January 2013 Archives

There is still one American hero

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This past year, I have written too many columns about fallen heroes. Men and women who have disappointed us.  I won't use this space to name them since we all know who they are.

Instead, I was hoping I could point to someone who is a champion and with his/her deeds has provided us with inspiration. Finally, while having dinner one night with Steve Nober of Calabasas, California, he suggested Lindsey Vonn.

I knew a little about Lindsey, but was delighted to find out about her many challenges. I once was deeply involved with U.S Skiing Team and had followed the exploits of the history of American Women in skiing since the 1950's; I decided I would write about her and American Women Skiers in general.

I represented the U.S. Ski Team in 1978.  They had just split from being part of the US Ski and Snowboarding Association and were on their own in what was then the sleepy town of Park City.  When Marty Groothuis and I went to sign them up, the sidewalks were still made of wood slats.

We represented them for all merchandising and marketing.  Earlier, through the CBS TV Show "Challenge of the Sexes" which Tommy Cook and I created, we were able to bring what was called, at that time, "Hot Dog Skiing" to Network TV. Today, it is known as Aerial Skiing. Aerial Skiing is only a small, but a significant part of the "X" Games.

Our show's  co-host in the first year along with the great Vin Scully was skiing's golden girl at the time, Suzie Chaffee. Known to the world as "Suzy Chapstick". Suzie at the time was the World's reigning freestyle champion.

 She achieved her nickname because she was the blond, blue eyed, spokesperson for Chapstick.  Part of the proceeds from her commercials went to benefit the US Ski team. Suzie used her image to champion Title IX legislation (equal opportunity for woman in school sports).

I can remember how proud we New Englanders were when a young girl   from Vermont named Andrea Mead Lawrence made the National Ski Team at the young age of 14.  Five years later, she went on to win two gold medals in the 1952 Winter Olympics at Oslo, Norway.  The first American Woman to ever capture two Gold Medals.  

In the years, since 1952, only six women have brought home a single gold to the United States. In each case, that was individually their most significant achievement in the world of skiing. Then along comes Lindsey Vonn.

No American Woman has ever dominated world skiing, the way Lindsey has since 2008. She has won the World Cup 3 consecutive years. In one of the most grueling of physical challenges, she has emerged victorious so many times.

At the end of 2012, this 29 year old had amassed over 50 victories. Part of that total was 33 World Cup victories (through 2012) and 25 career downhill victories. This is the most ever for both men and women. Along the way, she eclipsed American Bode Miller.

More importantly, she skied at times returning from a concussion, or with a fractured arm encased in plaster. Yet, she won 3 straight downhill titles. She has been almost unstoppable.

2013 has seen her continue her dominance. Like Suzie before her, she carries the banner of America high and when not skiing is constantly lending her name and person to worthwhile causes. Just last week she won the Giant Slalom at Maribor, Slovenia. The Associated Press and the Skieur d'or Award by the International Association of Ski Journalists have named her Sportswoman of the Year by the Olympic Committee, Female Athlete of the Year.

With her Blond hair and Blue Eyes, she will become more recognizable both through skiing and commercial endeavors. We should take pride in  that we have such standard bearer for the rest of the world to admire.

Lindsey Vonn deserves our praise, not just because she is a great athlete, but also because of what she does away from the slopes, makes her even more special. She brings America respect on the World Stage.




... And the walls came tumbling down

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         Dear readers, I am a little bit embarrassed, but not ashamed by what I did!  However, I feel sure that I am not far from alone.

By now, you are probably wondering what I am talking about?  Let me not keep you guessing. Over the past few years, this column has been a staunch supporter of Lance Armstrong!

As one of the creators, co-owner and Board Member of the Amgen Tour of California, America's Premier Cycling event, I had the opportunity to be in Lance's company and personally be part of quite a few conversations.

In fact, I was part of the decision to handsomely donate to Lance's "Livestrong" philanthropy. In exchange, the reigning "King of the Road" agreed to compete in our race.  

This was important as it accomplished two things. First, it gave our race instant cognizance and second, it brought even more attention to "Livestrong" and its good work. Not necessarily in that order.

Since its inception, the Foundation has contributed over half a billion dollars to aid in Cancer research. Cancer Research  that has resulted in cures for millions of Americans.

Now to everyone's dismay, disappointment, feeling of betrayal plus out and out admitted fraud, he has revealed his transgressions.  The TV Beneficiary of this had no idea what to expect nor did I when I turned on Oprah Winfrey the other night.

It had been so hyped; I was prepared for a big letdown.  After all, these days if a celebrity has an ingrown toenail, the TV Screens will more than likely blast "Breaking News",

However, he was confessing to Oprah, the master interrogator. He admitted that during all seven years of his Tour de France victories, he was indeed taking a cocktail of banned substances including HGH, Epogen and Oxygen.  

In addition, he was participating in Blood Transferral and Blood Doping. He kept doing it during other tours in which he competed in that time span. He was even a Bully having the admitted philosophy of " Win at all costs". He intentionally ruined people's lives.

 I feel a sense of loss and that of being duped.  I was blinded since America needs heroes... Lance Armstrong is not one.

During the years, I have received many letters from readers chastising my stand. I didn't understand why! After all I thought, look at what he did with Livestrong.

Many of those letters were from lawyers. Two that took the time to criticize in depth were Marc David Blum of Syracuse, NY and "Tag" Hoefflin of  Thousand Oaks, California. In brevity, they were among the many who in depth no matter what "wrong is wrong". I apologize to them and all of you.

This will be the last column I write about MR Armstrong! He has lost his fan base! His sponsors have left him! There are no more endorsements. Young people, who greatly admired him, have seen another of their heroes, brought to heel.

A sport that saw tremendous growth will probably hear a hue and cry from the disillusioned. Lance was both a bane and a boon to the sport.

As a "Pied Piper" he, in no small way, was the reason that almost 3 Million Fans annually lined our       racecourse from San Francisco (North), as far as Escondido to the South... 800 miles plus. His confession, after years of denial, without question will cast a pall over cycling itself.

In addition, all thinking people familiar with the Law are confused. They ask the question we all ask, "Hasn't he opened himself to many law suits, as well as the possibility of Criminal Prosecution?

I feel bad that I backed a "Dirty" Athlete and a Bully. However, I still cannot help, but admire how Cancer Research has benefitted from Livestrong. I hope those who have supported Livestrong  continue to do so, as the work is of the greatest importance.

 Unfortunately, as Mark Antony said at Caesar's Funeral, "The good is oft interred with their bones".

We shall see shortly, if like the Pirates of Auld, Lance has truly fallen on his own Petard. He deserves whatever he gets!  He has earned it!

Mike Shanahan and RGIII's injury

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     This past season, there has not been one solitary Football Fan who didn't cheer for and marvel at the feats of Washington's Rookie Quarterback, Robert Griffin the third, (RGIII). He demonstrated under tremendous pressure not only his leadership from day one, but also his amazing ability to pass in a pinpoint fashion or take off on an elusive run for many yards and many a first down.

When I saw him go back into the game against Seattle and saw his knee buckle, I was ready to eviscerate Coach Mike Shannahan.  I asked myself how could he be so foolish as to jeopardize the future of the Redskins franchise player.

Over the years, I have seen quite a few injuries brought about by poor coaching judgment.  However, it took my friend and colleague the Emmy winning Sports Producer and writer, Jim Williams to set me on the right path.

Now, I admit I often get on my "holier-than-thou" high horse and I am ready to criticize often times unfairly. So, when Jim said I should check the facts before I write, He then proceeded to send me a great deal of factual material. As a result, the entire tenor of this article took a different route.

Back in the 70's, I was fortunate along with my friend Dr Ernie Vandeweghe to be part of President Nixon's Committee on Physical Fitness headed up by the late great coach George Allen. He explained on many an occasion, there was no controlling a player who had the fervent desire to win at all costs.

In the spirit of this, often the athlete would hide his injury without the knowledge of the coach. Such was the case this past weekend. RGIII, his being at quarterback and taking snaps, would give his team the best option to win.

Many watching the game felt that Shannahan in his desire for victory would use any means possible to win. That's true, but never at the expense of another.

 Ironically earlier in the season and in the same town, Mike Rizzo, GM of Baseball's Washington Nationals, had limited the amount of innings that their Franchise Player Steve Strasberg could throw. His simple statement was the need to protect the Pitcher's future. He was chastised and vilified mercilessly, but he stood his ground.

Another example of survival protection was when Chicago Bears Quarterback Jay Cutler took himself out of the game because he had a cracked rib cage. The abuse heaped down upon him.  However, although they did not make the playoffs, his team had 10 victories and just missed out.

RGIII's injury immediately brought to mind the Oakland Raiders center, Jim Otto. Jim continued to play despite 9 operations during his career. Directly attributed to his machoism, he had 19 more after his playing days were over and lost his right leg in 2007. Is "Victory at all costs" worth it?

Shannahan was careful with RGII. It was only after he got a signal from Dr. James Andrews on the sidelines that Robert was ok to go in. Now understand the circumstances!  Washington was losing and needed at least a field goal to go-ahead with less than 2 minutes to play. It seems RGIII after being taken out of the game.

Robert did not allow the Doctor to examine him, but to prove he was all right, ran sprints on the sideline and did a few jumping jacks. When he saw Kirk Cousins go in, he immediately ran to the Coach's side and after getting the high sign from the doctor, Mike made the decision to put him.

 As Jim Williams explained, if you ask a player if he's injured, he would be on the deactivation list if he said yes.  But if you asked players if they were hurt, there would be no football games on Sunday.  Every player plays hurt to some degree.

All this happened in an instant while Shannahan was concentrating on evaluating Cousins work. It made sense to put RGIII back in. It was a quick decision, backed by what he thought was right.

As fate would have it, RGIII tore his LCL and ACL. A successful operation was performed.

Here, I turned to my friend University of Miami Emeritus Professor of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, Dr Michael Gurvey, to ask what this means.  He explained when he was in practice; recovery might take up to a year.  However, with so many new surgical improvements, therapeutic regimens and use of protective equipment, he could conceivably be back by the start of next season.

Unfortunately, in my mind, will always be the picture of Jim Otto.


How sweet it was

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I do not know about you dear reader, but as I write today's column, my eyes are still blurry and maybe a little cross-eyed from watching so many different sports over the past week. It started with NBA Basketball and not to be left behind, there were some terrific College Games.

You would think that would be enough, but then the NCAA Football Bowl season began. When I was a kid, it was easy. We only had the Orange, Sugar, Cotton and Rose Bowls. Today, it is quite different!  I think I counted over 35 actual Football Games with the title "Bowl" as part of their name.

You couldn't name them all, even using both your hands and taking your shoes and socks off. I believe, every sponsor in this down economy that had extra cash lent his/her name to a Bowl Game.

My Dad, the old footballer who was in the meat business, always thought there should be a "Sausage" Bowl.  I didn't see that one.  But Dad if you are looking down don't hold your breath.  I think there probably will be a "Kitchen Sink" Bowl", before one entitled "Sausage".

Nevertheless, there were some great games and some exciting record chases. One of those was that of Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings chasing the record of Eric Dickerson.  In 1984  while playing for the Los Angeles Rams. He ran for 2105 yards.

Peterson was closing in and Eric was interviewed on many shows about how he felt about Peterson possibly breaking his record.  Eric's answer was simple and honest.

Eric said, "I hope he continues to have a great season, remains unhurt and his team does well.  I hope he does not break my record."

This past weekend, Eric's prayers were answered.  In a game against Minnesota's arch-rivals, the Green Bay Packers, Adrian ended the season just 8 short of Eric's record, accumulating 2097 yards.

For the moment, I am sure Adrian is heartsick.  However, when he understands that in the long history of the NFL only 5 others have run for 2000 yds.,  or more, in a season, he will realize his achievement.  O. J. Simpson was the first to do it in 1973 with 2003 yds.

Realizing that I had been with the Los Angeles Lakers Organization during the 1971-72 season, I was bombarded by questions about the Los Angeles Clippers 17 game win streak. I thought about what Eric had said when he wished Peterson all the best, but not the record.

The Clippers are good and they have captured the imagination of  the Basketball World.

The reason I was asked so many questions was during the '71-'72 season when the Lakers won 33 straight games.  After losing  to the Golden State Warriors on  October 31, 1971, they  did not lose again until January 11, 1972. It was the Milwaukee Bucks with Kareem Abdul Jabaar who did them in. The same  Kareem who would lead the Lakers to many more titles.

However, the Lakers' first title was in the '71 season under Coach Bill Sharman. Bill, himself a Hall-of-Famer  as both a Player and Coach worked with such intensity that he completely lost his voice. Today, at 86, he still whispers to communicate.

That Laker Team was loaded with Hall-of-famers: Wilt Chamberlain, the only man to ever score 100 points in an NBA game.  Jerry West whose shooting style today remains the NBA logo and Elgin Baylor with his famous "floating-in-air" shot.

 Carrying on that 1971 wining legacy is Pat Riley ...at that time, probably the best 6th man in the NBA. He didn't look like the suave executive of today.  Instead, he had long flowing hair with mustache to match. But before every game he would take anyone he could find in a game of H-O-R-S-E.

I never beat him.

Today's Clippers may also have one, or two potential Hall-of-Famers.  But for now, I breathe a sigh of relief. For the Laker Record, that I enjoyed as part of the organization, still stands.


Sports Scrapbook
Shelly Saltman has been in the sports world as an executive, TV producer, broadcaster and event creator for more than 50 years. Among his credentials are his work with Muhammad Ali and Evel Knievel, the numerous network TV shows he produced and created, NBA/NHL management roles, co-creator of the Amgen Tour of California and as the first president of Fox Sports. He lives in Ventura County.