Articles, Blog Posts, Podcasts, Webcasts, Lectures, Presentations, Talks , and Tours

Category: sports (Page 1 of 2)

The Best of Sports: It’s Just a Click Away

This post 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC – 12.10.2011

He’s been called “the Mozart of sports photographers.” His photos made the front cover of more than 170 issues of Sports Illustrated. His shot of Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) standing in triumph over a fallen Sonny Liston is considered the greatest sports photo of the 20th Century.

Neil Leifer, whose photos make up the visually arresting Photo Finish: The Sports Photography of Neils Leifer now on display at the Newseum, described his 5 decades as a premier picture taker during today’s latest edition of the interactive museum’s Inside Media program.

During his hour-long presentation, moderated by long-time journalist Shelby Coffee, the amiable Leifer detailed his belief that his amazing success is a combination of skill, determination, preparation, and perhaps most of all, some incredible luck.

As a teenager, Leifer said he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to combine his passion for sports with his love of photography. “Besides, I knew it would let me have the best seat in the house which I never would have been able to afford,” Leifer said.

In 1958, pluck and ingenuity propelled Leifer toward his desired career. He would arrive early at Yankee Stadium for New York Giants football games and volunteer to wheel in disabled veterans. “There were 50 or 60 veterans and only 6 or 7 people to push the wheelchairs. Once we got them in, we could watch the game,” Leifer said. He explained that he would bring hot coffee to shivering police officers who would “look the other way” while Leifer would pull his cheap camera out from under his coat and shoot some pictures from the bench or the end zone. It was this arrangment that allowed him to capture his first great shot: Johnny Unitas scoring the winning touchdown in what is still called the greatest professional football game ever played. “I learned that day that 75 percent of great sports photography is luck and the rest is getting the shot,” Leifer explained.

Leifer readily admits that boxing is his favorite sport, with the incomparable Ali his favorite subject of all-time. Leifer captured Ali in more than 70 different photo sessions, some staged and some acted out on canvas. “Ali was God’s gift to every journalist and photographer. He made everything you did that much better,” he said.

Not surprisingly, Leifer calls Ali that greatest athlete he ever photographed. Numbers 2 and 3 aren’t as obvious, however. He lists triple-crown winner Secretariat as second. In 3rd place, he claims it is American Olympic skater Eric Heiden. “He raced in all 5 speed skating races, won all 5, and set 4 records,” Leifer said. “I think that may be the most incredible sports performance of all-time.”

And what, after the millions of photos he has taken, is his favorite? Leifer says that answer is easy – it is the 1966 picture of Ali walking back to his corner in the Houston Astrodome after kocking out his challenger. “That picture … there isn’t a thing I would change,” Leifer said. “It’s the only one of my pictures I have hanging in my house.”

While Leifer is most known for his collection of sports shots, he has scored with some non-sports pictures, too. One of his favorite photos came after he convinced Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to light his cigar and then have a shot of both of them smoking away.  Leifer captured a Time magazine cover with his shot of Pope John Paul. And then there is the rare  picture of a hat-wearing President John Kennedy at the opening day of the 1961 baseball season at Washington’s Griffith Stadium. Leifer explained how he captured that picture. As was then custom, Kennedy,  as president was called upon to throw out the first pitch. “Let’s just say he had a lousy delivery.  I knew I didn’t have a picture there,” Leifer said. So, for the next 8 innings, he sat with his back to the game, waiting for a worthwhile shot of JFK. “I was hoping he would eat a hot dog and get some mustard on his chin, but he wasn’t really doing anything,” Leifer said. Suddenly, it became colder and Kennedy did something he never did – he placed a hat on his head. Then, Leifer was once again the recipient of great luck. A high foul ball headed toward the Presidential box, Kennedy turned, Leifer clicked, and another award-winning photo was captured. “I always say this is the picture of the Kennedy administration leaning left. Caroline Kennedy once told me that (picture) was the only time she had ever seen her Dad with a hat on,” Leifer said.

During the audience question-and-answer session, Leiffer was asked if there were any shots he regretted not capturing.  “Of course,” he responded. “You’re paid not to miss, but you do. Sometimes it comes down to being in the right seat. There’s skill involved, but as I say, there’s a lot of luck, too.”

Coffee said Leifer is an extreme rarity in the sports world, a non-athlete who is considered as famous as the subjects he is covering. “I’ve been with Neil at an event and it’s sort of like being backstage with Bono at a U2 concert.  John McEnroe comes to Neil’s table to greet him,” Coffee explained. 

Taking the Olympic Stand to Make a Stand

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC – 10.4.11

It is one of the most dramatic, revolutionary pictures of all-time. Two young black men, just moments removed from winning track medals in the 1968 Olympics, standing on the medal-platform, heads down, a single back-gloved fist raised in the air in silent protest. And tonight, 43 years later, John Carlos, one of those historic figures, appeared at the Busboys and Poets bookstore along with sports writer Dave Zirin,to discuss the book The John Carlos Story they had co-written.

In a lengthy, highly entertaining, often hilarious monologue, Carlos detailed his life which led him from the streets of Harlem to his historic moment in Mexico. Initially, he said, there has been much discussion of a boycott of the 1968 games by black American athletes to protest conditions for blacks here and in white-dominated African countries.

That boycott was to receive full support from Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.  In fact, Carlos said he had a chance to meet with King, who was then embroiled in a trashmen’s dispute in Memphis, and asked him why, with death threats escalating, he continued his crusade.

Carlos said Dr. King very simply told him: “John, I have to go back to stand for those who won’t stand 
for themselves and I have to go back to stand for those who can’t stand for themselves.”

Within months, Dr. King was assassinated and the boycott idea was dead. However, Carlos and his running mate Tommie Smith vowed to take some kind of a stand. And so, when Smith finished 1st and Carlos 3rd in the 200, an eternal visual symbol of protest came to be.

Interestingly, while all the focus was on the gloved raised fists, there were other aspects of the protest. Both athletes wore necklaces for lynchings of blacks in the South and  stepped up to the podium without shoes to call attention to the plight of the poor. Carlos further left his track suit unzipped in a sign of solidarity with oppressed workers.

Zirin, who is one of the most socially conscious sports writers in America today, said he had 2 major questions when he and Carlos started the book.  The first was – why did you risk what you did? (and indeed the  fallout was nasty and long-lasting).  Zirin indicated that perhaps the answer to that could best be explained in a quote on the front cover of the book:”How can you ask someone to live in the world and not have something to say about injustice?”

The second, and perhaps even more important question, Zirin said is – why does what Carlos did still seem to matter so much and resonate so loudly? “We still have injustice today and it’s still important for people to take a stand. John did that. And he paid for his stand, but he says he really had no other choice – it was the right thing to do,” Zirin said.

Courting the Good Life

This article by me 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC

Any good sales person will tell you you need to push a product while it’s hot. That’s why, with the Washington Wizards in the NBA playoffs for the 1st time in 6 years, it wasn’t surprising that the Verizon Center was offering private, personalized visits to encourage wealthy fans to buy complete playoff and full season ticket packages.

But what was surprising is that I got one of the invites. As a retired journalist and educator who now blogs about DC, I don’t fit the profile of a DC-area elite. But hey – what’s the old saying: you don’t look a gift to spend an hour touring the Verizon Center in the mouth.

So with my wife Judy (who makes all the financial decisions for our family and I was still hoping that maybe I could see the playoff games for the $21 I had in my wallet) we headed by Metro (what did you expect – a chauffeur-driven limousine?) to the Center, which serves as the home for the Wizards, the ice hockey Capitals, the WNBA Mystics, and the Georgetown Hoyas basketball team.

We were met by our young, enthusiastic sales rep. I was upfront with him. I told him unless he had a $21-dollar package for the playoffs I wouldn’t be buying. I was fairly certain of his response since I had spent much more for a sandwich dinner at the venue at a recent Sting/ Paul Simon concert. I prepared to head back out the door.

Instead, he offered a huge table of free refreshment (where was he at that Sting/Simon concert?) and proceeded to give us an engaging tour of the facility he knew extremely well. I told him I would be blogging about the visit and he had only one request – I couldn’t use his name since he couldn’t be quoted in an official capacity for the organization. So for the sake of this blog, I will call our guide RGS (for really good salesperson).

We started at the top of the facility with the private and corporate boxes with their big screen TVs and individual bathrooms.  We moved down the sections, where still-available playoff seats were marked in white. We explored the 3 private clubs for season ticket holders, each one bigger than the next. One is located in the bowels of the building so you can feel even more a part of the action. In that section, we saw the stored-section-by-section floor for basketball and the zambonis that fix up the ice at hockey games. We visited the locker room areas. We even saw the in-site parking space for owner Ted Leonis.

RGS then escorted us down to court side. We sat at the scorer’s table. We sat in several different court side seats. And, may I say, the court side experience is much different than the in-the-heavens view I usually get.  My wife gave me her now-don’t-get-used-to-this-kind-of-life-look. I knew she was right, but for a second or two, I closed my eyes and imagined what sports is like when springing for court side seats is no financial barrier.

RGS asked us if we had any final questions. We said we didn’t and shook hands. Our tour was over.

But then a strange thing happened. As underdogs, the Wizards won both their away playoff games in Chicago against the Bulls. That means they will be returning tonight to the Verizon Center with a 2-0 lead in the best of 7 series. It also means that since my visit to the Center the Wizards are undefeated.

Now the sports world is well-known for its emphasis on lucky signs. Maybe I am one for the Wizards. So Mr. Ted Leonis, I have a special offer for you. I would be willing to become a season-ticket holder. Your salesperson RGS already gave me a great taste of what that life is like. I am sure I would be able to handle it.

Now I realize you are a business man. I am not asking for a free handout. I would be willing to pay $17.76 cents for the package. I would have paid you $21, but I bought an Arizona diet green tea drink.

I think you should seriously consider my offer. Imagine how much money you would make with an undefeated team. For a $17.76 outlay, that would be quite a bargain. In fact, that would make you one of the world’s great financial wizards. I will wait your reply. By the way, I am also available for the Caps and the Mystics if you want to try for an undefeated trifecta.

Taking the Olympic Stand to Take an Activist Stand

By Dave Price

This post first appeared in The Price Do Dc

It is one of the most dramatic, revolutionary pictures of all-time. Two young black men, just moments removed from winning track medals in the 1968 Olympics, standing on the medal-platform, heads down, a single back-gloved fist raised in the air in silent protest.

And tonight, 43 years later, John Carlos, one of those historic figures, appeared at the Busboys and Poets bookstore along with sports writer Dave Zirin,to discuss the book The John Carlos Story they had co-written.

In a lengthy, highly entertaining, often hilarious monologue, Carlos detailed his life which led him from the streets of Harlem to his historic moment in Mexico. Initially, he said, there has been much discussion of a boycott of the 1968 games by black American athletes to protest conditions for blacks here and in white-dominated African countries.

That boycott was to receive full support from Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.  In fact, Carlos said he had a chance to meet with King, who was then embroiled in a trashmen’s dispute in Memphis, and asked him why, with death threats escalating, he continued his crusade.

Carlos said Dr. King very simply told him: “John, I have to go back to stand for those who won’t stand 
for themselves and I have to go back to stand for those who can’t stand for themselves.”

Within months, Dr. King was assassinated and the boycott idea was dead. However, Carlos and his running mate Tommie Smith vowed to take some kind of a stand. And so, when Smith finished 1st and Carlos 3rd in the 200, an eternal visual symbol of protest came to be.

Interestingly, while all the focus was on the gloved raised fists, there were other aspects of the protest. Both athletes wore necklaces for lynchings of blacks in the South and  stepped up to the podium without shoes to call attention to the plight of the poor. Carlos further left his track suit unzipped in a sign of solidarity with oppressed workers.

Zirin, who is one of the most socially conscious sports writers in America today, said he had 2 major questions when he and Carlos started the book.  The first was – why did you risk what you did? (and indeed the  fallout was nasty and long-lasting).  Zirin indicated that perhaps the answer to that could best be explained in a quote on the front cover of the book:”How can you ask someone to live in the world and not have something to say about injustice?”

The second, and perhaps even more important question, Zirin said is – why does what Carlos did still seem to matter so much and resonate so loudly? “We still have injustice today and it’s still important for people to take a stand. John did that. And he paid for his stand, but he says he really had no other choice – it was the right thing to do,” Zirin said.

A Father’s Day Tale of Fathers, and Sons, and Sports Fandom

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC

Sports loyalties, like so many of our character traits, are often a combination like environment and heredity. You know, like nature and nurture. Or, to be more accurate, geography and family.

Where you were born has a lot to do with who you root for. For example, if you were born in Ohio, there is a good chance you will be a Cleveland Indians fan, no matter how you feel about the treatment of America’s Indians. That’s unless your Dad or another favorite relative has always been a die-hard Baltimore Orioles fan. Then there’s a good chance you might take the O’s over the Indians. Of course, in cities with 2 teams like New York (Yanks/Mets) or Chicago (Cubs/White Sox) the fandom choice is more murky.

I was born in Philadelphia. For 59-and-one-half-years I lived in South Jersey, except for 4 years when I went to college at Villanova University, located just a few train stops from downtown Philly. And, for all of those years – no surprise here – I was a Phillies fan. My father was from Texas and had been raised in Washington state, neither of which at the time had a baseball team. So, when he arrived in South Jersey after World War II, he became a Phillies fan, too.

I have a whole host of memories of watching games on our black-and-white TV with my Dad, or listening by to the radio, or, most importantly of all, sitting with him in the bleachers at the Old Connie Mack Stadium where the game really came alive. 

I’ll share just 2. My favorite non-Phil (and my Dad’s, too) was St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Famer Stan Musial. I remember my Dad fighting his way through a crowd to get me Musial’s autograph. He got his hat knocked off, received a cut on his bald head, but emerged with my prize. 

Then there was Father’s Day, Sunday, June 21, 1964. Every Sunday, my Dad would take my Mother and me out somewhere in South Jersey for a family late lunch. It was tradition. But on that particular Sunday, our dining tradition bumped up against an even stronger tradition, one that involved a bat and ball, not a knife and a fork. As always, we were listening to the ballgame on the way to the restaurant when it became apparent that this particular game could be a piece of baseball history. Jim Bunning, the Phils pitcher, was hurling that rarity of rarities, a perfect game. My Dad turned the car around and rushed us home so we could see the last few innings. It was a good move. For, on this day, Bunning, who later became a Congressman and U.S. Senator from Kentucky, was perfect. He pitched a game with no runs, no hits, no walks, no errors.

I tell all of this as background for last night. Last year, after we retired, my wife and I left South Jersey and moved to Crystal City, Virginia, a community that is even closer to Washington, D. C. and its hometown baseball team the Washington Nationals than Villanova was to Philly. And, for the 1st time this season, we were going to see the Nats, who were playing the Phils. The fate of the 2 teams had completely reversed this year. The Nats, proverbial also-rans, were in 1st place. There was an excitement about their young team and its season. The Phils, an Eastern Division power for years, were in last place, 14 games behind the Nationals.
In fact, just hours before the game, the Phils had made it clear that they had abandoned their chances for this year by trading 2 of their starting outfielders, one to the Dodgers and one to the Giants, for younger prospects. I joked on Facebook that I hoped I would recognize the team by game time.

Now, I figured I had learned my sports lesson in loyalty from the musical West Side Story, “When You’re a Jet You’re a Jet All the Way …” But I wondered as we approached the field for the game’s 7 p.m. start – would my love of my new city D.C. have any impact on my long-standing feelings for my Phils?

Well, the Phils made quick work of my doubts. Even though the Nationals were using their best pitcher, the Phils jumped to a 2-0 lead in the 2nd inning by way of a home run from a young fill-in 3rd baseman. The Phils continued to expand that lead throughout the rest of the game. The final score was 8-0 and, in the parlance of old-time sports writers, it wasn’t really that close. The Phils’ pitcher Cliff Lee, who had won only 1 game prior to last night, looked like the all-star he had been. There was even a 2-run inside the park home run off the bat of long-time Phils shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

I left the game as I had entered it – still a Phils fan. Of course, that’s easy when your team is winning. The Phils have 2 more games with the Nats. Maybe, just to be sure on that fan thing, you should check back on Friday. 

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
I can’t wait to see how fandom turns out for my 2 grandchildren, Audrey, who is 4-and-a-half, and Owen, who is 3. Their mother, an avid sports fan, is a Massachusetts girl and that means all things Boston. For her, it is Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins. Like me, their father is Philly with a capital PH. That’s Phillies, Eagles (or Iggles if you are a true aficionado of the team and its legendary Boo-Birds fans), 76ers, and Flyers. When it comes to college and basketball, the family rift is even worse. Shannon is die-hard Duke. If you could bleed blue, she would. Michael is a huge ABD (Anybody But Duke). So far, as a family, they have lived in Reno, Nevada and Knoxville, Tennessee, neither of which have pro teams. (Although both Audrey and Owen did wear a lot of orange during their Knoxville years) Just last month, the family moved to Atlanta for a few years. Can you say Braves, Falcons, and Hawks?

« Older posts
%d bloggers like this: