PR Lessons From A Tennis Star
Apr 15, 2016Posted by james

The sports world was shocked and saddened when popular tennis star Maria Sharapova announced that she had been suspended following a positive drug test. The public fallout easily could have vilified her as a drug cheat similar to Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez and many other disgraced athletes. However, unlike the others, Maria immediately owned and faced the challenge to her reputation, her tennis career and her public legacy.

No denials came from Maria. She didn’t blame the sport’s federation, or her doctors, or the tests, or her coaches and staff. She handled the news of the failed test with skill and grace.

We all know the story. A drug she had taken for 10 years suddenly was unapproved by the Food and Drug Administration. The tennis governing board placed this drug on the list of banned substances as of January 1. Maria failed to reacquaint herself with the list.

Maria’s response should be viewed as a public relations lesson for other athletes and for any of us who might need to manage an internal or public crises for our business. Rather than deny or stonewall, we should seriously consider the identical pro-active steps taken by Maria–she got out in front of the story, she blamed only herself for the mistake and she openly addressed questions.

Maria’s reputation was bruised but not permanently damaged. The outcome was far less harmful than if she had waited for the news to leak and then responded with a terse statement issued through her representatives.

At her news conference, Maria took full responsibility for the mistake and for her choice of the medications that enter her body. She apologized for disappointing her fans and the sport.

Coming out of this possible career-ending circumstance, Maria’s return to the court remains in jeopardy. She did loose several major sponsorships. But, her personal reputation, based on her immediate action, remained solid. She stated that she felt her decision to speak publically and quickly was the correct response, “because throughout my long career I’ve been honest about many things.”

Maria handled this crises moment perfectly, really as best as it could be handled considering the circumstances. We all need to learn a lesson from Maria—get out in front of any crisis and handle each one with integrity.


Good Education Leads To Super Bowl Ring
Apr 02, 2016Posted by james

Two days. That’s how long it took for Samson Brown to fully comprehend that he was part of the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos. He realized the accomplishment during the celebratory parade.

Samson just completed his first season with the Broncos. As the assistant defensive backs coach, it was his defense that held the NFL’s top scoring offense and league Most Valuable Player Cam Newton to just one touchdown.

The coach, now 36, got his start as a player in The Bronx. He played football all four years at Cardinal Spellman High School. He then led UAlbany, where he was a four-time All-Northeast Conference free safety, to the 2002 conference championship.

When his playing days were done, Samson became a coach. He began as a defensive backs coach at Siena College. He then coached defensive backs and wide receivers for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He spent the 2006 season working with tight ends at Hofstra University before returning to UAlbany for three seasons to coach outside linebackers, tight ends and corners.

The next Xs and Os move for Samson was to the NFL. He interned with the Green Bay Packers. Before joining Denver, he coached a couple of seasons with the New York Jets and a couple more with the Buffalo Bills.

Samson is not just about football. He was an honor student in high school. The importance of academics was instilled in him at an early age by his mother, who is a retired professor. She taught him that education is the first key to success, that it opened doors and provide him with the opportunity to attend a good college.

Since his teenage days, that education foundation has opened many doors for Samson. Besides his football success, he also has married well. His wife is a doctor.

His wife and mom experienced the Super Bowl with Samson. When it was done, mom made sure that everyone knew that her son truly earned everything that he has received on and off the field. He soon will have a Super Bowl ring to show to everyone.

- Jim

A Focus And Worth Ethic On The Field And Off
Mar 16, 2016Posted by james

Taylor Washington has a poem that was given to him when he was four years old. It was written by his pre-school teachers. A few lines in the poem were devoted to each student.

Taylor, who now is 22, proudly claims he can play every sport. The lines from his personal part of the poem read: “Agile, strong and, boy, can he throw. He’ll play in the majors and earn some big dough.”

It is not known if the teachers actually believed in his future sports success, or if they were just including the boy’s interests at the time. While the lines indicate a career in baseball, Taylor has made it big in soccer.

After he was selected by the Philadelphia Union in the second round of the Major League Soccer draft in January, Taylor has become focused on earning a roster spot. Since those pre-school days, he was a kid who had everything line up for him. He was boy who everyone cheered on to success.

Taylor was a star high school player. More than 80 Division I colleges recruited him and he attended Boston University. But, there is more to the story.

While successful on the field, this happy kid who always raised his hand to answer questions in class and who spent a lot of time hitting the books also always struggled with written tests. Yet, he sometimes won academic awards despite teacher evaluations to the contrary. One teacher even wrote that he was a kid without an “academic bone in his body.”

After his freshman year at BU, some extensive testing revealed a learning issue. Taylor has dyslexia. Quickly, he took his work ethic from the soccer field and applied it to his lessons. He left Boston to attend George Mason University, a school that had recruited him and also had many more academic programs to help students overcome learning issues.

On the field, Taylor earned Atlantic-10, ECAC and NCSAA All-Midwest honors. With all his academic and sports work, Taylor still found time to help people he did not know, working with kids and organizing projects such as cleaning a school that serves disadvantaged children.

His coaches since high school say that he is an overachiever in every aspect of life. One coach even stated that Taylor is “one of the best human beings I’ve ever worked with.”

So, what does the future hold for Taylor? Well, about a month ago, the Philadelphia Union announced that Taylor was added to the roster at the position of left back. The team announcement included this statement from the Union’s sporting director: “It was evident from day one that Taylor entered preseason camp with a focused mentality and committed work ethic in hopes of making our roster. He’s earned his place on the team and he exemplifies the type of professionalism we want at our club. He has a bright future and the ability to immediately contribute at such an important position.”


An Amazing World Champion
Mar 02, 2016Posted by james

Lani DeMello decided to dedicate some extra time to perfect a new rope routine at a Georgia gymnastics school. With prior ballet training, her footwork already is graceful. Now, she was working on the required elements of the routine.

Lani was focused on this routine after she earned the title of 2015 World Champion in Rhythmic Gymnastics. She competed against more than 20 athletes and won gold medals for some routines and silver medals for others. Her overall score earned her the world champion title. A few years earlier, Lani also won a gold medal at the event.

Now 30, Lani continues to compete at state and regional competitions. She has served as an intern for her coach, and now she also coaches other athletes.

What I haven’t mentioned is that Lani has Down syndrome. She competes in the Down Syndrome International Gymnastics Organization but she also enters non-special needs competitions. Her coaching includes special needs and non-special needs athletes.

When she was only four, Lani began to take dance lessons. A family friend suggested that she participate in the Special Olympics and, specifically, rhythmic gymnastics that is a combination of dance, gymnastics and manipulation of various apparatus. Lani started competing when she was 13 years old.

Besides Down syndrome, Lani also was born with a heart defect and poor muscle tone, both issues often associated with the medical condition. With all these challenges, just look at the progress she has made!

Her coach calls her “an ambassador to the world…showing what people with disabilities can do.” I call her “simply amazing!”

- Jim

Get In There 28 And Give It The Old College Try
Feb 18, 2016Posted by james

An 89-year-old veteran of World War II ran for a touchdown last April during a Kansas University alumni flag football game. About 40 alumni were on the field. While most participants weren’t too far removed from their glory days on the gridiron, it was the Kansas standout from 1946-1948 who stole the show.

Bryan Sperry was a three-year letterman whose career highlights included a clutch bowl game catch. During 1948, he snagged a long pass to set up a KU touchdown in the Orange Bowl. As was common back then, Bryan played on both sides of the ball.

He was clutch at the alumni game, too. He managed to evade tackles after his number — 28 — was called for the last play. He caught the shuffle pass around midfield and then let his guards do their job. The play was slow to unfold but Bryan — and his blockers — could not help but smile as he weaved in and out of players pretending to be crashing and falling into each other. The players were close to Bryan during the entire run and seemed intent on making the run as realistic as possible. When he crossed the end zone, he was embraced by both sides.

More than 60 years ago, Bryan had enrolled at Kansas after serving in the U.S. Army. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Much time had passed since he ran as far as he did during that alumni game, but he had promised himself not to miss out on the action.

While disappointed that none of his old remaining teammates could attend the game, he did give a wink to a reporter when he said that he enjoyed every moment once he convinced everyone that he still could play.

I love these stories about the members of our greatest generation who continue to maintain the passion and drive to score one more touchdown in life.

- Jim

Rebuilding A College Program — Twice
Feb 02, 2016Posted by james

Four years ago, Denise Bierly had her most trying season as the coach of the Eastern Connecticut State women’s basketball team. The university dismissed five players for team rules violations, including four players who contributed 80 percent of the offense.

That season, the team consisted of only eight players, with one pulled from the softball team. Some of the ladies played every second of every game as the team won just eight games. Two wins came against much stronger schools. Coach Bierly felt that those victories were the most satisfying wins for the devastated team and that it opened the doors to future success.

Last season, the players who were holding the team together just a few years earlier as freshmen advanced to the Division III Sweet 16. The coach even recorded her 400th career win.

Bierly had arrived at the school about 17 years earlier. She never had been a head coach. She took over a program that had been highly successful for 20 years until it stumbled badly under an interim coach. But, slowly, she pulled the team from its lows, eventually getting the squad to the Final Four before losing an emotional game by a basket.

Even more difficult than that loss was the subsequent decision to dismiss the five key players. Bierly was as transparent as possible about the matter with recruits and their families. She told them the program had recovered once and that it would do so again with everyone’s support.

Through all this, Coach Bierly feels she has grown immensely in her role as a coach, mentor and friend. She said her fuse was short earlier in her career. Now, she has learned to handle her players with kid gloves. One current player admits that Coach Bierly is tough, but that she is fair. The ultimate tribute – “She’s made me a better leader.”

Coaches Steer Teen Athletes In The Right Direction
Jan 18, 2016Posted by james

A new initiative in New York is aimed at educating teens about safe driving. The tie-in to athletics is that the program encourages coaches to discuss proper driving habits with their student athletes.

“Coaches Care” is a partnership with the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee and schools across the state. As many of us know, coaches can have a significant and lasting impact on student athletes. We also know that first-time drivers require as much proper adult engagement that reaches beyond parents.

As part of the program, informational posters have been placed throughout the state’s schools. Coaches also received talking points to help generate the conversations that can dovetail with discussions about underage drinking and driving. These talks will lead to additional discussions about texting while driving and all the other distractions that can occur in a car driven by a teenager.

As another extension of the program, frank talk also will lead to discussions about a proper healthy diet to support athletic performance and open up dialogue about the substances – drugs, alcohol and steroids – that harm the body.

I know what it was like to be a student athlete with a driver’s license. I was on top of the world. I turned out okay and so did my teammates, but I am glad to learn that coaches now can be more engaged to provide our children with additional guidance as they get behind the wheel of a car.

Here are a few “Coaches Care” tips. I hope these are useful to those of you who coach our young athletes.

· Include every member of your team – players, coaches, managers, parents and fans – in the discussion to ensure not only a winning season but a safe one.

· Include information about adhering to highway safety laws in your team’s code of conduct. Explain the penalties for non-compliance. Secure buy-in and support from the school administration.

· Meet with team captains and assistant coaches to review the basics of driving safety and the text in the team’s code of conduct. Make it clear that coaches and captains will be expected to serve as role models.

· Attend a parent or booster club meeting prior to the start of the season to review the basics of driving safety. Stress that their sons’ and daughters’ safety, both on and off the field, is a priority.

· Regularly remind players and parents to make provisions for transportation if games or practices require driving between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Clint Retired Young But He Still Hasn’t Quit
Jan 03, 2016Posted by james

For more than a year, reporters have contacted Clint Trickett to talk about football. Specifically, they want to talk with him about football safety and his decision to leave the game.

Clint was the starting quarterback for West Virginia until December 2014. That is when he sustained his fifth concussion during a 14-month period. Today, even with all the news, lawsuits and now a movie about athlete health issues, specifically brain injuries, Clint is not interested in talking about head trauma. He knows the media wants to give the stories, as he stated, “a negative spin.”

Football always has been a huge part of the Trickett family, but playing the game never was required of any of the boys. Their father did demand, however, that the boys finish everything that they started.

The final hit on the field for Clint came before the end of the first half of a game against Kansas State. Fearful that his long-term health would be compromised, Clint decided that he would not pursue the NFL or the Canadian league.

After leaving football as a player, Clint accepted a job as the quarterbacks coach at East Mississippi Community College. He now works with talented student-athletes who play the game that he no longer can play. While disappointed that he can’t be the quarterback on the field, Clint revealed that he will never talk negatively about the game. He said football did so much for him, molding a boy into a fine young man.

Soon after Clint’s role as a player ended, he eagerly pursued a coaching career that he always had seen as his future in the game. In this new role, Clint’s finish line remains somewhere over the horizon.


A Giant Promise Has A Fan In New England
Dec 17, 2015Posted by james

Pat McGillis lives deep in New England Patriot territory in Brockton, Massachusetts. But, she roots for Tom Coughlin and the New York Giants.

When Jay McGillis, Pat’s son, was diagnosed with leukemia, he was on Coughlin’s Boston College team. She said Coach Coughlin’s love and compassion were endless. Tears pour from her eyes when she recalls that her son had such an impact on his coach.

Jay was a strapping strong-side safety at BC during the early 1990s. He had impressed the coach with his work ethic and intense play. During Coughlin’s first year at the school, the sophomore became ill as the team played against Syracuse University. Jay’s glands were swollen and the original thought was that the young man had contracted mononucleosis.

Soon after, the diagnosis was cancer. Jay died at home eight months later. He was just 22.

Coach Coughlin and his wife were touched by the response of family, friends and teammates, and they vowed that if they ever had a chance to give back that it would be in the spirit and in the name of Jay McGillis.

Coughlin kept his word. While in Florida as the first head coach of the NFL expansion Jacksonville Jaguars, Coughlin established the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation. The foundation started with a golf tournament that raised $36,000.

Today, the foundation serves families in Jacksonville and in the New York metropolitan area, offering financial, emotional and practical support services for those diagnosed with leukemia. This past October, the fund’s 11th annual children’s gala raised $1.5 million.

A recent newspaper interview summed up Coach Coughlin’s work in the eyes of his biggest fan in New England.

“It’s just heartwarming,” said Pat McGilllis. “I’ve seen him visiting these children…and his love and his compassion [are evident]. What Tom Coughlin has done to keep Jay’s spirit alive is overwhelming.”


Wrestling With The Loss Of A Beloved Coach
Dec 03, 2015Posted by james

The walls in the wrestling room at Suffern High School in Rockland County are covered with team newspaper clippings and photos. These mementos remind the student-athletes about the accomplishments of the program over the years.

When the new season began last month, everyone involved with the team approved of the prominently displayed new addition. The words “Never, never, never give up” were placed on the wall and were followed by “There is no place like home.”

The quotes were attributed to the late Suffern Coach Mickey DeSimone, the lifeblood of the program for decades. He passed away a year ago.

DeSimone’s favorite sayings and his wrestling shoes are displayed to symbolize his standing within the Suffern community. Current and former wrestlers feel his constant presence.

“Des” was a Suffern wrestler. He became the head coach during 1989, compiling a career record 220-57. After stepping away, “Des” remained engaged with the program as an assistant for one of his most successful pupils. He remained with the team until his final day.

“Des” influenced many athletes during his coaching days. He even helped a number of them pursue jobs in coaching and education. He was a major role model in the lives of a number of wrestlers, guiding them to success in school, in sports and in life.

For last year’s team, wins and losses became an afterthought following DeSimone’s death. But, deep down, the players knew that no excuse for a lack of focus would have been acceptable to “Des.” So, after all the sadness was addressed, the team got back to work. “Des” would have been pleased. The team started to roll and clinched the championship.

Besides his coaching style to prepare his teams for competition, “Des” also was known for his sense of humor that eased tensions and coaxed players out of bad moods. But, once it was time to be serious, “Des” was deeply serious. This was the “Des” everyone knew, loved and appreciated.

Coach Mickey DeSimone certainly will have a life-long impact on the student-athletes who he considered part of his family.