True Inspiration

20140306-121159.jpgAs much as I speak about perspective, I recently realized I don’t write enough about the experiences and the people who provide me with perspective. Last week, my on-air partner Beth Mowins and I had the pleasure of meeting Arizona State freshman and Special Assistant to the Head Coach Brandon Wechsler. At eight years of age, Brandon was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. DMD is a fatal disorder caused by a mutated gene that fails to produce a biologically necessary protein called dystrophin. Since his diagnosis, Brandon and his family’s journey has been filled with challenges and trials beyond anything we can imagine. Brandon’s muscles are literally breaking down within him. Despite his condition and despite the struggles he faces, Brandon makes it his purpose to help improve the lives of everyone he comes in contact with. His college experience may differ from that of the “normal” student as Brandon takes on a full load consisting of coursework, service to the team in his role as Special Assistant to Herb Sendek as well as starting his own non-profit geared towards developing awareness and support for those battling DMD. There’s no one who can walk away from an interaction with Brandon Wechsler without being inspired. You’re not only inspired by his strength in fighting this terrible and fatal disorder, you’re emotionally and spiritually moved by the joy and love he has in his heart and you’re motivated by his desire to serve others despite his own trials and tribulations. Brandon’s ear-to-ear smile, that you’ll notice more than the chair he’s confined to, is a constant reminder of how precious every moment in life really is. His mantra/message is simple,

“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.”

As I thought about what meeting Brandon meant to me, it made me think of what a lot of people say in regards to gaining perspective. I often hear people talk about the suffering and poverty they see in third-world countries and most seem to say the same thing. “Seeing that really puts things into perspective.” While I understand the basis of that line of thinking, just knowing that someone else out there has bigger problems doesn’t really give us perspective. It may make us feel temporary relief from the #firstworldproblems we face but it doesn’t change our lives and change our heart. The real perspective comes from seeing how those individuals survive and find joy in the smallest things despite their circumstances. A number of friends and family members who have actually been to poverty-stricken parts of the world always tell me they (surprisingly) don’t walk away just feeling sorry for the impoverished. Instead, they are humbled, amazed, motivated and inspired by the true joy and love they see in the faces of those they come into contact with. The perspective we gain comes from seeing how someone can be so gracious, joyful and content despite their dire circumstances.

Brandon Wechsler impacts everyone he comes into contact with, not solely because of his battle with Duchenne. He changes the lives of his friends, teammates, acquaintances and family because of how he chooses to live despite his debilitating and fatal disorder. He makes the decision to get up every day and love, laugh, smile, meet new people, get involved with anything he’s passionate about and be an inspiration to all. Last year, as a senior manager on the Pinnacle High School basketball team, Brandon was given the opportunity to start on senior night. Being confined to a wheel chair, Brandon had never played in a game before. He was announced in player introductions, shook the hand of the opposing coach and joined his team in the huddle. There wasn’t a dry eye in the gym. For that moment, it wasn’t about winning or losing anymore. It was about something much bigger than that. The one possession Brandon played wasn’t just for Brandon. It was for everyone who will learn of his story and will be moved by the grit, genuine toughness, passion and determination by which he chooses to live each moment. Duchenne cannot keep Brandon from making new friends and enjoying all that this life had to offer. It cannot keep him from pursuing dreams and setting goals. Most importantly, DMD cannot keep Brandon from loving life and approaching every day, not as yet another challenge but as another blessing and an opportunity to inspire others.

I will always remember Brandon and his infectious smile and will continue to pray for Brandon and his family. My prayer for Brandon is that he stays strong through all that he will face and that he continues to find joy in every moment. In doing so, he’s changing the lives of everyone he comes into contact with. Myself included.

Thank you Brandon and God Bless you my friend.

Forever grateful for what’s ahead…

A Perspective on Coaches

I’m not sure it’s possible to say enough about the job that good coaches do. Coaches are criticized by a world of “experts” every step of the way. During a game when things aren’t going well, analysts like myself (with ample yet limited information) always have a thought about what needs to take place to right the ship. Administrators, season ticket holders and donors with little to no sports experience are certain that A, B and C (hypothetically) needs to take place or the entire season and future of the program will be lost. Then there’s the world of Twitter nuts. Those dooms-dayers seem to think that one loss should lead to the termination of the entire coaching staff and certain players should have their scholarships revoked. I know well enough that despite the fact that I played the game at a high level, despite the fact that I study the game, observe the teams I cover and attend practices, I still don’t know all of what goes into it and all I’m entitled to is my unbiased, unemotional, expert opinion.

For coaches, it’s never just managing the game, calling the right offensive sets or developing and implementing the most effective defensive strategy. In the college game there’s much more to it than that. As a coach you have to develop and implement a long-term strategy to build and sustain a program although you are fully aware that you must win quickly to keep your job past year three or four. You have to recruit players that fit your system and will help your program win while trying to appease the administrators and donors with a blue-chip diva every now and then. You’ve got to find a way to manage expectations, personalities and egos and get 15 individuals to put aside their own desire to be “The Man” in the hopes of getting them to function as one unit. As head coach and the face of the program you’ve got to play the political game with Athletic Development and be the Athletic Department and the school’s best fundraiser and salesman. On top of all of that, you’ve got to make sure that 15 kids are handling business in the classroom and in their personal life. Now add the distractions of twitter, social media and the real life responsibilities one may have to their family and your head starts to spin. If you haven’t noticed yet, I haven’t even mentioned X’s and O’s, practice plans and game management yet. That all seems to come last. Yet, you think that’s all they’re doing and all they’re really responsible for.

The main reason why I bring this up is because I recognize the fact that we live in a world where we look for someone to blame the second something goes wrong or doesn’t go as planned. As if anything in life ever goes as planned. In the world of sports, coaches get fingers pointed in their direction first. Often times they even welcome the blame to protect their players. Recently, Larry Brown, head coach at SMU came out after a tough road loss and said, “I made a mistake. We had an early game and I got them up early for a workout. It was the wrong thing to do.” He took the responsibility for the loss and welcomed the criticism (which certainly came) in order to protect his players. I commend anyone who takes on the challenge of coaching and I sincerely admire the volunteer, assistant and head coaches who do their job well. One of the things we lack most in our modern world is empathy for individuals who are above us in one way or another. Higher earners in the company, head coaches of major programs, corporate executives, celebrities and government officials alike. We cannot empathize with them because we are unable to step out of our own perspective and view the world any other way than how we see it. If you can’t truly empathize with all that goes into being a player or coach then I would encourage you to be mindful and intelligent enough to avoid making hateful and ignorant comments about things you know so little about. Be supportive and positive. You’ll be amazed at how much better you will feel.

Forever grateful for what’s ahead…

Ordinary and Significant

I’ve lived in Los Angeles since 2001 when I transferred to Ucla from Penn State. I’m originally from a small (very small) suburb of Philadelphia in South Jersey and all of my family members (parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and nieces and nephews) are all there. South Jersey has always been “home” to me. After basketball season, I will be driving back across country and making “home” home again. While many of the people who know me and are aware of my motivations and desires understand the move, a lot of people think I’m crazy. Most of the people who question the move believe that I am passing up on numerous opportunities to achieve a lot (worldly success) by leaving a major market like Los Angeles. As I probe for clarity the real question comes to the surface. “How could you leave a place with endless opportunity for a place of such limited potential?” That question really made me think a lot about what we are really living for and what we are trying to accomplish. To me, the question should be, “Is what we are trying so hard to achieve and possess….what we are sacrificing so much for even worth it?”

I began to think about many of the things that I, at one point or another, wanted to be or wanted to accomplish and immediately realized how insignificant all of those amazing achievements really would have been. I tried to remember some of the NBA First Round Draft picks over the past few years and even the year I graduated and would have been up for consideration. I tried to remember the past few Super Bowl MVP winners or even the past 10 Super Bowl champs. Then, to take it to an extreme, I tried to quickly recall the past 10 United States Presidents. Now, I’m a bit of a history guy so I eventually figured it out but I really had to think about it. It’s crazy how quickly we forget about the people and things that we at one point in our lives thought were so important and would have given anything to be or achieve.

After that little exercise I started to think about the people and the achievements I do remember. I remember every coach I ever played for. I remember every teacher who took serious pride in what they did. I remember every pastor or mentor who sincerely lived graciously and humbly for others. I even remember every stranger and acquaintance who wrote me cards and sent me well-wishes when I was nearly bed-ridden with a broken back in high school. They all did the things that matter most in life and they will never be forgotten. As ordinary as their lives may appear in a world of luxury and fame, those average/ordinary individuals are more significant than we’d ever imagine.

It’s amazing how we spend so much of our lives trying to accomplish things that we know won’t give us peace, joy or fulfillment. We may even be aware of the fact that what we achieve will be forgotten within a few years, yet we still persist. It’s even more ironic when you consider the fact that we are a society of individuals and communities who have always and will always require validation and feelings of significance or purpose. The real problem is that we are searching for validation and significance in all the wrong places. Working for Espn as an on-air analyst and color commentator is a dream job for me, but if I’m searching for significance and purpose in the job then I’ll be sorely disappointed. Jimmy V will be remembered by generations to come. Not because he won a National Championship as a coach or because he spent time as an analyst on Espn. He’ll always be remembered for the servant that he was despite his fame and despite the dire circumstances which led to his death. To me, the opportunity to become a teacher, coach and humble servant to family, friends and community is an opportunity worth pursuing. Who could ask for anything more than the opportunity to be ordinary and significant?

Forever grateful for what’s ahead…

A World of Opinions and No Perspectives

What ever happened to the good old days when columnists wrote perspectives? Perspective pieces are conscience observations of issues or events as they appear to us based on our own experience and point of view. Opinions tend to be (and generally are) an initial emotional response to specific issues or events. From my perspective, opinions are destroying our society in a number of ways. Opinions offer nothing but an argument or a stance and have no consideration for opposing thought. On the other hand, perspective cannot be argued….only discussed. True perspective simply offers an individual’s point of view and welcomes discussion. Discussion/communication lead to understanding. Understanding leads to respect. In the end, respect and understanding allow us to find compromise. It sounds so simple that it blows my mind that the “great minds” of our world who are responsible for so much in our society can’t figure it out. Their opinions, selfishness and childish stubbornness are destroying the foundations upon which we have been able to accomplish so much and their behavior does more to further divide a society of diverse individuals.

Like anything in our world, we (people in general) need someone to blame for this madness and mindlessness. The finger always has to point somewhere, right? In this case, it’s our own fault. A few weeks ago, after his post game interview blowup on FOX, I wrote a perspective piece on Richard Sherman. I waited a few days after the game because my initial thoughts about the situation weren’t exactly rational. I literally looked at Richard Sherman like he wasn’t even human and wanted nothing but to see him fail. Because, in my opinion, he deserved it. Once I took the time to step back and reflect, I realized that I pitied Sherman more than anything. His selfishness exposed a deeper insecurity and an emptiness to me. He certainly isn’t a thug. He’s just completely wrapped up in his own world and sadly requires validation and recognition from and bunch of strangers. That’s sad to me and that was my true perspective. After posting that thought, I received two emails from a couple of friends and a tweet from a total stranger. All three of them told me the same thing. They said I was a little late to the game with this one as the game took place three days prior to the post. Because of twitter, online bloggers and even some of the major sports news outlets (one of which I work for), we have grown to rely too heavily on opinions as we lack the patience to hear, process, comprehend and develop our own perspective. We all deserve so much better than that because not only are we getting dumber and dumber every day, we are truly less and less (factually) informed.

My challenge is simple. Have the patience, the open-mindedness and self-respect to avoid getting tied up in social, political and personal opinions. Avoid the emotional reaction and bring a little perspective to the world. Your perspective can serve those around you while your senseless and irrational opinions can destroy those around you and create divide. For those of you who actually read what I write, I hope you’re not looking for strong opinions because you won’t find them here. I sincerely welcome any and all perspective on anything I write and truly appreciate the thought, consideration and vulnerability it takes to share something deeper than a surface level opinion. Our perspectives can help one another grow and develop and it allows us to understand and empathize with those who have a differing perspective. Just because we may view the world differently doesn’t mean we all have to hate each other. We’re all in this world together whether we like it or not.

Forever grateful for what’s ahead…

A Little Perspective on Marcus Smart and Super Fans in Sports

For those of you who are unaware of the incident, Oklahoma State basketball player and last year’s Big 12 Player of the Year Marcus Smart got into an altercation with a Texas Tech fan this past Saturday. You could see Smart start to get up (calmly) after sprinting the length of the court to stop an easy layup for the Red Raiders and as he returned to the court something that was said caught his attention. Smart has alleged that the fan, Jeff Orr, amongst other things called him the N-word. Orr denies using the racial slur but has apologized for provoking Smart. Smart and Oklahoma State held a press conference and the sophomore star took full responsibility for his actions and accepted the consequences that came from it.

This issue is less about Marcus Smart and Jeff Orr than it is about something that has become all too much of the norm in sports in our society. For some reason, it seems as if when fans enter an arena or stadium all sense, logic and reason is lost. Fans see the opposing team as the enemy who is deserving of the worst possible treatment before, during and after the game. In Philadelphia, the Eagles fans have become notorious for their horrible treatment of pretty much anyone when things aren’t going well for the Birds. They even threw snowballs at Santa Claus. Yes, they actually threw snowballs at a man who dressed up as Santa Claus to bring joy to the kids in the Stadium. “Super Fans” like Jeff Orr are praised in their hometown areas for behavior that is simply appalling anywhere outside of sports. When you step back and look at it from outside the bubble, this is a man who makes it his job to taunt, provoke and offend amateur athletes who have worked harder than you know to get to where they’ve gotten and who have dealt with circumstances that may lead most of us to give up. As sad as that is, it’s even worse when you think that it is the norm throughout the world when it comes to athletics. Could you imagine if someone came to your place of work and taunted you and used obscenities and racial slurs to break your spirit? Even more so, could you imagine watching your son or daughter compete in something they have dedicated so much of their time and effort into and seeing grown “adults” taunt them and do whatever they could possibly do to tear your child down? The thought of anyone trying to break the spirit of another human being will always give me grief. The thought of grown adults making it their job to break the spirit of young (barely) adults and teenagers who have a life of struggle and tests ahead of them will always break my heart.

In the aftermath of the incident, Marcus Smart was suspended 3 games for his actions. In no way can a player ever shove or physically engage with a fan so the suspension is certainly the proper punishment for Smart. But what punishment is ever handed out to fans who wage a war of words and taunts against visiting competitors? If anything, they are praised for their childish and senseless behavior. Super fan Jeff Orr has become somewhat of a cult-hero in Red Raider country because of his newly found fame.  As a child I can always remember adults (my parents, coaches and teachers) telling me to think before I speak or act as all words and actions have consequences. At what point do we grow out of that directive and throw it out the window? Why is appalling, obscene, racially-charged and despicable behavior tolerated in the sports arena? Clearly, people feel they have a right to say whatever they want in the twitter realm and even from their seat at a sporting event but at what point do we begin to take ownership of our own behavior and realize how ludicrous the actions of the super fans really are? Even more so, what administrators, what coaches and what NCAA representatives will have the courage to protect the amateur athletes from situations that these young men and women are not yet prepared to handle in a high pressure environment? And for those of you in the stands of a youth, high-school or college sporting event, who has the heart to stand up for what is right and tell the idiots out there to sit down and shut up?!

-Forever grateful for what’s ahead…because it’s going to be much better than this.

10 Rules for Today’s Leaders

One of the best things about my job as a basketball analyst is that I get to spend a lot of my time observing others. In my world, observation is how I prepare for a game. I watch game tape, I attend practice, sit through game day shoot arounds and spend time in conversation with coaches, players and staff. All in an effort to learn as much as possible about a team, their approach, structure and strategies. The goal is always to remain as unbiased and open-minded as possible. I tend to focus a lot of my attention on the team’s leadership. As I’ve mentioned before, we are in dire need of strong, honest and humble leadership now more than ever. The selfish and socially affected motives of most of our so-called leaders are destroying hope in our society. While selfish and power-hungry politicians (both sides) destroy hope in the communities they represent, selfish and ego-driven coaches destroy hope in the players they’re tasked with developing.

Throughout my experience in sports, business, broadcasting and coaching, I have taken note of certain characteristics I have observed that help make an individual a truly effective leader. These are my 10 Rules for Today’s Leaders.

1. Always see the bigger picture.
See past yourself and your own aspirations, ideals and needs.

2. Don’t let short-term “fools gold” get in the way of long-term, sustainable success.
No quick fixes ever work. They cause more harm than good and the individuals you’re responsible for become collateral damage because of your misguided decisions.

3. Strive to maintain poise and integrity.
There is strength in stability and security and your workforce or team will flock to that.

4. Treat everyone as your equal.
How you treat the least of your team says a lot about who you are. Additionally, people respond favorably when you give them respect and consideration.

5. Actually be the person you’d like people to believe you to be.
Deception and misrepresentation inhibit your ability to get others to buy-into the message or plan.

6. Be positively contagious.
Not only will your influence be uplifting and motivating, you will create a culture and a standard of conduct that perpetuates good behavior.

7. Be humble.
Sincere humility shows security and an awareness of a bigger picture. People crave confident yet humble leadership.

8. Adapt to different personalities but don’t change who you are.
No one wants to follow a flip-flopper. There is no truth, consistency or strength in that.

9. Take the time to get to know those around you.
Not only will you be able to identify each individuals motivations, you’ll be able to empathize better with those you are expected to lead.

10. Don’t panic. Have faith in the process.
How you handle adversity will ultimately define your success or failure as a leader. Our greatest triumphs come from our greatest challenges.

It’s not always easy (to follow the rules) but it’s certainly something to aspire to.

-Forever grateful for what’s ahead…

From My Point of View

Richard Sherman

As difficult as it was, I waited a few days to make a comment about the debacle that was Richard Sherman’s ridiculous post game interview. I didn’t want to make the same mistake he made by letting my emotions get the best of me. In case you missed it…Richard Sherman, one of the best defensive backs in the NFL, made a great play to help the Seattle Seahawks advance to the Super Bowl with a win over the 49ers. Immediately after the game he was interviewed by Fox Sports sideline reporter Erin Andrews. While she asked him a fair yet somewhat useless question about how it felt to help win such a big game, he wanted nothing to do with her question. This moment was all about him. He emphatically screamed, “I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get. Don’t you ever talk about me.”  If this was the first time he let his mouth run then maybe (just maybe) he would get a pass. But he has certainly had his fair share of self-serving social media and on-air rants. Even after a shower and a change of clothes, Sherman couldn’t keep from continuing to make the team victory about himself. He addressed the media and “explained” his post game rant by saying, “I was making sure everyone knew Crabtree was a mediocre receiver. And when you try the best corner in the game with a mediocre receiver, that’s what happens. I appreciate that he knows that now.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that Richard Sherman is all about Richard Sherman. It’s truly disappointing because he actually is one of the best defenders in the game. On top of that, his rise to fame is a great story. Richard grew up in Compton, CA where he overcame the odds of growing up in a gang-infested community and became the salutatorian of his graduating class and earned a full-scholarship to Stanford where he played his college ball. At Stanford, Sherman earned his degree in, of all things, communications. He clearly isn’t the thug that he’s being portrayed as in the media. He is simply an insecure, selfish individual who feels the only way to feel significant in his world is to get as much attention as possible. In this case he might as well be a Kardashian.

Although his words are repulsive and he can’t see past himself, I have no genuine disregard for Richard Sherman. I feel sorry for him. I pity the fool who feels it necessary to praise himself. The man who feels the need to praise and draw attention to himself is not a secure and fulfilled individual. His insecurities may give him the drive required to make him a good football player and increase his twitter following but it does nothing to serve a worthy cause. A strong and confident individual shows grace and poise in victory or defeat. Sadly enough, we don’t give those individuals the same attention that the Shermans and Kardashians of the world receive for their despicable and senseless behavior. We, as a society, are the responsible party in this catastrophe. While we need (now more than ever) sensible leadership and positive example, we somehow crave and promote the lunacy of insecure misguided public figures. In some sick way, we like to see the demise of others as it helps remind us that we are much better people than they are. The real question is, why do we tolerate and help promote those individuals so much? Only when we no longer accept or tolerate such ridiculous and self-serving behavior will that senseless foolishness become a thing of the past.

We shouldn’t get angry with Richard Sherman for acting like a fool on national television and for behaving like a mindless punk on twitter. We should pity him for whatever is sincerely lacking in his life that makes him feel so empty that he has to remind everyone how great he is. Furthermore, we should look at why this kind of self-promoting behavior is so effective in our world. Whether we like it or not, a big part of this is on us.

-Even more so after a post like this…..Forever grateful for what’s ahead…


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