Featured posts

2020 Tokyo Olympics

Watch The Olympics!

Flipping through the channels the other night I came across some diving. Any other time in the last four years I’d have kept searching. But not this year. This year is the Olympic Year. And I unapologetically think the Olympics are great.

I’ve been to a couple of Olympics. I took my kids to Atlanta in 1996 to experience the competition and the mixing of cultures and people that goes along with the Games. I’d always wanted to see a Winter Olympics in Europe, so in 2006, I accompanied my brother to the Games in Torino, Italy. It was everything I had hoped. People from all over the world gathered in one spot, watching, learning, interacting and proudly supporting their country and the athletes wearing their flag.

“Did I ever jump off the 10-meter platform when we swam in the Olympic pool in Munich,” I asked my favorite Jaguar fan in the other room a couple of nights ago.

As she walked in behind me, she saw I was watching diving. I turned back as she deadpanned, “Probably,” and left the room.

Watching the Olympics gives me the chance to see all kinds of sports I don’t see, nor do I care about at any other time. I’ll watch rowing, trampoline, all kinds of stuff I wouldn’t stop the clicker for on any other night.

“You know we’re watching very large men in spandex,” one of my friends said with a laugh as we watched the shot-put finals. Yet another sport I usually don’t stop to watch, but in this case with two Americans at the top, we were all very quiet until the cheers that followed the final throw with the gold and silver secured.

There are plenty of people who are purposely not watching the Olympics, mostly for political reasons. I’ve got plenty of political opinions, and if some of the athletes in the Games are using the competition as a political platform, I just don’t watch.

There have been a few of those, but there’s also been plenty of patriotic pride at these Games across all countries. Watching the Aussies celebrate their swimming success or the Jamaicans their prowess on the track always makes me smile.

In 1968, I didn’t ignore the political demonstration of Tommie Smith and John Carlos in Mexico City. I had a chance to tell Smith that when we were part of the same Bob Hayes Hall of Fame induction class. As a 12-year-old in Baltimore growing up among many different races and religions, I told Smith he introduced me to the fact that in places outside of my neighborhood, not everybody was getting a fair shot.

“Then it was worth it,” he said with a laugh. I’m not sure if he laughed because he was kidding me, or he meant it, but it sure made an impression on me.

Seeing Grant Holloway wrap himself in the American Flag after winning Silver in the 110-meter hurdles made me think of what Smith said to me, and how that fits in to today’s narrative.

I laughed at Kevin Hart and his soliloquy about the men’s 4×100 relay and how we “Can’t carry a stick around the track without dropping it. And the US haven’t won this race in twenty years. Why? It’s the damn Jamaicans that’s why!”

It wasn’t funny when the American team finished sixth in their heat, missing the finals. They didn’t drop the baton, but it was a bad exchange that cost them the 2/10ths of a second and a top three finish. Analyst and Olympian Ato Boldon (who does a really nice job at the Games) explained why the Japanese and the Chinese always seem to make the final and the US struggles in that event. He revealed that they pick their four guys for the race, and they practice all year. It’s technical and it shows. The US uses a “best four” philosophy and the four guys in the final might be running together for the first time EVER! Fast or not, that’s a recipe for disaster.

We’ve joked in our family for years that we’ll never know if our kids would have been champion swimmers because 5:30 AM practices weren’t going to be part of our household routine.

Lucky for all of us, it was part of Caleb Dressel and Ryan Murphy’s daily commitment. I’ve watched and covered both of their careers as a reporter since they were kids. I know how proud I felt to watch them both shine in Tokyo so I can only imagine how their families felt.

It was great to see Caleb listed with all the other great Olympians who have dominated the medal count in their sport at one Olympics. And I was glad to see Eric Heiden included in that group. His five individual speed skating gold medals in 1980 at Lake Placid, in my opinion, is the greatest achievement in Olympic history. He won the sprint AND the marathon and broke a world record by more than six seconds. Amazing.

Have you noticed there’s always a lot of crying at the Olympics? Winners cry, losers cry, families, coaches and spectators cry. It chokes me up a bit as well, maybe because as a sports reporter I always think about the amount of work they put in to get to that moment. And to have it all pay off, it’s no wonder people start crying.

It’s probably the only time every four years I watch swimming. It’s impressive how the television technology has changed the viewing experience of that sport. In water cameras, video from a robot alongside the pool and the extensive graphics have added to that television experience. Rowdy Gaines, an Olympian, brings a real-world perspective to the competition. He knows the sport and the athletes but is still a big fan and it shows. And the addition of Michael Phelps to the broadcast was a real plus.

Never a great interview as a competitor, Phelps sitting beside Mike Tirico brought that rare combination of being a fan and being the greatest ever at the same time. He had some insight that wasn’t too technical but gave us a glimpse of all the big, and little things it takes to be at the top of that game.

And do you think Tirico wearing those microphones on his shirt looks goofy and out of place? Here he is on a beautiful, multi-million dollar set, with custom-made clothes and he’s got this giant black dot in the middle of his shirt? Engineers have told me for years that those mics are omni-directional so moving them a few inches over to his lapel won’t affect the quality of the sound and it sure would look a lot better.

Sports and The Star-Spangled Banner

Sports and The Star-Spangled Banner

As we celebrate the 244th anniversary of our Nation’s independence today, we’ll hear a lot of patriotic songs. It might be the only day we hear John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” We’ll sing along with Katherine Lee Bates’ and Samuel Ward’s “America the Beautiful.” And many of the celebrations will begin with our National Anthem, Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Originally written as a poem by Key as he observed the U.S. Flag still waving over Fort McHenry at dawn after the Battle of Baltimore in September of 1814, the words weren’t set to music until later that year.

And it was a long time before the Anthem was tied to any sporting events.

The Star-Spangled Banner was first played at a sporting event on May 15, 1862, at a baseball game. It was played, sporadically at sporting events through the rest of the 1800’s and early into the next century. It gained some traction during World War I and even more during the run up to World War II as patriotic displays surged.

President Woodrow Wilson made “The Star-Spangled Banner” the National Anthem by executive order in 1916 but it wasn’t until 1931 that it became the country’s official anthem by congressional resolution. Post-World War II, it became common place to have The Anthem to be played before every sporting event.

Whether you stand at attention with your hand over your heart or exercise your right to free speech while The Anthem is played, there’s no question it’s become a part of American sports that’s not going away.

You might have noticed they’ve added “And gentlemen please remove your hats” when they ask everybody to stand for The National Anthem. Many team owners were dismayed that wasn’t happening and realized that guys weren’t being taught that at home nor in school, so they’ve added that as a reminder.

One night at a banquet I theorized that I might have heard “The Star-Spangled Banner” more than anybody else based on the number of sporting events I attended through the years as part of my career.

“I’d have to challenge you on that,” my friend and former owner of the Jacksonville Suns Peter Bragan, Jr. said from across the room.

We both laughed and the conversation turned to how many times we’d heard The Anthem.

I’m sure facility and field workers, JSO officers and probably security guards here in town have heard The Anthem more than anybody. They’re at every event at every venue, so Mary, the very kind elevator operator I see everywhere, probably hears the anthem nearly three hundred times a year.

Bragan theorized he heard The National Anthem about a hundred times a year during his thirty-one years as the owner of the Suns. Between seventy home games, listening to auditions for singers, going on the road with the team, a trip to major league parks, football games and other sporting events, ‘Pedro’ developed a routine around The Anthem.

“As the owner of the team I’d always know when it was going to happen,” he explained. “Usually, I was just at the bench in the stands. It was usually a pause and analyze what was going on in the stadium.”

During his four-year college baseball career, Bragan said he had a different thought process.

“As a player, for some reason, it always caught me by surprise. I’d do a quick turn to face the flag and take my hat off. As a player I did think about the founding of our nation, and the flag flying over the ramparts, George Washington crossing the Delaware and things like that.”

Pedro did ask me to sing The Anthem one night before a Suns game. Knowing that I occasionally front some of the ‘Big Bands’ in town, He put me on the schedule in mid-summer. It’s a bit disconcerting because in a space that large, there’s a half a beat between when the sound comes out of your mouth and when it comes through the PA system. You must concentrate on singing and not listening, that’s for sure.

How many times have you heard “The Star-Spangled Banner?” We used to have a chance to hear it every day when television stations signed on or off the air. The first and last thing on the air was the playing of our National Anthem. But stations no longer sign off, now on twenty-four hours.

While I thought hearing The Anthem about a hundred and fifty times a year during my career was a lot, my friend Rick Wilkins chuckled when I mentioned that number.

“At least two hundred times a year,” Wilkins said, recalling his eleven-year Major League Baseball career. “Between the regular season and spring training, plus the other events I’d go to with my kids, maybe more.”

With that as a regular part of the game, it has to become a part of any professional athlete’s routine. They put their uniform on, they warm-up and they’re ready to play. But then there’s this two-minute pause before play begins.

“When I played for Bud Grant, we practiced how we were going to line up for The Anthem,” said Greg Coleman, who spent ten of his twelve years in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings. “At attention, feet at a 45-degree angle, helmet under your right arm on standing the sideline.”

Admittedly an emotional player, Coleman, recently inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame said he would take that time as a player to refocus.

“It was the last solace of peace and a chance to calm yourself before the storm,” the Raines High grad explained.

Now part of the Vikings television broadcast team, Coleman, an ordained and licensed minister, delivers a “Pregame Preach” on TV right before kickoff. He has about 30-seconds after the Anthem to organize his thoughts for the spontaneous ‘sermon.’

And now, during The Anthem?

“You still have those times to reflect,” he said. “It takes you from a wide range of emotions. As a man of color, it forces you to think about how far we’ve come, but also about how far we have to go.”

Wilkins explained that in the Majors they don’t stand on the foul lines other than Opening Day and in the Playoffs. But the players were required to be on the field for The Anthem if they were on the active roster.

“I’d use that time to calm myself down,” Wilkins said of those two pregame minutes. “I would quiet everything down; eliminate external distractions and I would do that by focusing on The Anthem. It’s the calm before the storm.”

With his baseball career behind him, Wilkins admitted his thoughts during The Anthem have changed.

“I think more externally now,” he said wistfully. I think about my grandfather who flew in WWII. I think about my teenage kids who are ready to go into the world, stuff like that.”

Before September 11, 2001, you pretty much only heard The National Anthem before a sporting event if you were there live. Television always used those two minutes to go to a commercial break.

As the play-by-play announcer, I’d hear the producer say in my headset, “OK, pitch to break, they’re about to do The Anthem.”

There were many times I’d be doing a live report for the news, and they’d come to me while The Anthem was playing. I thought it would be disrespectful to talk during The Anthem so there would be a lot of yelling in my ear, “You’re live!” by producers back in the booth. Not sorry for that.

Seeing The Anthem on TV was reserved for the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, the World Series or before games in the Stanley Cup Finals (where they’d also sing ‘O Canada’). Whitney Houston’s rendition at the 1991 Super Bowl and Marvin Gaye’s during the 1983 NBA All-Star Game are most memorable.

In fact, it wasn’t until after September 11th and officially mandated by the league in 2009 that NFL players were on the field for The Anthem. Before that, they did some final preparations in the locker room.

You’d think if you were in the service, you’d hear The National Anthem a lot. But that’s not the case

“We hear Reveille and Taps every day,” Captain Pat Rainey, USN Retired, explained. “When you’re in the Navy you hear The Anthem maybe forty times a year.”

It’s been interesting watching the Euro 2020 matches where the playing of the two national anthems is as much a part of the match as the opening kickoff. The fervor that the fans in the stands and the players on the field sing their anthems with is impressive.

You hear that here at home occasionally, but the playing of The Anthem perhaps has become so routine that some of the luster has been diminished.

But not for everybody.

During my limited athletic career, I’d use The Anthem as a time to focus in on what I was going to do in the game to execute the things I practiced. In my career as a reporter, that changed. I stand at attention, hand over my heart, thinking about how special it is that we live in this country, and we get to go to sporting events and have the freedoms we have, thanks to the sacrifice of so many. I thank my grandfather for coming here. And as I’ve gotten older, I usually shed a tear.

Which, much to my surprise, according to most of the people I talked with this week, isn’t unusual.

“As a service member the words in the national anthem mean so much,” said Rainey, who saw combat, flew with the Blue Angels and was Commander of Air Group Three (CAG3) during his twenty-six-year career in the Navy. “If you think about service to your country and the people who have given so much to make us what we are, it’s hard not to get emotional. Happens to me every time. Ask my wife.”

When Key penned the words to The Star-Spangled Banner he was being held on a British ship in the harbor because he knew of their plan to attack. So, the last line he wrote, looking for the Flag “By the dawn’s early light,” is a question:

“O say does that star-spangled banner still wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

“When I was in uniform and they’d play The Anthem, I’d think of that line,” Rainey explained. “One of my shipmates once pointed that out as a question and asked: ‘Are you putting forth your best effort to make this come true.’ That’s pretty powerful to me.”

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father’s Day

There’s a special bond between dads and their kids that only comes through sports. It’s different than almost anything else. Whether it’s being at a sporting event as spectators or as competitors, that bond is created by watching and learning.

At a sporting event from the stands, dads show their kids how they act in public, how to deal with victory and defeat and sometimes even how to deal with the heckling from your opponents.

As coaches, and sometimes players, dads show their kids how to prepare, how success comes from the work put in before the start of any game. And again, how to win and how to lose.

There are a lot of things I learned from my mom as the eldest of her four children. She schooled me in leadership and bolstered my confidence as a kid, mostly at the kitchen table.

But my bond with my dad was formed looking under the hood of cars, splitting wood in the backyard and talking about the Orioles, Colts and the Bullets.

I’m lucky to have witnessed so much of this with my father, and doubly fortunate that he, and my mother, are still around. At eighty-eight, much of his time now is filled taking care of my eighty-seven-year-old mother. Some of my friends never knew their dads; others lost them when they were young. I’ve had a relationship with my Dad as a kid, and as an adult. His business advice has been sage, his personal words wise.

And all of that started through sports.

The youngest son of immigrant parents, my father and his brother (who in very Greek fashion lived across the street from us) were the only siblings born in the United States. Sports weren’t much a part of their childhood and maybe that’s why my dad was glad to fuel my interest in all games.

Like a million other young boys, I waited for my Dad to come home from work. After school and finished working my paper route, I’d while away the time in the front yard, depending on the season, playing curb ball or throwing footballs at the six short bushy pines that guarded the front of the house.

He’d drive up, the catcher’s mitt or the football would already be laid out near where his car door would open.

My Dad throws like a catcher. Kind of a short stroke, not much follow through. I have been on the receiving end of his throws many times. Mostly baseballs, but footballs too, the occasional Frisbee or nerf ball, all thrown with that short stroke.

In the front yard I’d fire my best fastball and hear the occasional, “you’ve got to back up, you’re hurting my hand!” Which, of course, would make me throw all that much harder.

In IBM standard white shirt and tie, dark pants and wingtips, my dad caught my first curveball, saw my first failed attempt at a knuckler, and laughed at my imitations of Jim Palmer, Luis Tiant and Juan Marichal.

“Let me go see what you’re mother’s doing,” usually signaled the end of our session, but never before an encouraging “I think you’re going to win the Heisman,” or “you’ll take over when Brooks retires” as he bounced up the front steps.

My father learned a lot of lessons from his dad early on.

They didn’t speak English in the house, and everybody in the neighborhood was Greek. “Two eggs and a bacon,” was the extent of my grandfather’s English, although he never had any trouble communicating. When my father came home from school with a vocabulary test in the first grade, he had no idea what the words meant since he spoke no English.
“What should I do?” my grade school Dad asked. Rather than march to the school and demand he be taught in Greek, my Grandfather (Popou in Greek) logically responded, “Learn English fast.”

Understanding the power of an education, my father kept his nose to the grindstone (mostly) and eventually, at the urging of my mother, he was graduated from Johns Hopkins University using the GI bill.

Like any kid, I learned from my dad by watching. But most of my knowledge of his escapades as a kid and his relationship with his father, I know from stories my Dad told me.
He’s the best storyteller I know. With a bent toward hyperbole, he takes poetic license, as all good storytellers do, but never deviates from the truth. Many times, I’ve heard stories about my grandfather fighting the Turks and the Nazi’s. About the first time he met my mother (on an ice-skating rink) and about the day I was born.
No matter how many times he tells me that one, it’s always with the same emotion, the same passion. How he decided to name me after himself, (my mother’s idea) and not after his father (his dad’s idea.) And how it was one of the four best days of his life (I have two sisters and a brother.) I never really understood that story until I had children of my own, and now the passion and emotion he tells it with makes complete sense to me.

Having been a dad for nearly forty years, it’s the most gratifying thing that’s ever happened to me. And sports are one of the things that helped build my relationship with all three of my children.

Being totally unbiased, I’m lucky all of my children are smart, athletic and good-looking. As I’m told often, most of that they got from their mother. But there are some things they’ve gotten from their relationship through sports from their dad.

Since my daughters are my two eldest children, I was a “Girl Dad” first. There is something special about dads and daughters sharing the bond of athletic competition. Maybe because it’s the thing they most often come to you for when they have a question.

When your kids are growing up, there are lots of questions about studying and socializing, about what to wear and how to act in public. All things girls ask their moms about.
But when they want some help with their mechanics, or some competitive advice, Dad is the resource.

I know those things transfer to something else as they get older. I’ve seen it with my daughters as our relationship has shifted and grown.

But there’s something about that stolen glance from the court up into the stands after a particularly good play that I’ll always miss. That little acknowledgement of thousands of conversations, demonstrations, admonitions and words of encouragement all flashing by in the turned-up corner of a smile in front of a bouncing ponytail. If there’s anything better than that, I’ve never heard of it.

Equal to that is any dad’s bond with their sons. I know mine with my son, my youngest, was cemented through hours and hours of driving to practices, games, and tournaments in and out of town. Often talks about the daily and the mundane and many times the important and life-affirming topics that sons and fathers share, happened in cars and vans driving to and from wins and losses.

Kevin Costner captured some of that in his movie “Field of Dreams.” The final line of the film “Dad, wanna have a catch,” makes dads and sons misty eyed every time. The actor who played Costner’s dad, Dwier Brown says to this day, people stop him on the street to talk about their relationship with their dads, good and bad.
I’ve often thought Bill Murray’s character Bob Harris described it best in the movie “Lost in Translation” when he said about being a dad,

“The most terrifying day of your life is the day the first one is born. Your life, as you know it, is gone. Never to return. But they learn how to walk, and they learn how to talk, and you want to be with them. And they turn out to be the most delightful people you will ever meet in your life.”

If Bill Murray actually said that, he’d have included “and learn how putt” or something sports related.

Happy Father’s Day to my Dad, and to all the dad’s out there enjoying, or remembering times with their own dads and kids.

My kids laugh at my answer when they ask me what I want for Father’s Day. I always say the same thing: “Let’s play some catch.”

Sports TV Viewing Ups and Downs

Sports TV Viewing Ups and Downs

Standing in line at the hardware store the other day, the guy standing next to me started up a conversation with, “You know, I don’t watch the news anymore, especially the sports.”

He said he recognized me from my nearly four decades on television here in Jacksonville and stopped watching when my career was ended. He added he was just disappointed the way news is being presented in general and specifically how sports have “gotten away from the games.”

In the course of our conversation, the gentleman, who happened to be Black, was particularly frustrated with how politicized sports had become.

When I’m out, I hear that a lot. Is it true? Are people watching less news, less television and less sports?

The big answer is yes. The ‘Why?’ answer is a bit more complicated.

“I’m not happy with the NBA, or Major League Baseball,” one member of the luncheon crowd told me last week after a presentation I was asked give to his civic group. “How do I let them know I’m not happy with what they’re doing,” he said, implying that political overtones were fueling his displeasure.

“Do you watch the NBA?” I asked.

“Not anymore,” he said.

“How about baseball?” I queried since the season had just started.

“Not after what they did with the All-Star game,” he said, referring to MLB moving the game out of Atlanta as a political protest.

“Then you’re letting them know by not watching,” I explained. “If enough people agree with you, they’ll react.”

And the numbers bear that out.

In a recent poll by Yahoo News/YouGov, 34.5 percent of respondents said they watched less sports now because of social justice campaigns. TV ratings for all sports declined in 2020, almost a counter-intuitive statistic considering we were mostly homebound because of the pandemic.

Some of that has to do with the jumbled schedule. Even The Masters, playing November for the first time, saw a drop in viewership.

The NBA was hardest hit. Playing in a bubble, they lost 49 percent of their television viewers for the championship finals compared to 2019. While they had an uptick at the beginning of this season, the ratings have steadily declined since the opener. Less than six million people watched the All-Star game, an all-time low.

“My sense is there will be some sort of return to normalcy,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said before the season when asked about social justice messages on the playing floor and on players jerseys this year. “That those messages will largely be left to be delivered off the floor. And I understand those people who are saying ‘I’m on your side, but I want to watch a basketball game,’” Silver added.

There are no political messages on NBA courts this year, and soley players names have returned to the back of their jerseys. While the league has responded to the economic pressure brought to bear by advertisers and disgruntled fans, they say they’re still committed to community change.

“We’re completely committed to standing for social justice and racial equality. It’s part of the DNA of this league,” said Silver.

An increase of political commentary outside of the political arena and its negative effect on viewership is nothing new. The Oscars and the Super Bowl traditionally have been the highest rated shows on television year after year. As Hollywood has become more vocal politically in the last three decades, the Oscars viewership has dropped precipitously. Last year’s Super Bowl was watched by more than 100 million people. The Oscars had one fifth of that audience.

Perhaps the NBA is the league least worried about television watching in the United States because of their international digital presence. The league has more than 150 million followers across all social media platforms, more than the other US leagues combined. In the last three years, their social media views have jumped 43 percent.

Watching a highlight on one of your social feeds is monstrously more popular than actually watching the games.

It seemed that Major League Baseball was trying to offset any thoughts that their viewership might be down when they sent an extended press release touting the number of “streaming minutes” viewers were using through the first three weeks of the season. Their traditional watching viewership is also up over last year’s shortened 60-game, delayed-start season even if the World Series was the least-watched in MLB history.

With the smallest drop in viewership, the NFL was down just seven percent last year, and recently signed a more than $100 billion media deal that will take them through the next decade. (If you’re doing the math, that’s $312M per team, per year before they sell one hot dog, one beer, parking space, sky suite, sponsorship, well, you get the point.)

An aging fan base could be one easy reason for the decline in viewership. The average age for an NFL viewer went from 44 to 50 years old from 2000-2016 according to the Sports Business Journal. Yet the NFL had forty-one of the top fifty rated television slots last year.

It could be that with overall reduced television watching, sports broadcasts become a more valuable commodity. Even though they have a fixed starting time that doesn’t fit into the current flexible work environment most companies have adopted, sports fans will find their games and their teams. That’s why they’re so coveted by advertisers.

Viewing habits now dictate If you want people to watch, you have to make it available when they want it. Streaming services specialize in just that. Cord cutting has reached 31 million households in the US, diminishing the overall viewership pool. That’s why Nielsen estimates streaming is up nearly 75% year to year.

If you follow sports, you’ve no doubt heard of the number of layoffs ESPN has had over the past few years. It’s easy to explain when you see that the all-sports network was in over 100 million homes in 2013: That number is now around 83 million.

All of that trickles down to local viewership as well. On a good day, the local newscasts at six o’clock currently combined will have about 265,000 viewers including all channels. That number is down sixty percent from just 10 years ago.

Nielsen counts North Florida as the forty-first television market in the country with about 690,000 households. Using an average of 2.5 people per household, that adds up to 1.725 million people, meaning approximately only fifteen percent of area residents are watching the news live.

And the smaller numbers are not limited to the news. Overall television viewership is down. People are watching and doing something else, and on different devices.

Netflix holds their ratings very close to the vest, but their growing numbers have siphoned off traditional viewers year after year. Prime time shows on network television have seen their audience cut in half in the last five seasons.

Sports-wise, I know personally that local teams winning has an immediate impact. The highest rated shows I ever appeared on during my television career were centered around the Jaguars when they were winning. When the Jaguars aren’t doing well, like last season, those shows get ratings known in the TV business as “chicken scratch.” No discernible numbers. As in, not enough viewers to count.

Will overall viewership ever come back? Probably not centered on one platform with so many different options available to find information and highlights. Television viewing and especially sports television numbers are always highest in the fourth quarter of the year. If stadiums are full, that’ll be a good indicator of where the TV numbers might or might not go.

But the one common thread will be that sports fans will watch sports, somewhere. If there is a diminishing overall number of people watching television, a bigger and bigger share of that number will be sports fans watching a live game.

Tesori Family Foundation

Michelle and Paul Tesori Making a Difference

When you have this job as a reporter, you get to meet a lot of interesting people. My career has been no different. I’ve met a lot of different people, many with tremendous athletic talent, others with superior intellect. If you’ve read this column over the past three years you know my favorite thing is to write about those people. And I’ve been lucky. You’ve probably heard me say, “I’ve had breakfast with Muhammad Ali, beers with Arnold Palmer and Tony Trabert is one of my best friends” as a response to what kind of job I’ve had.

Some of you might already know Michelle and Paul Tesori. They call North Florida home. Both have been good athletes and successful in their careers but more than that, they are truly remarkable people.

Paul’s name might be familiar as a caddie on the PGA Tour for the past two decades. After earning his tour card as a player in 1996, Tesori could never find the rhythm of the lifestyle of being on the road. An accomplished player, Paul was a three-time All-American, and a part of the University of Florida’s National and SEC Championship teams in the early ‘90’s. Injuries, and missed cuts, forced him off the Tour after the ’99 season.

That’s when his caddie career got started. Having practiced with Vijay Singh, Singh asked him to come to a Tour event to look at his swing. That led to a ten-year caddie stint on Tour with Vijay, Jerry Kelly and Sean O’Hair.

Michelle met Paul in 2006 in Tampa, they were friends for a couple of years before they started dating in 2008. A good athlete herself as a top gymnast, Michelle took a softball to her nose her junior year of high school, shattering it. When it healed, she broke it again sliding into second base. That’ll give you a hint of the kind of tenacity she has. An exercise science major in college, Michelle is a certified personal/group exercise trainer. She worked for Major League Baseball, but much of her professional life was in non-profit

Dating for a couple of years, both Michelle and Paul saw their relationship start to deteriorate.

“We had a talk and decided to make a change,” Paul explained. “We said we were Christians, but we didn’t walk or talk that way. So, we were baptized in the summer of 2010.”

They figured their lives were on the way up, but the opposite happened. O’Hair fired Paul and he lost “every dime I ever made in the real estate crash.”

No money, no job and he and Michelle still living in the same house but not dating, Paul had a couple of offers and was about to confirm a job looping for a top player.

That’s when Webb Simpson called to offer Tesori a job.

“Michelle helped out, Googling ‘Who’s Webb Simpson,’” Paul said. “And even though he was new to the Tour, it seemed like the right thing to do.”

Since that pairing, Simpson has won the US Open and The Players Championship and more than $40 million in official earnings on Tour.

The connection between Simpson and Tesori through their faith has been well documented. But Paul says it’s more than that.

“I owe a lot to Webb. He’s showed me and taught me a lot. It could be called ‘intentionality in living.’ The way he acts, even just the way he talks to his wife. He lives it. I’ve seen him get up at four in the morning to spend a half hour in The Word before he even had a cup of coffee. Then go work out!”

Although they were married in 2011, Paul and Michelle had made a commitment to giving back three years earlier.

“Paul told me he’d seen top athletes really make a difference with their foundations and he wanted to give back the same way,” Michelle recalled.

“I’d done some community service when I played at Florida and continued after it wasn’t required,” Paul said. “I enjoyed it and I told Michelle I wanted to wait until the time was right to start some kind of foundation. But she’d have none of it. She flat out told me that was a cop out.”

“That’s right,” Michelle said. “I told him if you change one person’s life just one day, you’re on your way.”

“Sports gives us a platform and sometimes I don’t realize that because I’m a caddie,” Paul added. “It’s easy to minimize my impact.”

“He’d say, ‘I’m just a caddie,’” echoed Michelle. “I told him I thought that was the wrong way to look at it. Most people do this, and they don’t know what they’re doing at all. But they do it the right way.”

They started a foundation in 2009 with some of their own seed money, intending to just distribute it where they saw a need. They did some work with the Homeless Coalition in St. Augustine.

Their foundation started to get some attention when Simpson started playing well and there was plenty of media coverage of Webb and Paul’s tight friendship through their work and their faith.

“And when Isaiah was born, that was the final piece that fell in place,” Paul said.

Isaiah is Michelle and Paul’s son, born with Down Syndrome in 2014. Although Isaiah would be classified as “special needs,” Michelle says he has a “different arrangement of chromosomes. It’s not that he has an extra chromosome, it’s that the rest of us are missing one.”

From that attitude, the Tesori Family Foundation started the All-Star Kids Clinics in 2014.

“Sometimes being a parent of a kid who is different, you might not have some of the same experiences as other parents have,” Michelle explained about the genesis of the All-Star Clinics. “It’s a place where the kids and their parents feel like they belong. Nobody’s worried. It’s allowed us to freely love this awesome community that sometimes doesn’t feel like they get to have these experiences.”

If you’ve been to one of the handful of All-Star Clinics the Foundation has had locally, you know it’s the most joyful day of the year. There are big-name pros like Jordan Spieth giving a golf clinic and the All-Star kids following suit. Everybody’s smiling, laughing. And dancing. Dancing is a big part of the clinic.

“The good feeling is a side effect,” Michelle said with a laugh. “My face hurts after that day because everybody’s so happy that day. The All-Star clinic is for kids to just be. However, they are that day, that’s how we want them to be, and they’ll be loved unconditionally.”

Starting with one clinic at the suggestion of Mark Brazil, the tournament director of the Greater Greensboro Open, they’ve had a couple at Sawgrass Country Club during The Players but recently things have started to take off. A lot of the ‘no’s’ they were getting started turning into ‘yeses.’

“I was at an All-Star Kids Clinic at one of the other events I was visiting,” said Steve Jent, Executive Director of the Sanderson Farms Championship in Jackson, Mississippi. “I met Michelle and told her ‘We have to do this in Jackson!”

There really was no plan to expand the Clinics to other PGA Tour events but Jent saw a bigger picture.
“I thought it was amazing and so easy to do,” he explained. “This is a group in our community we’re probably not reaching out to and we can easily do this. And every tournament could do this as well.”

The Foundation created a playbook for hosts to hold All-Star Kid Clinics “And it kind of snowballed from there,” Jent said.

“We do this because it’s important to a part of our community and it’s just a blast to do,” he added. “A lot of tournaments have other things in place for charities in their communities, but they still add this. We all try to do certain things that make sense for each community in different ways. But this, It’s just the right thing to do.”

Minus Covid, the Foundation’s goal at the end of next year would be to have an All-Star Clinic at every stop on the PGA Tour.
“We love the involvement with the tournaments,” said Genna Lancaster, the Foundation’s Executive Director. “We want to expose our kids to the game, but they also have that extra excitement of being involved in something that’s happening in their city.”

They’re hoping for ten Clinics this year, all with special Covid protocols.

“Isiah and a lot of kids like him are ‘huggers.’” Michelle said. “So, it’s hard with what’s going on because you want to protect them. But we do what we need to do at every stop to keep everybody safe. “

“It’s a challenge to keep it to twenty-five kids,” Michelle lamented. “It keeps me up at night. We want to help everybody. We’re hoping to be the foundation of the growth and exposure to a game a lot of our kids would never know about.”

From just a simple clinic for kids and families who normally wouldn’t have that chance, the Tesori Family Foundation will crest over $1.1 million in donations this year.

“Our clinics only cost between $3,500 to $10,000 to put on and our sponsors cover those costs,” Lancaster explained. “So, we make a donation to each First Tee at each city to help keep things going. We don’t want this to only be a one-time thing for our kids.”

“I would have never thought a million dollars was even a number to think about,” Michelle marveled. “I think we had $20,000 as our first-year budget in 2014. Like Bubba Watson said after his second Masters win, ‘I never allowed myself to dream this big.’”

Michelle and Paul’s shared faith runs through all facets of their life. They’ll talk about their faith if you ask, but they’re not preaching 24/7.

“I have all kinds of friends,” Paul said. ” My life is about building relationships; God will take care of the rest. It’s about building the relationships.”

Tesori is still a fabulous player, winning at least five Florida Winter Series Mid-Am events and being competitive almost every time he tees it up. His golf career has had a big impact in many ways.

“It’s amazing to see Paul use his golf ability, his gift of being that kind of player and have him understand that that gift was for this, not for him to be a player on the PGA Tour,” said Michelle. “Watching his transformation from his gift for golf to use it for this was far greater than just playing on the PGA Tour, that’s been amazing.”

And remarkable.


What Happened to Racquetball

It was my second trip to Jacksonville, and my first in a non-work capacity. I had been here for the 1978 Clemson/Ohio State Gator Bowl game, famous for Woody Hayes punching Charlie Bauman after an interception that led to the Tigers’ 17-15 victory. But save for the ‘drive-thru’ during my high school senior trip on our way to Daytona, I didn’t know much about the ‘Bold New City of the South.’

Living in Charleston, my doubles partner, Kenny Rhea and I, had won a small state racquetball doubles championship in South Carolina in 1979 and headed to Jacksonville to play in the regionals.

I had played racquetball for a while, usually the outdoor, single-wall variety as a bartender in Washington D.C., but I was introduced to the indoor. four-wall (five if you count the ceiling) when I worked in Charleston.

“We’re in trouble,” I said to Kenny as we walked into RacquetPower in Mandarin. The first thing we saw was two guys playing an exhibition on the glass enclosed show court in the middle of the club.

Watching the two players go at it in front of more than a hundred fans, they were hitting shots we only dreamed about. Both of us knew we had stepped into a whole different world. Little did we know that the two players, Mitt Layton and Curtis Winter, were world class, national championship caliber players.

“We had a lot of good players in town,” Susan Pfahler, a thirty-time national champion and a member of the Racquetball Hall of Fame told me this week. It was a bit of an understatement. Susan was one of the top players in the country during racquetball’s heyday and only retired from the game about four years ago.

“My body couldn’t handle it any longer. All those years of pounding and hitting the floor,” she said.

“It breaks my heart that I can’t teach my grandchildren the game I love,” Susan’s doubles partner, Mary Lyons, also a Hall of Fame member told me this week.

Jacksonville was a hot bed for racquetball in the ‘70’s, ‘80s’ and into the ‘90’s. There were more than forty courts from the Beaches to Orange Park. Leagues, tournaments and recreational play were all part of the sports fabric of North Florida.

“We had courts at the Beaches, in Orange Park, in Arlington at the Jacksonville Athletic Club and in Mandarin at RacquetPower,” Mary recalled. “We had lots of tournaments, great players. I was the state president and we had thousands of people playing tournaments. But now it’s going the way of handball.”

How can a sport so prevalent and prominent fall from grace so quickly?

“A lot of clubs closed down,” nineteen-time national champion and North Florida resident Mitt Layton explained. “There were a lot of clubs, but they kept closing. It got to the point in the late 90’s that we’d have to go to apartment complexes to play. We’d have to have keys to get in and I don’t know that the apartment complexes knew we were playing there.”

Layton, also a member of the Racquetball Hall of Fame, last won a national championship in 2005. But he knows what happened to the sport on the recreational and local level.

“You have to get kids back interested again” he said. “I was a coach for the US Junior Olympic team for two years. The junior team had won the world championships a couple of years in a row, but Mexico started to beat us because they developed their kids. They’d do their homework and then they’d go drill at the courts. They worked at it; they were hungry. They didn’t have a lot of other interests. They lived it, they boomed. That’s why they’re still the best.”

As of now, racquetball in the US has no developmental structure, no junior leagues, no way for young people to get involved in the game.

“The game is dying, I only play occasionally,” Lyons, a winner of more than twenty national titles added. ”LA Fitness is our only choice for courts, but they don’t allow children. So, we can’t grow the game. That’s what the game needs.”

A long-time mixed doubles partner for Lyons, Curtis Winter agrees.

“The governing bodies were so interested in getting into the Olympics that they forgot to grow the sport,” Winter, a multiple state champion and national contender explained.

“I used to go hit balls on the court when my dad was playing at the Downtown Y as a kid,” he continued. “But they won’t allow young kids on the court so the kids can’t learn the game. That’s how I learned.”

Winter and Layton still play occasionally as does Lyons. She and Curtis teamed up for the US Open Doubles competition in 2019. But Winter has shifted his focus to the outdoor, three-wall game.

“There are very few new people in the indoor game,” he explained. “We play outdoor, and we get eight or twelve players, and we watch and comment on how the game is being played. That’s what it’s about, being involved with the people in the game. That’s why I’ve also started playing pickleball. Because there’s people there!”

“It’s like a reunion every time I go to play,” Layton explained. “I might play once a week, and it’s the same guys I used to play with. I don’t recognize a lot of the guys because they’re looks have changed. I remember at RacquetPower I’d take some young players under my wing and just play with them. That’s what made the game better.”

Layton said bringing other player along and making them better was an important part of the game.

“I remember talking with my doctor, Jim Baldock at an appointment in his office and we started talking about his game,” Layton recalled. “Here we were, in a clinical setting and I was talking about his backhand. I helped him with that, and he won the club championship.” (I asked Jim, a friend of mine, about that, who confirmed Layton tutored him along but said, “I’m sure I only won my division.”)

Nonetheless, it was the comraderie that kept the sport alive. Traveling and playing in tournaments, seeing the same competitors several times a year, that’s the fun part of the sport everybody remembers.

“I enjoyed doubles best, the camaraderie,” said Lyons, the Florida State Racquetball Association President for eight years in the ‘80’s. “The game is the game, but the people are the most important part. It’s the experience. The experience isn’t there anymore. I teach some of my friends and I’d do more of that. But we need an encouraging, educational system to develop the game. There’s not junior tournaments, and not any development of the game.”

Looking for an outlet now that her racquetball days are over, Pfahler has turned to Pickleball as many former racquetball players have.

“There’s some strategy like racquetball but nothing like the workout for racquetball,” she explained. There are angles, you can hit it easy or hard or a little bit of finesse, but nothing like the workout you’d get playing racquetball. You’d be drenched after playing and that was the good thing. And it was indoors. We probably saved our skin from the sun. It was in the air conditioning and it was a great workout.”

Recently, Pfahler ran the leagues at the local LA Fitness courts but didn’t see the game growing.

“I think it was hard to make money owning racquetball courts,” she said. “Even in our heyday they were taking courts away for aerobics rooms, more weight rooms.”

“It can be a hard game to play,” she added. “When I ran the leagues, I’d have all kinds of people say to me ‘I used to play racquetball.’ But they’d come out, get sore or get hurt and never come back. The “C” players helped the clubs stay in business but if they got hurt, they stopped coming.”

Lyons saw the demise of the sport coming and shifted her focus to golf. A member of the FSU Golf team in college, Lyons became a LPGA Class A professional in 1998 and currently teaches at Jax Beach Golf Club.

“There’s a lot of similarities to the mental part of both games,” she said. “You’re going to hit bad shots. Hit another shot that gets you back in the game.”

And while she has golf students from five to ninety years old, she doesn’t see racquetball coming back to the limelight.

“It’s a sad thing, it was such a popular game,” she explained. “So many other things came around and were free. Paddleboard, rollerblading, all of that. You had to be a member of a club to play racquetball and a lot of people chose to not spend that money.”

And despite the sport seemingly going the way of handball in the ‘50’s and 60’s, Lyons still loves to play the game.

“There might be three or four facilities that have courts in town” she explained. “I see the same people playing who I’ve seen for 35 years. I love it, the intensity, the adrenaline. It’s a ‘high’ I don’t get from anything else I do.”

Jacksonville Stadium TIAA Bank Field

Sports Media Changing

In the forty-three years I’ve been working in this business, when asked what I do, or when I’ve had to fill out a form with an “occupation,” slot on it, I’ve always said, “Reporter” or “Journalist.” Sadly, I know a lot of journalism is now tainted with partisan opinion, or has disappeared completely. But in the sports world, sports journalism, real reporting, still survives.

As with every other job, sports reporters have had to adapt to the pandemic, cobbling together stories virtually and otherwise. It’s a whole new way to work and cover a team.

Sports journalism is still about building relationships. Earning the trust of players, coaches and administrators in order to give context to your reporting.

And all of that has changed this year.

Almost all of the contact the media has this year with an NFL team is virtual, originally through Zoom calls and now through Microsoft Teams. It’s been a good work-around developed by the league.

“All of the media policies have come from the league and the NFL Players Association,” Jaguars Senior Director of Communications Dan Edwards explained. “They started formulating what they were going to do in March and came up with a plan in July. But we still get weekly updates.”

Edwards is one of the original Jaguars employees and is among the best in the business at his job across all sports. He hasn’t gotten any pushback from the local media on the “how-to” of doing their jobs. Part of that is the respect Dan commands doing his job, the other is just reality.

“We haven’t gotten any pushback from the Pro Football Writers Association or any of our local media,” Edwards explained. “They understand the circumstances. They saw Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL and what they were doing. The only way to get through this was to watch other leagues and see what worked. Give the media credit, they understand it’s a different year.”

A few years ago, after a regular press conference at the stadium with the assembled media, I was walking down the hall with the Jaguars Head Coach as he headed to the locker room. I casually asked, “What’s the matter with so-and-so?”

He looked over his shoulder, turned back to me and said, “You know he can’t play at all, right?”

“That’s what I thought,” I responded. “But what do I know.”

That quick conversation is something I could never report, having earned the trust of the Head Coach, but it helped in every story about the team, that position group and that player going forward, knowing that they knew. He couldn’t play at all.

“It’s been difficult without that locker room,” Times-Union Jaguars beat reporter John Reid explained. “You can’t establish any kind of relationship with the players, especially the rookies. Training camp was different. In the past I could rely on talking to players off the side. This is probably the most difficult of years.”

Reid has been a sportswriter for more than three decades. As the beat reporter in New Orleans for the NBA’s Hornets, he followed them to Oklahoma City for two years from 2005-2007 when Hurricane Katrina wrecked the Crescent City. Reporting from afar for the New Orleans paper over two seasons, Reid says covering the Jaguars amid the pandemic this year has been equally tough.

“We have two problems here,” he said of covering the 2020 Jaguars. “When they lose as often as they do, there’s not a lot of storylines. They’re 1-6 and we’re still trying to move the needle forward.

Reid also says nothing replaces standing and talking to players face-to-face. He pointed to the Jalen Ramsey drama last year as a case in point, saying if you weren’t in the locker room after that Texans game in Houston when all of that stuff was going on, you’d have no feel of what was happening. With visiting media not allowed to travel, we’d have all missed it this year.

“It’s like looking at what’s going on through a window,” he explained. “A lot of people don’t value off the record. But it’s valuable, you can get a sense of the consciousness of the team by just talking to guys. If there’s an issue, you can get a feel of what’s going on.”

ESPN.com Jaguars reporter Mike DiRocco couldn’t agree more.

“I miss that locker room, you can’t talk to guys,” Mike said. “It’s all done on a ‘Teams’ call. The job is about developing relationships. I haven’t even met any of the rookies.”

“You develop relationships, guys you can count on to tell you the truth,” he added. “Those small conversations you have in the locker room with guys away from the cameras and other reporters. It’s the most important information you can’t write about, but it shapes how you write your stories. That’s the gold stuff.”

I used to trade stories and laughs with Mike after the “media time” at the stadium, getting some background from another reporter I respected and perhaps some perspective I hadn’t considered. None of that is possible this season. You can’t replicate the camaraderie you develop as part of the daily media corps.

“We’d all come off the field after practice or from the locker room after games or after the media time in the locker room and get to work,” Mike lamented. “Now I just get on the Zoom call and take the dog for a walk.”

In his thirty-four years in local television and radio, Dan Hicken admitted he hasn’t seen anything like this year. Dan and I worked together early in his career and have remained friends, colleagues and competitors for what seems like forever. We agreed, hosting sports specials on television, involving the players as guests and hosts, gave us a chance to gain some insight on what’s going on.

Not this year.

“We had Chris Conely on our Monday night show last year and he was great and a great guy. You could pick his brain afterwards and he’d have great insight. This year it’s just us (Dan and Brent Martineau) so that’s so different. Brent has Josh Allen on Thursday nights but it’s a Zoom call! You can’t talk to him afterwards to get some perspective.”

Perhaps there’s no more fertile ground for information than in a post-game locker room. Win or lose, players are always willing to explain what actually happened.

“Guys seem more free at that point, after a win or a tough loss,” Reid added. “To make your story different, you have to capture the emotion of the players. Without being there you can’t build your story around those emotions.”

Building stories off the emotions of the players, especially when those emotions are still evident, is the stock and trade of a good reporter.

“Even though there’s a cooling off period (twelve minutes), after the game on Sunday’s there’s enough of the moment still lingering that you can tell, you can see and feel what’s going on,” Hicken agreed. “That raw emotion is there. That’s missing on those virtual calls after the game.”

But everybody is in the same boat. We’re all watching the TV broadcast like the fans at home. There’s no ability to see something develop away from the ball while sitting in the press box.

The visiting radio broadcast teams are also staying home. The league has helped them get the video feeds they need but the radio broadcasts are basically coming from the announcers watching the game on TV.

“Very few one on one interviews are happening and all of them are virtual,” Edwards explained. “Even the network crews doing the games on Sunday, their meetings with the coaches and the players on Thursday: They’re all done virtually.”

One thing that has changed recently is the makeup of the press corps covering the team. The crowd of newspaper and magazine writers along with TV reporters have been augmented with website and blog personnel.

“The biggest change is how coverage has gone digital,” explained Edwards, whose career included a stint with the Steelers. “Websites like The Maven and The Athletic are covering sports regularly and they’re now part of the regular coverage. Blogs who cover the team locally on a year-round basis, we credential them as well.”

As sports news consumers have transitioned to getting their information online, news outlets have had to adapt. In the last three or four years, reporters have found that a story will develop from a player’s social media post.

“Without access, sometimes that’s the only way we know anything about their actions,” Reid explained. “Four years ago, I had an editor say, ‘make sure you follow every players’ social media.’ A lot of those guys are using their social media posts rather than talking to us. Especially in the off season.”

Citing the Twitter spat between Tony Khan and Yannick Ngakoue, DiRocco say sometimes that’s where news is made, and it requires coverage.

“Like when Gardner (Minshew) documented his RV trip on social media,” “DiRocco said. “Or if somebody posts something controversial. I have to monitor all of their accounts. I have alerts on all of their tweets, so my phone is constantly going off.”

As the business changes, everybody adapts. It’ll be interesting to see if any of these ‘virtual’ situations creep into sports coverage in the future. Does the locker room become off limits to the media like it is in college?


Dan Hicken and I agreed that if any league ‘gets it’ it’s the NFL. They stay in the fans consciousness by always being there with national and local coverage.

But for now, everybody’s at arm’s length.

“Everybody’s doing the best they can but it’s the situation we’re all in,” Hicken said with a laugh. “It’s a billion-dollar industry they’re trying to protect and rightly so. The last thing they need is one of us walking in there and spreading something around.”

Virtually A “Fan”

This week’s column had been on the books for months. I had penciled “Kentucky Derby” into the calendar for this Sunday since yesterday I was supposed to be in Louisville. Excited about writing about the Derby, it would have also been the first live sporting event I’ve attended since Thursday of this year’s Players.

“Everything I’ve been looking forward to, the Derby, The Masters, everything’s been cancelled,” lamented my friend “Wooly”. The last time I was in Las Vegas with Wooly, his nephew, “Big Handle” had invited us to sit in his box at the finish line at Churchill Downs for the rescheduled Kentucky Oaks and The Derby. Just a few weeks ago they called that off. Both Wooly and I were disappointed, but we had talked about just getting together for a weekend watching sports, including the Derby, somewhere here in town.

But we agreed, watching sports on TV right now is weird.

“Those virtual fans and those cutouts, they don’t do anything for me,” Wooly explained. “I do like the different camera angles, like the one running the length of the court. I like the sound of the ball and the squeak of the sneakers. But I’m a different audience.”

He was right about the appeal of the actual competition. That might be the attraction for him, but for a lot fans of when they go to an arena, the game is secondary. Going to a game is now an entertainment experience instead of a competitive experience. Right now, the different leagues are trying to make the games kind of “look” normal because they are anything but.

The NBA has collaborated with Microsoft to create virtual fans in the stands at the Disney arena in Orlando. They’ve installed 17-foot video boards behind the benches.

Numerous Major League Baseball teams have put “cut-outs” in the stands. But most of that is a side-show, not close to the real thing.

“I want to see the Kiss-Cam and the Dance-Cam and the Weiner races,” my friend ‘Ghost of Chuck’ told me this week. “Baseball is tough to watch without the instant fan reaction. Basketball doesn’t seem to have any enthusiasm. And in hockey you don’t see the fans anyway.”

Among the MLB teams using cutouts, the Atlanta Braves are selling them to fans for $50, and they’re sold out. Watching a game the other night, the Ghost thought he saw a friend behind home plate.

“I was looking from the center field camera and recognized my friend ‘Thurman,’ Ghost said with a laugh. “So I called him and sure enough, he had bought one behind home plate.”

A member of the “A-List” as a Braves season ticket holder, Thurman was offered a cut out when the season started for $25.

“I have friends call me from all over the country,” he explained. “Luckily I’m not right behind home plate or my phone would never stop ringing”.

Placement of the cutouts was a totally random by the Braves PR staff. Thurman ended up behind the on-deck circle. So he gets plenty of ‘face time.”

“It was just a goof,” he said with a laugh. “I thought it would be the funniest thing. Kind of a once in a lifetime thing.”

Buying the cutout was a total lark for Thurman. While he got a kick out of getting his cut out at a Braves game, some of my friends were less enthusiastic.

“Not at all,” the “BQ” said flatly when I asked if he’d be interested in being a virtual fan at a game. “I guess there are people who will be a part of history. You know, ’I was at a game when you couldn’t go to a game.’ That kind of stuff.”

“Those people are reflective of our society,” was Wooly’s take. “You can pay for your 20 seconds of fame. The only people looking at the cutouts are the people who bought them. Although when I saw Dwayne Wade as a virtual fan at the Heat game, I thought that was funny.”

I don’t know, I thought the whole thing was funny.

Several NBA teams have enlisted some of their former players as virtual fans. Bill Walton, Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki and Steph Curry have all appeared in the “stands.” Shaquille O’Neal spent an entire day as a virtual fan watching every game.

MLB teams are doing the same, and taking it a step further. The Dodgers have former “Entertainment Tonight” host Mary Hart in her regular spot behind home plate, The guy in the panama-hat, Dodgers scout Mike Brito, is there as well, holding a radar gun. Celebrity spotting is still a sport at Chavez Ravine. The Dodgers have placed plenty of Hollywood types in the “crowd.” Most asked for their traditional seat. So far the Dodgers have sold 8500 cutouts raising $1.5M for local charities.

The Twins have gone with the “Big Head” approach instead of cutouts. It’s their 60th anniversary so to celebrate, for one game they had 80 former players “at” the stadium.

The A’s have had some fun trying to give the Oakland Coliseum a “home park’ feel. They have cutout sections for pets, visiting fans, their mascot, the mule “Charlie O” and even Tom Hanks dressed in his old uniform selling hot dogs with his voice blaring over a loudspeaker. That’s the first job Hanks had in the ‘70’s.

The guy from “Weekend at Bernie’s” has made an appearance and some clubs have followed Seattle’s lead trying to keep fans engaged. If a foul ball hits your cutout, a staff member verifies it actually hit you, retrieves the ball and sends it to you.

Cut outs run from $35 in Philadelphia to $299 at Dodger stadium. Most of the money goes to charity.

“It’s like watching a sitcom,” BQ added when asked about flipping on a game. “Canned Laughter, the whole thing. I don’t have a lot of enthusiasm about sports right now. I’m following along but there’s a lot that’s distracting from the game right now.”

That seemed to be the consensus among my friends, but they all also agreed that golf might be the big winner.

“The way the courses are presented, in their normal state, that’s really nice,” “Pliers” told me last week. “Getting to see them without fans, without ropes or hospitality tents really shows them off.”

When you see the Stadium Course on television for The Players, it looks completely different than it does the other fifty-one weeks of the year. And it plays differently as well.

“I’ve loved golf without fans,” Ghost agreed. “You get to see more of the course. Even from the green to the next tee. Plus when they miss a fairway, the ball runs out. It doesn’t hit anybody.”

Maybe the virtual fans in the stands aren’t there for our viewing pleasure at all.

“I figured they put them there for the players,” ‘Jaguar Fan’ told me. “But they’re grown men, paid professionals. Fans or no fans, it shouldn’t matter.”

Give teams credit, trying to keep fans as part of the game. And they’ve made it fun for some.

“I’ll have this goofy cutout from this terrible pandemic year forever,” Thurman said. “Maybe I’ll get some players to sign it someday.”

John Carlos and Tommie Smith

The Athlete’s Voice

It was 1968 when I first was made aware of racial inequities in America. I was twelve years old. Growing up in Baltimore in an integrated environment, I had Black friends and Black teammates. I didn’t know they were different. I didn’t know anything about anything. I was twelve.

In my short lifetime I was aware that President John Kennedy had been assassinated. I knew Malcom X had been shot. And Dr. Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy. They were political figures I didn’t know anything about except their names. That seemed to be just what happened.

My life was full of baseball fantasies, the Orioles and the Colts, school, my afternoon paper route and curb ball with my friends. When the Orioles had acquired Frank Robinson two years earlier from Cincinnati, I asked my Dad if he was Brooks’ brother. I verified that with my Dad this week because then, I was just a kid.

In October of ’68, my level of awareness took a giant leap forward. Tommie Smith and John Carlos had won the Gold and the Bronze in the 200 at the Olympics in Mexico. When they stood on the podium with no shoes and gloved-fists raised, I wanted to know what that was about. Smith and Carlos were two of my heroes. Both tall and fast, I wanted to be like them. They were sports icons to me and they had something to say. When they raised their fists in what Smith describes as “a cry for freedom,” my twelve-year-old mind weas jolted out of youthful innocence and into my first awareness of the real world. It essentially ended both of their athletic careers.

Do athletes have a voice? The answer is yes. Do you always have to agree with them? Of course not.

Perhaps 2020 is this generation’s version of 1968. An election year, protests in the streets and a spotlight on racial tensions.

When the Milwaukee Bucks decided to not play their scheduled playoff game in protest of a Black man being shot by a police officer in an altercation, it was a bold step taken by professional athletes not unlike Smith and Carlos’ action fifty-two years ago. Other teams and leagues followed suit, not just calling attention to the shooting but demanding change, now.

What kind of change? When the Jaguars postponed their practice for two hours on Thursday, they spent the time talking about “actionable” change that can happen right now.

Wide receiver Chris Conley has become a vocal leader for the Jaguars players efforts toward social justice. He described it this way:

“The thing that I really want people to get to a point of realizing that this is about life.’ This is about a life. And who are you to put a value on a life? Who am I to put a value on a life?” Conley said in a video conference with the media after Thursday’s practice. “And if we can—we need to get to that baseline of saying that a life matters. And that it has value beyond what his warrant was, beyond what his circumstances were, what he looked like, what was going on, whether he listened or not. And that’s the baseline that I want to get to people, that frustrates me more.”

While “actionable change” is an idea to talk about, the Baltimore Ravens went a step further, issuing a statement with specifics.

“This is bigger than sports,” their statement reads. “Racism is embedded in the fabric of our nation’s foundation and is a blemish on our country’s history. If we are to change course and make our world a better place, we must face this problem head-on and act now to enact positive change.
It is time to accept accountability and acknowledge the ramifications of slavery and racial injustice.”

Agree with that statement or not, the Ravens then outlined seven action points they want implemented immediately including arresting certain police officers involved in shootings as well as “encourage every citizen to act with respect and compliance when engaging with the police.”

Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone echoed the thoughts of much of his team.

“As a white guy, a white man in this country, I can’t even imagine what it’s like,” Marrone said on Thursday. “And I’ll never say I know what it’s like. But I do know this, the fire and intensity to make a difference, grows. I know we have a good understanding of what’s not acceptable in our country today. And I think that somewhere along the line we’ve got to figure that out, because obviously we want to do something that’s actionable, something that could create a change.”

“I can’t even explain or really put into words the emotion of the sadness, frustration, confusion,” he continued, adding he was fully committed to the process. “Where I beat myself up is like when you’re in a position of leadership or you have a voice within a team, you want to be able to show a path, show a way.”

One path to follow is what tennis star and Wimbledon finalist MaliVai Washington has done with his foundation. A Black man, Mal has, for nearly the past 25 years, gone directly into Black communities and schools here in town and effected real, “actionable” change. His foundation focuses on education and life skills. Calais Campbell, in his short three years here, did the same. He didn’t just write checks, he took real “actionable” steps in Black communities.

There’s no question athletes have a voice. And the question of “should they have a voice?” was answered by Jaguars wide receiver DJ Chark.

“I mean, I say, take away sports, at the end of the day, we’re all Americans,” he said this week when asked about someone saying athletes should stick to sports. “So, that’s like me telling someone who has a 9-5, whatever the job may be, to stick to that and not venture out and try to make your community better. If you’re not trying to make your community better, what are you doing? If you’re not trying to lead this world, lead this earth with making a positive impact, what are you here for? Whether it’s sports that gives you the platform, whether it’s music, entertainment, whatever it is. If you have a voice, I think if you’re contributing to something that is going to help, something that is positive, I think you should use it.”

A few years back I was inducted into the Bob Hayes Hall of Fame. I was thrilled at the honor, particularly because Tommie Smith was also a part of that year’s induction class. At the dinner that night, I happened to be seated right next to Smith.

“You changed my life,” I told him as we initially shook hands.

He turned his head and said, “How so?” with a quizzical look.

I explained the impact he had, from thousands of miles away, on a young kid from Baltimore.

Smith smiled and said, “Then it was good.” And we chatted all through the evening about our different and shared experiences in sports.

Telling that story to a Black NFL executive recently, he shook his head and noted, “Most of our guys, sadly, don’t know who Tommie Smith or John Carlos are.”

We might not know the names of all of the players across sports who are raising their voices and asking questions today. And we might agree or disagree with what they’re saying.

But there’s one thing we can all do:


Sports Injury

New Hip, No Problem!

You might remember I talked with Joe Namath recently about his book, “All The Way.” During some small talk in our conversation, I mentioned I had my hip replaced at the end of last year.

“I’ve had both knees and a hip,” Joe responded. “They’re great. Do the rehab. Those cats know what they’re talking about.”

Namath had celebrated knee problems during his career but three joint replacements? Apparently these days, that’s not unusual.

Ten-time Grand Slam tennis champion Tony Trabert also has two artificial knees and a new hip. He had his knees replaced two months apart twenty years ago.

“I haven’t had one ounce of problem with any of them, I don’t even think about it, Just do the rehab.” Trabert explained.

Former Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Boselli has had both hips replaced.

“Best thing I ever did,” he said.

Namath is 77 years old. Trabert is 90 and Boselli is 48. All are former professional athletes who used their bodies in extraordinary ways. It wouldn’t be unusual to think they put undue wear and tear on their joints as part of their professions.

But it’s not just professional athletes who are choosing to get new knees, hips and shoulders. In 2020, an estimated 1.1 million people in the US will have a joint replaced. That number is expected to nearly double in the next twenty years. More women, 62%, than men have joint replacements and although the average age is creeping down each year, 95% of the patients are 45 and older. It’s the number one elective surgery, by far, in the US and the UK.

“Baby Boomers, no question, “ Dr. John Redmond of Southeast Orthopedic Specialists said when asked about the fastest growing population of people needing joint replacement. Redmond has seen research that says the number of people who will elect to have joint replacements could triple to over three million by 2030.

“Ten years ago If somebody who came in for joint replacement was under 50 we told them there was a 40% chance of it wearing out in 20 years,” Redmond explained. “There’s a new plastic that we use now and some ceramics. The failure rate now is far less than 5%. Somebody comes in now at 50 years old, I can say I’m pretty confident it’s going to last the rest of your life.”

“There are so many ideal candidates coming in these days,” agreed local orthopedic surgeon Dr. Paul Shirley also of SE Orthopedic.

“Baby boomers are coming in to continue an active lifestyle. When it hurts, people have to give up a level of participation that they still enjoy. They don’t want to do that.”

Shirley completed his first joint replacement as an assistant in Gainesville in 1972 to Dr. John Charnley, the British surgeon who pioneered the modern hip replacement procedure. A lot has happened in medicine since then.

“I wasn’t particularly interested in that,” Shirley said. “I wanted to do more arthroscopy and do preventative. At the time there wasn’t anything that lasted more than ten years. Now with all of the scientific advancements, the new metallurgy and materials, using computers. They get it perfect and reduce the stresses, they could last 30 years or more.”

Medical experts have seen a generation of people being active into adulthood for the first time, not just as school kids or into their 20’s and 30’s. That leads to injuries and arthritic damage. There’s also a change in the expectation people have of their activity level into their 50’s and beyond.

Former Georgia, NFL and USFL quarterback Matt Robinson, who turned 65 in June, is having his knee replaced this month after limping around for several years.

“I held on as long as I could,” Matt said of his lingering knee problems from his football career. “It’s having a negative effect on the active lifestyle I want to have. I want to hunt, fish, scuba dive. I want to keep active.”

Surgeons agree that playing sports, especially professional sports, takes a toll on your body,

When he originally saw the surgeon Matt was told, “Your knee is terrible.”

“I was hoping for a more clinical diagnosis,” he said with a laugh. “So he said, ‘Ok, your knee is horrible.’”

Robinson added that his knee pain had kept him away from staying in the kind of physical condition he’d like

“I stayed away from the weight room and other stuff because I didn’t want to make my knee any worse than it is,” he explained,

Weight gain in America also seems to be playing a role. Fifty-four percent of hip patients and 79% of knee patients have a body mass index greater than 30. In other words, they’re considered obese.

“It’s like putting one ton of stuff in a half ton pickup,” said Dr. Steve Lucie a 40-year veteran of orthopedic surgery, currently with Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute.

“The weight hastens the deterioration of the joints by overloading them. If you could lose a little weight before getting a replacement done, that makes it a lot better.”

We’re lucky in North Florida to have so many options to choose from when it comes to joint replacement. Between Southeast Orthopedic, Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute, the Mayo Clinic and others, some of the best orthopedic surgeons in the world are right here in our backyard.

“Because of the training programs in town at UF Health, Nemours and Mayo, Jacksonville is a bio-medical hotspot,” said Dr. Steve Lancaster who recently retired from JOI after nearly forty years as an orthopedic surgeon.

“The improvement is in technology and techniques like using robotics.” Lucie explained. “It allows us to make the replacement be more balanced, more precise. That’s what we’re hoping makes patients knees back closer to what their expectations are. Plus, the pain management is so much better.”

“If I see x-rays of a knee replacement I did five years ago it’s not near as precise as what we’re doing now,” Dr. Redmond agreed.. “I use robotics for 100% for my knee procedures now. It’s almost routine that the knee looks perfect. Inherently there’s human error, but with the robotics we don’t rely on our eyeballs as much as the machine.”

All of this expertise and advancements in technology comes at a price. Joint replacements are generally covered by insurance and can run between $70-$100K. With the number of procedures being done, it’s big business.

“The nature of a surgical practice is doing stuff,” Dr. Lancaster added. “We don’t get paid to not due stuff. Athletes destroy their knees, shoulders and hips and that’s when they come to us to consider surgical options.”

When you factor in all of the different people, hospital staff and procedures necessary to complete a joint replacement, the numbers add up.

“I get calls from patients asking about paying for lab results, the pathologist, the x-rays,” Lancaster explained. “Patients wonder why they’re paying all these different people.”

“Medicare is driving the numbers,” he added. “Whatever number they’ll pay for is where the dollar number is for the doctors. The average here in town is probably about $2K for a procedure for the surgeon.”

Nonetheless, choosing to get a joint replaced rather than limp around is now nearly routine.

“Surgeons are getting more confident,” Redmond added. “If you take a look at quality of life between 50 and 60, it’s generally higher than between 70 and 80. To tell a patient to live with a bad hip for ten years now is bad advice.”

“More and more people are doing well,” Lancaster agreed. “Even with higher expectations. We would have never have considered putting anything in somebody under fifty fifteen years ago.”

And Redmond said patient expectations are very high.

“I saw an 80 year-old woman yesterday who said she wants to get this fixed as soon as possible because she wants to play tennis every day.”

Covid-19 Science Versus Social

Science Versus Social

In the next couple of weeks Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are set to start or resume their 2020 seasons. The NFL plans to open training camps within the next ten days. And while the PGA Tour has been back on the schedule for just over a month, they said this week they’d play with no fans for the rest of the year.

The NFL also announced that no jersey exchanges would be allowed after games this fall. When I heard that I wondered, “Really?” Football is a game played with full contact, guys piling on each other over sixty minutes. But they can’t exchange jerseys after the game? That sounds silly.

“It is,” said Dr. Brian Turrisi, a pulmonologist who spent 40 years studying and treating viruses in Washington D.C.. Turrisi practiced at various hospitals including the ones at Georgetown and George Washington universities. “If the league wanted to worry about something, they’d worry about passing the virus under the circumstances of the playing of the game.”

Turrisi spent much of his career in ICU’s treating patients with respiratory ailments and is puzzled why sports are so concerned about their players contracting Covid-19.

“In the past six months there’s been a big learning curve about this virus,” he said. “The vast majority of people very sick or dying are over 50 and the larger group is over 70. Pro sports are played by people younger than forty.”

“It’s at the level we see with the common flu with the same demographic group,” he added. “When we confine this to young people who play sports, they’re the healthiest of all, so their death rate is near zero.”

Turisi’s thoughts are backed up by recent happenings on the PGA Tour. Several players have tested positive for the virus but have gotten better. Same with the Clemson football team where nearly forty players have tested positive with “no serious cases” according to their sports information office.

“No worse than if they had the common cold,” Turrisi explained.

Part of the problem with making decisions about public safety and safety in sports is the lack of reliable data. Scientific studies are showing that the infection rate in the general population is much higher than originally thought. Testing now available is revealing positive results with no symptoms. And the number of fatalities, from a percentage standpoint, is substantially lower than originally predicted. It’s hard to get facts not colored by some political agenda.

“We should be doing everything we can to have sports out there. It’s important,” said Turrisi, who crossed paths with Dr. Anthony Fauci during his career in D.C., of the need for psychological as well as physical health.

“When we talk about people’s health, we have to talk about their psychological health. Part of living in this society is waking up and saying, ‘I want to go to a sporting event this weekend.’ Drug use, suicide, domestic abuse all are up because people haven’t been able to live their normal lives.”

While the PGA Tour is traveling from city to city with strict guidelines about health qualifications to play, the NBA is staying in one place, creating a campus “bubble” in Orlando to play their games. Still, players have tested positive and some have left the bubble to possibly be exposed. Originally, the NBA tested 302 players with 16 testing positive.

“It’s not alarming based on what we’re seeing in the broader population,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told Time. “In many ways, it was somewhat predictable. Where I’m most relieved … is that among those 16 positive tests, there are no severe cases.”

Still, Silver says the league will stop playing if they have “a lot of cases.” He hasn’t quantified what that number might be but added; “It’s never ‘full steam no matter what.'”

Several NBA players have already opted out of playing in Orlando. The league and MLB are giving players a chance to ‘opt out’ of playing this year.

Baseball has had several stars already say they’re not playing in 2020. Buster Posey, Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Ross, and David Price among others. Some citing “personal reasons,” others for family concerns:: Parents with preexisting conditions, pregnancy or out of an abundance of caution for their children.

With a short, 60-game season, the possibility of an entire team testing positive and not playing puts the whole MLB plan in jeopardy.

“I think the way that I think about it is in the vein of competitive integrity, in a 60-game season,” Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said this week in a radio interview. .
“If we have a team or two that’s really decimated with a number of people who had the virus and can’t play for any significant period of time, it could have a real impact on the competition and we’d have to think very, very hard about what we’re doing.”
Playing the games in a bubble is one thing, having fans attend is something totally different. The Jaguars announced this week that they’d allow twenty-five percent capacity in the stadium at their home games this fall.
“That’s a guess,” Dr. Turrisi theorized. “Is 30% worse than 25%? Open sporting events and let people come. People in the vulnerable population shouldn’t go. It’s about personal responsibility.”

And what’s the turning point? Is the vaccine the panacea that will change how sports are played and how fans can attend? Most scientists believe it is not the end-all, be-all answer. For some people it won’t work and the availability worldwide is not in the near future.

“We know the flu better than anything else,” Dr. Turrisi explained. “All viruses have a weird way they can auto mutate. The virus wants to infect people but not kill off everybody. With he Spanish flu in 1918 and 1919, a hundred million people died worldwide. That flu just kind of petered out. It stopped killing people.”

Will there be a turning point where sports and sporting events look like they used to?

“This virus isn’t coming out six months from now and hold up a big sign that says ‘I’m done,’ Dr. Turrisi added. “What’s going to turn the tide when we learn how to live with this? It’s a psychological problem. We’ve created a fear of something that has proven to not be that scary from a scientific standpoint.”

“There’s a problem with social media and news coverage. Why did this happen? Social media makes information travel faster before the actual facts come out. So all kinds of bad and false information got out there early. And all of the models were wrong. And wrong by an exponential factor. So people got very scared early on.”

What Are You Watching?

While we’re waiting for a vaccine and to see if some professional sports will start, or others will continue, what are you watching?

We’ve gone into unknown territory when it comes to a lack of professional sports on TV. On of the great trivia questions I was asked during the “Stump Sam” days was, ‘What are the two days there are no professional sports played during the calendar year? I got the answer, only because it’s a trick question: ‘The day before and the day after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game” is the answer. Those were the only days of the year no sports were scheduled. Sports are scheduled, and shown on television on all holidays, overlapping one another and fighting for viewers.

If you only count the NFL, MLB, the NBA and the NHL, 1918 was the last year we went this long without any of those sports being played. The NFL and NBA hadn’t formed yet and there were 101 days between the end of the World Series in September that year and the start of the NHL season in December. We blew past that number two weeks ago.

If the schedule goes as planned, it’ll be 134 days between the last NBA and NHL games played in 2020 on March 11th and the start of the MLB season on July 23rd.

Obviously we’ve been many nights without sports to watch. But we’re all still watching something. Viewership numbers are up across the board in every category.

But no sports.

Sports on television is the ultimate reality show. There’s competition, drama, personalities and the outcome is unknown. How many times have you heard somebody say, “Well, I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve never seen that before!”

With some down time, I’ve been scanning through the channels to see if there’s anything interesting.

It’s hard to watch any news. Nationally it’s all about which side of the political spectrum you’re on, coverage of protests and counter-protests. Locally, they’re still trying to tell us how important the same weather is six different ways every hour. We already know it’s going to rain around five o’clock for the next three months. We live here.

Looking at the sports channels, I saw two guys fake arguing about something. I watched for a minute to see how good of an actor either was. Then I realized they really didn’t know what they were talking about at all, weren’t very good actors either and moved on. That format repeated itself a few times on other networks, which only made me laugh harder.

There were some radio shows being shown live. Opinionated, minutiae mongering, and making up lists just to have lists, none of it was very compelling television. There’s a reason they’re on radio.

I’m really not interested in years-old games, no matter how “classic” they are purported to be. I did stop and watch part of the 1971 MLB All-Star Game only because it had more than 25 future Hall of Famers on both rosters, possibly the greatest collection of baseball talent on one field in history.

No matter how “live” it is, I’m sorry, I’m not watching corn hole. Even if it’s the championship game.

My choices this week were all over the place. Who knew there was Spanish League Basketball broadcast live here in the US? I know it’s on but I’m not getting up at five o’clock to watch Korean League Baseball. Old college football, baseball and basketball games keep me for about 30 seconds just to see some current pro superstar back in their college days. I’ve watched some European Soccer and I have been impressed with the sound engineers ability to make the matches sound like they have fans in the stands. I’ll watch some of the top teams compete but Brighton Hove Albion vs. Watford isn’t keeping me for long.

There are a lot of fishing shows on now. I like to fish so I’ll stop to see what they’re catching, but knowing a lot about television production, I see that the show really belongs to the editor in post-production. Three long days of fishing can make a pretty compelling 30-minute television show.

I don’t hunt but the shows now on make it pretty exciting. A lot of my friends hunt and away from the hours and hours of sheer boredom for the possibility of 20-seconds of excitement, most of their stories are about just-misses or the evening activities that involve beer and brown liquor. They don’t show any of that on TV.

Looking for something live, I came across some thoroughbred racing. I like racing and watched that for a while. In person the time between races gives you some time to study and get to the window. On television the interval is terminal. And I came across something I’d never seen before on that network. It resembled barrel racing except with four horses, a wagon, a “driver” and two other people on the wagon. Clearly highly skilled competitors and highly trained horses. But not for me.

“Live” I suppose, is a relative term. There were two guys playing a video game being televised “live.” Really?

And I found some live tennis. It looked like a weekday match in somebody’s backyard. It was an exhibition for charity and I did recognize some of the names but none were Federer (I know he’s rehabbing his knee) nor Nadal nor Djokovic. I appreciated the effort but after a few minutes I had the remote going again.

As I was scanning the other night I did catch the second half of “DodgeBall.” It seemed kind of sports-y and it certainly lightened the mood. We occasionally re-watch some movies at my house. You do catch some things you didn’t see the first time, especially if the plot is based on dialogue.

I’m trying to justify “The Big Lebowski” as a sports movie because it’s based around the bowling. But that would be disingenuous. Anytime it’s on, the next two hours of my life are spoken for. I don’t have any control over that. And any guy who doesn’t stop what they’re doing and watch “Caddyshack” when it crosses their scan hasn’t figure out how life works yet.

Keep scanning. Have some time available though. You never know what might catch your eye. Unless you come across “Caddyshack II.” Then get up off the couch and go do something.

Will They Play?

This week there were a lot of signs that we’ll see sports restart soon in July. Major League Baseball came to an agreement to start in a couple of weeks. The NBA says they’re going to have games and a version of the “playoffs” in a campus setting at Disney in Orlando. The NCAA has allowed some teams to begin voluntary workouts and the NFL has a plan to open training camps in late July preparing for a full, on-time season to start in September.

But it’s all experimental and speculative at this point with protocols for health and safety changing almost daily. On one hand it seems possible to play games but on the other it’s a daunting task.

“Everyone wants to make sure we get this thing right,” Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone has said.

But what is “right?”

Nobody knows is the honest answer.

Perhaps following what the Premier League is doing in the UK can be a guidepost. Last week they announced they had tested players and staff for the tenth week in a row, and started playing games on June 17th, joining the Bundesliga in Germany, La Liga in Spain and Serie A in Italy.

Of the 1,829 people tested this week, one was positive for Covid-19. They put together what they called a “health and safety” policy for the clubs and the players with part of it absolving the league from any legal action a player might take if they were to contract Covid-19 while playing. They can’t sue the league.

They’re playing without fans in the stadiums, making every game free on television and using a “sound carpet” on the broadcasts run by the audio technicians blended with the authentic sounds from the match. The players don’t hear the broadcast sound in the stadium.

A couple of weeks ago the PGA Tour started back up, playing tournaments with no fans. The Tour anticipates allowing 8,000 fans at The Memorial tournament in a couple of weeks. They have a very direct set of protocols to try and protect the players, yet Nick Watney tested positive a week ago Friday at the Heritage.

“Since March we have been working to develop a comprehensive health and safety plan that would be considered a best practice among professional sports leagues,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said on Wednesday. “While we’ve been thorough in building a plan that would mitigate as much risk as possible, we knew it would be impossible to eliminate all risk.”

They put contact tracing in effect and are testing players, caddies and officials regularly, yet several caddies tested positive causing Graham McDowell, Brooks and Chase Koepka and Webb Simpson to withdraw from this week’s event in Connecticut.

At what point do they call off the competitions to let things “cool down?”

Who knows?

Monahan didn’t give any specific scenarios where the PGA Tour would stop playing. He did admit if there were a significant number of positive tests, it would be something to consider.

Are the players going to continue to show up knowing the possibility of exposure to the virus?

“We continue to learn from an operational standpoint,” Monahan continued. “Every number hurts. We all need to remind ourselves that we’re all learning to live with this virus. It’s pretty clear that this virus isn’t going anywhere.”

Watney had an inkling he might have contracted the coronavirus when the “Whoop” strap on his wrist detected shallow breathing while he was asleep. It’s one of the signs of Covid-19. He tested positive the next day.

The Whoop strap is used by many athletes and a lot of players on the PGA Tour have been wearing one to collect physiological data throughout the day: How’s my breathing, my activity, my temperature, how am I sleeping? All of the things involved with trying to stay in peak physical condition.

Watney’s detection, even though he was asymptomatic, reportedly has pushed the Tour to purchase a thousand bands and distribute them to players, caddies and essential staff.

Those bands are also going to be made available to NBA players in what’s being called their “bubble” in Orlando. One player referred to the bands as “a tracking device.”

Testing will be almost daily at Disney but the NBA says ““a small or otherwise expected number of COVID-19 cases will not require a decision to suspend or cancel the resumption,” in their 113-page handbook for players and staff on health and safety in Orlando.

So what number constitutes “small” or “expected?”

Add to that question that a single day record of 5500 new cases were reported in Florida this week and again, nobody knows.

Baseball will rely on local governments to allow, or not allow fans into stadiums. “That’s the plan,” was Houston Astros’ owner Jim Crane’s answer when asked if he expects fans at Minute Maid Park.

“We still have to go through the player protocol,” he said. “I think the intent at some point is to get the fans in the ballpark,” alluding to the economics of the game.

Major League Baseball didn’t really address having fans at the games in their 101-page health and safety protocol, leaving the decision up to the teams and local governments.

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott said, “For one, we hope to have the coronavirus better under control. We look forward to working with the teams to find their strategies to make sure that they’ll be able to open their stadiums safely.”

In Illinois, they’re saying, “If and when play resumes with fans, clubs must adhere to all requirements of the 2020 Best Stadium Operating Practices unless MLB specifically provides otherwise.”

So for baseball the policy remains fluid leading up to Opening Day. Last week MLB reportedly had 40 players and staff test positive.

Will that change the owner’s or the player’s minds? What number is too many?

Last week at Talladega, NASCAR experimented with have fans live at the race. In a grandstand that can hold 175,000, 5,000 fans were allowed to buy tickets to the race. They also opened forty-four RV spots. All with the restriction that you had to live within 150 miles of the track to attend. And you had to live in Alabama. No crossing state lines to see the race.

They might be able to do that at some other tracks. Bristol can hold 162,000 and Daytona 101,000 just in the main grandstand. But at both of those tracks, out of state fans are staples.

Along with basketball, operating a football team and playing that particular sport under the current conditions without acknowledging there’s a possibility of not playing or stopping because of the coronavirus seems a stretch.

“We realize we are going to have to live with COVID,” Stacey Higgins, the University of Florida’s associate athletic director for sports health said this week. “We’re going to have positive cases to deal with.”

“We’re fully prepared that we’re going to have a positive and we’re going to have to isolate that individual,” she added “If it gets to be too many, that’s where the UF Health people will help us with that process.”

Again, what’s “too many?” Nobody knows.

Florida has confirmed they have had at least 11 student-athletes from football, volleyball and soccer test positive. Their official position is that they are “well positioned to manage those cases.”

NCAA President Mark Emmert has said that without students on campus there can’t be any student-athlete activity. Add to that his comment to congressional leaders this week that all teams might not be ready to start at the same time and the uncertainty grows.

Just this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said the NFL might have to follow the NBA’s lead and play in a “bubble” environment.

The NFL Players Association’s medical director also advised players to “stop practicing together in private workouts.” All this, after as many as ten teams in the league have reportedly had players and coaches test positive.

There are no reported cases among the Jaguars. The team started an Infectious Response Team in May to put their preventative protocols in place.

“The place feels deserted,” is how one Jaguars employee described the team’s stadium offices and training facilities downtown.
With all of the social distancing, temperature checks and constant cleaning, “It’s weird,” they added.

Don’t we all know that feeling.

Do Sports Need Fans

As sports begin to dip their toe into what their post-pandemic product will look like, fans haven’t been a part of the equation. NASCAR, UFC, some European soccer leagues and now the PGA Tour have held competitions, but no “in-person” fans have been allowed.

Without fans, races have been won, fighters have had their hands raised and money has been doled out to golfers. So do they even need fans?

Watching the Colonial this week on television I didn’t miss seeing fans there. Charities in Ft. Worth won’t benefit from money generated by the tournament, but the actual competition didn’t suffer. As an individual sport, most of the players in golf naturally “social distance.”

They’re reportedly going to allow fans at The Memorial in Ohio next month. Early indications are that about 8,000 will be spread out over the 18 holes at Murifield Village allowing everybody their own space.

When the first UFC event was held here, former NFL player Greg Hardy won his match and said afterwards, “Thank God for not having the crowd,” Hardy explained after winning a unanimous decision. He was able to hear the announcers next to the octagon doing the broadcast and took some advice.
“Shout out to D.C. (Daniel Cormier) I heard him tell me to check him, so I started trying to check him. Game changer.”

Professional wrestling had its stars in the era of Bruno Sammartino, Jim Londos and Gorgeous George Wagner but it wasn’t until it moved onto television did the sport gain any traction. In fact, most regional wrestling groups started as a “studio” sport: no fans, just the performers and the announcers in a television studio.

That popularity led to the massive crowds that are on hand now at every appearance. It spawned the movie careers of Dwayne Johnson and John Cena. But if need be, wrestling could go right back to a TV production and not skip a beat.

For decades, the NFL has fought against being a studio sport. You’ve probably seen and heard the commercials produced by the Jaguars about “being there.”

It’s true, the sights and sounds and even the smells of being at a sporting event give some context to what that sport is about. That doesn’t translate through the television screen.

I’ve often said everybody should go to at least one Daytona 500. The spectacle of that day is jarring to the senses and gives you a sense of how invested fans are in the sport. To see the coordination of what happens on pit road and in the garage is impressive. The smell of grease, gasoline and burnt rubber, the sound of forty cars coming across the start/finish line make it unmistakable that you’re at a racetrack. You don’t get that on television. Seeing it in person is a whole different experience. But even without fans there, the racing, the pit stops, the preparation all happens the same way.

In 2017, the New York Knicks played half of a game against Golden State at Madison Square Garden presenting the game in what they called “it’s purist form.” No music, no PA announcer, no iconic organ in the background. Just ten players on the floor, shoes squeaking and the trash talking that goes on between teams.

Everybody hated it.

“It felt like church,” Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr told the media outlet The Ringer.

Draymond Green was more direct

“That was pathetic,” he said. “It changes the flow of the game, it changed everything. It was ridiculous. It just helps you get into a certain area. It takes you to a certain place.”

Perhaps that’s why the NBA is considering piping in crowd noise from their NBA 2K video game when they resume their competition, without fans.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has told teams there’s a real possibility that no fans will be allowed at games through next season as well. Will they use paper cutouts or perhaps robot dolls as some teams in the Korean Baseball League have?

“There’s no excitement. There’s no crying. There’s no joy. There’s no back-and-forth. …” LeBron James said on the “Road Trippin’” podcast in March when asked about playing in front of empty arenas.

“That’s what also brings out the competitive side of the players, to know that you’re going on the road in a hostile environment and yes, you’re playing against that opponent in front of you, but you really want to kick the fans’ a** too.”

We would get a little closer to the games with no fans according to Steph Curry. “It would be raw,” he said on the Jimmy Kimmel Show. “This would take it a whole ‘nother level of just pure insanity of what we say on the court. That trash talk that happens. That might be something that’s really appealing from a fan perspective to get real up close and personal with what we do on the court.”

Hockey could probably do the same as basketball because it’s indoors. Pipe in crowd noise, have music and the PA announcer to give it the right ambience. But it still might have the feel of a glorified scrimmage once the players take the ice.

How many times have you been watching an event on television and heard the broadcaster, who’s in the arena say, “You can really feel the momentum shifting here.” None of that would be a part of the competition.

Could sports get along without fans from an economic standpoint?

Every viable professional sport has a television contract that makes it a profitable enterprise. It’s not whether the teams and the owners will make money; it’s only about how much.

In the NFL, the TV contract the league has and shares with the teams covers the total operating cost of running the franchise. Ticket sales, parking, concessions, club seats, sky suites, local radio and TV contracts and in stadium sponsorships all go right to the bottom line. It’s why the Giants and the Jets owners will always make more money than the Jaguars owner.

The local broadcast money available in in New York alone dwarfs what’s available in Jacksonville. It’s why the Jaguars, sellouts or no sellouts, will always be in the bottom half of revenue earners in the league.

Ticket sales in the NFL account for around fifteen percent of their total revenue. A 65,000-seat stadium, sold out at an average ticket price of $50, (which is probably a low number), brings in $3.25 million. Multiply that by ten games and you get a sense of how much money is flowing through that sport. They could get along without fans, no problem.

Minor league baseball and college football are a different story. With no major television deal and small rights fees, if any for radio broadcasts, minor league owners around the country rely on ticket sales, concessions and in stadium sponsorship to stay in business.

College football television contracts mostly are negotiated with the conference. It’s why college football programs count on ticket sales and in stadium purchases for 75% of their revenue. When you look at how many other programs on campus the football program supports, you can see how they need fans in the stands to flourish.

As we move into the summer, the prospect of Major League Baseball having a season becomes more remote. It’s not that they couldn’t play, but the players and the owners can’t come to an agreement on how much money both sides will make. Player’s contracts are guaranteed for the season if only one game is played. But the owners don’t want to pay full salaries for a limited number of games, which are moneymaking opportunities. Both sides have rejected the other’s offers.

“It’s going to be strange,” Angels All-Star outfielder Mike Trout told FOX Business when asked about playing with no fans. “I think any baseball is better than no baseball, so if we have to do it, we have to do it. It’s definitely something to get used to. It’s the world we’re living in right now.”

And as much as they’ve talked about fans or no fans, all of the team sports are also dealing with the health of the players with Covid-19 still around. The leagues are putting out guidelines on how to do things, social distancing and cleaning, but the team sports we’re talking about are all “contact” competitions in one way or another.

So there’s a risk to the players no matter what precautions are taken. But fans or no fans, with the money there is to be made, no doubt games will be played.

Can Sports Help?

It’s a slippery slope when any columnist writes about race relations.

But I think this is a critical juncture and that having these conversations, discussions and debates are important.

With thirteen per cent of America, sixteen per cent of the State of Florida and thirty per cent of the residents of the City of Jacksonville identifying themselves as Black or African American, if we’re not having these discussions we’re just talking at, and not with each other.

And sports can be a starting point. Teams that we all report on and cheer for are made up of different races and cultures. Players will tell you though, on a team, race isn’t an issue, it’s a meritocracy.

“Inside that team, we’re family,” former Jaguars linebacker Lonnie Marts said this week of race relations during his college career at Tulane and ten years in the NFL. “If you offer respect in the locker room, sometimes it changes how guys think. I have guys tell me they’re relationship with me changed their perception. So that’s good.”

“We need to keep having these discussions because the more we keep talking the more we have an understanding of different cultures,” former Jaguars Vice President Michael Huyghue added this week.

“I’m African American when I fill out a form but “black” in conversation,” he explained. “That in itself creates a separation, an instant distinction. It’s as if we’re considered outside of America like people who came here from other countries. I was born here.”

Marts agreed.

“I’m a Black-American. I have to select “African American” on forms but I was born here. Some people want to tell me I’m African but I’m not. I’m from here. I’m an American.”

“One of my coaches asked me about it last year,” Marts, also a former high school head coach and athletic director, told me this week about growing up Black in America. “He called me the other day and said ‘I wouldn’t have known anything about this.’ The more we talk to each other the better off we’ll be. I told him what it was like (to be Black in America) and he was shocked. He had no idea.”

That seemed to be the consensus among the friends I talked with this week. All men of color who have been made keenly aware their whole lives that they’re black.

“My perception of being Black in America has had my feelings all over the place,” former Jaguars defensive back and Englewood High product Rashean Mathis told me this week.

“It’s way bigger than George Floyd. It’s just the tipping point. I didn’t have empathy for George Floyd; It was much stronger than that. I literally felt myself in his place. I thought of my son in his place.”

Mathis lives in Ponte Vedra, raising his three children, including his seven-year-old son.

“I’m raising two boys, and the talks I have to have with my seven year old are heart wrenching,” Mathis said while acknowledging he supports the protests over the last week.

“Why are we marching in the streets, why are we blocking highways? Because we need to be heard,” he explained. “We’re trying to raise families and live our lives. You can’t silence truth. And what is true is that there is injustice. You can’t protest just to make everybody comfortable.”

“Most African American’s experience elements of bias on a daily basis,” Huyghue explained. “I don’t go one week without something happening that reminds me of the difference. There are stereotypes that people have and they’re always something you have to explain to your kids.”

Huyghue worked in the legal department for both the NFL and the NFL Players Association. He was the first black agent who represented a white player in the NFL. (He was my agent for twenty years) He cited an example from early in his career where his skin color impacted his work.

“The first time I was a lawyer representing the NFL,” he said. “I went into one of the hearings and the judge said ‘We’ll get started when the NFL lawyer gets here.’ I said ‘your honor, I am the NFL lawyer’. And he said ‘Well when your boss gets here we’ll get started.’ I told him I was the only one.”

It’s that kind of unspoken bias that is a reality according to Huyghue, Mathis and Marts when growing up Black in America.

“I think all black families have an understanding that you have to explain to your kids about the inequities they’ll experience with the police, in the classrooms and other places,” Huyghue said on how he has explained to his children what to expect.

“I let my kids know there are things you can and cannot do,” Marts said. “If you get pulled over you keep your hands where you can see them and you say yes sir and no sir. It’s the perception. You have to teach them. There’s no way around it.”

Several times security guards in Marts’ neighborhood have stopped and questioned his kids about being on the local basketball courts.

“They said, ‘We live here,’ Lonnie explained. “Racial profiling is wrong,” he added. “If my boys aren’t doing anything wrong, why mess with them. Why did you pick them out here?”

“I don’t think we’re acknowledging the problem yet,” Mathis said. “There are still people who have been taught generationally to think like this. Until we acknowledge the state of this country was built upon, we won’t move in the right direction.”

“We cannot fail our children,” Jaguars Owner Shad Khan said in an editorial penned this week. “Children who deserve to know they have the same opportunity to earn a living have a family and live safely — no matter the color of their skin.

Khan, who identifies himself as a person of color and as a Muslim-American, says while he can’t claim to know what it means to be a young African American today, he has been “the frequent target of prejudice, discrimination and hatred.”

He added that he has also felt the kindness and generosity of people in what he calls “the greatest nation on the planet.”

“While I am often described as “self-made,” he wrote, “The truth is I benefitted tremendously from hundreds of good and generous people early on, from all walks of life, who supported me unconditionally and contributed mightily to my realization of the American Dream.”

My friend Calvin and I worked together for over three decades. We met in the early ‘80’s, had children the same age, ate meals together, talked sports, played basketball and generally hung out during breaks at work. We often talked about how his experience, as a black man living and growing up in downtown and Northwest Jacksonville, was very different than mine.

He told me the story this week of being stopped by the police just outside of his neighborhood, walking down the street.

“A white cop and a black cop stopped me and said I looked like somebody they were looking for,” he explained. “I said to myself, ‘I wonder who I look like?’ We have to prove who we are and that’s not right for just walking down the street.”

Calvin’s story continued, “I asked the black cop, ‘Why are you stopping me, the guy you’re looking for is 5’5” and 180 lbs.! I look nothing like that! He said, ‘It’s his call’ pointing to the white cop. That’s where the police need to have some accountability to each other. Why didn’t one of those other officers get that guy off of Floyd’s neck? He’d be alive today if that happened.”

Everybody agrees that what happened to George Floyd was heinous and criminal and hopes justice will be served for Floyd and his family. Calvin believes in taking to the streets to protest but says, “The whole movement got sideways because of those agitators who promoted violence.”

It reminded him of a similar time when he was young.

“We went to Hemming Plaza in the ‘60’s to listen to H. Rap Brown or Stokely Carmichael who were in town. We had some agitators from my neighborhood that just wanted to stir things up. Their incentive was selfish. They were looking at their own personal interest. They weren’t interested in the cause at all.”

“I think peaceful protesting is a way to get things done,” Marts agreed. “Not violence, that’s a low means of communication. Tearing up stuff or attacking the cops, that’s backwards.”

“It’s always going to be rough on the edges,” Huyghue responded when asked about protesting. “Protests are intended to shock the system. There’s no perfect way to protest. You can go back to Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Olympics. They (the protests) have value because they stop us and force us to look at things in a different way.”

Rashean’s take was a little different.

“I don’t agree with looting or rioting,” he said. “I’m a law-abiding citizen and that’s against the law. But I understand it. Some people are taking advantage of the situation; others are expressing their frustration. If you kick a dog enough, eventually he’s going to bite you. People are screaming because their parents and grandparents haven’t been heard.”

With the influence sports and famous athletes have on young people through social media, Calvin believes they can make a difference.

“The more pressure that is put on by athletes that kids look up to will cause the dialogue to start again and work toward the changes that we need,” he said. “The difference will be made when black leaders and athletes keep bringing attention what’s going on.”

Mathis is one of those athletes who are leading the conversation, trying to effect change.

“I spoke to the Vanderbilt football team today,” he said. “I told those guys, black and white, that they have to have these conversations together. They will be the ones to affect some sort of change. Change will not happen without both sides going together. We need white America to stand with us. We need more. We need to do our part as a black society, but we need white America to go with us.”

I tried to get Calais Campbell to add his voice to the discussion and was disappointed I couldn’t reach him. He’s the kind of guy you hoped would stay in your city after he retired from playing and I told him so many times during his tenure with the Jaguars. He could have an impact on our city that’s always been divided by roads and rivers, oftentimes along racial lines. He tweeted this week:

“The ballot is more powerful than the bullet! Put people in office that can and will create legislation that will make a difference. And most importantly do it locally because the federal govt can only do so much! City and state govt is just as important.”

It’s one of the reasons I was so disappointed when Calais was traded to the Ravens. As the Walter Payton Man of the Year in the NFL for 2019, Campbell’s work in the community is unparalleled.

Mathis believes there is a lot of work to be done, more than has ever been done before.

“We have made progress for sure, there’s been a lot of change, but the majority are still suffering,” He explained. “I acknowledge there has been change. I mean, I live in Marsh Landing. But we can’t let the change we’ve already made outweigh the fact that the problem that still exists.”

Perhaps somebody like Leonard Fournette can pick up the mantle locally and continue the work players like Mathis and Campbell have started. I’ve seen the charity work he’s done here and it’s heartfelt. He’s inviting people to join him in a peaceful march this coming week.

I’m sure there are a lot of people who would love to join him but would like to know who “they” are in this tweet from last Wednesday:

“They’ll never understand until it’s one of there (their) kids or friends . . .. “

Because if the conversation starts off with “us” and “them” we’ll never get to “we.”

For The Last Two Months . . .

You might have to tilt your head a little, and maybe even squint a bit, but it appears there is a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel we’ve been living in.

It feels like forever, but it’s been about two months since the first calls from politicians to try and “flatten the curve” mandating we have smaller gatherings that eventually led to the “stay at home” guidelines issued by the city and the state.

We’ve seen hundreds of celebrities on television and on social media telling us “we’ll get through this together, and we’ll come out stronger on the other end.”

So with an optimistic eye toward that end, will we be stronger? What will we look like anyway? Besides our hair looking like something out of the ‘70’s, gyms and parks have been closed, social distancing has been in place and people’s routines have been upended.

As we look back on the past two months, what did we do? Did you fulfill your goals to lose weight, learn a new skill, or do those things you’ve been putting off? Which direction did we take our lives, our fitness and our mental health?

“From a clinical standpoint, the world is turned upside down,” Frank Palmieri a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, explained this week. Palmieri has been walking more and doing more yard work with his free time and doing many of his professional tasks by video conference. But he understands how the coronavirus is a constant presence in the back of everybody’s mind.

“We’re constantly aware of the danger of something being wrong. The whole situation can be depressing. There’s a constant drumbeat about what we have to be doing with schools, work and staying apart. That can make people confused and disoriented.”

Anytime I go out, I see more people walking or running or riding their bikes than I have in the last thirty years. Some of that might have to do with the sidewalk project in Mandarin nearing the halfway point of completion but there are people getting out and doing stuff who haven’t thought about walking any further than to the refrigerator in years.

One of the people trying to manage the pandemic is Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. He’s always been visibly engaged with the fitness level of people here in town as well as his own. What did he do?

“Molly and I got a Peloton for each other for Christmas so that couldn’t have been better timing,” the Mayor said this week. “I’ve spent a lot of time on that and I’ve been running some.”

Curry’s son Boyd has been lifting weights in the garage, and the Mayor has joined in.

“I get about 45 minutes in each day, and the mental health aspect is great,” he explained, noting it’s a family affair. “My daughters Bridget and Brooke are running in the evenings. And Bridget does a virtual dance class a few times a week.”

Curry had gone to a plant-based diet at the end of last year and was pleased with the results. But in the last two months he admits, his diet hasn’t ben great.

“Even though I’ve been working out I’ve gained weight. I want to get back to it,” he said. “I’ll tell you this though, when I’m coming home from work it’s great to see the neighborhoods in the evenings have families walking together, jogging, riding bikes, walking the dog. Lock down doesn’t mean don’t leave your house, it means get outside and be smart. I’m really proud of how people have handled this.”

With the NFL still operating, albeit virtually, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone has still had his share of work responsibilities. He’s moved his entire office to his home and has tried to keep a routine, which he said was initially tough. But he added there’s been an unexpected silver lining.

“You get back into a family situation, as tough as these times are,” Marrone said. “We’ve been a lot more fortunate than a lot of other people.”

Both of Doug’s parents worked when he was young, so having dinner together was a family tradition, a time to catch up. He’s had a chance to do that with his own children.

“With three teenagers they’re always running out,” Marrone explained. “We’ve tried to take advantage of that. We’ll look back and hopefully understand, but if you’re looking for a positive, you can find things you appreciate.”

Marrone has caught up on some reading and has tried to stay in front of planning for mini-camps and training camp if they happen at all.

“I don’t want to be scrambling,” he said.

As somebody who jokes about his weight on a regular basis, Doug laughed when I asked him about keeping on schedule.

“I was on this big kick trying to help all of the local restaurants early on, so that didn’t help my diet,” he said with a laugh. “But I’ve gotten to that point last weekend where I have to get my stuff together. Normally we’ll be on the field and running around. But sitting at a desk doing virtual meetings? That’s not going to cut it.”

Former Jaguars linebacker Lonnie Marts has been juggling his professional and family life from home like everybody else. Marts is the Athletic Director at Harvest Community School and has been preparing as if there will be athletic seasons next year. At the same time all of his children are home, making for some challenging logistics.

“I’m enjoying my kids being home because I never expected to have this time,” Marts said of having his college age children back under one roof. “But we did have to come up with a family strategy how to survive with everybody in the house together.”

Marts partitioned off his garage, with one half acting as a gym and the other as a podcast studio.

“We’ve had college exams, podcasts and Tik-Tok videos going on all at the same time,” he explained.

Staying fit is something Marts and his family has paid attention to for the last two months. His son Gavin is back from the Naval Academy and has been designing body-weight workouts for the family. Lonnie says he’s been lifting in his garage and trying to walk a lot.

“I kind of over-did it with walking and my knee started swelling up so I had to back off,” he said adding that he’s maintained his weight with a little fluctuation. “But what’s the new normal? With gyms and parks closed we had to find something.”

That knee-swelling Marts experienced isn’t unusual according to Matt Serlo, the Master Physical Therapist at PT Solutions in Ponte Vedra. A lot of those “home gym remedies” have resulted in more calls to his clinic.

“I’m happy that people are doing that,” Serlo said of the uptick in many people’s activity level. “But I’ve gotten a lot of calls in the past few weeks from patients who’ve said, ’I think I over-did it!”

While his doctor referrals are down about 50%, in Florida you can see a physical therapist without a physician’s referral for thirty days. So he’s seen more “walk-in” business.

“I get calls saying ‘This is sore, I twisted this or I wrenched that’, I’m hearing a lot of that,” said Serlo who has kept his own routine up, getting in a workout at least three times a week in the morning before seeing patients.

I checked back with Jane Alred of First Place Sports and Phil Foreman at Champion Cycling here in town. With all of this new activity, demand for them is up.

“Our maintenance requests continue to go way up,” Foreman said of the service at their three stores. “We’re also selling a lot of bikes. We’ve literally run out of some bikes. Some bike deliveries were shut down in Asia so they’re eight weeks behind.”

More women are buying bikes than men and because of that their most popular bike could now take three months to deliver. Beach cruisers and comfort bikes are flying out the door.

“I’ve been in this business for thirty eight years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Foreman said. “We’re just calling it ‘Groundhog Day.’ We’re pedaling as fast as we can from open to close.”

And the stress fracture in Phil’s right foot isn’t getting much better.

“I’m on my feet all day, doing repairs,” he said. “I’d love to be out riding my bike.”

At First Place Sports, their four stores were closed for six weeks but they’ve stayed busy.

“We did curbside and virtual fittings,” Alred said. “We were delivering shoes, painting buildings, pressure washing sidewalks, doing inventory. Our online is more robust.. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize. Our stores have never been cleaner.”

Because of hospital closures, Jane’s previously scheduled foot surgery was put off for about a month. Her injury had limited her to walking 2-3 miles a day after being an active runner most of her life. And the combination of the coronavirus shutdowns and her foot problems had her focus on other habits.

“I’m much more cautious about what I eat,” she explained, adding that she’s been doing non-impact workouts on a Precor machine she bought her husband Doug for Christmas.

“I’ve been reading more, maybe watching Netflix at night. I get a little stir crazy. Sometimes I don’t want to get off the video calls I do for work during the day because it’s like the only human contact besides Doug.”

And no matter what happens with the re-opening of the stores and the economy, Alred believes she’ll be permanently changed.

“My new normal will be things like grocery delivery. I don’t know when races will start up again. I’m not sure I want to be around large groups of people right now.”

Two common threads emerged from the people I spoke to this week: Weird dreams and sometimes a feeling of the “blahs.”

“People who are optimistic by nature would find this strange,” Palmieri explained. “We are so used to going through our day automatically. We don’t have to think about what we’re doing. This compels us to think about every place we go, every person we talk with. We’re not relaxed. The process of change is uncomfortable. Every thing you do takes more mental energy.”

My guitar playing has gotten better. That’s what happens when you practice every day. My chainsaw and power tools have gotten a workout. I’ve been back on my bike after a hip replacement.

I got on the scale the other day, with plenty of trepidation, and I’m two pounds heavier than I was in mid-February. While that’s disappointing, at least it’s not the ten I thought it might be. And I think I know why; I had too much fun in the first month of the “stay at home” order. So that’s something I can fix.

I hope.

Sports During A National Crisis WWII

It’s not hard to find the last example of all of America in crisis. Nearly eighty years ago, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. Young men enlisted and were sent off to fight. Every other American was asked to do the same as now: Stay home and do your part.

“Everything came to a halt,” ten-time Grand Slam tennis champion Tony Trabert said this week. Trabert will turn ninety this summer and remembers, “It was all focused on the war effort.”

It’s the last time a national crisis has had this kind of impact on American sports, or America in general. The NFL has stopped any face-to-face contact and will hold its draft later this month in a full virtual environment. Every team’s brain trust will stay home.

This was supposed to be Masters Week. Instead, they announced they’d try and play The Masters the second week of November due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s the first time they haven’t played The Masters in April since WWII when the tournament was cancelled from 1943-1945.

They cancelled The Open Championship this week in the UK. The last time that happened was also during WWII from 1940-1945. And the same with Wimbledon and the French Open. They’ll try and play the PGA Championship, originally scheduled for next month, in August. The PGA only missed one year, 1943. The Rose Bowl was played in Durham, North Carolina in 1942 and the Florida Gators didn’t field a football team in ’43.

I asked my Dad if he remembered what was happening to sports in American during the last national crisis during WWII. As an eleven year old, he and some friends were recruited to sell Pepsi’s at the 1944 Army-Navy game in Baltimore.

The game had been moved to Baltimore from the Navy campus in Annapolis to accommodate the unprecedented interest in the matchup billed as the “Game of the Century” between the service academies. They were the top two ranked teams in college football and this game would determine the National Champion. Nearly 67.000 fans bought war bonds to be eligible to buy a ticket to the game. They filled Municipal Stadium in Baltimore and raised $58 million for the war effort.

As the youngest child of immigrants who had barely ever been out of his neighborhood, it was easily the largest gathering my Dad had ever seen. The size of the crowd scared him so that he “put the box of Pepsi’s down and ran away.”

“There were certain things you couldn’t get, like butter. And you had to be inside by dark every night,” Sam Sr., who turned eighty-seven in February, recalled of life in an East Coast port city during the war. “There were neighborhood ‘wardens.’ They had a badge and a whistle. You had to be inside and pull your ‘blackout shades’ down with no light coming out of the sides.” Government authorities were leery of a German bombing attack and wanted the cities on the East Coast dark at night.

There were no blackout shades in Cincinnati but Tony Trabert remembers some things being in short supply.

“Butter and meat were rationed, we had shortages with anything and everything that had to do with the war effort,” Trabert said this week.

“I remember listening to Joe Louis’ fights and Reds games on the radio,” Trabert recalled. “But I also remember the battles being reported, hearing about fighting Rommel in Africa and D-Day and all of the names of the battles in the Pacific, places like Okinawa and Guadalcanal.”

Trabert returned to Europe less than five years after the war at the start of his tennis career and the remnants of the battles were still apparent.

“I played a doubles exhibition in Berlin with Bill Talbert in 1950 against two Germans, (Gottfried) von Cramm, a great player (a three time Wimbledon runner-up) and a guy named Saas. Von Cramm was a real gentleman player who got into trouble in Germany because he wouldn’t cooperate with the Nazi’s. I remember we played at the Red and White Club had steaks for dinner. But you’d look out the window and as far as you could see there was rubble. When we went to Wimbledon we had to bring our own steaks. They still had some rationing nearly five years later.”

Professionals didn’t rule the sports landscape at the time, outside of baseball and boxing. Joe Louis ended up not fighting as the heavyweight champ for four years during WWII. As a Sergeant in the Army, he fought ninety-six exhibition matches in front of two million troops.

Five hundred MLB players went off to military service during WWII but baseball kept playing. The game was deemed non-essential in WWI so Commissioner Kennesaw “Mountain” Landis wrote a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt asking for advice. FDR responded the next day in what has come to be known as the “Green Light Letter.”

“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going,” Roosevelt wrote. He thought that baseball could be a source of relaxation for American workers, “Baseball provides a recreation which does not last over two hours or two hours and a half, and which can be got for very little cost. And, incidentally, I hope that night games can be extended because it gives an opportunity to the day shift to see a game occasionally.”

Different parts of the country had different experiences as the war effort took over daily life.

“I was up in Kentucky at that time, I remember stamps and you couldn’t get much gas,” Eighty-eight year old Herb Peyton said this week.

There wasn’t a lot of interest in sports in Kentucky at the time outside of Western Kentucky University football; The Hilltoppers stopped playing from 1943-45. The Kentucky Wildcats basketball team from Lexington did go to their first Final Four in 1942

“I do remember there were a lot of opinions on the war,” Peyton recalled, his memory sharpened by his love of reading WWII History. Peyton remembered people were on both sides during his years pre-teen leading up to the U.S. entering the conflict. “Lindberg led the people who didn’t want to get involved. Roosevelt didn’t like that. Of course, all that changed after Pearl Harbor. It motivated everybody.”

My late friend Arthur Smith would have been eighty-eight this year. He was the player personnel director for the Jacksonville Tea Men in the NASL but also served as the color commentator on their TV broadcasts when I did the play-by-play. When we traveled together he would regale me with stories of what life was like in England, without sports, as the war raged in Europe. He ran home from school each day to be inside by dark.

“We’d played in the street,” he once told me, recalling soccer games as a kid in his hometown of Retford, England. “But we’d have to stand on the side of the road when the tanks came through.”

Retford is between soccer hotbeds Sheffield and Nottingham in central England and only seventy miles from Manchester. While national competitions were called off, regional matches were set up, oftentimes with guest players who were stationed nearby.

Manchester United’s home stadium, Old Trafford had been requisitioned as a military depot and was bombed by the Germans in 1941. Manchester City offered their home ground at Maine Road as an alternative and both clubs played there through the war and for the next eight years. Talk about resilience!

Smith also remembered running into the “bog” next to town to survey a freshly downed German fighter plane. “We were trying to get some Perspex (Plexiglas),” he said. “It was worth something.”

Arthur’s mother-in-law had a very different experience in the small town of Americus, Georgia. Growing up, there were always “half-rubber” games in the streets with a broomstick as a bat and people listening to baseball on the radio, but that all changed in December of ’45.

“Things got pretty quiet,” ninety-four year old Sybil Crawford said of life in her town when the country went to war. “They still had high school sports but all of the boys went off to fight,” she added this week. “It stayed pretty quiet until the British boys showed up.” British aviators were learning to fly at the Souther Field training base nearby.

As a young teenager in Grove City, PA, former PGA Tour Director of Information Tom Place remembers very well when US citizens who were staying home were asked to do their part.

“There were rations on gasoline and just about everything else,” Place, who was born in 1927, said from his home in Ponte Vedra this week. “We had Oleo instead of butter. You didn’t think much about it, you just did it.”

Gasoline was rationed with “A,” “B,” and “C” cards depending on what people needed at the time. The “A” card was for business owners and down to the “C” cards for general use

“A couple of my pals had a car we called the “hunk of junk,” an old Studebaker,” he remembered. “My friend Rick worked at a dairy farm so he had an “A” coupon for gas. He’d stick that in the window and we’d fill up. Just kids acting like kids.”

Place heard about Pearl Harbor when he and some friends were headed to the store to buy some more BB’s to play with in the fields around Grove City. He had two older brothers who went to serve but at home he was doing his part.

“I was a ‘messenger’ with the rest of the kids when we’d practice for possible air raids,” Place said. “There was a diesel engine plant close by that we thought could be a possible target. They’d blow the siren and everybody would head to the basement of one of the two banks downtown. I even had an armband.”

Keeping some sense of normalcy, Place remained a big sports fan as a teenager during the war, listening to the Pirates on the radio and said he ‘vaguely” remembered when they called off the Masters and the other golf majors in ’43. “There wasn’t much going on,” he said. He also remembered listening when the Steelers and the Eagles merged to form the “Steagles” to keep playing in the shrunken eight-team NFL in 1943.

Anxious to join the war effort, he enlisted in the Marines when he turned 18 in 1945 and went to basic training at Parris Island and then to Camp Lejeune in California.

“They told us from the start we were going to the invasion of Japan and it would be tough,” Place said of his days as a young Marine. “I was at Camp Lejeune when President Truman dropped the bomb and probably saved my life,” he recalled.

“I was on a train on my way to Des Moines as a 15 year old to play a tournament,” Trabert remembered, from his Ponte Vedra home. “I saw a bunch of people jumping up and down on a street corner. I asked the conductor when he came by what all the commotion was about and he said it was V-E day.”

While it took some time, things eventually got back to normal. Sam Snead went to Scotland the year after the war in 1946 and won The Open Championship at St. Andrews, beating Bobby Locke by four shots. George Halas returned from the Navy to coach the Bears that same year to the NFL Championship and the LA Rams became the league’s first West Coast team. Ted Williams was back in a Red Sox uniform from the Marines and was the American League MVP leading Boston to the AL Pennant. Stan Musial also came back from the Navy in ‘46 and was the NL MVP. The Cardinals won the World Series in seven games.

So it might take some time, but we’ll get back to normal. For now, let’s just do our part.

Boselli Battles COVID-19

When his best friend Mark Brunell talks about Tony Boselli, he says he didn’t like him much at first.

“He thought he was the best player on the team,” Mark says. “Which he was.”

“And he thought he was the toughest guy on the team,” Brunell usually continues. “Which he was.”

I can attest to Boselli’s toughness. Having known him for over 25 years, I’ve seen his toughness as a football player during his career in the NFL That toughness continued when I’d see him in the gym once his career ended. A different kind of toughness showed itself when he emerged as a community leader in the political arena. He values toughness in his current role as an analyst for the Jaguars radio broadcasts and nationally on Westwood One.

But no level of toughness prepared him for his latest battle with Covid-19.

“I don’t know if I ever was like I thought I was going to die,” he recalled this week. “But I remember having the conversation with myself: ‘I don’t want to die here.’”

That conversation with himself happened for Boselli while he was in the ICU at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. After a few rounds of golf the weekend The Players was cancelled, Boselli started to feel bad on Monday, March 16th. He thought it was just a cold.

Two days later he felt worse and was told he had been exposed to the Coronavirus. He called his doctor and got tested that day. Two days later the results showed he tested positive for COVID-19.

“When I first got it, I thought, ‘Oh, gosh, this is a headache,” Boselli said. “I didn’t think it was a big deal. I’m like, ‘I’m 47 and I’m healthy. This is going to be three-to-five days, then I’ll be back.'”

A couple of days later his “cold” lingered but the following Tuesday he says he was going downhill fast.

“That’s when I was like, ‘Holy cow … this is real.’ When I went to the hospital, I thought I was going to get some fluids and some meds. They took an X-Ray and said, ‘You’re not leaving. You’re going to ICU.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ You realize that this stuff gets out of control pretty quick.”

Things got serious when during his stay in the ICU, doctors were trying to get a handle on the severity of his condition.

“It was kind of fuzzy, but I remember (the pulmonologist) saying, ‘If we don’t get your oxygen stabilized, we’re going to have to go to the next level,'” Boselli said. “I remember laying there thinking, ‘What do you mean, if this doesn’t work?’ He says, ‘We don’t know what direction this is going to go.’

Doctors did get his oxygen stabilized and Boselli started to recuperate. After a few more days of recovery in the Mayo Clinic, he was discharged last Tuesday after nearly a week in the hospital and two weeks after starting to feel bad. He’s had additional tests for the virus and so far, the results have been negative.

During his hospital stay, Boselli was quarantined, only staying in contact with his family via text when he had enough energy to grab his phone. He credits the health care workers with his recovery. They were the only people allowed near him, wearing full protective gear.

“They were great,” Tony said with a strong sense of gratitude. “Those doctors and PAs and nurses and techs, everyone, they’re amazing. These people were absolutely amazing. Superstars.”

Having lost twenty pounds in the last two weeks during this ordeal, Boselli says he’s still weak but hopes to be back on his bike soon: his current choice of a cardio workout.

Tony’s wife Angie also tested positive but had much more mild symptoms. “She’s tougher than me,” Tony said with a smile. The rest of his family is also fine.

“I’m on the right side of this thing now but I can tell you, the thing is, it’s real,” he added as an alarm to those not heeding the warnings. “These health care experts and workers that are talking about this? They’re not making this up.”

“Take it from someone who was in the hospital and had these people working on me: They’re risking everything themselves to take care of people. It’s serious. It’s real. We need to do what people are being asked to do.”

Things We CAN Do

We’ve been told a lot over the past week what we can’t do. “Don’t do this” and “Don’t do that” have been among the myriad levels of “stay at home” mandates.

So what can we do?

Turns out, “stay at home” doesn’t mean sit in your living room eating Cheetos or cowering to the coronavirus. While this new reality, at least for the next month or so, has changed our routines, it doesn’t mean it has to completely change our lives.

National, state and local parks might be closed but thirty-eight of the forty-one boat ramps in Duval County are still open. Some kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are gathering dust in your garage. Don’t get into a pickup basketball game, but shooting hoops at the basket you haven’t used in your front yard is still allowed.

Playing golf, riding your bike, going to the shooting range, finding a creative way to work out and even just going for a walk are all still options.

“I’ve never seen so many people out running and walking,” Gate River Run Director Doug Alred said this week. Alred also owns the four First Place Sports running stores in town and says that with the guidelines to close his retail doors, he’ll keep his Baymeadows store open for call in orders. Nike has also given him permission to list some shoes online at Amazon.

“They can call in and we’ll sell them shoes, socks, whatever they need over the phone and give it to them in the parking lot,” he said. “A lot of people out don’t know of us because they’re not part of this lifestyle. We’re hopeful some people will stick with it and something healthy will come out of this crisis.”

Alred’s business is down like any other retail store but other than not needing his part time help, the full time staff has been staying busy sanitizing the store and doing other projects. Some of them were laid off Friday with Doug hoping they can qualify for unemployment insurance quickly.

“We’re constantly cleaning, our employees are wearing gloves but it’s hard to social distance when people are working behind the counter or helping customers try on shoes,” he said, adding that while at 71 years old he’s still running about ten miles a week, but keeping his distance.

Running might mainly be a solo sport and activity, but scheduled group runs and races are a part of that lifestyle. For now though, they’re out of the picture.

“If the Gate (River Run) was two days later, we’d have probably had to cancel it,” Alred said, relieved the race went off as planned.

“We’ve cancelled or postponed nineteen different runs through the first of May. Even the Run for the Pies the second week of June looks in peril. I’m hoping for the Fourth of July to start up again but I’m not sure how many people are going to want to get in a group run.”

Getting on your bike is another option. You know, that bike in your garage you haven’t ridden in years?

“Two weeks ago, people just started flooding the stores, coming in for repairs,” Phil Foreman co-owner of three Champion Cycling stores in town explained. “Rusted chains, flat tires, bikes they haven’t ridden in years.”

“I’ve had fourteen Fourth of July’s at the beach store,” Foreman’s business partner Brian Corcoran said.

Fourth of July is one of their biggest weeks of the year. Corcoran said every day for the past couple of weeks has been just like that.

“People are showing up with bikes they haven’t ridden in years. Rusty chains, flats, a whole new wave of weekend warriors. People who don’t ride their bike but four or five times a year are riding now every weekend.”

With all of that interest, “social distancing” can be a challenge but Foreman says they have a plan.

“We’ve been sanitizing the stores multiple times, during the day, especially places where the customer is touching: handles, credit card machines,” he explained.

“We’re bike mechanics so we’re always washing our hands. We wear gloves and some of our employees are wearing masks. I probably wash my hands fifty times a day,” Corcoran said.

“Sixty percent of our business now is repairs, but we’re still selling a lot of bikes,” Phil added.

“We’ve sold lots of bikes over the phone,” Corcoran echoed. “They’ll ask, ‘Can you bring it out in the parking lot?’ We’ll wipe the bikes down and bring them out. I’ve sold a bunch of bikes like that to grandparents who are getting bikes for their grandkids. I’m seeing a lot of new customers.”

Phil and Brian are doing a lot of the work on their own since about a third of their staff has stayed home, avoiding contact.

“I really appreciate my employees, they’re working hard,” Corcoran added. “We’ve just hired an out of work bartender at the beach store. Just trying to do our part.”

And while their business is flourishing, both admit it’s bittersweet.

“We want people to get out on their bikes, but not because they have to, but because they want to,” Foreman said. ”Once this is all over we want to give people encouragement to get back out on their bikes.”

Having been a Certified Personal Trainer since 2003, Melissa Kingston believes in the benefits that fitness brings her clients.

As the owner of Definition Fitness in San Marco since 2011, the “shut down” order two weeks ago presented her with twin dilemmas.

“I wanted to stay in business but I also wanted to keep my clients going,” she explained. “Mentally and physically people count on what they’re doing, fitness-wise. Plus the sense of community people have coming into the gym; they would miss that.”

To solve those issues, Kingston started posting some bodyweight workouts by email and a link to an app to schedule individual workouts. The demand has been such that she’s now using a social networking app to hold live, online classes.

“It’s evolved into an online community. The membership has been so supportive. They want to maintain what they’re doing but they’re also supporting the gym. I’ll send out a text before with the time and a code (for the app) and any household equipment they’ll need. A chair, a broomstick, a towel, a grocery bag with canned goods in them as weights. It took about a week for everybody to come back.”

Is that part of the future of her business, once this is over?

“At first I was excited because I’ve always wanted to get some things going online,” she said, clearly having given it some thought. “But I’ve found people want to come back to a place outside of their house. There’s a lot of free fitness information being posted online these days. But people want an experience they can’t get on their own. They can only get that face-to-face.”

Walking into a gun store or a shooting range for some target practice with a mask on is usually a no-no. But in these times, it’s part of daily life.

“People coming in with masks, we ask them to show us their face, then pop it back on,” one proprietor at a local range said.

Ranges are operating with social distancing in mind, using every other lane. Still, spots are limited because local law enforcement agencies have to continue training.

“We’re trying to be as safe as possible,” he explained “There are local law enforcement groups that come in to keep their proficiency.”

And if you are going to the range, you’ll have to be pretty self-sufficient.

“We don’t have a lot of ammunition in back stock,” he added. “If you don’t have the ammo, we might not have any to replenish what you’re shooting. Every vendor is depleted. Orders have gone up by 300% and vendors are down to 25% of their staff.”

You no doubt have seen lines at gun stores as part of the pandemic story. Deemed essential, they’ve stayed open but there doesn’t seem to have been any lines in town. No doubt though, places that sell firearms have seen an uptick in their business.

““We have,” said “Z” Farhat, the Sales Manager at the family owned Green Acres Sporting goods on the Westside.

“Mainly ammunition sales, but some gun sales. A lot of the gun stores ran out of ammo, but we still have plenty,” he explained. “We have a contact in Miami, so when their stores were closed, we bought the backup from him. But I’ll tell you this, we’ll be out of ammo at the end of the month if we sell it at the rate we’re selling it now.”

With all of those customers around, social distancing is a real issue there. They’re sanitizing door handles and counters and everything else they can think of all day. They have one employee assigned to do just that. And they wipe down the guns and the counters every half hour.

“We’re all wearing gloves and we’re limiting the number in our concealed weapons classes,” Z said. “All of the chairs are spaced out in the class at least six feet apart.”

If there’s a sport that creates natural social distancing it’s golf. Courses that have stayed open have gone to great lengths to protect players. One person per cart, no rakes; leave the flag in. There’s an insert in the cup where the hole is normally cut. The North Florida PGA is supporting golf courses staying open as long as social distancing is practiced.

“We’re trying to keep everybody employed,” Bruno Couturier, the Managing Partner at Marsh Landing Country Club said. “We have done more rounds of golf this three months than we have in ten years. Our rounds are up tremendously. We’ll play 30-35,000 rounds this year if this keeps up.”

Couturier said they’re running their golf and their tennis operations outside, but they’ll sell things remotely.

“We’re still trying to manage through it,” he explained. “We’ll sell hamburgers for lunch ‘to go’ Friday, Saturday and Sunday from the practice green. Breakfast sandwiches as well on Saturday and Sunday.”

Might that be something they continue after all of this passes?

“Our members have been fantastic,” he said. They like the things we’re doing. They’ve been very supportive and very understanding.”

No Sports, No Problem

I have an eclectic group of friends.

My wife says that’s because they make me feel like I’m normal. That’ might be true. They’re a diverse group for sure. One thing that binds most of them is that they’re sports fans.

They’ve all laughed at this meme going around on social media:

Day Six Without Sports on TV: I noticed a cute girl sitting on my couch. Turns out she’s my wife. She seems nice.”

Checking in with friends has been suggested as a good mental health exercise during this somewhat “homebound” time. I did that this week to see what my normal group of friends has been up to, what they’ve missed and what they haven’t missed.

“I haven’t missed the XFL, that’s for sure,” my friend “The BQ” said when I asked him about his regular TV viewing habits. “I’ve really enjoyed how the NFL free agency season has developed. That’s been fun to follow.”

The BQ is single, but says he’s also been able to fortify his relationship with his post-college age daughter during this time.

“We’ve been fishing, just sitting around talking,” he said. “That’s really been nice.”

That sentiment seemed to be pervasive through all of the conversations with my friends.

“What it’s done for me has reinforced what I think is important,” ‘Baldy’ told me this week. ‘Baldy’ is retired, has kept playing golf pretty regularly and does some day trading as a hobby.

“I realized, again, most of this doesn’t matter,” he said. “I don’t need more than I have. Friendships, family, those are the important things. I’ve reached out to some of my old friends from years ago, back to high school. It’s amazing the response I’ve gotten.”

Almost all of my friends said they’ve missed watching the NCAA basketball tournament on television. You might remember my friend ‘Wooly.’ We’ve been to Las Vegas together a few times, spending time in the sports books. The NCAA Tournament is a big wagering enterprise but since there are no sports, there’s no sports betting.

And if you’re somebody who likes the ‘action,’ there is no action.

“Of course I miss the action,” Wooly said with a laugh. “If that’s something you enjoy, you miss it.”

I did some checking and you could still get ‘action’ from the sports books in the UK on: Soccer in Belarus, table tennis in Hungary and the weather in England. They’ll take action on what the high wind gust of the day will be.

“I miss going and watching the golf the most, frankly,” Wooly said. “It provides a level of relaxation I don’t get anywhere else. I always try and go to The Players, The Masters, and The Heritage. All of those, I value each one I get a chance to attend.”

“I haven’t missed watching sports on TV,” he added. I miss my buddies.”

Being in a business that’s significantly impacted by social distancing, Wooly has been working more this time of year than he normally would.

“That’s OK,” he said. “Everyday I appreciate the fact that I have a job to go to. I’m in a “no risk” job. I get to go to work everyday.”

Things haven’t been as good for my friend ‘Goose,’ at least not professionally.

Goose runs a company in town that would be called a “small business.” He’s been looking forward to Congress passing the stimulus bill because regrettably, he had to lay off his entire staff this week. He’s hoping that with the stimulus they all can collect unemployment and stay solvent. Most of them will come back to work, but in his business, there will be a significant lag before he’s back up to where he was two weeks ago.

“We’re shut down, and we have to react to that,” he added somewhat wistfully. “But everybody’s going through it so it’s not ‘woe is me,’ its ‘woe is the whole country.’”

While most of his time has been focused at work, Goose has been spending some of his extra personal time redoing a condo himself, ripping out floors, replacing the ceilings. His honey-do list is longer than ever, he says. Both of his college age children have moved back home so he’s been enjoying the time with his family.

“Our kids still kind of like us at this point, so it’s been fun to hang out with them a lot more,” he said of he and his wife who suddenly have two more adults living in their house.

“Like most guys, I miss watching basketball with my son. Watching golf on weekends. I always loved watching the 10 o’clock basketball game from the West Coast. I miss going to play golf, hanging out with some friends. But we’re getting along fine.”

At seventy-six years old, “Big Beef” is still involved with his business, a very big business. He says he’s been staying home mostly, being very careful.

“I’m very cognizant of the six-foot rule,” he said. “I’ve taken it very seriously. Being in my house isn’t all that bad. We’re not confined to a small apartment in New York or anything like that.”

“Beef” says his business is still going along pretty well. Some of his customers are looking for relief and he expects the government stimulus will be able to help them.

“This isn’t an economic problem with the country so we’re still moving forward and expect a good bounce when things work back toward normal.”

With a lot of options, Beef says he and his wife decided to stay in town. He’s misses traveling and some of the day-to-day contact in his office. But staying home has given him a chance to catch up on some things he’s been putting off.

“I’ve been going through old photographs. I’m doing business from home.” he said. “Taking life easy. I’m not anxious. I go out on the golf course in the cart. We’re getting take out and eating on the porch.”

“I think things will get back to normal and people will forget about this assuming they get a vaccine,” Beef said. “It has given me a new awareness of how serious the flu and things like it can be, that’s for sure.”

On the contrary, “True Blue” thinks this will have a long-term effect on how people think and act.

“My kid’s education will be much different. They’ll finish their school year online with their teachers. It’ll change the way we greet each other. Probably a lot less hand shaking. It’ll be long and painful enough that people will remember this.”

Blue works in the financial sector so he’s been working a lot more but he and his wife have school age kids that so he’s enjoyed spending some of this beautiful springtime with them.

“I’ve enjoyed the time with my family and I don’t mind the pace,” he added. “Once you calm down from the pace of what your typical day is like, you can enjoy time with your family. I’ve certainly gained a lot more patience.”

When my friends get antsy sitting around at home, they all have the same solutions: Go for a walk, get in the car and go for a drive. Blue is even making gourmet meals, doing things that take more time when you don’t usually have the time for.

And despite the total disruption of everybody’s lives, some things go on as normal.

“I took my son to get his drivers license,” Blue said with a laugh. “That’s a real right of passage. It was awesome. Of course he said that night he wanted to go out and I told him “no way.’”

Every one of my friends said they’ve had a chance to look around, and appreciate some of the things we all call normal.

“We have to appreciate all of the things we have,” Wooly said. “ When things get back to normal, “normal” will be appreciated with a higher value. I think that’s good.”

“This is a big deal,” said Baldy, who has enough of a scientific background to know. “The world won’t be the same after this. It’ll be a better place. I hope it helps relationships in this country and internationally. We’re going to get through this and we’ll be better for it.”

Sam Kouvaris

We’ll Get Through This

We’ve been at this a while, you and me. About forty years actually. Mostly we’ve talked about sports, but you even embraced me when they asked me to anchor the news on television for a few years. Some of you laughed, and even said you were inspired when I used to do those silly pep talks on the radio.

So let’s talk about what’s going on. Right here, right now.

They cancelled The Players. Nobody liked that. I’m not a fan-boy for the PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan but he did the right things at the right time this week. Anybody critical of the decisions Monahan made isn’t paying attention. He made the calls about what to do in real time, and at each step did the right thing.

Monahan was talking about golf, but he was spot on about all sports when he said games “unify and inspire us.”

That doesn’t mean I like any of it. Or that I haven’t missed it.

I’ve missed seeing Rory play the weekend and try to defend his title. Like a lot of you, I like it when Rory plays well. He’s authentic, honest and without pretense when it comes to being a superstar on the world stage. He also has the swing I’d love to have, just once.

But mostly I’ve missed talking to Ferdinand, one of the security guards near the clubhouse. I only see him a few times a year, sometimes at Jaguars games, but every year at The Players. We don’t talk about much, but each time I see him, it brightens my day.

I’ve missed the small talk with the guys who volunteer behind the reception desk at the media center. I never see them outside of this week, but It’s a nice feeling to walk in there, talk about the long hours, who’s playing well, the weather, whatever comes to mind.

I’ve missed talking with John the ticket taker and Bekka, the bartender at the Greenside Lounge. Neither is from here, but they make the trip to North Florida every year to work The Players from points west and north. Neither will make the money they were counting on this week before they headed home. But both promised they’d be back next year.

And I’ve missed the time I usually spend with the former Chairmen of The Players, Buster Browning, Mike Hartley, Anne Nimnicht, Lynn Stoner and others. Just hanging out, talking about past Players and the tournament’s bright future. And I’ve missed the chats I have every year with the volunteers around the back of the 9th green.

So I’m sure you’ve missed some of the same things. The cocktails you’ve had with the same friends overlooking 17 year after year. Watching players trying to make birdie on number two, marveling at their short game. Or watching them bomb it off the 16th tee knowing an eagle could be waiting ahead.

And you know what? That’ll all come back. That’ll be there next year, and we’ll look back and marvel at how we came together and got through this tough time.

Because that’s what we do.

Not just as sports fans but as American’s and especially as people who live here in North Florida and South Georgia. We’re used to being picked on, overcoming adversity and getting things done. It’s nothing new to us.

We lean on our families, our friends and each other to get through things. I’ve seen it time and time again in our time together. Sometimes it’s when bad weather hits, other times its when we’re counted out of some competition, only to surprise everybody else.

So this is no different. The coronavirus will, we’re told, get worse before it gets better. But it will get better. We have the best minds in the world working on a solution. Politics shouldn’t have a role in this and we already know one thing: The person sitting at your kitchen table has a lot more to do with how you’re doing than some politician sitting behind a desk in Washington.

There won’t be any sports on television or live in arenas we can attend for a month, maybe longer. That’s inconvenient, and also a little weird. No March Madness? No Masters to signal the beginning of spring? No Spring Training games? It won’t be snowing anywhere on Opening Day if they start the baseball season in late April!

But all of that will be ok. We’ve got a bigger purpose that we’re working on right now. Sports have always been part of the fabric of our lives, but they don’t define us. You spend your money on cable or streaming to watch your favorite teams. Or you plunk down plenty of cash to cheer your club in person. You choose to do those things. You don’t have to do those things. You, hopefully for the short term, have more important things to do.

Like taking care of yourself and your family. Helping your neighbors. Washing your hands and doing all of the other recommended things to keep the coronavirus at bay.

I like what Tom Hanks said from quarantine with his wife in Australia after contracting the virus:

“Remember, despite all the current events, there is no crying in baseball.”

So there’s not a game on the TV in the background while you’re eating dinner? Use that time to talk with your spouse and your kids. Get closer to them. Go for a walk. I’d say go to a park but Mayor Lenny Curry closed all of the public parks. He didn’t think that one through. We know to practice “social distancing.” We can go to a park without being on top of one another.

Practice your guitar. Help your kids with a project they’re working on. Fix that fence in the backyard you’ve been avoiding. Or my favorite: Go out and play some catch.

Maybe say a prayer for safety and gratitude.

Be smart. Follow the best practices for staying healthy. Hug your family.

Perhaps the highest compliment I’ve ever gotten was at the summit of a grueling climb on my bicycle in Europe. One of the wives of my fellow cyclists, she reminded me several times she was German, was there at the top when I arrived, last in the group.

“I told them you’d finish,” she said. “I told them ‘He’s an American. American’s finish.”

And she was right. We’ll finish this. Together.

Jake, Jax and Sports: A Perfect Match

All of Jake Godbold’s time in office happened before the Internet and cell phones. Despite that, he was more connected than most people, certainly politicians, are today.

Connected to everybody. Not just people in his party. Not just to those who voted for him. Not just to his donors or his staff.

Connected to everybody.

So without cell phones, email or the internet, that meant to get to know something about or to get to know Jake Godbold, it happened face to face.

My first face-to-face meeting with Jake was at one of his regular places, Cotton’s Barbeque on Main Street. We sat in a booth, but not in the back. A booth in the middle of the restaurant with a steady stream of admirers, friends and well-wishers. It was my first hint that you never really got Jake Godbold to yourself. Because he belonged to everybody.

He grew up here and wanted to make his hometown shine.

“If you gave Jake a chance to live anywhere in the world,” former Mayor John Delaney said at Jake’s memorial service on Thursday. “If you paid him a million dollars. Switzerland, wherever, he’d pick Jacksonville.”

When he was elected Mayor, Godbold commissioned a survey to find out what would make his town better. He wanted the people who live here to like living here.

And he thought sports would be the perfect answer.

When Colt Fever happened in 1979, Godbold put Jacksonville on the map. Nobody outside of a two state radius even knew the Georgia/Florida game was played here.

When recounting the many accomplishments of Jake’s political career, Betty Holzendorf, his former aide and member of both the Florida House and Senate, said, “He didn’t do those things for himself. He did those things for the city of Jacksonville.”

Dreaming big, Jake put Jacksonville in the game to host a Super Bowl: without a team here. As crazy as it sounds now, it wasn’t that far-fetched at the time. The NFL was cultivating all kinds of cities as potential expansion sites. They were even looking for neutral fields to play the Conference Championship games on, looking to keep weather out of the equation after Cincinnati hosted San Diego in -63 degree wind chill.

The city was invited to make a Super Bowl proposal to the league at their owners meeting in Washington in 1983. I was standing outside the door of the meeting room, reporting on the proceedings, as the Jacksonville contingent walked in. Jake was the last in line and literally grabbed me by the lapel to pull me into the meeting. I’m still convinced he was looking for somebody else dressed in coat and tie to fill out the contingent.

When the formal proposal was over, the owners gave Jake a few minutes to speak. That’s when the real pitch started. The personal pitch from Jake directly to the twenty-eight owners. Jacksonville wasn’t getting a Super Bowl, but Jake had the owners’ attention. It wasn’t so much that he charmed them, but they just liked him. Jake was easily likeable.

When the meeting broke up, Jake invited me to sit with him and his Chief of Staff Don McClure in the lobby of the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel where the meeting was being held to debrief the presentation. I sat next to Jake on a couch to his right; Don was in a chair to his left. As we started talking, Billy Sullivan, then the owner of the New England Patriots, walked behind Don and said over his chair, “Hey Jake, you’re not getting a Super Bowl. Maybe you’d like to host a Jackson’s concert at the Gator Bowl?” Sullivan had acquired the rights to promote the Jackson’s upcoming stadium tour.

Jake turned to me and held his hand to the left of his mouth and in his version of a whisper said, “The Jackson’s?”

I leaned in and said quietly, “You know, Michael Jackson. Wears a glove, sings, dances.”

“You mean the kid from the Jackson Five?” Jake ‘whispered’ back.

“You know he’s not a kid any more,” I said.

“Would that be good?” Jake asked me.

“Very good,” I answered quickly.

With that, Jake told Sullivan that he’d be interested, and Sullivan invited us to his suite. When we got to the door he said to Don, and me “Would you mind waiting here?” as he ushered Jake inside.

Don and I bided our time for what didn’t seem very long in the hallway when the door opened and the Mayor and the owner of the Patriots came out laughing. Sullivan walked past us and as we followed Jake said, “We have a Jackson’s concert. They offered us three, what do you think?”

“Take them all,” I said.

And with that Jake called ahead and said, “We’ll take all three,” as we headed back to the lobby.

I peeled off to call the TV station, again it was before cell phones, and Jacksonville, Florida, hosting three concerts of the Jackson’s “Victory Tour” in the summer of 1984 was the lead story on that night’s six o’clock news.

I’d like to say that I was one of Jake’s friends and confidants and had something to do with his decision-making. But anybody who was around Jacksonville at the time would probably say the same. He made everybody he met feel that way. I know he did that for me.

It wasn’t long after I came to work in Jacksonville in 1981 that the phone at my desk would ring a couple times a week between the six and the 11 o’clock news and Jake would be on the other end. It was back when people watched local news and read the paper as their primary sources of information. Since I worked at what then was the dominant TV station in town, Jake wanted to make sure I had the story right. He didn’t always agree with my assessment of what he was doing and he let me know that sometimes when he called, right away.

“You need to be better than this,” he told long-time aide Martha Barrett early in her career. I laughed to myself as she recounted the story at his memorial service on Thursday. It was a retort I heard often from Jake early in my tenure in Jacksonville as well.

The most important thing to Jake was he was making Jacksonville better. Making me get the story right, he thought, was a key to getting people behind the ideas and moving the city forward.

So I wasn’t surprised later that year when my phone rang and the Mayor was on the other end. I could tell he was a bit agitated.

“Sam, I’ve got a guy here who says he wants to bring a football team to town and I want you to talk to him,” Jake said in a more forceful voice than usual.

It was a time when Robert Irsay had been through here with Colt Fever, John Meacham, the owner of the New Orleans Saints had negotiated with the city to bring his team here and Bill Bidwell came through looking for a new home for the St. Louis Cardinals.

So I was skeptical, and being 27 years old and emboldened by the Mayor’s confidence in me I’m sure I was nothing short of insolent to Fred Bullard when Jake put him on the phone.

“Hey Mr. Bullard, don’t jerk us around,” I remember saying at the beginning of the conversation about the USFL. And at some point I said, “It takes $13 million to get this done, do you have $13 million?” I told you I was insolent.

Bullard was extremely good-natured, answered my questions and with a chuckle gave the phone back to the Mayor. (I cringe telling that story but Fred and I have laughed about it many times since, thankfully.)

“I’ll call you later,” Jake said.

Sure enough an hour or so later, the Mayor rang back at my desk and wanted to know what I thought about the USFL coming here. They had been in existence for a year and were looking to expand. They had a TV contract and some star players and looked to be a legitimate football league.

“I think it’s real Jake,” I told the Mayor as I went through the reasons the USFL seemed to be on stable footing.

Word that Bullard was in town and that the league was considering Jacksonville as an expansion city had gotten out earlier in the day. The afternoon paper, the Jacksonville Journal, had a sports columnist who had editorialized that the Mayor should run as far and as fast as he could from the idea of a USFL team, saying it would scare off the NFL. Jake was very concerned about that.

“That won’t matter,” I said flatly. “This league looks real and the NFL will pay attention to how we do with a franchise.”

“Alright,” the Mayor said. “We’ll have a press conference later in the week.”

This was typical of the relationship I had with Godbold, and somewhere in there during each discussion he told me what was on the record and what wasn’t. I remember reporting that the city was in negotiations with the USFL and in a blend of commentary, said on the air that I thought it was a good idea.

Talks with Jake Godbold were a big part my career and I’ve found out in subsequent years that talks with Jake were a big part of a lot of people’s careers in town.

“I had a great relationship with Jake,” my friend Tom Wills said Thursday. “You could call it a love affair: Jake loved to talk to me and I loved to listen to him. What made him such a great talker was that he was a great doer.”

In my last conversation with Jake we talked about going fishing. He lamented the unceremonious way my TV career was ended but was quick to say how much he enjoyed my Sunday columns.

I hope he’d like this one.

This Team Wins Titles

To find National Champions, and lots of them, look no further than the Sporting Clay, Skeet and Trap team at JU.

A shooting team? At JU you say?


They’ve won nineteen National Event Titles, at least two outright National Championships and have had thirteen team members invited to the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Each year they’re a top ten national program, no matter what division.

“These are really good kids,” is the first thing founding program director and Head Coach Dave Dobson says about his team.”

There are usually around 40 members of the team. They “practice” at Jacksonville Clay Target Sports on New Berlin Road.

Dobson started the team as a club sport at JU in 2009. The team became a varsity sport in 2011. He also helped start the clay sports team at UNF as a club sport with one of his students in 2010.

Dave is an accomplished clay sports shooter who is also one of only two instructors in the US certified by both the National Skeet Shooting and National Sporting Clays Associations at level three. He runs a clay shooting school and serves on several boards including at Jacksonville Clay Target Sports. He’s also rated as a Master Instructor. In other words, he’s pretty unique
I first met Dave in the mid-‘80’s when my friend Larry Gordon invited me to sit in with the horn section and play my trumped with the “Not Tonight I’ve Got the Blues” band. Dobson was the band’s guitar player. He was, and still is, phenomenal at that as well.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say we are to the collegiate clay sports world what the likes of Alabama, Florida State, Florida and Clemson are to the football world: we are a powerhouse,” said Dobson.

“We recruit highly sought-after kids with very high GPA’s – honor students whom we help develop and succeed here and after they leave.”

And the team’s success is not a secret in the clay sports community. Dobson takes calls about students joining the team from all over the US and numerous countries in Europe and South America.

“We’re bringing top academic students to JU. Twenty-seven percent of the students here are student-athletes. Our team competes for the top GPA every year.”

“I only looked at schools where I could continue my shooting career and JU had a shooting team as a varsity sport,” Allison Franza a senior from Avon Park and an assistant coach on the team said this week. Franza was a highly sought after shooter coming out of high school but picked JU because of the “whole package” they offered.

“I loved the campus, the shooting facilities (at Jacksonville Clay Sports) and the academics were a big part of it,” the business administration major noted. The JU business program is rated top three in the country. Franza got her AA in high school, is a 4.0 student and will graduate this year as an 18-year old.

“Allison is pretty indicative of our student athletes,” Dobson said. “We’re looking for high GPA students. Recruitment and retention is what we’re all about.”

Franza is one of fifteen women who will be part of the squad this year. “I have a twin brother (who shoots on the UNF team) who did that. I went to one of his tournaments. I thought it looked easy, but it’s not!”

The team has spawned an academic track for the Dolphins in the JU Wingshooting program. They study the history of shooting, eye dominance, safety and plenty of theoretical and practical applications.

“The courses allow the students to gain an appreciation for the sport and become mentors and instructors themselves,” Dobson said.

“We go from beginning to advanced. It allows students to explore all parts of the clay sports industry. It gives them practical experience, including gun club management.”

In fact, clay-shooting sports are the fastest growing element of team sports in High School and colleges. Alabama, Clemson and Lindenwood out of St. Louis are among JU’s fiercest competitors.

“I’d say Clemson is our nemesis, our biggest rival. We beat them twice this year. We go back and forth. But they’re running a great program up there,” Dobson said.

As a four-time member of Team USA and an international competitor, Kelby Seanor had some family ties in Jacksonville and transferred to JU from the University of Georgia to join the team. In a bit of irony, picked the Dolphins over Clemson when he decided to transfer.

“I wanted to start at team at Georgia,” he explained of his first two years in Athens. “But JU had a well established varsity team here and I’m glad I came.”

Seanor is a multiple time clay sports All-American and graduated from JU this year with a degree in political science. He wants to get into the gun and shooting industry as a profession after graduate school. He’ll serve as an assistant coach for the Dolphins after competing in the World Championships in England next month.

Adding team members to the program who are beginners and learn through the academic program is one of the most rewarding aspects of Seanor’s experience at JU.

“The biggest place I’ve grown is my teaching,” he explained. “That’s grown exponentially. Mentoring all of these people who have never picked up a gun has really helped. Working on their mental and technical game. It’s cool to see how they grow.”
“Coach Dobson leads the program in a way that allows students to fully engage,” said Kristie Gover, the Senior VP for Student Affairs at JU and Dean of Students. “Team members are given the opportunity to play an active role in designing the team experience.”

“They run the team under my guidance-mentor program,” Dobson explained. “They have always made good leadership and business decisions. Super proud of them. They take a stake in it.”

“Some come to me and want to go inactive on the team to concentrate on their academics,” he added. “That’s paramount here at JU and we support that. Academics come first.”

While the team is subsidized through University funds, it’s donations that help them compete at the highest level. Fund raising is an important element in making the team what Dobson calls “the gold standard.” Dobson’s and his wife Adeline contribute every year. JU President Tim Cost and his wife Stephanie include the shooting team in their donations to the University.

“The board and Tim have been incredibly supportive,” Dobson noted. “We have so many friends of the program who donate money, the Felker’s (Caren and Paul), Sandy Semanik and others who make all this possible.”

Holzhauer Streak on Jeopardy! Impressive!

Lots of smart people come through the Jeopardy! pipeline but haven’t come close to what James Holzhauer is doing. Holzhauer is plenty smart and being a professional sports gambler, he knows how to play the odds but has the confidence and competitiveness of a top-level athlete.

It’s a rare combination.

It is impressive during Holzhauer’s streak, the amount of money he’s amassed, his breadth of knowledge, and as he says, the technique of hitting the buzzer at the right time so he could be the one answering the question. That might be the key.

Important? Absolutely.

On Tuesday of this week, the three contestants ran through Jeopardy and Double Jeopardy without missing one answer! They only didn’t buzz in on two questions but the rest they answered correctly. No wrong answers? I’m sure the statistics are pretty high for that happening so you’d figure the game would be close. Except Holzhauer won by over $60,000!

By somehow practicing how to hit the buzzer at precisely the right time, Holzhauer gets control of the board. He has the confidence that he’ll know the answer, the competitiveness to understand the stakes and amasses enough money to dominate early.

“You can see as soon as I get control of the board in the first game, I’m going for the $1,000 clues whenever I have the opportunity,” he told the New York Times, similar to a poker strategy.

“There are big advantages to having a lot of chips early on in a poker tournament. You can make plays that other people can’t.”
While Holzhauer is a game changer when it comes to playing the game, he’s also reshaping the image of a professional sports gambler. The stereotype of a dimly lit room with the racing forum and nicotine stained fingers has given way to a new type of pro gambler: college educated, statistically adept and fearless.

“This is an area that is shrouded in mystery,” Chris Grove, the managing director of the gambling research firm Eilers and Krejcik Gaming told the Washington Post. “I think Holzhauer demystifies it to a degree. This is a living, breathing relatively normal seeming individual.”

You might remember during my television career I did a popular segment called “Stump Sam.” For twenty or so years I answered questions, mostly submitted by viewers, live on the air asked by Tom Wills and Mary Baer. All told, I was asked over 2,000 questions before current management killed the segment, and as a credit to Tom and Mary, I was never asked the same question twice.

Answering trivia questions live on television is different than sitting around a coffee table having cocktails with friends playing Trivial Pursuit. Anybody who’s been in a trivia contest knows that one of the hardest things about answering the questions quickly is getting the answer that you know is wrong out of your mind.

In “Stump Sam” I had about 30 seconds to come up with an answer (usually with a producer yelling in my ear ‘wrap, wrap.” So my experience, while similar, is different than the contestants on Jeopardy!

I remember the first question I was asked:

“What team played the Montreal Expos in the first regular season MLB game played outside the United States.”

Finding the answer kicks in your deductive reasoning quickly: A National League team, in the Eastern division where the Expos played in 1969, probably a major market team, the Mets, or a traditional NL team like the Cardinals.

When I got it down to those two quickly, Tom said, “Aaaand?” So I knew it was one of those two. I guessed New York but the answer was St. Louis (they opened the season in NY but played their first home game in Montreal against the Cardinals.)

Only once did my mind go blank on an answer I clearly should have gotten. Late in the 1995 baseball season a pitcher threw a no-hitter and before his next start Tom asked me an easy question:

“Who’s the only pitcher in Major League history to throw back-to-back no-hitters?”

I’ve known the answer to that since I was about six but it just wouldn’t come up in my brain that day.
“Johnny Vandermeer,” Tom eventually said seeing me struggle and graciously added “Football overload,” as we had spent the summer in Stevens Point, Wisconsin with the Jaguars and were preparing for the their first game ever. Baseball was way off in the recesses of everybody’s mind, including mine.

Holzhauer knows the subjects, he knows how to buzz in, but he also knows how to play the game. Kind of like being a polo player. People in that community will tell you being a good horseman is important, but being a good game player is paramount. He’s a great games player and the way he runs through the board, from the bottom up might not be novel but it shows a confidence he has in the competition that reminds you of a 3rd-and-2 80-yard touchdown pass.

Being a professional gambler, going “all in” is usually a strategic move, and Holzhauer uses it with a competitive confidence that puts plenty of distance between him and the other two competitors.

Five-time “Jeopardy!” winner Eddie Timanus, who compiles the college coaches’ polls for USA TODAY says Holzhauer’s buzzer skills and aggressive money play sets him apart.

“Thanks to his ability to ring in first consistently and rarely miss, he usually has a considerable total built up by the time he uncovers a Daily Double,” Timanus said in USA TODAY. “He finds most of them since he’s able to maintain control of the board for long stretches, and, as we’ve seen, he’s not afraid to bet big.”

Jeopardy isn’t the first game show Holzhauer has competed on. He was on a show called “500 Questions” and although he didn’t advance he impressed the executive producer Phil Parsons.

“When we auditioned people, we did a ‘general knowledge’ test, and James, by far, scored the highest in that test,” Parsons told the New York Post.

“He was quite the tactician, and even in that way he was interesting to watch,” says Parsons. “A lot of people are talking about his top picks and concentrating on that, but the thing is you can’t get that far if you haven’t got the knowledge to back it up — and his range was astonishing.”

Record setting Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings was also on “500 Questions” but Parsons says, “James’ test score to get on the show was way better than Ken’s.”

“Jeopardy!” and host Alex Trebek are celebrating their 35th anniversary season. With a weekly audience of 23 million viewers, it’s the top-rated quiz show on television.

The original host, Art Fleming hosted the first version of the show from 1964-75 and again in ’78 and ’79. It was before electronics so somebody pulled a card with the money amount on it to reveal the answer: Seems quaint now. When asked to return as the host of the syndicated version in 1984, Fleming declined, saying the show had become “too easy.”

I don’t think there is anything easy about what James Holzhauer is doing.

Can’t Measure Heart

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the measureables of athletes: height weight, 40-time, shuttle run, bench press. And some talk about production and “getting to the next level.”

As anyone who’s played anything knows one of the best cliché’s in sports is “you can’t measure heart.”

Because you can’t.

That’s why Donnie Horner III and Sharon Siegel-Cohen are such great competitors. One’s an athlete and one’s not. They don’t have much these days in terms of “measureables.”

But they have heart.

Donnie has a form of MS. Sharon has a form of ALS. Yet both compete everyday, get out of their comfort zone, motivate other people and make a difference.

I’ve worked on and off with Sharon for the past 38 years. She’s one of the rare, good people in TV, but you wouldn’t know her if you passed her on the street. She’s what the industry calls a “producer” whose job basically is to make the people on-air look good. And Sharon’s an expert at it.

Never one to get bogged down in the details, she didn’t think a thing of it when during a family trip to NY in June of 2017 she tripped on a sidewalk in the city.

“Everybody trips on the sidewalk in New York,” she told me. “Even though the swelling in my ankle went down I was still limping around in November.”

As the orthopedists and the physical therapists were trying figure out what was wrong with her, Sharon started walking with a cane in February of last year. Eventually they did a nerve conduction study and she ended up at a neuromuscular specialist who diagnosed her nearly a year later with a form of ALS.

Right now, Sharon’s lost the use of her legs and gets around in a wheelchair. “Whether it gets worse, I don’t know,” she said. “I can type and talk. It’s my new reality.”

Her sister Frances, a pretty good athlete in her younger days, now has MS. She jokingly gave Sharon some family ribbing and encouragement noting, “You weren’t much of an athlete anyway!”

Sharon laughed telling me that story, saying, and “She was trying to make me feel good. And she’s right, I was president of the service club and the drama club. It wasn’t that big a thing for girls to be involved in sports when I was younger. I think people with this disease all have a sense of humor.”

Commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” ALS has been in public view since the Yankee first baseman retired, making his “I’m the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” speech in 1939.

“That’s 80 years ago,” Sharon remarked. “It’s time something got done.”

That’s why at the recent ALS walk, Sharon was asked to speak and paraphrased Gehrig’s speech in her remarks.

“Today, despite this physical limitation, I feel like the luckiest woman alive,” she said. “I’m surrounded by family friends, colleagues, college friends I haven’t seen in 40 years. I’m buoyed by the love and support I’m getting.”

We often hear announcers refer to the “courage” it takes to hit that shot or the “guts” it takes to make that tackle. That’s amusing when you consider the courage and guts Sharon and others like her have everyday, competing against this kind of disease.

Sharon’s somebody who always sees the big picture. As a producer, she doesn’t sweat the details and lets people do their job. So it was a conscious decision that took some courage to get “in front” of the camera, so to speak, after being in the background her entire career.

“If I can lend my voice, I’ll do it,” she explained. “This disease isn’t incurable, it’s just underfunded.”

Last night, Sharon received the Courage Award at the Augie’s Quest banquet.

“I don’t want to dwell on it,” she added. “I want to stay active, working, reading.”

While September 11th has meaning to all Americans, Donnie Horner III remembers that day in 2009 when he was diagnosed with MS. Horner was an elite athlete, played hockey at the Naval Academy as a four-year starter. He delivered the game ball on the field for the Army/Navy game in his senior year. Club sport athlete of the year, an all-star game starter, Horner was in, as he describes it, “the best shape of my life.”

Then shortly after graduation, as an Ensign on watch aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard during workups for his first deployment, Horner felt his first symptoms of MS. “It felt like my legs had fallen asleep. I thought it was vibration from the steel-toed boots from the vibration of the ship. When it didn’t go away, I decided to get checked out.”

For Horner, the diagnosis was quick. Neurology at NAS Jax, MRI, Cat scan and spinal tap, second opinion at Mayo Clinic. After a promising athletic and academic career, he was retired from the Navy in April of 2010 with relapsing, remitting MS.

“I was cocky as a junior officer but this brought me back to earth,” he explained. “I threw myself into research, I refused to believe that this wasn’t something I could deal with.”

But despite his previous success competing and excelling in athletic competition, this confident, bright, “meet things head on” young Navy officer lost his edge.

“I was a low self-esteem, didn’t know what I was going to do kind of person,” he recalled. “I had to walk with a cane for months. I didn’t know how to give myself a shot. I was scared; I didn’t believe in myself at all. I felt bad physically, mentally and emotionally.”

That’s when he called on his athletic background to restart his life.

“The first five years were brutally hard. I couldn’t recognize I was dealing with insecurity or low self-esteem because I hadn’t ever been that,” he said. “Time has a way of contextualizing things. It was five years before I figured out how to act with this disease.”

So with encouragement from his wife Kristen and his family, some medical and spiritual help, Horner says he’s back at a “good place.”

So good that two weeks ago, Donnie, despite having MS, ran the Boston Marathon.

How is that possible? Courage. Guts.

“I wanted to live my best life,” he explained. “I looked into diet, and exercise. I go to mental health counseling, I took my spiritual affairs seriously.”

Last August, Horner decided he wanted to run the Boston Marathon. Despite the numbness in his leg that’s always there, the tingling and vibrations that come and go, he was diligent in his training. But admits part of it is luck.

“The week before the Boston Marathon I couldn’t get out of bed because of a relapse. Literally. Three days later I felt OK and went back to training,” he explained.

“I’m at my best when I set my goal and get things done,” he added. “The competitiveness and wanting to succeed all comes from playing sports. I enjoy being part of a team. I want to do whatever it takes.”

The “Strides Against MS” team raised $220,000 at the Boston Marathon. Horner alone raised over $9,000. Last weekend he competed in Jacksonville’s version of “Dancing with the Stars.”

“It’s a challenge,” he said of his active lifestyle despite living with MS. “I believe my background as an athlete has contributed to my well being as an MS patient.

And how’d he feel after competing in the Boston Marathon and seeing Kristen at the finish line?

“Like I scored a hat trick. Maybe ten goals! Never been happier since my wedding day.”

Sports Art from a Local Artist

It wasn’t until Heather Blanton had what she jokingly calls a “midlife crisis” that she became a painter.
She was about to turn 40.

The recession had hit. And her medium for more than 10 years — Polaroid manipulation photography — was on its way out.

“I needed to find something,” she said, standing in front of some of her work at the Plum Gallery in St. Augustine.

Although she played softball in middle and high school, sports was never really her focus. She watched football and baseball with her father, but she was never much of a spectator.

Still, the St. Augustine resident found her artist’s inspiration in an unexpected outlet: through those on fields of play.

“I have a twin sister who is an artist,” Blanton said. “She encouraged me a lot. She said, ‘I know you can paint. You just have to let go of your fear, and magical things will start happening.’ And they did.”
About five years ago, Blanton put brush to canvas for a commission from a cyclist who wanted original artwork around his sport. And that’s how it started.
Sitting in front of a blank canvas, the Sandalwood High graduate started creating cyclists as she saw them in her memory.

“I lived in Vilano Beach, and I would take A1A on Sundays to see my family,” she said. “I would get behind about 45 cyclists. So rather than be upset about being stuck in traffic, I tried to be grateful for all the colors that were in front of me.”

Blanton was less interested in the art being abstract or realistic, but more about conveying the energy she saw on the road onto the canvas.

“I try to not do too much planning because I’ve found that it’s better to allow the energy of the painting to move through me rather than a preconceived idea,” she said of her process. “I ask for some divine intervention to come and help me with a piece.”

There’s an organized randomness to her paintings. It’s not haphazard by any means, but there is a sense of what’s going on in that moment.

All of that inspiration, despite having no experience running, skiing, playing golf or cycling.

“I’ve never been on anything but a beach cruiser, usually with a drink holder on the front,” she said with a laugh.
From cycling, Blanton branched out to other sports, such as painting marathoners.

“There was just a calling to me about the mass numbers of runners. The marathon can be consistently chaotic,” she said. “I got a lot of feedback from people. ‘You don’t have the energy. Marathons are about chaos.’ So I tried to have more chaos in the feel.”

Most of her paintings come in one sitting, and if there’s a theme in any of Blanton’s work, a triangle makes its way into a lot of her paintings.

It can be seen in the form of golfers taking swings or snowboarders going for rides.

“It’s gone to some kind of geometrical form for me. I’m not sure why, but there’s something interesting about the lines for me,” she said. “It doesn’t have any real meaning besides that’s how I see it. I try to paint stuff I like and hope other people do. If you try to paint towards what other people want, I think you make yourself crazy.”

Others have found enjoyment in her work.

From a commercial standpoint, the Gaylord Marriott in Denver took her sixth painting of skiers and used it in 159 public spaces and common areas in the hotel. She is in numerous galleries all over the U.S., as well as overseas.

Blanton has met with the PGA Tour about doing some work when they open their new global headquarters in Ponte Vedra.

She and her twin sister, Holly, have collaborated on about 10 sports paintings and have sold them at the Saatchi Gallery in London. They’ve talked with Porsche about murals in their worldwide headquarters and would like to talk to the Jaguars about some of the collaborative work they’ve done that depicts football.

One shows a line of football players over an abstract background. “My sister did the background, and I came back over on top of it,” Heather said.

There are numerous colors and uniforms represented and plenty more than 11 players depicted.
“That’s not a line,” she said of the line of players across the center of the painting, “that’s more abstract. It’s not realism. Art is open to interpretation. It’s not about following rules. I’ve never been much on following rules.”

Said Holly: “Heather has the potential to be famous. There’s not a lot of images that come to mind when you think of sports fine art. There’s nobody else doing what she’s doing.”
Heather refers to her process as an “experience beyond words,” which gets her started and carries her through a project.
It can be a daunting feeling in front of a blank canvas, but she believes she’s as much of a “channeler” as a creator.

“The paintings I love the most take me the least amount of time,” she said. “When you are in that zone, when you go back to paintings, they don’t have that same magic. I try to do them all in one sitting. I almost feel a singing inside of me. It’s almost a harmonic.”
Often, even she is amazed when a work is complete.
“I don’t feel responsible for the finished product,” she said. “Sometimes, I stand back and just go, ‘Wow,’ I never would have come up with that.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Recovery Is The New Fitness Science

“Exercise, eat right, get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of fluids.”

Everybody’s heard that advice about staying healthy. As regular exercise became part of professional advice for living longer, more productive lives, the science of fitness found all kinds of “secrets” to being fit. It started with the number of reps, duration and amount of time between exercise, moved on to the intensity and then to the nutrition and hydration necessary to be at peak performance. It seems like everybody is wearing some kind of fitness “tracker.”

“Most of the exercise science in the last few years has been focused on recovery,” Jaguars Physical Therapist and Athletic Trainer Robby Hoenshel explained in the Jaguars training room on Tuesday.

While Tuesday is generally a “day off” for NFL players, the training room was full of Jaguars players rehabilitating injuries and getting their bodies ready for the physical demands of a Sunday game.

Looking for a way to help players begin their recovery quicker, the Jaguars and other professional sports teams have started using a new technology called “Firefly.”

“Cold tubs, massage, Normatec therapy, all of those work and are part of the routine, but the Firefly technology helps us start our players toward recovery immediately after the game,” Hoenshel explained. “Designed to be both portable and affordable, post-game, on a flight, resting and recovering, it’s a good time to get that in.”

On their website, Firefly says it’s an, “innovative, neuromuscular electro-stimulation (NMES) device, intended for the stimulation of healthy muscles to improve or facilitate muscle performance.” From a small strap that sends an electrical impulse to a nerve (peroneal) just outside the knee to stimulate blood flow in the lower leg. Originally designed as a way to prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in patients and for passengers on long flights, Firefly has been found to have sports recovery applications.”

Their website goes on to say it “gently activate muscles in the lower leg that return blood towards the heart. This increase in blood circulation emulates that of active recovery without an athlete having to move or exert energy.”

Particularly after a road game in any professional sport, players sit on the airplane to fly home and like everybody else, sometimes get stiff and sore. This keeps that from happening in their lower legs. The Jaguars put Firefly on all 22 starters and any other players who ask for them. “We’ve had good success and guys are starting to ask for them,” Hoenshel added.

“Everyone knows it’s a long season so we’re looking for the quickest way to recover, ” Allen Hurns said as the Firefly was applied just below both of his knees. “It’s a jump start to the week, right after the game.”

“Coming back from London I had these on and was still able to get a lot of rest,” Hurns explained. “You feel little twitches but nothing that keeps you away from your sleep.”

While professional teams and athletes are seeing the benefits for immediate recovery, weekend athletes can also use the Firefly to stave off the soreness that comes from a hard workout. Anybody who’s given max effort at some point knows the feeling of “delayed onset muscle soreness” or “DOMS.” Keeping the blood flowing in your leg can keep that soreness from happening.

“Any weekend athlete will benefit from this, ” Jaguars team physician Dr. Kevin Kaplan told me has he attached the Firefly to my leg. “There are a lot of things that go into recovery a lot of pieces to the puzzle. After one of your long bike rides this is an excellent device to start your healing quicker.”

“As we all work out we know we’re tearing muscle and creating byproducts of exercise. Everybody feels great when they leave the gym,” “Dr. Kaplan explained,” “But the next day you get that delayed muscle soreness and fatigue. You want to get rid of those byproducts that build up in your muscles to speed up recovery.”

Backing up the science, I can tell you that putting the Firefly on for a couple of hours while I was working at my desk kept my normal post-workout soreness to a minimum.

A pair of Firefly straps is about $30 and they say they last for 30 hours of intermittent use. You can find out more about it at fireflyrecovery.us.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Sports And Politics: Not So Strange Bedfellows

It’s always amusing to see which “celebrities” claim they’ll be moving to a different country if a candidate they don’t like wins an election. Cher recently said she’d “move to Jupiter” if Donald Trump was elected President. Sports stars haven’t gone that far, but support for political candidates and causes is embedded in sports culture. Michael Jordan was roundly criticized during his career for not taking a stand on political issues. “Republicans also buy shoes” was his answer for not supporting a Democrat candidate in North Carolina. (He denies saying that) Ronald Reagan leaned on his portrayal of George Gipp, “The Gipper” during his campaign and time in the White House.

In 2016, LeBron James introduced Hillary Clinton at a rally while Bill Belichick penned a letter of support to Donald Trump. Former Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Shilling was recently fired for airing his political views. ESPN has intertwined a litany of Trump jokes and references into their most recent coverage.

Prior to his time as the Republican nominee, Donald Trump spent plenty of time in Jacksonville. In the early ’80’s, Trump was the owner of the USFL’s New Jersey Generals. He signed Herschel Walker out of Georgia after the Heisman winner’s junior year. (Walker changed his mind and wanted to return to Georgia but had signed a contract and was ineligible.) The USFL held several of their owners meetings in North Florida, including one at Amelia Island. Jacksonville Bulls Owner Fred Bullard called Trump “charismatic” but also said that it was Trump’s ideas that put the USFL out of business. For the record, Trump did admit to trying to force the fledgling league into the fall to directly compete with the NFL, saying if they stayed in the spring they’d be “small potatoes.” (ESPN did a 30-for-30 on the USFL of the same name)

In the last 50 years, sports stars turning to politics as a career has not been unusual. Arnold Schwarzenegger served as Governor of California. Jesse Ventura did the same in Minnesota. Pitcher Jim Bunning was a Senator after he retired and Bill Bradley was a Senator from New Jersey. He ran for President in 2000. Steve Largent, Heath Shuler, Tom Osborne, Jim Ryun, and Ralph Metcalfe all won congressional seats after their athletic careers were over. Kevin Johnson is the Mayor of Sacramento. Ander Crenshaw played basketball at Georgia.

Most use their name recognition to gain a foothold in the political arena. Once there, the rough and tumble world of politics makes competition on an athletic field look tame. Largent and Osborne lost bids for Governor in Oklahoma and Nebraska, the former falling short of the state house because of his stand on “cock fighting.”

When it comes to being athletes, American Presidents have a varied history. It wasn’t until the 1940’s that anybody paid attention to the President’s athletic prowess. Prior to that only Teddy Roosevelt, an avid outdoorsman was the only touchstone for athletes. (Of course, Abraham Lincoln split logs). Harry Truman was well known for taking long walks from the White House. He called it his “morning constitution.” Dwight Eisenhower was a well know lover of golf. They even named a tree after him at Augusta National. Winnie Palmer gave Arnold a weekend of golf with Eisenhower as a birthday present one year.

While there are a lot of theories about how John Kennedy defeated the sitting Vice President Richard Nixon in 1960, his vitality, backyard touch football games and a general “sporting” personality get some of the credit. Kennedy also played golf, and the President’s Council on Physical Fitness (and now Sports) was created during his Presidency.

Richard Nixon had a swimming pool and bowling lanes put in the basement of the White House. Gerald Ford played big time college football at Michigan.

Jimmy Carter liked tennis so much he took over the scheduling of the White House tennis court. Ronald Reagan was a swimmer and a college football player as well. George H.W. Bush was captain of the Yale baseball team. He loves golf and fishing and just about any kind of sporting activity. Bill Clinton’s dedication to golf is well documented. George W. Bush also plays golf but is an avid mountain biker as well. Barak Obama has played more golf in his eight years as President than any other who has ever held the office. But his first love is basketball, organizing a holiday game every year in D.C. His Chicago friends joked that while he was living there, he’d play basketball at the local gym constantly, only stepping outside to smoke a cigarette.

A running joke is that athletes want to be musicians and musicians want to be athletes. Some athletes want to be politicians, and most politicians know, being an athlete, no matter what kind, can help them get elected.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Cryotherapy Jax: Recovery Is The Key To Peak Performance

As technology is being used in all facets of sports, research is showing that recovery techniques are one of the key ingredients to avoiding injury. And it’s not just rest. Active recovery is being shown as a part of sustained performance for weekend warriors and elite athletes alike.

“I travel a lot, I was just in Malaysia and China and recovery is a big part of how I can get back to playing quickly,” said PGA Tour professional Russell Knox.

Knox and his wife Andrea along with Monica Rivera have opened Cryotherapy Jax on the Southside as a recovery zone that has a spa-like feel. “Revive, Rejuvenate, Recover” is on their logo and is their motto as well.

“After a week of work or hard workouts it’s good to have a chance to get your body back on the right track,” Rivera, a former pro tennis player explained. “You can come in, get a cryotherapy treatment, then get in the Normatec suit and you really feel ready to do again.”

In just three minutes in a cryotherapy chamber you can feel the cold working on your soreness and your inflammation. Much like a cold tub, it acts as a vasoconstrictor as well as reduces inflammation. But it does it without getting wet and in just three minutes.

“We’ve seen great results with athletes but with people who have arthritis and joint problems as well,” Rivera said. Their place just off Southside Boulevard has an athletic and welcoming vibe, comfortable but with a purpose. A cryotherapy session at -200 degrees definitely gets your attention: 30 minutes in the Normatec suit feels like the part of the workout you’ve been missing.

A Normatec suit creates variable pressure from your feet up through the end of you fingers. It’s designed to rejuvenate your muscles by forcing lactic acid out of your arms and legs giving them an easier path to recovery. It feels a little like a pulsating massage.

“I don’t know a PGA Tour player or any other professional athlete who doesn’t use this,” Knox said while sitting in a lounger looking like the Michelin Man. “After walking 18 holes, especially if it’s wet, getting this treatment can get you ready for the next day.”

In combination, the cryotherapy and Normatec treatments are proving to be very popular among athletes trying to avoid the soreness and wait time usually associated with a hard workout. I’ve had cryotherapy sessions and have felt the positive effects but adding the Normatec treatment afterwards had a long lasting, even lingering feeling of recovery.

In the long run, Rivera and the Knoxes are hoping to expand Cryotherapy Jax to a full recovery center, looking at all kinds of treatments with an eye on rest and nutrition as well.

“If you’re not paying attention to how you’re recovering,” Russell said, “You’re not going to be at your best.”

Cryotherapy Jax is open Monday through Saturday in the Perimeter Park just off Southside Boulevard.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Sawgrass CC: No Issues

As one of the original communities in Ponte Vedra Beach, Sawgrass Country Club has seen all kinds of different weather. Its golf course sits virtually right on the ocean and was the original North Florida host for The Players in early March in the late ’70’s and ’80’s. The weather was so severe one over par won the tournament, forcing the competition back to late March before they moved across the street to the Tournament Players Club.

Despite it’s proximity to the beach, Sawgrass weathered Hurricane Matthew with minimal damage.

“Not much damage,” Ponte Vedra Beach real estate agent and developer Rob Kearney said on Saturday. “We were shocked at the amount of wind we had but just some trees down and a lot of debris. We didn’t see any damage with any rooftops or anything else.”

While water is a big hazard for golfers at Sawgrass, it wasn’t a factor for residents living inside the community. Their lakes and canals connect with Guana Lake and were able to drain without a problem.

“Overall it came up about 2 ½ to 3 feet around the community and the golf course over two days ago,” Kearney explained. “We see some water intrusion in this fairway (7 West) but that’s typical anytime we get a lot of rain here.”

Now making Sawgrass his permanent home, insurance executive Joe Braunstein was very pleased with how things turned out considering the force of Hurricane Matthew. His home along the golf course and on a wide lake handled the storm just fine. “It did, I was really surprised. No trees down, no water in the house, we survived it,” Braunstein said standing along the golf course waterways. “I think the community did a really good job heeding the warning of either evacuating or getting to a safe place.”

Originally from Philadelphia, Joe said this was a first for him, that things are very different in Philly.

“No, we get snow and we get the Eagles,” he said with a laugh.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

PV Residents Say Beach Is Resilient

There’s a certain look to North Florida beaches. Wide and white, backed by sand dunes with a gradual slope to the ocean. Hurricane Matthew changed the topography of the beach, altering even the view from the road.

“It’s pretty powerful, I’ve seen it maybe a dozen times in 30 years,” Bobby Weed, Ponte Vedra resident and golf course designer said while walking on Ponte Vedra Boulevard on Saturday.

“I’ve seen it at Amelia Island in the 70’s and 80’s and here a couple of times,” Weed recalled. “We’ve lost the dunes but the beach is resilient, it’ll come back. I think we’re all very fortunate”

Residents are used to idyllic weather, hot summer days, cool spring and fall breezes and occasional violent storms. But this was completely different.

“The power of the wind and the water is amazing,” Weed’s daughter Haley, said. “We’ve lost our dunes but they’ll grow back. Everything has changed so we’ll have to adapt. It’ll work out.”

“A little bit of devastation,” is how Nocatee resident Kevin Day described it walking back from looking at the ocean. “It wasn’t too bad. I expected it to be worse than I saw. There are palm leaves, trees, a little bit of board damage. And all the dunes have been washed away.”

“At first we thought it was going to be a Cat 4 and my wife wanted to get out of town,” Day explained. “We decided to stay at the last minute and I guess we got lucky.” As a more than 30-year resident of North Florida, and a prominent international golf industry businessman, Bobby Weed had a tinge of pride watching his home town recover.

“I’ve been over in Orange Park picking up my youngest daughter this morning and I’ve been impressed. Everybody’s pitching in and cleaning up. It’s a good community effort.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Historic Ponte Vedra Inn And Club Survives Matthew

Originally built in 1928 the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club is one of the most historic places on Florida’s east coast. Selected to host the Ryder Cup in 1939 and withstanding Hurricane Dora’s wrath in 1964, the Inn was 80% full as Hurricane Matthew steamed towards Jacksonville’s beaches.

“We informed our guests during the week and had a lot of cooperation getting people out safely,” Dale Haney, President of the Gate Hospitality group told us on Saturday.

Generations of families in North Florida have treated the club as their own, using it as a weekend retreat, a place to hold weddings or summer vacations. It’s no surprise Haney took calls before and after Matthew from residents and members asking about the club’s ability to survive.

“We’ve had calls since the storm was announced,” Haney said. “This is a second home for a lot of people and a big part of their lifestyle and an important part of their lives.”

Much like in 1964, the club itself survived the hurricane force winds. When Dora hit, it flooded inland. For Matthew, the seawall, the rooms on the ocean and the club itself kept the water on the east side of Ponte Vedra Boulevard.

“The structure held up fine,” Haney explained. “All the buildings are brick, the gym is on the second floor.”

“We do have pavers under all this sand,” Haney said light heartedly, adding, “It’s really a beach club covered with sand. I believe a wave came right through. The beach came to the club.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Air2G2 Local Company Making Good

As a concept, it seems pretty simple: All living things need air to grow. But for Glen Black, it was a brainstorm in college that led to a growing business based on that concept.

Black is the President of Air2G2 by GT Air Inject, a Jacksonville company with connections all around the world. While a college student, one of Black’s professors wondered aloud if they couldn’t get air to the roots of a grass system and if that would promote growth. Black went to work on the concept and the Air2G2 machine was born.

“Air is everything to anything that lives,” is the company trademark and Ar2G2 machine provides that where it doesn’t get to: underground.

Any expanse of grass needs to eventually given room to grow. Grass fields used for sports, football, baseball, golf, soccer and others, get compacted together where air can’t get to the root system and promote growth. The Air2G2 does just that. But putting three spikes in the ground that push compressed air in at a seven-inch depth to break up the “compaction layer” and again at 12 inches beneath the turf surface.

Traditionally “aerating” a grass surface (field, fairway, green, tee box) involves taking chunks of the turf out of the ground to let the remaining grass expand. The Air2G2 does that without disrupting the playing surface and allows teams and players to go right back to work.

Fields a the Jaguars stadium in town, Fenway Park, and Wrigley Field are among the places the Air2G2 is in action. Florida Field and others in college football count on it to keep their fields going all year. Real Madrid is one of the international soccer clubs who use the Air2G2 machine to keep their field in shape.

At a cost of $38,000 it’s in the price range that most clubs can afford. Handmade here in Jacksonville, the company is working on a home model for significantly less. As far as time, besides the “instant use” component of the Air2G2, it takes a little longer than mowing the grass to put the machine into use.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Cryotherapy: The latest in “Sam’s Big Comeback”

For those of you who have followed by journey since my stem-cell surgery in November, first I want to say thank you. Somebody asks me about my knee, the procedure, the braces I wore or my rehab everyday, and I appreciate it.

Since the stem-cell procedure is so new in the US, the experts are still gathering information the rehabilitation process.

“It’s all over the map,” said Mike Ryan, the former Jaguars athletic trainer who now runs Mike Ryan Fitness in Jacksonville Beach as well as other projects and commentary for NBC Sports. “The physical therapists are coming up with ways to rehab from that procedure but there are a lot of different opinions.”

Mike’s right about that but from somebody who’s undergone the procedure, I can tell you the rehab is closer to coming back from knee surgery than anything else. The first two weeks are filled with a lack of mobility and a lot of soreness. As I mentioned in the original story the advice from my longtime friend and medical advisor Dr. Paul Shirley was “Ice and prayer.” So I did a lot of both.

As I’ve progressed through this process, I started an upward trend to feeling better with less knee pain starting at about two months and getting progressively better into month five.

“That makes sense,” Dr. Stephan Esser from SE Orthopedics said as I filled him in on my progress. “The stem cells are immature when we first line your knee with them and it takes a while for them to mature and start to replicate.”

I tried to follow Dr. Esser’s instructions on recovery and was probably an “80%” patient, probably being too aggressive on more than one occasion during the early stages of rehab. After four months, they cleared me for a step up in the intensity of my therapy and I had my good days and my bad days. I had lost some flexibility and mobility in my left ankle and my left hip in the beginning of the process so I had a lot of soreness through my hip flexors, quads and lower leg.

“No surprise,” was again the answer when I met with noted physical therapist Dr. Mark Baughman in Jacksonville Beach. Mark has his doctorate in physical therapy so when he put me through my first evaluation, he and I laughed when he said I was a “classic case of dysfunction.”

Finding the “links” to where my lack of mobility and soreness was coming from, Dr. Baughman worked from the ground up using the old phrase, “we’ll be chopping wood for a while” when he discovered the lack of flexibility I had in my left ankle and left hip. Through a series of sessions with Mark I’ve regained a lot of that but there’s still work to do. Sitting in a chair at work, in the cockpit of the airplane, the car or riding my bike promotes a shortness in just about every muscle in the front of my body so I spend a lot of time counteracting that with stretching, the Swiss ball and sometimes just laying flat on my back on the floor.

At right about the six-month mark I was experiencing some associated pain around my knee so Dr. Esser suggested I come in for some “nerve retraining.” I had no idea what that meant but found out quickly it was an aggressive form of acupuncture combined with some electric stimulation.

That’s always seemed a little bit like hocus-pocus combined with voodoo to me but I was quickly converted. Going to treatment five out of seven days, Dr. Esser worked on the muscles around my knee as well as some of the meridians flowing through my knee and gave me instant relief and results. Shortly thereafter I rode my bike in Europe for a couple of weeks, even climbing the iconic L’Alpe d’Huez with no ill effects. And if you’ve seen me, I’m not built for climbing! Stephan has suggested regular acupuncture and I’m a believer.

Recently I’ve started a cryotherapy routine looking for another nudge forward. Ice baths and cold therapy have been around for a while but this is supposed to be the next step in recovery or managing chronic, old injuries.

“We get it down to negative 302 Fahrenheit (degrees)” Beau Dominiak, the owner and trainer at Outlast Cryotherapy in Ponte Vedra told me before one of my treatments.

“It’s basically pulling all of the fluid out of your extremities, sending all of the blood back to your vital organs,” he explained of the three minute. “When you come out of there as you return to a normal state you’re sending fresh blood carrying nutrients and oxygen back to your extremities.”

Dominiak is a former pro soccer player in Scotland and uses the machine himself up to six times a week. “It’s great for chronic injuries I’ve had and sometimes I even use it before a workout as pre-hab.”

“Very positive results,” is how he described what his clients have talked about. “It’s intended to be an everyday tool, a couple times a week is probably ideal.”

I can tell you it’s had some positive effects using cryotherapy along with the other protocols in my rehab program. I can also tell you the first two minutes you’re chilly but it’s OK. The last minute, you want to get out.

“It’s that fight or flight response that’s what you’re looking for,” Dominiak said with a laugh. “It’s supposed to have your body want to protect itself. It’s promoting both body health and brain health.”

I’ll keep you posted on the results!

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Mayor Curry To Run Gate River Run

As a politician, Mayor Lenny Curry is used to looking for a way to win. For the Gate River Run on Saturday he’ll have find a new definition for the word victory.

“The streets are lined with people, I remember seeing beer stands last year,” Mr. Curry told me before a training run in his neighborhood this week. “There’s a little it of something for every body. If you want to be competitive you can, if you want to just run and enjoy the day you can do that too.”

It won’t be the first time the Mayor has run the Gate but it’ll be the first time a sitting Mayor of Jacksonville has stepped into the crowd to run after some welcoming remarks. He’s been suitably fast when he’s run the race before but says the hardest part will be remembering his age (45) instead of how old he thinks he is (30).

“We sort of have a little competition going on in the house as to who can finish the fastest,” the Mayor’s wife Molly said as she prepared to join in on the training.”

“You’re just throwing that in there now,” Mr. Curry asked with a laugh. “That’s the first I’ve heard of that.”

This year the Mayor will run with his wife and his son Boyd, so he’s not going to be looking at his watch, but rather enjoying the day, the crowds and the course.

“Last year I pushed myself the first three miles out of the gate and felt like somebody had punched me in the gut,” he recalled.

As Mayor, improving the fitness of Jacksonville’s citizens is one of his goals. He’ll be rolling out a walking and running initiative in the coming months because he believes in the benefits.

“For me it’s like brushing my teeth,” he said. “It’s that important. It’s not only good for the body it’s good for the mind.”

This year is the 39th edition of the Gate River Run with a record number of participants expected. The start is at 8:30 by the stadium with live coverage on News4Jax beginning at 7 AM.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Raising Money, Always Funny, Bill Murray’s In Town

When you go to talk with Bill Murray, you know two things: 1) You don’t know what he’s going to say or talk about and 2) something funny is going to happen. I’ve had a chance to talk with Bill over the years since he’s been holding his annual Murray Brothers Golf Tournament here in North Florida at the World Golf Village. Bill has made himself available to talk at his tournament over the years despite the hordes of people who are following him, watching him play and asking for something. Friday was no different.

Starting on the back nine at the King and the Bear, there’s always a backup on the 14th tee, a combination of finishing a par 5, going to a par three, a bar and a TacoLu truck as a distraction. That’s where we caught up with Bill to talk between bites of his favorite taco and a chat with his brother Ed.

“What are you playing,” I asked, referring to the Callaway irons in his bag.

“Whatever will go on the green,” he said, sizing up the upcoming 147-yard shot.

Murray’s popularity attracts players from all over the country to his tournament. This year over 420 players are participating over three 18-hole flights. For the fourth year in a row they’re raising money for the Firehouse Subs Foundation benefitting first responders in the military, and police and fire departments.

“They really need that stuff,” Murray said while waiting on the tee. “You should see them when they get stuff like the high powered Jet Ski’s. They’re like, ‘Wow, we could have used this last year!”

“When I took him to a meeting with the Governor and some of the first responders receiving some of the things we’ve bought with money raised over the years I could tell that he gets it,” Robin Sorensen, one of the founders of Firehouse Subs and the head of the Firehouse Foundation explained. “We’ve raised over a million dollars in the first four years of being associated with this tournament and Bill knows the money’s being put to good use.”

A big sports fan, Murray was as interested in Jake Arietta’s no-hitter from the night before as he was his golf game.

“How’d you like that?” he asked as any Cubs fan would.

“All it did was make me mad,” I said. “Since I’m an Oriole fan and he was terrible when he played for us.”

“Because you didn’t let him pitch the way he wanted to. You tried to change him. So now we have him,” Murray quickly responded.

That exchanged quickly reminded me of how big a fan he really is, not just paying lip service to keep his popularity.

“I was trying to raise money last night while that (the no-hitter) was going on. I had to leave the stage,” he added. “Then somebody said from the audience, ‘he did it’ and I was like ‘Great, and I missed it.'”

As a guest on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last week in LA, Murray was promoting his recent movie the remake of “The Jungle Book.” I happened to see him on there and complimented him on how he and his young co-star performed.

“I couldn’t figure out why he had such a huge dressing room,” Murray revealed about arriving at the Kimmel taping. “But then I realized he had his parents, both sets of grandparents, everybody in his family there. He’s from Long Island and they all came out. Nice kid.”

Somehow our conversation turned to the equipment the first responders’ use and Bill said, “Well, we’re all first responders aren’t we? To take care of ourselves? Unless you can’t,” he added. “Except for me, a bird is just going to come and take me away.”

“Oh really, a big bird?” I asked.

“Yup,” he answered. “It’s just going to come in and grab me and carry me off.”

Like I said, you never know where the conversation is going to go!

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

USA Soccer To Play Here September 6

Getting a game that counts has always bee on the “to do” list for the city of Jacksonville when it comes to USA Soccer and that will happen for the first time in 2016. Mayor Lenny Curry as well as sports executives from the Jaguars, the Armada and SMG will make the announcement tomorrow morning.

As part of the World Cup qualifying, Jacksonville will host the game on September 6th between the USA and Trinidad and Tobago. It’s the final game of semi-final qualifying and could have huge implications regarding who has a chance to play at the World Cup in Russia in 2018.

In their last two appearances in “friendlies” at the stadium Team USA has attracted over 44,000 against Scotland in 2012 and over 53,000 vs. Nigeria two years later. One of the roadblocks to hosting an official qualifier is distance from the corners of the pitch to the stands, not enough to satisfy international soccer specifications. That will be one of the issues addressed at tomorrow’s press conference.

For the first time in more than 30 years, USA lost to Guatemala last week 2-0 to put the red, white and blue’s chances to qualify at risk. They’ll have a chance to get back on track in the second game of that match tomorrow night in Columbus, OH.

A rich soccer history, dating back to the Tea Men of the NASL in the early ’80’s has allowed Jacksonville to host Team USA as a training base in the ’90’s, recent friendlies and the return of the NASL with the Armada last year.

Tomorrow’s announcement is scheduled at 10AM at the stadium.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

When Watching Tony Kornheiser, Buyer Beware

You might remember before Super Bowl XXXIX here in Jacksonville, then-Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser wrote a scathing review of Jacksonville as the host city. Since Channel 4 at the time was also owned by the Post, I invited Kornheiser to come on the air and explain his distaste for the city. He declined, but the higher-ups in Jacksonville and D.C. got involved and he was on our air the next day, via telephone, during our 6 o’clock news.

Having gone to high school and college in DC, I had read Kornheiser in the Post for years and always found his take pretty interesting. He once published a compilation of his columns and called it “Pumping Irony.” Nonetheless, I was interested to talk to him to find out why he was taking shots at my hometown.

Starting the live interview with a couple of basic questions, it became apparent to me during his answers that he really didn’t know what he was talking about.

“You’ve never been here!” I blurted out in the middle of one of his nonsensical answers.

“Well, I’ve been to the orange juice stand on 95,” he deadpanned.

“Are you at least coming to the game?” I asked.

“I’m sending (Michael) Wilbon to let him handle it,” was his answer.

After exposing the article as a farce, if not a fraudulent attempt at humor, Kornheiser spent the next couple of days on his radio show in DC ripping me, my high school and (short) college athletic career and it eventually went away.

When he was on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Committee, I used to sit by Mike Wilbon as he and Tony’s “hallway conversations” at the Post eventually led to their current show on ESPN, “PTI.” I don’t agree with much of what Wilbon writes, and we had that conversation several times. But I found him engaging and funny and always opinionated about what Kornheiser had to say.

“It’s about stirring it up,” he said as we left one meeting.

On Wednesday night’s edition of PTI, Kornheiser took the occasion to deride Jacksonville again, saying, tongue in cheek, that the league’s foray in to China was just an opportunity for “Jacksonville to play somewhere in a stadium that doesn’t have half of the seats covered with tarps.”

It’s an old story that’s never been true, but again trotted out by an entertainer who hasn’t done his homework and is just leaning on a perception rather than reality. We know why the stadium was built to the size it is, and by the way, just about every stadium built in the time since Jacksonville was awarded the franchise is in the 65-68,000 seat range.

That’s about the right size for any NFL team.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Remembering Rex Morgan

Somewhere along the way in his career, somebody associated with JU decided that Rex Morgan shouldn’t be the head basketball coach at the Arlington school. It’s a bit of a shame, but his loyalty to the Dolphins never wavered. Sunday’s celebration of life for Morgan, who died last week at 67 after a battle with throat cancer, was held in JU’s Historic Swisher Gym, the site of Morgan’s exploits as a player in the late ’60’s and ’70’s.

“We ran a very patient, patterned offense,” Morgan’s coach Joe Williams told the 800 or so at Swisher to pay their respects. “But the first time the ball went to Rex on the wing, he took it to the basket and laid it in. He changed what we thought about coaching. Once we got Artis (Gilmore) and Pembroke (Burroughs), Tom (Wasdin, Williams’ assistant coach) and I just wanted to get up in the stands and watch. It was that good.”

After a loss in his freshman year, Wasdin told the crowd, “Rex got the team together and said, ‘You don’t know what’s going on here. How special it is to be at this school.’ We didn’t have any bad losses after that.”

Recalling the recruitment of Morgan, Wasdin said, “I told Rex we needed him and really wanted him. Rex said, ‘Coach, I’ve never seen a team that needed me more.'”

It was that kind of story told Sunday remembering Morgan as a player and coach of great passion and intensity, a natural leader.

“When he got the ball, he was in charge,” Pembroke Burroughs, a forward on the 1970 team that played in the national championship game recalled. “He wasn’t our point guard, but at 6’6″ when he got the ball on the wing, he took over.”

Morgan’s coaching career took him from an assistant at FSU under Williams to the USBL to Arlington Country Day School where his teams won seven state championships including five in a row. Morgan was known as fun-loving as well. His USBL team hosted boxer Roy Williams as part of a promotion as Williams played pro basketball and got into the ring for a fight the same day.

“He had a passion for basketball and for Jacksonville,” his friend and teammate Artis Gilmore said in front of Swisher. “He was a very good player, got caught up in a numbers game with the (Boston) Celtics. Very aggressive, very passionate about the game. Just a great competitor and a great friend.”

Gilmore might have been the centerpiece of the great JU teams in the early ’70’s but it was Morgan who made it all happen according to his coaches and teammates.

“A great passer but a great friend,” Williams said echoing Gilmore’s sentiment. “He always had the ability to make you think you were the most important person around.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

“Krossover” Helping Hs Hoops Teams

For about 30 years or so computers have been in dugouts in Major League Baseball. Images of Tony Larussa scanning through matchups and statistics on a laptop in the dugout sent purists howling saying it signaled the end of the America’s Pastime. Now, every team employs an analytics expert, with some ascending to the General Manager spot, making decisions. A whole science, started by Bill James and called Sabermetrics has been created, dedicated to the study of baseball statistics. NFL teams have followed suit, compiling data and crunching numbers, looking for an edge. Tony Khan has an engineering degree but is the Jaguars Vice President for analytics, compiling a smaller sample size than baseball (since baseball has been around for more than 150 years) but still trying to find some secrets in the numbers of the game.

That kind of statistical analysis has now come to basketball, filtering it’s way down from the NBA to elite college programs to high schools like Providence here in Jacksonville where the Stallions are deep into the study of the game through a program called “Krossover.”

“We used to have to go back and forth, fast forwarding through a DVD,” Brian Hoff, Assistant head coach of the Providence Boys basketball team said this week. “Now with just one click, we can see whatever we want.

Krossover is a program that uploads game video and breaks down each play on offense and defense, each player’s contribution, or lack thereof, and how much success a team is having at any point in the game. Whether it’s separating each possession they played man-to-man on defense or how many three pointers were scored in the 4th quarter, the program shows it all.

“Whenever I have a bad game, I can go look and see what I did wrong,” Milon Sheffield, a Stallions Sr. Guard told us at practice. “Sometimes you get exposed because you know on Krossover, they’re going to catch everything.”

At Providence they also discovered the unique difference between using the Krossover program for boys and for girls.

“You have to get past the ‘Oh I look fat’ and the ‘Oh my hair’s messed up,” said Gigi Bistrow, the Providence Girls basketball coach.

“You know you see yourself running down the court and you say, ‘Do I really run like that?” added Providence Jr. Guard Kaylee Davis. “But then you’re like, ‘I gotta focus on basketball.”

Bistrow says as a teaching tool, it’s been invaluable because of how it augments the fundamentals she’s trying to teach. “You can say you have to do this or you have to do that, but when they see it, they know, ‘That was me, I did that wrong and I need to fix it.'”

“After the game we go back and look at it and see the things we did well and they things we did wrong,” Davis added. “We definitely benefit from that.”