There could be no democracy without peace. No liberation without reconciliation (via).

I understand that there are many differences that break the parallel between Nelson Mandela's story and President Trump's current narrative, and I get that to compare the two is unfair, for many reasons, but the climate is pretty close. Or, at least, it could easily become so.

But where I ache to have a president like Mandela is this: Mandela loved his enemies as much as his friends. Instead of creating division and instilling fear, he calmed and soothed tension, even inviting those who hated him to be some of his trusted advisors - much like another great President. Mandela, through grace and patience,  prevented a war. He didn't instigate them. Because he understood that his role, his power, was to be used as a tool to serve, unite clashing people groups, and embrace an entire country - not just those with whom he agreed. 

After spending 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, president of the very people who imprisoned him, believed more in the power of love and compassion and forgiveness than he did in the guns.

So, when it came to sport and the debated Springbok, Nelson Mandela embraced it, believing it had the power to change the world. 

"In a country torn apart by racism, the game of rugby was a symbol of violent division. Yet, one man say it as a path for peace, when all roads seemed to lead to civil war."

The Springbok, the sport of rugby, was a symbol of their country, so Mandela embraced it, and the men who played it, uniting 43 million South Africans. 

And the people chanted their president's name, rejoicing, as one.

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-N- Stuff  :  Presidents  :  On Power



Power of Sport : Next Best Play

Sports today have become too much. Instead of teaching character and team work and all the things that would inspire Nelson Mandela to say, "Sport has the power to change the world," it has allowed entitlement, avenues for intense and devistating selfishness, and a skewed perspective of why we wake up in the morning. Sport has create monsters and set demons free

But it can, if we see beyond the rings, the celebrity statues, and free agency turmoil, still change the world; it can create men and women of character, and it can teach us how to live.

If we look for it.

Some background to this play is appropriate, I think, because this isn't a midseason possible throw away game. This is a do-or-die Game 7 playoff game. This is early 90's Bulls vs Knicks. This is Defending Champs vs Wanna Be Champs. For these players, this is life.

But in these 20 seconds, for us, it is so much more than a game - it can define and teach us about Life.

On Preparation:

Once Jordan catches the ball, his thousands of hours in the gym, practicing, kick in and he goes on auto-pilot. He doesn't think about what to do or where to go or how to play, he just plays, and finds success.

But how Jordan responds to his success is crucial.

On Celebrating:

Jordan has just split the defense, against one of the best defensive teams of that year, and made a pretty difficult layup. Job well done, right? Even the announcer is excited.

But Jordan doesn't siimply turn and jog bag, basking in a "that was awesome" mindset. He doesn't take the next few seconds off or "put his feet up," he immediately gets back to work. Watch it again, he IMMEDIATELY turns and runs back, ready for the Next Best Play.

And then he makes it. He makes on over-the-shoulder steal. 

Then he stumbles.

On Failure:

The ball is stolen and quickly headed in the other direction for a clear and easy layup. But Jordan doesn't sulk, complain to the ref that he was fouled, or watch from mid-court, content with "I did my best." He takes off, chasing down McDaniel and the Next Best Play.

And then he makes it. 

On Life: 

Nothing comes easy, or free. We have to put in the time, the effort, and the work. Everyday.

In our friendships, marriages, jobs, and Life. 

When things are going well, pumping our fists or throwing celebrations can get us off track, or left behind, while the other team is scoring on the end. This is when our marriages relationships begin to crumble, because we've stopped working, stopped pursuing the Next Best Play. 

And when we most fail, as we most suredly will, sulking or pointing fingers won't save us. But it will delay us, set us back, and get us ever closer to losing "the game" - whatever that might be.


This truth may be obvious and easy to grasp, but it is difficult to follow, because sometimes, it just doesn't seem true. Sometimes, after hours and hours of work and effort, the victory, whether great or small, doesn't come. Because we don't get the ball. Or worse, because we never leave the bench. Sometimes, it seems, our lot in life might be to work just as hard - or even more so - than the other guy, but never play, just support and encourage and slide further down the bench as others come off the court.

I know I feel this way often. And when I do, it can be really hard to keep practicing, to keep hoping I might one day be called upon, and to support the stars - especially when they're jerks, like Jordan.

But pouting, pointing fingers, or complaining for sure doesn't get me on the court. The Next Best Play does. Or at least, it increases the chances.

So lace up the shoes and head to the gym, ready for the Next Best Play.


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Purpose of Sport  :  -N- Stuff

Power, and Responsibility : Why Michael Jordan will never be the best

Growing up in the Chicago-land area and watching Jordan play while in middle school, these 90's Bulls will always be the best in all of basketball. 

I remember "Hodgy open for threeee!!!" and Jordan winning rings and Paxon's "Going for the win!" I remember 72-10 because I was thirteen.

Now, as a coach and father, I want my players, my kids, to be like Hodges, not Mike. 

Well played Craig Hodges, well played.


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History  :  -N- Stuff

Chris Paul : How to Live, Forgive, and Love

I came across this article almost six years ago. It was before school started, but the second I finished, I printed several copies and read with my then 7th grade English class then shared it with everyone I taught or coached or spoke with. When life shifted to China, I forgot about it. This morning, my brother in-law referenced it and I had to find it again.

In all of sports, this might be my most favorite story.

The lessons of Nathaniel Jones

by Rick Reilly - espn.com

Wednesday, April 27, 2011 : 

On the moonless night of Nov. 15, 2002, five young boys ran across a park, jumped a 61-year-old man, bound his wrists, duct-taped his mouth, and beat him with pipes until his heart stopped. 

All for his wallet.

That man was Nathaniel Jones, the grandfather of future NBA star Chris Paul.

Today, those boys are men, sitting in prisons across the state of North Carolina, some serving 14-year terms, some life. On the TV sets in their prison rec rooms this week, the Hornets point guard has been wrecking the Los Angeles Lakers, averaging nearly a triple-double, the shiniest star of these playoffs.

The five are all about the same age as Paul, same race, same height, and from the same hometown. 

They have one other thing in common with Chris Paul: All six wish they were free.

It's something Paul told me during a "Homecoming" episode once on ESPN, and every time I watch him play I can't get it out of my mind. Paul, now 25, said: "These guys were 14 and 15 years old [at the time], with a lot of life ahead of them. I wish I could talk to them and tell them, 'I forgive you. Honestly.' I hate to know that they're going to be in jail for such a long time. I hate it."

Whose heart has that much room? 

"Chris Paul hates it?" says Geneva Bryant, the mother of one of the five, Christopher Bryant. "Well, so do I. My boy is 23 now. He's been in since he was 15."

Chris Paul is overcome with emotion while talking about the death of his grandfather to students at West Forsyth High in Clemmons, N.C.

Her son has six years to go. Dorrell Brayboy, 23, has six years to go. Jermal Tolliver, 23, has seven. Two brothers -- Nathaniel Cauthen, 24, and Rayshawn Banner, 23 -- are in until they die.

Paul's attitude stuns one of the defense attorneys who appealed the verdict and lost.

"I've probably tried 30 homicide cases," says Paul Herzog, of Fayetteville. "It's very rare for a family survivor in a murder case to feel that way. You just don't see that ever. That's incredibly generous of Mr. Paul."

To understand how generous, you have to know how close Paul was to his granddad.

The man everybody called "PaPa Chili" was the first black man to open a service station in North Carolina and both Chris and his brother worked at it. PaPa Chili was known to let people run tabs when times got tough. Plenty of times, he'd hand people money out of the cash register to get by. Paul called him "my best friend."

The day Paul signed with nearby Wake Forest, the first person to put a Demon Deacons hat on him was his grandfather. 

The next day, he was dead. 

None of the five boys were particularly hardened criminals. Only Cauthen had been previously arrested -- twice for running away and once for stealing his mom's car. They decided they wanted to rob somebody. Around the corner, in his white van, came that somebody -- Jones. He'd closed the filling station and was now getting grocery bags out of his van. "Let's go get him," one of them said. They sprinted across Belview Park and jumped him. 

Using tape they'd bought that day at a drugstore, they bound his head, neck and hands and began a "relentless, remorseless, conscienceless" attack, according to the judge who sentenced them. Jones died in his carport. 

His grief was bottomless. Every national anthem in college, he'd hold his grandfather's laminated obituary in his hand and pray. And now he wants the murderers set free?

Paul, a high school senior, was so woebegone he was literally sick. Two days later, he scored 61 points for West Forsyth High School, one for every year of Papa Chili's life. He purposely missed a free throw at the end, then collapsed into the arms of his father in tears.

His grief was bottomless. Every national anthem in college, he'd hold his grandfather's laminated obituary in his hand and pray. 

And now he wants the murderers set free?

"Even though I miss my granddad," Paul told me, "I understand that he's not coming back. At the time, it made me feel good when I heard they went away for life. But now that I'm older, when I think of all the things I've seen in my life? No, I don't want it. I don't want it."

This is the kind of man Chris Paul is: He was president of his high school class all three years. When LeBron James' girlfriend had a baby, James made sure Paul was there. He's so humble that if you didn't know who he was, you'd swear he was the pool man.

So what can Paul do? 

He can appeal to the governor of North Carolina, Bev Perdue, and ask for their sentences to be commuted. North Carolina is not big on commuting murderers' sentences, but I'd put nothing past the powers of Paul.

This kid floors me. Not just with the way he can dominate an NBA playoff game at 6 feet tall in elevator sneakers. Not just for the way he can twist Kobe Bryant into a Crazy Straw. Not just for the way he'd rather pass through a doughnut hole than take the shot himself.

No, what floors me about Chris Paul is his humanity. If strangers had bound my weak-hearted grandfather, beat him for no reason and killed him for the cash in his wallet -- strangers who to this day have not shown a thimbleful of contrition -- I'd want them in prison 100 years after they were in the dirt.

Chris Paul once wrote that his grandfather "taught me more things than I could ever learn with a Ph.D."

One of them must've been love.


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