Many successful people have failed – a repeat performance

I wrote the following post about three years ago. I was reading about business failure today and was reminded of this post on failures of some very public figure. It still resonates.

Recently, my wife and I watched three separate music documentaries – the eight part series on Country Music, one on Motown and one on David Bowie. What I find interesting is how many artists had to fight failure to get a chance and gain eventual success. These failures reminded me of other similar stories I have been exposed to.

Garth Brooks, one of the biggest selling artists of any genre, was turned down by every studio in Nashville. The night of the most recent “no, thank you,” Brooks performed at a small venue and that same record producer was in the audience and saw something.

David Bowie made records and even albums, but they went nowhere for years. He never lost hope. After much experimentation, he came up with the idea about a man in space. “Ground control to Major Tom…” became the lyric that peeked our interest in “A Space Oddity.”

The Beatles intrigued a young record producer named George Martin, but he recognized the band needed to practice to learn how to play. Many people don’t know that a fifth Beatle named Stu Sutcliffe was very inexperienced. So, Martin sent them to Hamburg, Germany to play seven shows six nights a week. They had to learn new material.

The Supremes led by Diana Ross were called the “no-hit Supremes” for years as they could not break through. Eventually, Berry Gordy and his writers came up with the right song, “Baby, baby. Where did our love go…”

Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time. Yet, Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team before making the team the following  year. As Dean Smith, Jordan’s college coach would say defending his decision to start Jordan as a freshman, “I put him on the blue practice team and they won. I put him on the white practice team and they won. It did not take a genius to realize we had a better chance to win if he played.”

Steve Jobs was successful with the Apple, but failed to develop the next generation machine. Fortunately, while the team he led was failing, another Apple team plodded along and developed the Macintosh. Jobs took it over and it made history. We should also note, Jobs was later fired from his own company, but  returned to save them and launch the hand held I-series of devices.

Hewlett-Packard failed at its first business. It was a bowling alley scorekeeping system. Yet, they created an organization that allowed the development of new products and were hugely succesful with computers and printers.

Everyone fails at something or even more than a few things. The key is what do you do next. When life knocks you down, you have to get up, dust yourself off and move forward. Or, as Winston Churchill famously said, “When you are walking through hell, the key is to keep walking.”

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The Big Four

One of the premier college sports leagues in the US is called The Big Ten, which for the longest time included ten universities. It has since grown to more than ten universities, but they still call it The Big Ten.

Yet, what is terribly concerning and disheartening is four of the more prolific of these universities have two unfortunate similarities. They each had a major sexual assault predator and they each covered up their awareness allowing more students to be impacted. They are The Big Four.

Michigan State University employed a physician for its women’s gymnastics program who fondled young female athletes, sometimes right in front of their mother. The girls later testified they would look at their mother to see if what he was doing was alright. And, by hiding this doctor’s predator behavior, he also moved on to do the same for the US Olympic Women’s Gymnastics team.

Penn State University employed a football coach who would run camps for young football players enamored with Penn State. Sadly, he was a pedophile who preyed on these young boys, sometimes in his own basement den. The head football coach, athletic director and university president knew of his predatory behavior, but largely did not address the problem.

Ohio State University and University of Michigan are huge football rivals. But, each school had a physician who fondled male athletes or did rectal exams when unneeded. You go in with a cold and you would have to drop your pants. And, at each school, coaches were aware of the practice and did nothing. One Ohio State wrestling coach is now in Congress and denies ever being told about this, but six of his wrestlers say they told him. A Michigan player just appeared on Dr. Phil’s show and noted that the coaches would use going to the doctor as a threat.

When I saw the player make that statement, it just infuriated me even more. Coaches (plural) knew the doctor was violating their players and they not only did nothing about it, they used it as a threat? Really? That is not only bad stewardship, that is criminal behavior, in my view.

Let me be brutally frank. Young men, women, boys and girls were sexually assaulted by these men. By not doing anything about it, more young people were sexually assaulted. These universities have paid a price for their culpability, but well after the fact. Yet, if they acted when they first knew about it, they could have saved thousands of young people from being sexually assaulted.

Parents entrusted their kids to the coaches, staff and leadership of these universities. The breach of trust is staggering in its irresponsible nature. It is not unlike the Catholic Church, Southern Baptist convention, British youth football organization or Boy Scouts of America hiding and covering-up for their sexual predators that numbered many more than just a few. All in the name of protecting their brand. Yet, what each entity did was far more harmful to their brands. They valued their brands more than the people who treasured those brands.

I have purposefully avoided mentioning the names of these predators. Preying on young adults, teens and, in some cases, adolescents is inexcusable. But, it is also inexcusable for those in the know who failed to act or chose not to act as they did not want to upset the powers that be. At the end of the movie about a very famous head football coach who did not act, there was a phone call made to a hotline telling them that this victim had raised the issue twenty years before the police investigation said it started. It was chilling that he had let someone know that many years before. And, nothing happened, except more molestation of many more kids.

The best teammate ever has passed away

I wrote this nine years ago about Bill Russell who passed away this week. Even if you do not like basketball or sports, please give it a read as there are many life lessons about collaboration within a team or group. It is a little longer than my current posts, but if you want to cut to the chase, at least read the last three paragraphs, which show you how much he cares about his team and the disenfranchised.

With the NCAA basketball tourney in high gear and the NBA playoffs nearing, I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight the best team player of any sport. With all due respect to my hockey friends, he is not Henri Richard of the famous Montreal Canadiens, who some would argue could lay such claim. The best teammate ever happens to have been quite successful as a college and pro basketball player, so it is apropos to mention him here and now.

His college team won two national championships, his pro team won eleven NBA championships and his Olympic team won the Gold Medal, as well. Who is he? He is not Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Larry Bird, although he is appearing in two commercials during the NCAA tournament with the latter three around the kids pre-school desk and the guy who usually does this funny banter with kids. His name is Bill Russell and he is remembered as the legendary center for the Boston Celtics and University of San Francisco.

Bill’s teams were good for two primary reasons. First and foremost, he was on the team. He had personal achievements winning the Most Valuable Player award five times and was a twelve time all-star. He is in the Hall of Fame and was voted one of the 50 Best NBA Players of all time. Yet, by his own admission, Wilt Chamberlain was a better basketball player. Wilt, though, did not win that many championships or have near the same amount of team success.

Second, his team won because Russell understood the concept of team play better than anyone. You see Russell’s forte was not scoring, although he did do some of that averaging 15 points a game as a pro. His forte was doing those things on the court which involved effort and intellect as much as skill. He was a voracious rebounder averaging an unheard of today 22.5 rebound per game. Rebounding requires calculation of where the shot was taken and where a missed shot might carom or bounce. Most basketball shots taken from one side of the basketball court, when missed, will carom to the other side. Then, it requires a huge amount of effort to get to the best position where the missed shot might go and use your body to block out an opponent, another lost art in the US.

By rebounding well, the opponent gets fewer shots and your team gets more shots. An explanation of basketball success doesn’t get any easier than that. Yet, he also was one of the best shot blockers the game has ever known. Shotblocking is timing as well as skill, but he made it a craft. But, the one thing he did that is rarely done when you watch the tournament games today, is Russell blocked the shot to a teammate. This normally started a fast break which has a higher chance of scoring than a set play. He was known to have said, “If I block it out-of-bounds, it may look more theatrical, but we still don’t have the ball.” When you watch the Final Four and the NBA playoffs, see how many times the blocker just blocks it out-of-bounds.

The third thing he did well in addition to the shot blocking was play good defense. Offense is more fun to play. Defense requires an effort. Offense is what the fans want to see, but defense wins championships. The shot blocking was his signature trait, but he also did other things to make his team defend the goal  better. He worked hard to disrupt the other teams’ offense through disrupting passes and shots.

The final thing he did well is his passing. He knew his teammates could shoot better than he did, so he would get them the ball passing out of the post position. Plus, by having his teammates involved, he knew they would pick up their defense. Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said this the other day, “I know I am not supposed to say this, but when a player is scoring and involved in the offense, he usually plays better defense as a result.” Having been around basketball for years, I have never heard a coach utter those words, yet I think Russell knew this intuitively.

Russell actually was a player coach his last three seasons as a Boston Celtics and his team won each year. But, when he kept coaching after he retired, his teams did not win like before. The key reason was Bill Russell was not playing. He brought all of the above to the court – intellect, effort, skill and energy. But he brought one other thing. His desire to win. Before almost every big game, Russell could be heard in the locker restroom throwing up. His teammates knew that if Russell was throwing up because he was nervous, they were going to win. And, they did.

One final thought about Bill Russell, which I also admire him for, is his activism. He was very intelligent and he knew that African-Americans were continuing to be maltreated in the 1960s. He joined together with Jim Brown, the superb NFL football star, and others to make a statement because their athletic prowess and notoriety gave them a platform to be heard. They did what people like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan have not done because of fear of lost endorsements. They stood up for African-Americans who were being disenfranchised and said this is not right.They convinced Muhammad Ali to take part as well. This needs to be done today, but the players and stars of the same ilk will not stand up for causes like these men did.

I think his activism shows what kind of man and teammate Bill Russell is and was. In today’s me first world where statistics mean more than they should with fantasy leagues and big contracts, winning year-in, year-out with energy and effort, seems to be a lost art. And, with fourteen championships to his teams’ credit, win they did. Maybe that is why we may never see another Bill Russell. The team has to be bigger than the player.

Monday meanderings

The pollen is out and the sniffles have returned. Even with medication, when I am outside doing chores, that stuff gets into your system somehow to wreak havoc. I do a double dip of Cetirizine (generic Zirtec) and a generic nasal spray which helps immensely. Yet, still…

For college basketball fans, a terrific rivalry game in the semi-finals ended the illustrious career of Coach K on Saturday night. Mike Krzyzewski walked off the court holding hands with his wife Mickie as his Duke Blue Devils were bested by the North Carolina Tar Heels. These schools are only eight miles apart and both play high level basketball, so the rivalry can get intense. Coach K has been a credit to the game and his players.

Speaking of the Tar Heels, its coach Hubert Davis played there as well, before embarking on a NBA professional career. While a good player, his uncle was Walter Davis who also starred for the Tar Heels. The older Davis went on to a multi-year all star career in the NBA. Those are some nice genes. If it weren’t for some guy named Michael Jordan who was a cut above everyone, Walter Davis would arguably be on a short list of best players to play at UNC.

On a more serious subject, there are a lot of folks in Russia advising a certain malevolent autocrat that don’t remember the story about the emperor having no clothes. Apparently, they are telling the autocrat what he wants to hear and not what he needs to hear. Interestingly, the naked emperor has destroyed a well-crafted effort to impose Russian will on other countries through disinformation. He may be able to hide this from many Russians, but the rest of the world is seeing his true colors and the war crimes, as well.

Speaking of the naked emperor, there is a reason the former US president holds him in high regard. In this autocrat, the former president sees a strong-arm leader who squelches dissent and will say anything to get his way. That is what the former president wanted to be all along – an autocrat that gets his way. I think we should say he is emperor of a small US island territory and let him do whatever he wants. Maybe that will keep him occupied. It would be better than letting him continue to divide us with his inability to distinguish truth from lies.

My last post is based on what we need to tell all elected officials. We need them to better than they are being. I have seen where many Republican Senators will sing praise of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first African-American woman to get on the US Supreme Court, yet will not vote for her. This is kind of like having your cake and eating it too. I will let you draw your own conclusions. In my mind, this does not rank up there with political courage and falls in the category of following some PR decision to oppose her to secure more conservative votes.

Speaking of the Supreme Court, for the second time Justice Clarence Thomas is likely wishing his wife Ginni would be more silent about public issues. On the tenth anniversary following Dr. Anita Hill’s testimony at the justice’s confirmation, Ms. Thomas publicly asked Hill for an apology for her testimony. Hill declined saying she told the truth. It should be noted that another credible witness was waiting in the wings, but was never called. Now, it is apparent Ms. Thomas is a huge fan of the former president and helped offer counsel and support on his Big Lie and efforts to incite an insurrection to stay in power. I realize fully Ginni Thomas is her own person, but I am confident the justice does not want his name in the news for this.

Finally, Representative Madison Cawthorn, one of the more strident members in Congress who has a track record of being untruthful made unsubstantiated claims about being invited to orgies and coke parties by senior members of Congress. Since he is so strident, the only members who could have so invited him would be in his own party. Party leadership took offense at such accusations and said this lie broke their trust (apparently earlier lies were not so bothersome). Now that he is cornered, he took a page out of the party figurehead’s book and blamed the other party and the press. In essence, he is saying it is their fault he is lying. Just because his flock might believe this BS, does not mean we should. Fortunately, he is running in a primary against seven Republicans and state party leadership is endorsing someone else.

John Madden – a class act

John Madden passed away yesterday. People outside the United States may not know this exuberant and larger than life man. But, he was a superb professional football coach, a groundbreaking football announcer and an innovator in a football video game.

He made the game simple for us without talking down to his audience. He was colorful with his sounds and drawings to define what was happening. And, people loved it – but they loved him more. He did not use arcane terms to define things and just told you what was happening and how it happened.

Fellow announcers, coaches and players have all described how genuine he was. Three stories can shed light on this. One of the things that precipitated his retirement was a vicious hit one of his players made on an opponent named Daryl Stingley which paralyzed him. This kind of hit is now illegal in football as the intent is to injure. Madden visited Stingley daily in the hospital as the injury occurred in Madden’s home city.

Another story is Madden was scared to fly. So, he would travel across the country in a Winnebago leaving days before a game. Madden would visit with people along the way. This endeared him even more. He was truly an everyday person.

The final story is he was a player’s coach. He told you what was expected of you – show up for practice, pay attention and play hard. Those were his rules. He did not care about what you looked like or wore. No dress codes, just play and practice hard. One of my favorite lines of his is “In my experience, when you practice well, you usually play well in the game.” 

It was said Madden was well-read and did his homework for each game. Fellow announcers would commend him on well he knew the players in the game he was announcing. The time on the road allowed for this.

Madden may not have looked the part, but he truly was s class act. 

Sports movies that echo real life lessons (a reprise)

Last month, I highlighted a sports movie that made even men cry called “Brian’s Song.”  The movie was about friendship between men of different backgrounds who were competing for the same job on a football team. So, the movie inspired me to note a few other sports movies, that echo longer, due to the story and/ or circumstances. There are many sports movies that can easily be forgotten, so those that are not have a reason for lasting in our memories.

To me, the most profound sports movie is called “Invictus” which chronicles the greatness of Nelson Mandela using the example of the national rugby team. Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon star in the movie directed by Clint Eastwood. Mandela would not let the Springbok team favored by white South Africans lose its support and galvanized a whole country behind it as it hosted and won the world championship. The team was a metaphor for inclusion and showed why Mandela was able to bring a fractured country together. Mohammed Morsi should have taken notes when he took over Egypt and he may still have a job.

“42” about Jackie Robinson becoming the first African-American major league baseball player is of the same ilk. The story is far more than about baseball, as Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman) and Dodger owner Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford), showed a huge amount of courage to break the color barrier years before the Civil Rights Act. Both received death threats, but Robinson had to face so many obstacles, hatred and abuse by racists, fans, players and even teammates and do so, without responding with anger. Many people would not be up to this challenge and, at some point, would have reacted. By example, he helped pave the way for others.

A movie some might be surprised is on this short list is “Bull Durham.” The reason I picked this one is it captures the camaraderie of teams quite well and shows the not so glamorous side of baseball in the minor leagues. But, the movie is about an old player and unique woman mentoring a young talented pitcher with a “million dollar arm and a five cents head.” Kevin Costner plays the veteran catcher, while Susan Sarandon plays a unique and astute baseball fan. Ironically, Tim Robbins, who becomes her husband in real life, plays Nuke Laloosh, the pitcher who needs seasoning. It also provides advice for that would resonate in the non-baseball world.  Here a few:

– Strikeouts are fascist. Throw more ground balls, they are more democratic.

– Don’t mess with a streak. If you think you are on a streak because of….then you are.

– I am not interested in anyone who is interested in that boy.

– Don’t think, just throw.

But, one you may not have seen is a worth the watch – “Bang the Drum Slowly” which is similar to “Brian’s Song,” but about baseball. It stars Michael Moriarty as a pitcher who will not play unless his catcher played by Robert De Niro can play. The catcher has cancer, so this will be his final season, a secret only Moriarty knows.

There are several others that could have been highlighted. “Hoosiers” with Gene Hackman as the imperfect coach of a high school Indiana basketball team that beats all odds to win, is excellent. “Field of Dreams” is also excellent where Costner creates a baseball diamond in his corn field and has the best game of catch at the end. “Seabiscuit” and “Phar Lap” are two movies about race horses and people who should not win, but do while overcoming great adversity. The latter is an Australian movie and is worth the watch. “The Greatest Game Ever Played” about a teenage golfer, Francis Ouimet, who beat three of the best golfers in the world is a little cheesy, but excellent. “The Lou Gehrig Story” is cheesy at times, but with Gary Cooper playing Gehrig, it is worth it. And, even “Rocky” is a classic, although they should have stopped at one.

Let me know your favorites. I know I have left off some good ones,but would love to hear your thoughts.

The Yogi of malapropisms (or Yogi-isms)

A malaprop is defined as “the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with unintentionally amusing effect, as in, for example, ‘dance a flamingo’ (instead of flamenco).” A malaprop or malapropism is the closest word(s) to describe what a rather famous baseball player would articulate to reporters on a recurring basis. The player had the iconic name of Yogi Berra.

Yogi was actually a very good and well-liked ballplayer on a very good team, the New York Yankees. As the Yankees were in the World Series with regularity, reporters had a lot of access to Yogi and what would become known as “Yogi-isms.” The funny thing about Yogi-isms is while they may sound unusual, they actually had a basis of simple truth holding them up. In other words, when you studied what he was trying to say, it actually made sense.

Here are a few Yogisms

It gets dark early out there – Yogi started as a catcher, but as he aged, he was moved to left field because he was such a good hitter and needed to be in the line-up. Late in the afternoon, the sun would cause shadows in the outfield which made it hard to see the baseball coming your way.

The future ain’t what it used to be -This may be my favorite Yogi-ism. In essence, things are happening so fast in the world, predictions of the future need updating. This is even more true today with technology advances.


It ain’t over ’til its over – This may be truest of all Yogi-isms as he has witnessed many a come from behind victory as a winner and loser. The game is not over until it is over. There is always a chance to win or lose, so finish the game.


When you come to a fork in the road, take it – This one needs to be read with a smile. You think you know what he means, but it is funny to play it against Robert Frost’s road not taken. Which way should you go? In Yogi’s mind, make a change. Or, is he saying stay the course? Or, maybe he is just saying don’t stand still, make a choice.

You can observe a lot by watching – this is one of the obvious truths. Shut up and watch what is happening. I have often felt reporters just loved to hear Yogi talk, so they would make big deals out of anything he said. Since we still have too many folks that are not present in the moment, this Yogi-ism is good advice. Pay attention, you might learn something.


Baseball is 90% mental; the over half is physical – this is one of his more famous lines. Math must have not been his strong suit. Or, more than likely, he forgot the first percentage when he closed out his point. Any endeavor has a mental aspect to it, even one where there is a ball, bat and glove involved.

Yogi-isms are priceless. They are funny, yet profound on occasion as the examples above portray. When I said he was well-liked, that is not an overstatement. He was charming and self-effacinig. He did not look like a star player, like his teammate Mickey Mantle, but he was a very good one. Kids, especially, just flocked to Yogi.

Please let me know your reactions and any other favorites.

Celebrating success with too much gusto concerns me

Watching the Ryder Cup, which every two years pits twelve US golfers against twelve European golfers in team competition, it continues to concern me over the lack of sportsmanship the match has devolved into. Dating back to the late-1990s, the televised competition has created a fervor of fans cheering the mistakes of their opponents. There was a time when Jack Nicklaus picked up the coin of Brit Tony Jacklin marking a ten foot putt to halve a match resulting in a tie, but those days are long gone.

But, I must confess, when I played sports, trash talking was something I just did not do. I was taught taunting an opponent is just poor form. As my basketball coach used to preach to us, the way to get back at an opponent is to win. The way to get back is not let them score. I mention the last point as it takes more effort to play defense, so to shut down an opponent from scoring brings satisfaction.

I know the crowds in team sports and some competition want to see demonstrative theatrics. They want to cheer success, even if it is for only one play. Yet, one coach used to say, if you are going to draw attention to your successful play, should you not draw attention when you mess up? Look what I did, I missed a tackle.

With that said, I do love offensive linemen in a football game. Usually, they only get attention when they mess up. It could be a penalty for holding or missing a block that leads to a tackle for a loss. On the flip side, these linemen are the reason games are won and lost. Yet, they don’t get the same upside notoriety when they are doing their job well. Their running backs and quarterback get the glory when they are blocking their opponents.

Mind you, it is OK to be happy with a successful play. But, the baseball term used is “you do not want to show up your opponent.” It is better not to rub it in a pitcher’s face that you just hit a home run, as you may have to face him or her again. One famous football running back used to say when he scored a touchdown, act like you have been there before. Of course, the fans want to see more. Maybe this is why drunk fans should steer clear from the other team’s fans.

I recognize I am old school. What I wrote runs counter to what is being done today. To me, it promotes this we/ they mindset on too many things. It has bled over into tribal politics. Fans are too invested in winning, that they don’t realize what is truly at stake. When politicians are too invested in winning than governing, we all lose.

Weekend warrior wisdom

Now that pro and college football (the American version) have started their new seasons, watching, betting, imbibing, overeating and playing by those who are less talented at the game will begin. Here are a few truisms of which to be mindful as we watch the games.

Monday comes early for Sunday drinkers watching football.

Fantasy footballers need to be wary of those who use multi-variant regression models to select their players. Bet what you can afford or don’t bet at all.

Tuesday comes early for Monday drinkers watching football.

A football is not round so it bounces in peculiar ways. Remember that when you wager.

Football players do not get that big and strong without chemical help.

The best of football helmets will not prevent the brain from rattling around in your head when hit on the field..

For every Tom Brady who plays that long, there are thousands of players who won’t make four years in a football career.

There are two halves to every football game. Do not celebrate victory before it occurs.

Finally, college success does not automatically translate into pro success – the pros are bigger and faster and the significant majority of college players from the bigger universities will not make it to the pros.

Enjoy the seasons. Don’t drink and drive. Wager wisely.

Then, there is class

In an Olympic race yesterday, two male 800 meter runners got their feet tangled in the heat and down they went.. In a show of unity, they got up and jogged together across the line.

From Big World Tale, here are the opening two paragraphs to define what happened:

“Olympic spirit: Isaiah Jewett, Nijel Amos help each other to finish line after ‘devastating’ collision in 800M heat August 1, 2021 Sunday’s Olympics men’s 800-meter semifinal did not go as planned for USA’s Isaiah Jewett and Botswana’s Nijel Amos. Jewett was running in third place late in the qualifying heat when Amos approached him from behind.

Then one of those moments that embodies Olympic sportsmanship and seems to happen at every Games took place. Jewett didn’t express the disappointment and frustration he was certainly feeling after being tripped from behind. As he stood up, he grasped the outreached hand of Amos, and they helped each other off the ground.” 

In a true sportsmanship move, after two high jumpers matched each other jump for jump before both failing at the next height, they decided to share the Gold medal rather than have a jump off. Apparently, one got injured right before the Rio Olympics in 2016.

From a Buzz Feed, by Lauren Strapagiel called “The Moment These Two Olympians Decided To Share A Gold Medal Is So Joyful” :

“Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy and Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar both took the gold for the men’s high jump in a truly heartwarming decision.”

What’s better than winning gold in Tokyo? Getting to share the win with a friend and fellow competitor.

On Sunday, athletes Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy and Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar chose to share first place at the Olympic men’s high jump final thanks to a quirk in the rule book.

According to the rules, they could either settle it with a jump-off or share the gold. NBC video from the competition shows an official trying to explain just that when Barshim cuts in.

‘Can we have two golds?’ Barshim asks the official.

Before the official can even finish explaining, Barshim reaches out to Tamberi to shake hands, and the two — and the crowd — go wild.”

Sportsmanship still exists, but it is nice to witness it.