“I’ll Give You a ‘Trigger Warning’ About Uber…” and other observations

“I’ll Give You a ‘Trigger Warning’ About Uber…” and other observations

A few observations this week…

  • The NFL Draft is this week (Thursday night). I don’t know when it happened, but I stopped caring about the incessant draft over-analysis and speculation of who is going to where. I don’t know which player will be drafted and what draft order they will be selected in. I only care about one thing…will the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets find a way to screw it up again?


  • The biggest, and most important, news story in Iowa isn’t Chris Soules (not even close). It’s the Jane Meyer vs. University of Iowa civil suit case in Des Moines. Meyer is suing UI for discrimination. Meyer was a top assistant athletic director at Iowa. Meyer was reassigned in the athletic department. This took place after Meyer’s partner, Tracy Griesbaum, was fired as Iowa’s field hockey coach. You can follow the trial here from Des Moines Register’s reporter Grant Rodgers.



  • The topic of free speech on college campuses is one that is messy, but it needs to be had, regardless if many go out of their way to censor it. The same goes for sensitive and uncomfortable topics. Dayna Troisi on Bright (through Medium) pens a piece about how using “trigger warnings” to give students advance warnings about distressing topics are meaningless. (Side note: as much as many try to block out the discussion of topics and individuals who do not reflect your views, you need to hear them. You don’t have to agree with them. That’s not the point. The point is individuals have viewpoints that are favorable or unfavorable).


Unpopular opinion: the “shutting down” of people on social media. That term is stupid. If you oppose a view, you oppose a view. It would be beneficial for sites like Twitter and Mashable to stop using “shutting down”, and for people to stop trying to act like they’re doing a public good in attacking back.


  • Maybe it’s not such a bad idea to reconsider public transportation, taxis, or someone you know to give you a ride. At the rate that Uber is going, I doubt if Lyft and other entities can withstand such backlash. (Yes I linked a Mashable story. I’m guilty of using clickbait).


Judging others is easy. It puts them in a category that makes us comfortable, it gives us excuses to either do or not do something with or to a person, it helps us convince ourselves we “understand” people better this way. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking of truth. It asks you to listen, learn and think, rather than making an instant judgment.


Marshawn Lynch Doesn’t Have To Speak, But It’s Up To Him To Conquer His Anxiety

Marshawn Lynch Doesn’t Have To Speak, But It’s Up To Him To Conquer His Anxiety

I’m not a good talker. I like conversations, but I am not a serial “conversationalist”. If given a choice, I would prefer to listen, read, and observe things and write what I see everyday.

But, that’s not how the world operates. You have to talk if you need help, to explain things that people do not understand, and to blend in with the human race.

I am a stutterer. Many people who know me understand that I will fumble over words and phrases awkwardly. I prefer not to talk, unless I need to say something.

"Beast Mode" (aka Marshawn Lynch) doesn't have to talk to the press, but that should not excuse him for not seeking help to resolve his anxiety and fear of public speaking. (ESPN)
“Beast Mode” (aka Marshawn Lynch) doesn’t have to talk to the press, but that should not excuse him for not seeking help for resolve his anxiety and fear of public speaking. (ESPN)

Which brings up the topic of Marshawn Lynch. Lynch, a star running back for the Seattle Seahawks, have become a storm of controversy, as if there isn’t enough controversy around pro football these days, for his “combative” nature in refusing to answer questions from the media during press conferences.

Various reports have said that Lynch battles anxiety attacks when pressed to speak to people. Lynch’s approach to all of this is to sound combative, to the level of being dismissive when he is peppered with questions by the press.

The story of Duane Thomas and his awkward exchange with Tom Brookshier brings back uneasy memories.

I don’t have an opinion of Lynch, but I do know what it is like to fear public speaking and anxiety.

Public speaking feels like walking down death row for many people, such as myself. Growing up, I hated to talk, because I was ashamed of my stuttering. As much as I wanted to voice my opinion, say something informative, or approach a girl, it was a virtual hell for me.

Years of speech therapy did help in some areas, but sooner or later, I would have to figure the rest of it out on my own: learning how to start a conversation, using the phone to order pizza, ask a receptionist for directions, to name a few.

I found public speaking to be tolerable: typing what I am going to say, rehearsing it, and reading it in front of a large crowd. I use a few tricks to help me get through it.

Bill Belichick does not have a fear of public speaking. He chooses to be difficult towards people, with a level of contempt.
Bill Belichick does not have a fear of public speaking. He chooses to be difficult towards people, with a level of contempt.

My advice to Lynch, the Seahawks, and the NFL is this: if he does have an anxiety disorder, then get help for it now, and address it to the public. The better the public knows about it from Marshawn Lynch, the more they are willing to give him a break.

If he does not have anxiety problems and this is mere insubordination on his part, he need to stop playing games with people. If Lynch is using anxiety as an excuse to blow off doing interviews (so far, it has not been confirmed by a doctor if he indeed has an anxiety disorder), then he is insulting and embarrassing the people who actually do battle with social anxiety disorder.

There’s no way getting around that.

If he allegedly did not have a problem with speaking during his time at Buffalo, what changed now with him in Seattle?

No wonder why the media is bashing him, fair or not. I don’t hate Lynch the person. I am disappointed in how he is handling this, and I blame the people around him, including the Seahawks, for not helping him learn how to deal with public speaking in spite of his anxiety.

By not addressing his anxiety, Lynch and the Seahawks open themselves up to criticism about him, his behavior, and who he is as a person.

All of this can be resolved…if everyone would stop pointing fingers at each other.

Here’s one simple resolution: if Lynch is consistently uncomfortable speaking due to his anxiety disorder, the NFL and the Seahawks have to make concessions and not force Lynch not to do mandatory press conferences. The same needs to be applied to players and coaches, not named Bill Belichick, who do have legitimate documented cases of social anxiety disorder.

In return, Lynch has to willingly seek help to treat his anxiety and work on adapting ways to deal with his fear of public speaking. If the NFL and Seattle have to accommodate Lynch in some form, then he has to get help on working to conquer his anxiety problems.

I had to learn how to speak and have conversations with people, in spite of my anxiety. I can choose not to talk, but no one is going to change their environment to accommodate me when I demand it for my self-interest.

This is a controversy should have never developed into a what it is, along with the New England Patriots being accused of deflating footballs to gain an advantage.

In the end, it’s on Marshawn Lynch to help himself conquer his fear of public speaking.

No one is going to fix it for him, unless he’s willing to do so himself.

“Pros And Cons” Warned Us About Crime and Sports

“Pros And Cons” Warned Us About Crime and Sports

Over the past few months, I have listened and watched how people react to news stories, and then over-react to levels that becomes irrational.

Time and again, society treats sports and entertainment like a domestic ecstasy. It’s a perfect world outside of the real world we live in, which is broken, insane, and imperfect. And once again, society point their scornful finger at sports and entertainment for being exactly what society is: broken, insane, and imperfect.

Sports mirrors society, but most of us choose to ignore that aspect. We demand perfection from those we look up to and yet we fail to see those flaws in ourselves.

I sit back with amusement. Why? Because I’m not shocked by the level of domestic violence, drug use, and criminal activity and other things that have beset the sports world, and in Hollywood.

A book I read in 1998 and I still have on my bookshelf pulled back the curtain on crime and sports back then, and we turned a blind eye and ignored it.

(Courtesy: Goodreads.com)
(Courtesy: Goodreads.com)

Jeff Benedict and Don Yeager wrote an eye-opening book titled “Pros and Cons” about the disturbing trend of violence in the NFL, on and off the field. What Benedict and Yeager exposed could easily be applied to baseball, hockey, and soccer. Back then, the internet was a new thing and “Inside Edition” was where we went to get the skinny on “everything”.

It is recommended reading for those who hasn’t followed the history of how crime intertwines with sports. After reading it, you won’t be so “shocked” by what we are seeing now.

Society feeds off of sensational stories that gets us talking and reacting, which is our modus operandi on social media, rather than making a concerted, genuine effort to understand issues.  Most of us are too lazy to delve into topics that are complex and hard to sort out.

Unpopular opinion: TMZ is not a news source, regardless how many stories they have broken or videos they have leaked. TMZ’s main purpose is to out celebrities and record their behavior, even if it means paying paparazzi and unscrupulous people to get pictures and videos of famous people in compromising positions.

Individuals like Benedict, Yeager, and others, have researched, discussed, and talked about these topics involving violence in sports long before everyone else. It’s unfortunate that it took so long. No, Keith Olbermann, Dan Patrick, and Colin Cowherd doesn’t get credit for “bringing light” to these subjects. They’re just like the rest of us:  whatever is the big story, they’ll pontificate about it to the public.

Sports mirrors life: there are a lot of ugly stuff going on that we think we know, but don’t know. We need to stop treating sports like a fairy-tale nirvana, because the choices and decisions that are made, as in the case of the NFL, are the same things that people make in the real world.

Some good and some bad, some really bad and some pretty good.

We just hate to admit that. It’s always someone else’s fault.

Domestic Violence Affects Everyone…Including You

Domestic Violence Affects Everyone…Including You
People get angry. That will happen. Beating people up isn't the way to go about it.
People get angry. That will happen. Beating people up isn’t the way to go about it.

I detest domestic violence against women, children, defenseless people, and yes, men. This also includes same-sex domestic violence (I bet you didn’t think of that). The “outrage” and reaction over the NFL suspending Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has provided me a few observations that got ignored.

Caught on tape: the main reason for the visceral reaction towards Rice was that his wife (then fiancée) and him were on tape when the incident happened. Had it not been on videotape, or TMZ getting their hands on every video sent to them, we wouldn’t have cared about the story.

It’s a CBA thing: there is no comparison between Josh Gordon and Rice’s situation. Gordon is a repeat offender of the league’s drug policy, which was collectively bargained with the NFL Players Association. The league and the players agreed to the policy and punishment for repeated substance abuse. Domestic violence does not fall under the CBA agreement. If it was, and if Rice was a repeat offender, then a harsher punishment would apply. Had the NFL  suspended Rice for more games, the NFLPA would have likely filed an appeal on Rice’s behalf, to reduce the suspension.

NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown has a history of knocking women around. No one in the media is demanding that his Hall Of Fame bust be removed for his past actions. The national media has no problems celebrating a guy who was the greatest football player in his generation, a man who has worked tirelessly to end gang violence…only for them to dismiss the fact that he has a reputation when it comes to violence against women.

That’s troubling.

If a restraining order doesn’t stop a domestic abuser from attacking his victim again, then why would you think a pro sports league is going to handle this?

As our society goes, so goes everything else…following suit.

A culture of abuse creates a culture of shattered lives.
A culture of abuse creates a culture of shattered lives.

Society: I think it is hypocritical for many to expect the NFL to be a “moral” compass when it comes to domestic violence. There were many domestic violence incidents in the past involving professional athletes (Rae Carruth, Fred Lane, Brian Giles, Floyd Maywether, etc.). And if talking heads like Richard Deitsch, Sally Jenkins, or heaven forbid, Skip Bayless didn’t mention those individuals in the past, why now?

Because people saw a videotape of a guy knocking a woman out…and people are shocked.

Those who have been a victim of domestic abuse never had a camera taping what they endured…and for that, no one would have not cared.

It’s a joke to me on how everyone wants to get all sanctimonious and wag our finger at someone, because it’s an easy story and platform to do it.  But when a regular citizen is killed or seriously injured in a domestic dispute, we shrug our shoulders and say “that’s too bad.”

We need to stop lying about our level of concern about domestic violence, race, sex, and other serious topics. Let’s face it: we don’t care about those things, until it happens to us, or that person becomes a major news story.

Domestic violence is a societal issue that affects everyone…and not just those who are professional athletes. CEOs, blue-collar workers, a neighbor, or a family member have been either physically attacked or have been the attacker.  On an average, three women are killed every day in a domestic violence incident in the United States. That’s 1,095 who won’t live to see the next day.

Did you also know that 15.5 million American children live in a home where domestic violence takes place?

Do you even care about these silent victims? 

Shame on us for being hypocrites.

Everybody loses: I am a child of domestic violence. It happened several times as my parents separated, and ultimately divorced. It’s ugly, sad, and scary. I’m not a violent person in a physical sense, but those images of my father attacking my mother in my home is a permanent mental scar, for I have longed buried and moved on, but serves as an internal reminder.

I speak from experience…not from opinion. I diffused a contentious argument between my parents when I took a glass ashtray and slammed it on the kitchen floor. I thought both of my parents were going to kill me.

I wanted the shouting to stop. I wanted the nightmare to end.

It is a vicious cycle of events that long after it ends, it affects you. It’s not just women who are impacted…it’s children as well. I’m a male. I went through counseling as a teenager and post-college to battle “victim’s guilt” and the internal anger over it. I don’t know how to throw a punch, but I do get upset at myself at times and let it boil over internally.

The fear of falling into the debilitating cycle of domestic abuse is probably a major factor why at age 38 I’m still single and have never been in a relationship. Maybe it’s a good thing (?), but after 25 years, I have learned how to stop and assess my feelings and actions, and find non-violent ways to resolve them without the use of a gun, knife, hands, purse, carrier pigeon…you get the picture.

In my opinion, the media has ignored an important narrative regarding domestic abuse: educating the public about domestic abuse, the causes, and preventative measures to stop this cycle of needless violence. The “outrage” I could care less about. I want society to understand the sobering facts about domestic abuse as a in the United States and in Iowa.

“Outrage” does little. Information and facts drives the point home. Sadly, the statistics and the real battle against domestic violence got lost in stupid bloviating.

This is our fault. We clearly didn’t learn from Rae Carruth murdering the mother of his child and Fred Lane being gunned down by his wife.

The sports world is similar to society when it comes to facing and talking about issues like domestic abuse: we don’t want to deal with it. Expecting a pro sports league to do a job that the legal system is unable to stop is hollow…unless society take a more serious role in searching for ways to stop domestic violence.

Jay-Z (left) had an unfortunate incident with his sister-in-law. He never threw a punch at her. Film don't lie. Right, Beyonce?
Jay-Z (left) had an unfortunate incident with his sister-in-law. He never threw a punch at her. Film don’t lie.

As weird as it sounds, we can take a page from how rapper Jay-Z used his hands to “defend” himself from his sister-in-law Solange in an elevator…with a camera filming the whole thing. We laughed about the incident, but think about this:  Jay-Z could have easily landed a punch. And yet he didn’t, or he would be the one the entire world would be talking about and not Ray Rice.

Funny how the media never picked up on that perspective.

We’re better than that.

If you want to learn more about domestic violence in Iowa, I will refer to you these websites: 

Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence (@ICADV) – 3030 Merle Hay Rd. Des Moines, IA 50310 515.244.0828

Children and Families of Iowa (@CFI) – 1111 University Ave. Des Moines, IA 50314 515.288.1981

Iowa Legal Aid (in re legal questions/topics)

Polk County Crisis & Advocacy Services, Rape and Sexual Assault Program – 2309 Euclid Ave. Des Moines, IA 50310 515.286.3535

There are more shelters/services that help individuals affected by domestic violence. Please refer to this website for a list of services across the state of Iowa.

A Mess, A Rant, and A Revelation

It’s Monday, and it’s time for some musings from the week that was.

NFL Draft: it was quite a nice change to see offensive lineman get drafted in the first round. As a former offensive lineman, I couldn’t help but to smile. The prediction of a weak quarterback class was accurate. One QB taken in the first round, about 1-2 in the second round, et cetera.

Now that Tim Tebow has been released by the Jets, they still have a quarterback problem…for 4 of them, with the drafting of Geno Smith. (Richard A. Brightly/Icon SMI)

M-E-S-S Mess Mess Mess!: I’m not going to pile on Geno Smith. It’s not his fault he was drafted by the New York Jets. The Jets continue to show why, in the words of NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr., that “they don’t understand what the draft is all about.” Monday morning, the Jets released Tim Tebow. It’s further proof to me that Jets coach Rex Ryan has no respect for any of his quarterbacks (namely Mark Sanchez) and would rather backload his defense than address his offense.

Utterly clueless. Defense may win championships, but if you can’t outscore your opponent, you have no chance in winning the game.

Anniversary: Monday was the 30th anniversary of one of the most celebrated rants in sports history. After a 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs manager Lee Elia loses it in a post-game press conference that continues to live in infamy.

If you asked me to rate the best sports rants I’ve ever heard, Elia is first, Tommy Lasorda, and Dennis Green would be my top 3, because it was spontaneous, funny, and so profane, you can’t help but to blush and giggle.

Revelation: Jason Collins, a 12-year NBA pro, who finished this past season with the Washington Wizards, announced that he is gay, in an exclusive interview with Sports Illustrated. Collins is the first male athlete currently playing in an American major professional sports league (NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL) to do this.

No, he’s not the “first athlete” or the “first athlete in pro sports” to come out. Re-read the last sentence in the previous paragraph. Let’s make sure we have that clarification correct.

Much is being said about how great this is, but we tend to forget, much less, ignore the obvious: those who came before Collins and how we view stories such as this. We are so hung up about seeing a (male) pro athlete in either of the four major leagues to come out, that no one showed interest when former Baylor All-American Brittany Griner announced she was lesbian last week after she was drafted in the WNBA Draft.

Brittany Griner (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

We gave the Griner story a yawn. It didn’t mean much to us. That’s the good and bad part of this issue. We have accepted the fact that in women or Olympic sports, like swimming or gymnastics, we’ve come to accept that when female athletes reveal their sexuality, we treat it as nothing special.

But nothing gets our full throttle attention if we find out that a NBA, NFL, MLB, or a NHL player does it.

For those who dismiss former athletes like Wade Davis, John Amaechi, Greg Louganis, and others who came out after their playing days are over, stop it. You have to take them into consideration. Collins would not be doing this if not for what these athletes have endured before him. Five years ago, no male pro athlete would risk coming out while playing. The culture and attitudes were different.

This is 2013. Has the culture and attitude changed since 2008? We hope so. Yes, you are going to have knuckleheads write disparaging comments about Collins. Some of them will not be the prototypical uneducated white male who leans conservative. There will be a sector of African-Americans who are privately against gays and lesbians, despite being mostly liberal in their views.

Yahoo Sports Radio talk show host Travis Rodgers summed up my feelings this way: sports fans and athletes will reach a point where nobody cares what an athlete’s sexual preference is.

Can that athlete perform at a high level, be a good teammate, and win games?

There will come a time where no one is going to care about who comes out. Jason Collins revealed that he is gay. He’s currently a player in the NBA. (AFP/Getty Images)

That statement is more important than someone’s skin color, handicap, or sexual preference.

Winning is business. Performing at a high level is business. Sports is a business.

The real litmus test will be where Collins will be playing next season. He is a free agent after completing this NBA season with the Wizards. Will he be signed without any hesitation? How will it go in the public relations realm if a team signs him?

It’s easy and good publicity for anyone to say that they are in favor of Collins’ decision and support him.

It’s quite another if those words do not cause action and move the needle.

Suicides Are Not “Valiant”

In some way, we continue to look at suicide as “someone else’s” problem.

Until everyone is affected by it.  There are too many angles to deconstruct the suicide of former NFL All-Pro lineman Junior Seau for me to write about.

As someone who has battled depression and had suicidal tendencies a decade ago, I feel that I need to address several sub-topics within this story.

  • The medical research groups that were calling Seau’s family, hours after his death, requesting to examine his brain for possible concussion damage due to playing football, frankly, was unnerving to me.  His family is grieving, and yet researchers were lining up to be the first to examine his brain for any damage.

I understand the importance of science and research, but they couldn’t wait for a few days?  That was the most disturbing sidenote of this story to me.

  • For those who have already concluded that Seau’s suicide was linked to the concussions he had sustained while playing, stop it.  We don’t know if it was brain damage or not…at this point.  Not all football players commit suicide because of brain damage.  For that matter, how many Americans have suffered concussion-like symptoms and committed suicide?

Kenny McKinley didn’t take his own life because of brain damage.  He was depressed.  Gregg Doyel reaffirmed, to a point in his column Friday evening, what I wrote after McKinley’s death:  you are not less of a man if you seek help.  Did Junior Seau seek help?  If he did, was it effective?  If he didn’t, what was his reasons?  We will never know that.  Making the assumption that getting whacked in the head too many times led him to kill himself seems to be the easy thing to conclude.

And it shouldn’t. There are too many questions that has no answers to in respects to the death of Junior Seau.

  • Which leads me to something that has become very disturbing pattern:  committing suicide for the noble cause of medicine.  The thought that Seau would end his life so that his brain can be examined is borderline insane, in my opinion.  Then I thought of former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson.  What would make a person end their life in the name of medical research?  It feels, to me, like a selfish act.  It’s a harsh way of saying it, but what Duerson did, was selfish.

He’ll never know what the results are.  His family will, albeit still suffering over his decision, which made no sense in the first place.

No research group or anyone conducting a study is that desperate for someone to kill themselves, so they can donate a part of their body for research.

No other person, athlete or not, commits suicide to help medical research.  They end their lives because they have either given up on life, depressed and can’t find a way to end the mental pain, or worse, to end physical pain, a la, mercy killing, that Dr. Jack Kevorkian became a household name for.

In an Associated Press story on Friday, former New Orleans Saints Kyle Turley was quoted in the following:

“Somewhere, the wires got crossed and he unfortunately decided to end his life.  But in his last moment — and I will without a doubt believe this until the day I  die — Junior Seau ended his life in a valiant way.”

– Kyle Turley, as reported by AP writer Paul Newberry

I call bullshit on Turley.  No one dies valiantly by suicide.  That is sick, and, more importantly, the most selfish statement I have ever heard.  Turley doesn’t get it.  He will never get it.  I know he has had dealt with personal and health issues, but this is a slap in the face to the families and friends of people who have taken their own lives.

And no, Dave Duerson didn’t make it easy to understand the “torture” he was going through.  Duerson and Seau made it harder to understand…and painful for those around them.

Hey Kyle, tell the families you have insulted, to their faces, that their loved ones’ suicide was a “valiant” gesture.

Junior Seau, Duerson, and others who have ended their lives are not valiant.

It’s senseless and a waste.  If Duerson was concerned about possible brain damage he sustained during his playing days, there were other ways to help with the research.

Putting a gun to your chest shouldn’t be one of them.  Ever.

  • The ever-increasing lawsuits that former players are filing against the NFL has watered down the authenticity of the concussion issue.  Sadly, some of them are in it for a money grab, which makes it difficult for those who may have a legitimate case.  For those who do have a legitimate reason, they will have a harder time trying to prove their case.

It’s because they chose to play football.  No one forced them to.  They knew the risks of playing including sustaining injuries that would linger after their careers were over.  That is the cold-blooded truth, even if we choose to deny it.

If I chose to smoke and I read the Surgeon General’s warning on the cigarette pack, and I light up anyway, how hypocritical is it for me to sue the tobacco industry for something I was warned not to do, but I did it anyway?

So, this is as far as I’ll go on this subject for now.  I can’t say this enough to men who are contemplating suicide:  you are not less of man if you seek help.  Stop acting like you can handle this yourself.  Call someone, get help.  I did 10 years ago.

Why am I still here and not six feet under?  Because I didn’t want to miss family event or something a friend did.  I didn’t want to miss history take place.  I didn’t want to miss something that could give me hope.

That last sentence is what keeps me going each day.  Don’t be a selfish valiant hero.

Playbook: Lessons From John Madden

John Madden

I am currently reading “Madden:  A Biography” by St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist and HBO “Real Sports” contributor Bryan Burwell about NFL Hall of Fame  (HOF) coach and television analyst John Madden.   

Believe it or not, Madden’s great-grandfather moved from Pennsylvania to Iowa in the 1800’s, settling outside of Eldora.  One of his childhood friends is former USC and Los Angeles (St. Louis) Rams coach John Robinson. 

Madden is more than a great coach, commentator, and the name behind one of the best-selling video game franchises ever. 

John Madden to me, is one of the most creative leaders in sports history.  Beyond the big goof and “rumblin’ stumblin'” persona, Madden’s love of sports growing up helped him become one of the best coaches in football.  

Madden during his tenure as Raiders coach. I’m digging those sansabelt slacks from the ’70s.

There are several points and moves Madden made during his playing, coaching, and television career that made him, in my opinion, a creative and innovative mind. 

– Player’s coach:  the 1960’s brought a seismic shift of societal attitudes, specifically in the NFL.  John Madden brought a new philosophy of coaching that was in contrast to the buttoned-down conservative task-mastering of Vince Lombardi and George Halas.  Madden had three rules for his players:  

“Be on time.”

“Pay attention.”

“Play like hell when I tell you to.”   

Three simple rules, but it signaled a change in the locker room and how coaches and players interacted.  Madden didn’t scream at his players or demean them like an army general.  Former Raider Monte Johnson added another line that his coach told his players:  “I am interested in what you do Monday through Friday.  But I care greatly about what you do on Sunday.”  Madden was always interested in what his players did after practice (most of it was wild and crazy), and what they thought about topics and families. 

Madden had the foresight to understand that his players had lives away from the practice field and were adults.  So whatever they did during the week was fine, but as long as they showed up and performed on Sunday, that was important to him. 

One of John Madden’s requirements when he agreed to launch the Madden video games was that the video game had to resemble the actual game to the smallest detail.

Know what everyone’s job is:  When he sustained a knee injury that ultimately ended his playing career with the Philadelphia Eagles, Madden would finish rehab in the mornings and head into the bowels of old Franklin Field and watch game film with another Hall of Famer, quarterback Norm Van Brocklin.  Van Brocklin was the first to open Madden’s eyes to understanding how the play developed, as well as knowing what every single player’s responsibility was on the play. 

It fueled Madden’s passion for pro football in a way that helped him in the next chapter of his life:  coaching. 

Managing “Renegades”:  Madden was never a fan of conformity, but as a coach, he had to manage a team full of non-conformists that all bought into playing as a team.  Pat Toomay recalled how Madden had to handle John Matuszak, who was from time to time out of control.  Contrary to public perception, yes the Raiders played aggressively, crossed the line of “dirty play” occasionally, but consider this:  in 5 of the 10 years Madden was coach, the Raiders were one the least-penalized teams in the league.  That is attributed to the rules that were in place at that time in the NFL. 

Today, no team wouldn’t be able to get away with what they did over 40 years ago.

The greatness of the Raiders during Madden’s tenure.

Secondly, Madden preached repetition during practice.  Despite his sometime disheveled appearance, Madden was a perfectionist.  The team would run a play over and over in practice until every player knew what they were doing. 

-“Do your homework”:  After retiring as Raiders coach, Madden was approached by CBS to be a color analyst for their NFL games.  Madden noticed that CBS had a lackadaisical approach and attitude when it came to covering and broadcasting NFL games.  With the arrival and help of a new producer, Terry O’Neil, Madden and O’Neil changed how CBS broadcasted the games.  Today, all announcers, analysts, producers, and the entire game crew would spend the entire week watching game film, learning and understanding the “game” so it wouldn’t be foreign to them.  

Madden strongly felt that viewers wanted to see the game, not “entertainment”. Being a football man, he demanded that the television crew that was assigned to work with Summerall and him learn what plays were being run, what the defensive scheme is, and what to expect on the next play.   

Below is the first game that John Madden and Pat Summerall called on CBS.  (Minnesota vs. Tampa Bay, Week 13, 1979)

Madden bringing his coaching instincts to television rubbed off on Pat Summerall.  Summerall and the late Tom Brookshier would go out on a Saturday night, get ripped, head to the broadcast booth on Sunday, and call the game while drinking cocktails.  When O’Neil confronted Summerall and told him that his party days were over and his new partner was going to be different from Brookshier, Summerall wised up. 

Strengths and weaknesses:  Before the pairing of Pat and John, Madden was originally paired with Vin Scully (yes, Scully called NFL games for a while).  Madden realized quickly that Scully was great, but Scully was a baseball guy at heart.  Madden was a football guy.  The marriage, long-term, wasn’t going to work.  O’Neil knew this as well, but from the viewpoint of announcing styles.  Scully’s a wordsmith, Summerall’s a minimalist.  Pat could summarize a play in a few words and John could explain the play in detail. 

Plainly speaking, Madden believed that everyone who is working a football game should be focused on the the sport they are covering most of the time.  To John, it was football.  To Vin, it was baseball. 

The old #1 CBS NFL announcing team, Tom Brookshier (left) and Pat Summerall. Brookshier would be replaced with John Madden.

Right place, right time:  One day in 1966, a NFL executive visited San Diego State University to watch a practice.  Madden was a defensive coach for the Aztecs.  He was working on a defensive scheme to stop South Dakota State’s “wing-T” offense.  Madden was so excited about what he figured out, when the executive walked over, the burly red-headed assistant coach showed him.  The executive was not only impressed, but he added a suggestion to add to the scheme. 

Several days later, the Aztecs defeated the Jackrabbits. 

The executive:  Al Davis

A year later, Davis hires Madden as an assistant.  The following year, Madden becomes Head Coach.

There are several more takeaways about how John Madden’s life and career is a playbook for leadership, creativity, and being prepared, but I highlighted the key points about why Madden has left an indelible mark on pro football and away from the field.