Distinguished broadcaster Jeremy Schaap reflects on Jerry Izenberg’s legendary career in sports journalism

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Jan. 30, 2018)

Editor’s note: This column is part of a section from an upcoming ebook on Jerry Izenberg, who is attending his 52nd Super Bowl on Feb. 4.

“He was a thought leader in the world of sports journalism.”
-Jeremy Schaap on Jerry Izenberg

***

For nearly his entire life, Jeremy Schaap has been aware of Jerry Izenberg’s career. It goes with the territory.

“Obviously my dad knew a lot of the same people,” Schaap acknowledged in 2016.

He followed his famous father Dick’s footsteps into sports broadcasting, which over the years has given him an insider’s look at what makes Jerry tick.

The elder Schaap, a legendary newspaper/magazine reporter, columnist and editor, author and TV broadcaster, passed away in December 2001. Since his passing, Jeremy has continued to establish himself as one of the most thoughtful and resourceful journalists under the ESPN umbrella.

Now 48, Schaap was recently asked to look back on his awareness of Izenberg’s career before his own rise to prominence in the business. In doing so, he also took time to reflect on Izenberg’s place within the pantheon of prominent sportswriters.

“I didn’t grow up reading him on a daily basis,” Schaap admitted in a phone interview. “But I knew his work and then I had the opportunity to work with him side by side for a few years as we did this show called ‘Classic Sports Reporters’ (on ESPN Classic) and we got to spend a lot of time together and it was a privilege in working with Jerry at that time, which was about 15, 16 years ago, late ’90s, early 2000s.

“I came to understand the significance of his work, and Jerry is one of those rare guys who is both a terrific writer and a helluva reporter … and they are not mutually exclusive, but one doesn’t necessarily follow the other.”

So what makes Izenberg a significant figure in sports media?

“I think Jerry’s important in a lot of ways, but the most important thing about Jerry is that before it was popular to be for most of the sportswriting community had reconsidered its retrograde or reactionary opinions of things Jerry was kind of a trailblazer,” declared Schaap, who has written “Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History” and “Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics.”

“Well, when I think of Jerry,” Schaap added, “I think of the way he championed blacks in baseball who did not get the opportunities that whites got, in particular his close friend Larry Doby.”

Schaap recognized that Izenberg remained a persistent voice calling out for racial and social justice for decades. Clearly, that impressed him.

“The dearth of black managers was one of the things, I think, that Jerry wrote about, the mistreatment of the black athlete,” Schaap said. “And he was someone who perceived these things, which now seem obvious, before most of his fellow sportswriters did.

“It’s a different world now. A lot of sportswriters now are guys with liberal arts degrees and they come at things from a more left-of-center orientation. It wasn’t that way generations ago. It was more of a trade and there were fewer guys who were socially aware, racially aware, and Jerry was really in the vanguard, and I think that’s to his eternal credit.”

Dick Schaap edited Sport magazine in the 1970s, seeking out distinguished writers and original voices to fill its pages, including Izenberg.

The NYC-based magazine, which printed its final issue in 2000, was impressive in its heyday, according to Izenberg.

“In its glory years, the magazine had great editors who gave writers freedom and a forum to say things that mattered,” Izenberg was quoted as saying in “Thomas Hauser on Sports: Remembering the Journey.”

“It was an authentic voice that brought out the best in us,” Izenberg said of Sport.”

For Jeremy Schaap, that quality resonates to this day.

“Jerry Izenberg was one of those names growing up in the sports-writing business where I always knew Jerry’s name,” Jeremy pointed out. “I’m sure I saw his name in the best sportswriting anthologies and in Sport and around. … Izenberg was one of the big guys, and I can’t pinpoint where I first heard of him, but I can’t really imagine I time when I didn’t know who Jerry was.”

***

It’s no secret why Izenberg thrived as a columnist in the cut-throat New York metropolitan media market for decades.

In short, he’s a gifted communicator.

“When I think of Jerry I think of somebody who had a way of communicating with athletes so that he got good stuff,” Schaap said. “These were reported columns. They were reported, they were written.

“When I think of Jerry’s columns, I think of a guy who went out and did the hard work of column writing. He wasn’t sitting there on Sunday afternoon or Saturday night, thinking, like, ‘Jeez, what the hell am I gonna write about this week?,’ because he had done the work, he had the contacts. His entire life had been building relationships, establishing a viewpoint, and that kind of rich column that is hued with historical perspective, with the actual effort, shoe-leather effort of going out and getting it, and more than anything else a guy who isn’t a cheap-shot artist, who isn’t a sensationalist, is someone with a point of view, but it’s all girded by a sense of humanity.

“That’s what I think of when I think of Jerry is somebody who’s interested in being fair, and also interested in taking a strong opinion, but not for the sake of taking a strong opinion or expressing one.

“He takes his work very seriously, he takes the world of sports very seriously, and he understands the impact that sports can have on society at large, and that’s the space that he occupied.”

Perhaps more than most Schaap understands that Izenberg always saw the big picture: that sports aren’t just games, but a microcosm of society.

“A lot of guys kind of bemoan the fact like, ‘Uhh, I just want to write about the games. I don’t want to deal with all the social issues and all of that stuff,’ ” Schaap stated. “Jerry thrives and pries at the intersection of society and sports.”

***

When Muhammad Ali passed away in June 2016, the massive file of columns and broadcast archives (radio and TV) that occupied Izenberg’s time over the decades entered a new place. It became a primary source of Ali’s life and times.

It also helped remind anyone who wasn’t paying attention how vital Izenberg’s career has been in chronicling The Greatest’s career and much, much more.

“People in the business know Jerry,” Schaap said. “People who have an appreciation for history as sportswriting know that Jerry is a big figure in a big market. ”

As they had done at many marquee sports events of the past few decades, Schaap and Izenberg crossed paths in Las Vegas in September 2015 for the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Andre Berto welterweight world title fight at MGM Grand Garden Arena. The fight, won by Mayweather, provided a recent opportunity for Schaap to observe Izenberg at the top of his game.

“He loves the work. He loves the writing,” Schaap noted. “And to be writing columns for as long as he has, that’s amazing. It’s remarkable and there’s passion for it.”

Earlier in Schaap’s career, before he was a signature name at ESPN and not merely a young up-and-comer with a famous dad, he witnessed the passion that Izenberg brought to every aspect of his work.

Boxing brought that trait under the big spotlight.

“I was always surprised when we did that show Classic Sports Reporters together how passionately Jerry felt things about guys,” Schaap recalled. “We’d get into arguments about, like, Ezzard Charles or Joe Walcott vs. Rocky Marciano, and I was like, ‘Jerry, the fight was 50 years ago. Let it go.’ But he still feels things deeply, and that’s the thing, that kind of enthusiasm is very hard to manufacture. It’s either there or it isn’t — that kind of passion for what you’re doing.

“Most guys by the time they reach their early 70s, or late 60s when I was working with Jerry, that enthusiasm has dissipated and they’ve mellowed. And I would say Jerry’s enthusiasm has not dissipated and he has not mellowed.”

Ali’s close friendship with Izenberg, which lasted for most of the boxer’s life, demonstrated again that the latter was truly unique. And to his credit, it showed that Jerry valued Muhammad as a human being and not just as a famous source to fill space in his column, even when Ali was criticized profusely by many for changing his name from Cassius Clay, embracing the Black Muslim faith and for refusing to serve in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.

“I think when it comes to Ali is that there were Ali champions, there were Ali detractors. Izenberg was somebody again, like he had been on many issues, ahead of the curve,” Schaap said. “And at the time, he might have seemed like an outlier, but eventually history would vindicate him.”

There are parallels in any timeline that charts Howard Cosell’s support for Ali and Izenberg’s. The broadcasting giant, of course, had the bigger forum — and the bombastic personality as well. But that didn’t diminish Izenberg’s moral crusade; in fact, it might’ve kept him more focused in shedding light on the issue with razor-sharp commentary.

“It’s hard to make the same kind of impact writing a column as you do when you’ve got that platform of network television, but I would say that Jerry was on the right side of history again as he was so often,” Schaap said.

“…Certainly it was good for Ali to have champions in the press, to have champions in the white media, but he’s still Muhammad Ali without Howard, and I think he’s still Muhammad Ali without Jerry. But the support was not irrelevant.”

In 2016, Izenberg appeared on Schaap’s ESPN Radio program, “A Sporting Life,” prior to Super Bowl 50. And it was a big reminder of the depth of Jerry’s sporting knowledge and the history connected to the personalities, games, teams and leagues that he’s written about for decades.

“It’s always a win having Jerry on because there’s so much perspective, there’s so much energy,” Schaap said. “I hope when I’m 86 that I have an iota of the passion and the energy and the creativity that Jerry still has. He’s a witness to really the entire second half of the 20th century in sports and of the beginning of the 21st, and he opens this witness for us unto a time when things were very different in many respects and so it’s always fun hearing what he has to say.”

***

I asked Schaap to state what’s the greatest compliment he can make about Izenberg’s career. Indeed, his answer provided nuance and insight beyond the typical sound bite heard during contemporary political campaigns.

“I would say the best thing you can say about Jerry also happens to be true: that he made an impact,” Schaap said.

“He made an impact because he didn’t follow, but he led. He was a thought leader in the world of sports journalism, and it’s easy to be part of the pack. It’s easy to pile on, and that wasn’t Jerry.

He went on: “Jerry is a fiercely independent thinker and a gifted writer and somebody with a heart and I think all those things that he was able to make an impact in a way that even more prominent writers might not have, because he was concerned with social issues, he was concerned with racial justice issues. He wasn’t the kind of guy despite his age, despite the circumstances of his own life, was going to condemn a (Tommie) Smith and a (John) Carlos as so many did.

“He was somebody because of the circumstances of his own life who also understood the issues facing America, and he was part of that generation, as my father was, who grappled with and wrote about and I think came to understand the significance of the black athlete,” Schaap concluded.

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Jerry Green on Jerry Izenberg: ‘One of the icons in our fading business’

By ED ODEVEN
TOKYO (Jan. 27, 2018) — Last summer, I interviewed Jerry Green, a legendary sportswriter and columnist for the Detroit News. During our conversation, Green offered insights and anecdotes about Jerry Izenberg, the legendary Newark Star-Ledger sports columnist.

Green, now 89, and the 87-year-old Izenberg are the only two newspaper journalists who have covered all 51 Super Bowls, and both men will attend Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis in a few days.

A version of this column will be included in my upcoming ebook on Izenberg.

***
More than most, Jerry Green knows the significance of the totality of Jerry Izenberg’s sportswriting and his career as a whole.

Green and Izenberg are the only two newspaper writers to cover all 51 Super Bowls.

A fraternity of two.

Remarkable.

“We share a survival instinct,” Green, who has written for the Detroit News for decades, said in a telephone interview. “He’s a survivor, I’m a survivor, and I appreciate the fact we’re both interested in each other continuing to cover (sports) because we represent an era that is long gone in American sports media. We covered national events and it would make some sort of reputation for ourselves.”

Clearly, Izenberg was in the right place at the right time early in his career with Stanley Woodward, the New York Herald Tribune sports editor as his legendary mentor, according to Green. And Woodward was a big part of those formative years.

“He came up with a terrific pedigree in that he had associations that other writers lacked being out of the New York area.”

Green gave an example of Izenberg’s important connections, noting his close ties to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, the subject of his 2014 book.

“He really got to know people in depth and a lot about them, and he was able to put that into words,” Green said.

Green believes he first met Izenberg at the 1966 NFL Championship Game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, where the Cowboys took on the Green Bay Packers.The Packers led 14-0 en route to a 34-27 on Jan. 1, 1967.

Izenberg “had a closeness to (Hall of Fame coach Vince) Lombardi that I did not have because he coached on the New York Giants staff there before he went to Green Bay,” Green said.

***
Like Dick Schaap, Izenberg also saw the rise of civil rights as an issue of profound importance in the 1960s, and sports was not immune to societal changes that focused on civil rights. Izenberg’s support of Muhammad Ali’s right to protest set him part from the vast majority of his newspaper peers.

“He was in Ali’s camp right from the beginning, I would say, from the time Cassius Clay changed his name.

With decades spent reading and writing what appears on the sports pages of American newspapers, Green developed a keen understanding of what has made Izenberg an effective sportswriter.

“There’s clarity and there’s depth in his writing,” Green said, “and I think he’s very analytical.”

Green’s nimble mind unearthed a classic example from Super Bowl II: Izenberg’s reporting on an “in-the-trenches showdown” between Packers offensive guard Gale Gillingham and Raiders defensive tackle Tom Keating. As Izenberg watched the action unfold before his eyes, according to Green, the combatants on opposite sides of the line of scrimmage became a compelling slice of the game’s overall drama.

“He got into that,” Green said of Izenberg’s analytical writing, “just the way they beat up on each other. He talked to both of them … and I don’t think there was any other sportswriter in America at that time in those early years (of the Super Bowl) who would do something like that.

“Jerry was able to pick up this battle in the trenches, providing a fresh perspective on one of the game’s pivotal matchups.”

Other journalists focused on Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr or Lombardi’s last game as Packers coach or running back Jim Taylor or the NFL’s dominance of the AFL, Green said.

Izenberg’s coverage set him apart from the masses.

To this day, “he has perception,” Green added.

In February 2017, Izenberg and Green sat side by side in the press box for Super Bowl LI in Houston, watching the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons.

“I knew he was interested in the fumble, which actually was the turning point in the game,” Green said, referring to Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower’s sack of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in the fourth quarter that sparked a remarkable comeback by New England. At the time of the turnover, Atlanta led 28-12.

A key section of Izenberg’s game column focused on the pivotal play.

Here’s a portion of it:

“It was third-and-one on the Falcons’ 36 and here came Hightower from his linebacker position, the honest workman doing his job,” Izenberg wrote. “He zeroed in on Ryan, who — inexplicably to some — had dropped back to throw. Hightower came on like an avenging angel or a giant eraser, determined to wipe clean the earlier mistakes of the embarrassed Patriots.

“The linebacker arrived so ferociously, it was almost a dead heat between him and the shotgun snap, which he jarred loose as Ryan went down. The Pats recovered. He hadn’t lit a spark. He had ignited was a full-scale forest fire. Brady threw four straight completions, starting at the Falcons’ 25 and ending with Danny Amendola cradling the football in the end zone. A two-point conversion kept the flame alive.

“But for all the scoring in this game, it was Hightower who got it going and now there was no coping with the Real Patriots.”

Green penned a more traditional column with a piece about Pats QB Tom Brady.

***
So when did Green begin to understand that Izenberg possessed a special talent to write about sports?

“The first thing that I really got to admire Jerry for was he came out with a book called ‘The Rivals,’ ” Green said of his 1968 book. “It really captured the flavor of sports,” he went on,” which Jerry always did. He could capture the flavor of a game and games.”

Others agreed.

Citing the Louis-Schmeling fistic rivalry, Notre Dame-Army football, Sea Biscuit vs. War Admiral, among others, Izenberg delivered a first-rate treatise on American sports. Summing up the book, here’s the Kirkus review: “With a jovial good humor and a delicate regard for the behavioral eccentricities of athletes under fire, Mr. Izenberg recalls, in a lively and original style, tournament traumas of the not-too-distant past. Classy showing on a well-run track.”

Izenberg demonstrated how to use a wide range of cultural and historic references to complete the task. “Mr. Izenberg decorates his combat commentaries with delectably apt quotes-from Job and Ralph Waldo Emerson to Alfred Shotgun Foley,” Kirkus stated.

One book, of course, didn’t cement Izenberg’s legacy in journalism, but it gave a glimpse into what he’s able to do in this arena of human (and equine) drama.

“I think he’s prolific and I would say he is a national sportswriter, and the way our business is going we don’t have that many anymore, so he’s a throwback to the Red Smith era,” said Green, who served as a U.S. Naval press officer in Asia in the 1950s before returning to New York and, in ’56, pursuing a career in journalism.

In 1955, Green penned a column on a Sugar Ray Robinson fight that he had listened to while still stationed in Japan, then distributed the column at the Foreign Sports Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo. The Asahi Evening News, a now-defunct English-language newspaper, printed the column.

“The first time I read Jerry Izenberg he was working for the (New York) Herald Tribune (from 1958-62), so he was working with Red Smith,” Green said.

Describing that era’s prominent talent, Green said the group of distinguished journalists included Jimmy Cannon and Jack Murphy.

“They were older than Jerry and I were, but we would look at them and admire them and … try to emulate them.”

It worked.

“I would say maybe he’s the 21st century Red Smith,” Green commented.

In his own right, fueled by his work ethic, talent and intellect, Izenberg made a name for himself in sportswriting.

“I would go to an Ali fight or a Super Bowl and realize that he is one of the icons in our fading business,” said Green.

***
Green isn’t shy about pointing out why he and Izenberg continue to concoct relevant columns, even as they move closer to their 90th birthday.

“One of the best things about him and myself is we have a perspective of history,” Green explained, “and we can take current events such as the Super Bowl and go out and write about Vince Lombardi and bring it up to the current situation.”

What’s more, Izenberg’s all-around abilities as a journalist turn his prose into a work of art.

Being a skillful observer of every detail in front of him, including how and what is said in individual and group settings, helped propel Izenberg to the top of his profession.

“Yes, he was able to pick out statements and dramatize them and analyze them and use that analysis directing him to the game’s final outcome, which is a rare ability,” Green said. “It takes special insight as a journalist to be able to do that.

“He has superior insight to other sportswriters and sports columnists of our era,” added Green. “He’s a serious journalist, the kind of journalist you’re supposed to be, and few people attain that level of competence that he has plus for the output that he has had.

“I’ll say this: He’s ambitious because he’s still writing books deep into his 80s. It’s something I noticed in him and something I admire in him, his motivation.”

 

Lopez Lomong’s great escape

This article on future Olympian Lopez Lomong appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on May 26, 2006

SOLE SURVIVOR

Kidnapped by the Sudanese army as a child, Lopez Lomong escaped the life of a child soldier the best way he knew how — with his feet

By Ed Odeven

Lopez Lomong runs because he’s a good runner. In tough times, he ran as a means of survival.

As a 6-year-old in Sudan, Lomong, the second-oldest child of five, was attending a church service with his parents in their small African village. The, as quickly as he now runs an 800-meter race, his life completely changed.

Lomong was abducted by Sudanese soldiers. He didn’t know what happened to his parents.

Years later he found out.

“They told me that we were taken away and they (the soldiers) actually left them alone because they needed child soldiers like us,” said Lomong, an NAU freshman who competes in the 800 at the NCAA West Region Outdoor Track and Field Championships this weekend (qualifying is this afternoon, the final round is Saturday).

“I was taken with the other kids somewhere in Sudan,” he recalled.

But he didn’t become a child soldier in the civil war that has devastated his country.

“Me and two of my friends, we escaped from that camp and we ended up in Kenya,” he said.

How?

“Running … and running and running,” Lomong said.

***

Lomong, now 21, started living in a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, when he was 6.

He became one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, one of thousands who were displaced by the war in Sudan.

His family didn’t know of his whereabouts, and he didn’t know where his brothers, sisters and parents were or if they were alive.

When he was 16, Lomong arrived in the United States thanks to the efforts of Catholic Charities, an organization which has helped thousands of Lost Boys resettle in the United States.

Lomong settled in the small town of Tully, N.Y., which is located in the Syracuse metropolitan  area.

“I was a minor when I came,” Lomong said. “So (Catholic Services) actually helped me out to find foster parents.”

Robert and Barbara Rogers, who had one child already grown up, were eager to have another youngster in the family.

“They are awesome people,” Lopez said, flashing a smile.

“They were giving me everything and teaching me everything, like switching on the lights and all those things. I didn’t know how to do ’em. … All the time, they helped me out (and to) adapt to a new culture.”

The Rogers’ outpouring of love and devotion included their support of his athletic pursuits.

“They were going to all my track meets in high school,” he said.

So they saw Lopez earn nine varsity letters in cross country and track and field. They saw him set several school records in cross country. They saw Lopez, a three-time team captain, win a New York state crown in the mile. And they saw him lead Tully High School to state titles in the 4×400-meter and 4×800-meter relays.

He also exhibited his running talents on the national stage, placing 20th at a Footlocker Nationals competition.

“Lopez was a dominant figure in all his races during his high-school career in the small town in upstate N.Y. where he went to school,” recalled Dr. Jack Daniels, the head distance running coach at NAU’s Center for High Altitude Training who saw Lomong compete in high school when he was the cross country/track coach at SUNY-Cortland, a small school near Tully.

“What always set Lopez apart from many runners was his ‘go-for-broke’ attitude which is typical of the good distance runners in Africa. I have others tell me they just go as hard as they can hang on for the win, great; if not, they will try again next time.”

***

Since enrolling at NAU last fall, Lomong has had a successful freshman season as a student-athlete. He placed 19th at the NCAA Pre-National Championships race in Indiana last October.

He captured Big Sky Conference indoor titles in the 800 and 1,500 in February and replicated that feat two weeks ago at the Big Sky outdoor meet, crossing the finish line in 1 minute, 48.86 seconds and 3:48.64.

This, of course, put a smile on Robert and Barbara Rogers’ faces.

They routinely monitor Lomong’s track career via the Internet.

Said Lomong: “They are so happy about that and they are calling me (on the phone): ‘Keep going.’ ”

Lumberjacks head coach J.W. Hardy expresses the same optimism about Lomong’s racing, but does so in a more detailed manner.

“I don’t really think he fully understands what he’s capable of doing,” Hardy said, “and I think that’s really been the progression for him throughout the season. As the season has gone on, I think he’s getting a better understanding of what it takes to be a top-level athlete.

“(Distance running) coach (John) Hayes is doing a great job of bringing him along and getting him to understand what it really takes to be a force at the national level. I think he’s got amazing talent, and there’s so much more that he has to offer.

“We’ve just got to kind of wait and see how far his training will take him this season.”

Lomong is confident he’ll win the 800 Saturday.

His strategy?

“Run smart, relaxed,” he said. “I’ve got more speed than anyone else in the Big Sky Conference …. and a lot of endurance. (With) about 300 or 200 (meters) to go, it’s my race.”

To prepare for regionals, Hayes has guided Lomong through a series of challenging speed-related workouts, focused on lots of drills for 300s and 600s.

It’s paid off.

“I think it’s working really, really well. I’m ready,” he said.

And if there’s one thing Hardy has learned about Lomong in the past season, it’s that he’s not afraid of hard work.

“He cane in and had to battle through learning English, getting through learning another language, dealing with the academics and this and that in an American high school and then to be able to move on,” Hardy said. “…It’s been a joy to see him go out and improve, academically and athletically. I think there’s a lot left in Lopez. We’ve seen a lot in one year, but there’s so much more that we could see out of this young man out of the next three years.”

And, remember, this season’s not over yet.

Lomong has plenty of motivation for today’s 800, a race in which he’s seeded No. 3 (1:48.86; USC’s Duane Solomon is first in 1:47.74).

“If I make it to nationals, they’ll be there at nationals,” he said of the Rogerses, his American family.

***
Three years ago, Lomong was adjusting to his new life in the United States. He was struggling to learn American English. Before coming here, he had a limited knowledge of British English.

“It’s been kind of a challenge, studying. … Yeah, I came a long way,” he said.

Sudan. Kenya. Upstate New York. Flagstaff.

These are all destinations on Lomong’s life map. And throughout his unforgettable journeys from East Africa to the Western U.S., Lomong has grown into a bona fide running standout — “I think his ability is limitless in the 1,500,” said Hayes, citing his exceptional combination of speed and endurance — he never stopped thinking about his roots: his beloved parents.

Three years ago, Lopez learned his parents, Rita Namana Lomong and Lomong Lomong were alive. A U.S. organization had located them, he said.

“Some friends in Africa called me up and said, ‘You mom’s around here.’ I was like, ‘Wow, what a thrill,’ ” he said. “And I just called them and we talked. And she was crying. And I was crying. There was a lot of things going on, and trying to figure it out was very hard.”

His family now resides in Thika, Kenya, a small town near the nation’s capital city, Nairobi. His four siblings are there, too.

This has given him some peace of mind. But this much is clear: They are always on his mind.

In every race, Lomong demonstrates this.

“When I step on the track, I’m doing it for the school and also representing them back home,” Lomong said. “Every time I come to that lap, something flies through my (mind) and I can see their picture and I go and do work, you know.”

Lomong plans to visit Kenya in the summer of 2007, the first time he’ll see his family in 16 years.

He’ll run into their arms.

The ultimate friendship (Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman), and an interview with the author who wrote their story

By Ed Odeven

TOKYO (July 30, 2015) — Some stories are timeless and unforgettable; others are easily forgotten. But the vital lessons of the friendship between Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes ought to be told again and again for generations to come.

It’s a powerful reminder of friendship and kindness and common decency and profound courage. It’s a story that transcends racial barriers.

Pat Farabaugh captured the essence of their friendship in his 2014 book, “An Unbreakable Bond: The Brotherhood of Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman.”

Stokes (left) and Roy Campanella (right) became friends following accidents less than two months apart in early 1958 that left both sports stars paralyzed.  Campanella was a three-time National League Most Valuable Player as a catcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He and Maurice are seen here at one of the Stokes Benefit Games at Kutsher’s Resort.  In the back row, left to right, are NBA stars Oscar Robertson, Dave DeBusschere, Gus Johnson, Wes Unseld, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain (Saint Francis University Marketing and Public Relations).
Stokes (left) and Roy Campanella (right) became friends following accidents less than two months apart in early 1958 that left both sports stars paralyzed. Campanella was a three-time National League Most Valuable Player as a catcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He and Maurice are seen here at one of the Stokes Benefit Games at Kutsher’s Resort. In the back row, left to right, are NBA stars Oscar Robertson, Dave DeBusschere, Gus Johnson, Wes Unseld, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain (Saint Francis University Marketing and Public Relations).
Milton Kutsher (left) hosted the “Stokes Benefit Game” at his resort in the Catskills each August from 1959 to 1999.  Kutsher reached out to Twyman (center) in late 1958 and asked how he could help Maurice.  Kutsher’s son, Mark Kutsher (right), continued this tradition after his father died.  Following Stokes’ death in 1970, proceeds from the benefit game went to NBA players who needed financial help because of an unforeseen medical crisis (Saint Francis University Marketing and Public Relations).
Milton Kutsher (left) hosted the “Stokes Benefit Game” at his resort in the Catskills each August from 1959 to 1999. Kutsher reached out to Twyman (center) in late 1958 and asked how he could help Maurice. Kutsher’s son, Mark Kutsher (right), continued this tradition after his father died. Following Stokes’ death in 1970, proceeds from the benefit game went to NBA players who needed financial help because of an unforeseen medical crisis (Saint Francis University Marketing and Public Relations).
  Stokes defends against the New York Knicks’ Mel Hutchins during a game in 1958.  Jack Twyman is trailing the play (Courtesy of Jay Twyman).
Stokes defends against the New York Knicks’ Mel Hutchins during a game in 1958. Jack Twyman is trailing the play (Courtesy of Jay Twyman).

 

By all accounts, Stokes was a rising star. Entering the NBA out of Saint Francis (Pa.) College, the 6-foot-7 forward was the second overall pick in the 1955 draft. He joined the Rochester Royals and earned Rookie of the Year honors.

Twyman also joined the Royals in 1955 as a second-round draft pick out of the University of Cincinnati. He went on to play 11 seasons with the franchise, first in Rochester, then in Cincinnati. He was a six-time All-Star and a 1983 inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

While Twyman had longevity in the pros, Stokes, over three seasons, just three seasons, was a three-time All-Star and led all players in the fledgling circuit in rebounds (3,492) in that span. His career totals: 16.4 points, 17.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists. He was named to the All-NBA second team three teams. And he was on the verge of being one of the all-time greats.

What cut short Stokes’ career?

He hit his head on the court and became unconscious in the final game of the 1957-58 season. Days later, after the playoffs had begun and he kept playing, Stokes got sick, suffering seizures while on an airplane flight following a postseason game against the Pistons. He went into a coma and was later diagnosed as having post-traumatic encephalopathy, a brain injury that left him permanently paralyzed.

In a June 2013 article posted on ESPN.com, Curtis Harris summarized the plight that Stokes faced and how Twyman stepped in to help his teammate. Harris wrote, “The Royals were obscenely quick to remove Maurice and his $20,000 salary from their payroll. There was no pension or medical plan for NBA players back then, which left Stokes and his family unable to endure medical bills that would approach $100,000 a year. Facing financial peril, Stokes was saved by his Royals teammate Jack Twyman. The hot-shot small forward filled a void few would, and he did so for the duration of Maurice’s life.

“Twyman became his teammate’s legal guardian and undertook all kinds of fundraising efforts to round up the money and save Maurice. … Twyman, who worked for an insurance company during offseasons, successfully sued under Ohio law to have workman’s compensation awarded to Stokes.”

Indeed. Twyman spearheaded efforts to raise funds to pay for Stokes’ medical bills and other expenses for the rest of his life.

In 1958, Twyman and Milton Kutsher put together the Maurice Stokes Memorial Basketball Game, which became an annual event.

Stokes passed away in April 1970 at age 36. He was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2004, and Twyman was there in Springfield, Massachusetts, for the induction ceremony. Here is Twyman’s induction speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-K1fg5xWc9s

Twyman died in May 2012 at age 78.

In June 2013, the NBA established the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award, an appropriate way to keep their legacy current.

When the award was created, then-commissioner David Stern said, “The relationship shared by Jack and Maurice is as profound an illustration of compassionate and unconditional fellowship between two teammates that the NBA has ever seen. What better way to honor the life-long bond that developed between them by establishing an award in their honor that recognizes friendship and selflessness among teammates.”

I recently interviewed Farabaugh, an associate professor of communications and football play-by-play announcer at Saint Francis University, about his aforementioned book about Twyman and Stokes via email. I wanted to gain a broad perspective on his project and learn about the stories behind the stories, as well as his overall thoughts on this book, which is a valuable addition to sports and American history.

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First of all, what prompted you to write this book? Was it a suggestion from a university colleague? Was it a project you decided to do based on your own intellectual curiosity? Was it in the back of your mind for some time because of Stokes’ association with the university?

Pat Farabaugh (Courtesy of author)
Pat Farabaugh

I served as sports information director at Saint Francis from 1999 to 2005. Stokes was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004 and we retired his jersey number 26 at Saint Francis in 2000. At these events, I had the opportunity to talk to Twyman and the idea for a book project on the two men began to form following these conversations with Jack. It was such a fascinating story and it had been well-documented by newspapers and magazines back in the 1960s, but now it was largely forgotten, plus no one had written a book that told the entire story. A friend of mine – Vince Negherbon – also served as a catalyst to write the book. During my time as SID at Saint Francis, I became close with Father Vince. Vince is almost as much of a legend at the school as Stokes. He graduated from Saint Francis in 1943 and stayed to pursue theological coursework, eventually becoming a priest. He was appointed the College’s librarian in 1947. This was the first of several roles he served at the school over the next half century, including Dean of Students, Academic Dean, Executive Vice President and Vice President for College Relations. In 1966, Vince became president of Saint Francis, serving in this capacity until 1972. He was also a diehard sports fan. And he loved basketball. During the 1950s, he served as the Saint Francis basketball team’s chaplain. And a driver in the team’s carpool to away games. And a de-facto assistant to head coach Skip Hughes.

Father Vince got to know Stokes well during Maurice’s four seasons in Loretto. Years later, he asked Maurice if he would allow the school to name its new athletics facility after him. In April of 1970, Vince presided over Stokes’ funeral mass. He and I became close friends during my time as SID at Saint Francis and he shared stories with me about the Stokes Era at the school. In 2008, Father Vince died at the age of 87. I thought back to all the stories he had shared with me and kicked myself for never having written anything down. This also motivated me to share the story of Stokes and Twyman.

Was St. Johann Press the first publisher you pitched this book to? Was it difficult to convince SJP to approve the project?

No. I pitched the book to a number of different academic and commercial publishers before signing a contract with St. Johann Press. I had some interest on both fronts, but no offers. I remember it was a Friday afternoon during the dead of winter and I was doing a Google search of publishers and I happened upon St. Johann Press. I had cold-called some other publishers without much success, but I called the number for this publishing house and, moments later, I was sharing information about my book with the owner, Dave Biesel.

Dave was interested – he was a sports fan and knew about the Stokes-Twyman story. He asked me to send him some more information about the book, so I sent him what I had written up to that point. Shortly after our phone conversation, I traveled to the Dominican Republic on a mission trip. When I got back, I had a message from Dave saying that he liked what he had read and wanted to publish the book. I really liked some of the ideas he had regarding the book – they were in line with what I was thinking. My instincts told me that this was a good fit. They proved to be right.

Since the book’s release last year, how has it been received? What kind of feedback have you been given?

Reviews of the book have been very positive. It has been written about in a lot of newspapers and magazines, as well as on-line sites. The Altoona Mirror, Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati Herald, Johnstown Magazine, Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, Mainline Newspapers, Pittsburgh Courier, Pittsburgh Sports Report, UC Magazine (University of Cincinnati Alumni Magazine) and others have written about the book and I was very happy with these reviews. Readers have also reviewed the book on-line (Amazon, Goodreads, etc) and these have been positive, too.

I have done a number of book signings and presentations, including one at the University of Cincinnati last November. Amazingly, the first game following the book’s release for both the Saint Francis and University of Cincinnati basketball teams – Stokes and Twyman’s alma maters – was against each other. The two teams played each other to open the 2014-15 season. Prior to this game – which was at Cincinnati – I did a book signing in the Twyman Lounge at UC’s Lindner Athletic Center. Some of Jack’s family stopped by and it was really special.

People that I talk to – at presentations and in one-on-one conversations – are amazed at the selflessness of Twyman. Many of them are just floored that a young man with so many other responsibilities would step up in such a huge way for someone. And then honor that commitment for so many years. And they are equally impressed by Stokes’ approach to his life following the accident. Twyman’s selflessness and Stokes’ perseverance in the face of all his physical challenges are the two things that stick with most readers.

Is the timing of your next book (“Strike Three: The 1977 Johnstown Flood”)  specifically planned to coincide with its 30th anniversary?

That’s the plan. I have LOTS of work to do before then, but I am hoping to release the book right around the anniversary of this event.

What were the interviews with Twyman like in the summer of 2011? Were there many emotional highs and lows for you and for him? Where did you meet him? Can you describe these interview sessions? Were they real straight forward journalism-style Q&A sessions? About how many hours and sessions were there? After all of those interviews, did your impression of him change at all? Was he essentially the person you felt he was going into the book project?

These interview sessions were a lot of fun. The first time I told Jack that I wanted to write a book about his relationship with Maurice, he told me that the book should be about Stokes, and not about him. I told him it would be impossible to share the full story of Stokes without explaining to readers all that he had done for Maurice.

He was initially leery about the idea. He thought about it for a while and then told me that he would participate in the project because he wanted more people to learn about the person Stokes was. Jack constantly dismissed all those who were quick to praise his efforts on behalf of Maurice. He always said something like, “anyone else in a similar situation would have done the same thing.” Which, of course, is not true.

Our conversations – most of which were over the telephone – were pretty much storytelling sessions. Was it emotional? Yeah, at times it was. I remember when Jack was telling me the story of when Father Vince came to his home in Cincinnati to ask Maurice if Saint Francis could name its new fieldhouse after him. Jack got choked up telling that story. Vince hid in the basement of Jack’s home and they surprised Maurice after Jack picked him up at the hospital. When Vince asked Maurice if he would consent to his name being given to the new fieldhouse, Stokes started crying.

They were definitely not traditional, journalistic question-and-answer sessions. I sort of steered the interviews and gave Jack a lot of latitude to take our conversations in all sorts of different directions. In terms of hours and number of interview sessions, that’s hard to say. Some of our conversations were long, some were short, some were interrupted by things that came up for me or him, and sometimes we played phone tag.

Going into the interviews, I was already a bit in awe of the person Jack was, because of all I knew about what he had done for Stokes. After talking to him during our interviews, I had even greater respect for him. Twyman is a no-nonsense kind of guy. His work ethic and commitment to everything that he took on life is probably what I appreciated much more following our conversations. When this man set his mind to something, he did not rest until he achieved his goal. And when he gave his word, you could take it to the bank. Jack gave his word to Maurice and the Stokes family that he would look after his friend, and he never wavered from this responsibility.

How has learning about the friendship between Twyman and Stokes enriched your own life? Has it given you a greater appreciation for friendships and family bonds?

I have learned so much from these two men, but two “life lessons” stand out above the others. From Maurice, I learned that things in life can change very quickly and we can’t control a lot of this. What we can control, however, is the attitude that we decide to adopt when facing life’s challenges. Despite his paralysis and loss of independence and everything else that went along with the last 12 years of Stokes’ life, Maurice’s attitude was upbeat and positive and almost unbelievable. He didn’t wallow in self-pity and simply “wait out” the years that he was confined to Cincinnati hospitals. He lived his life to the fullest and grew as a person and worked to improve his limited mobility and speech and made an impression on the people he met. He never gave up. His perseverance is awe-inspiring.

From Twyman – and I touched on this earlier – I learned that hard work produces results and that giving to others is a blessing that we all should cherish. Jack succeeded at everything he put his mind to because he worked and worked and worked to see things through. This is a guy who was cut from his Central Catholic High School basketball team as a freshman, as a sophomore, and as a junior. He is now in the Naismith Hall of Fame. This is a guy who excelled in basketball, in business, in broadcasting, but more importantly, as a father and as a husband and as a human being. And certainly as a friend.

From your interview with the Cincinnati Herald, does this poignant statement (“Sure, it’s a basketball story, but it is so much more than that,” he said. “At its essence, it is the story of two men – one who overcame tremendous challenges and another who embodied selflessness.”) remind you of other highly visible friendships chronicled in popular culture in recent years?

I can’t think of any recent friendships that have been highlighted by the media that come close to the levels of love and sacrifice and stick-to-it-tiveness of the Stokes-Twyman story.

What does the friendship of Maurice Stokes and Jack Twyman, when the Civil Rights movement was underway, tell us about how American society can and should be?

This story certainly transcends race, but it is important to appreciate the state of race relations in the country during the period in which Stokes and Twyman’s relationship evolved. It was not until 1954 – when Stokes and Twyman were still in college – that the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the integration of the nation’s public schools in Brown vs. Board of Education. The Stokes-Twyman story was a beacon of light shining from the sports world during the tumult of the Civil Rights era. Twyman served as a role model for all Americans – in Jack, we have a man’s whose vision of the world was truly colorblind. During a decade of upheaval, one in which Americans grappled to determine what the “proper” relationship between blacks and whites should be, all Twyman saw was a friend and teammate who needed his help. And he never wavered.

How can their friendship be an important learning tool for American society at a time when rampant gun violence, police shootings of unarmed blacks and a symbol of hatred (Confederate flag) are in the public spotlight?

Racism stubbornly persists in American society. It’s like a weed that you pull out of your garden – but before it comes out altogether, it breaks off. You don’t get the roots, and that weed is out of sight for a little while, but soon it grows back because the root system is still intact.

Anyone who thinks we are living in a “postracial society” just needs to move that dirt a little to see the roots of the weed. We have seen these roots over the last year in some of the events that you mention. What we can learn from Stokes and Twyman’s friendship is that we do not need to be afraid of those who are different from us – in race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or whatever. That fear keeps us from growing and learning and understanding.

Although Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club in the Catskills, in upstate New York, location of the annual summer fundraisers for Stokes is now closed, can you share a few memorable anecdotes about people you spoke to from the upstate New York resort area?

I interviewed Mark Kutsher, who was a child when his mother and father hosted the Stokes Benefit Game at the family’s country club each summer. My interview with Mark was really special because he was talking about all of these legendary players visiting his family’s resort. He recalled meeting the NBA’s biggest stars when he was a kid and he had a childlike enthusiasm when he was describing these experiences to me. And I understood exactly where he was coming from. When Stokes was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2004, I attended a reception before the induction ceremony and I was a 30-something kid in awe, meeting and chatting with my childhood heroes – James Worthy, Dr. J., Moses Malone, Robert Parish. Even though you are an adult, you can be taken back to your childhood. I was taken back on that Hall-of-Fame weekend and I felt like Mark took me back to his childhood years as he shared stories about the Stokes Benefit games at Kutsher’s.

What made Jerry Izenberg an ideal choice to write the foreword for your book? And how did that come about?

St. Johann Press had published Jerry’s memoirs – “Through My Eyes: A Sports Writer’s 58-Year Journey.” This book came out in 2009. Dave Biesel – the owner of St. Johann Press – knows Jerry pretty well and he suggested that we reach out to him and ask him to write the foreword for my book. I was ecstatic when he agreed to write it. He was indeed the “ideal choice” for this part of the book project. He had covered Stokes, but not only that. He had gotten to know Maurice more than a sportswriter covering a sports figure. The two had struck up a friendship and they enjoyed each other’s company. He knew Maurice well and he had seen the daily challenges and struggles Stokes faced following his accident.

Who were a few key sources for the book that may surprise some people because they may not be household names or folks who hold/held the prestigious or most visible jobs in the NBA and college hoops?

Two of my favorite interview subjects were not basketball people at all. They were with Maurice’s speech therapist at Good Samaritan Hospital, Sylvia Meek, and with his brother, Terro Stokes Jr.

Sylvia’s ability to recall experiences she had with Stokes during their speech therapy sessions was impressive. These sessions happened more than a half century ago, yet she was quick with details and specifics during our conversations. It was obvious that she had a fondness for Stokes and it was also very apparent that she respected the effort that Maurice had put into their speech therapy sessions.

Maurice’s brother, Terro, shared insights from Stokes’ years growing up in Homewood, a community just outside of Pittsburgh. You could hear in his voice just how much his brother meant to him. He also expressed to me how much Twyman meant to the Stokes family. He was at a loss for words as he tried to describe his feelings for all that Jack did for Maurice.

After all of the painstaking research that went into writing the book and what you learned along the way, do you agree with this assessment: Twyman remains one of the lesser-known greats to ever play the game?

Yes. No question about it. Twyman could score the ball, especially from the corners along the baseline. In 11 NBA seasons, he played in six All-Star games. He finished his career with 15,840 points in 823 games (19.2 per game). He finished runner-up in the league in scoring two times and led the NBA in field goal percentage (45.2 percent) in 1957-58.

Twyman ranked 20th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list when he retired. He played in 609 consecutive games before a broken hand sidelined him during the 1963-64 season. This is remarkable – think of the pounding that he took night in and night out as a professional basketball player. Twyman was tough.

His best scoring season came in 1959-60, when he averaged 31.2 points per game (2,338 points in 75 games). This was second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 37.6 points per game that season. Talk about lofty company. Twyman and Chamberlain became the first two players in NBA history to average more than 30 points per game for a season. This is a good trivia question to spring on your friends who think they know NBA history. It was the second straight year that Twyman finished runner-up in the league in scoring – he averaged 25.8 per game (1,857 points in 72 games), second behind Bob Pettit (29.2 per game) in 1958-59.

Which players in the NBA over the past quarter century most remind you of Twyman and Stokes from what you’ve seen and heard?

Stokes’ combination of scoring, rebounding and passing abilities, combined with his unselfishness and basketball IQ, was something that the NBA had never seen before he got to Rochester in 1955. He was a power forward and ferocious rebounder who could not only finish on the fast break, but also handle the ball in transition. He was the first big man in the league with outstanding passing skills. I think his skill set was most similar to that of Magic Johnson and LeBron James. There are differences, sure, but he could do things that these two can also do. Besides Stokes, the only other player in NBA history to finish in the top three in rebounds and assists for two straight seasons was Chamberlain.

I think Twyman’s game was a lot like Paul Pierce in his prime. Like Pierce, he could score in a lot of different ways – from the outside, on the drive, getting to the line. He could also deliver key passes at important moments, although he definitely possessed a “shoot-first” mentality.

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This book is available on Amazon and elsewhere: http://www.amazon.com/An-Unbreakable-Bond-Brotherhood-Maurice/dp/1937943178

Additional recommended reading: http://grantland.com/features/bryan-curtis-tragic-inspirational-story-maurice-stokes/

Jim Lampley dishes out insight on Larry Merchant’s illustrious career

By Ed Odeven

TOKYO (Feb. 8, 2015) — In a recent phone interview with boxing announcer Jim Lampley, he explained what made his longtime fight analyst and HBO Sports colleague Larry Merchant such a gifted commentator, one who commanded respect from the general public.

“He was one of the most experienced sports reporters in America for all sports,” Lampley said. “He had begun writing sports in the early 1950s, and his first job was in Wilmington, North Carolina, but for a variety of reasons, he left there pretty quickly, and his second job was in Philadelphia.”

Lampley described is as “sort of the fight capital of the United States, maybe the most interested boxing city or was at that time.”

“Larry developed a knowledge and awareness about boxing,” added Lampley, “and became known to boxing fans while reporting on Joe Frazier. And he became nationally famous when he wrote a book about betting on the NFL “The National Football Lottery” (published in 1973), and as a result of becoming nationally famous he moved to New York, another big boxing capital at that time, and he was writing boxing during the greatest and richest and most colorful era of heavyweight boxing ever.

“He was personally involved in reporting on Muhammad Ali, on Joe Frazier, on George Foreman, and all of the people that surrounded them at that time. So the public knew him. The public recognized his great background and expertise in boxing.”

Our conversation briefly turned to why Lampley thought Merchant was the ideal pundit to work with him on the Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas fight telecast on Feb. 11, 1990, at Tokyo Dome.

“He just happens to be a brilliant man who is one of the most thoughtful and disciplined reporters I have ever known, and no reporter in the world could have been better qualified to be sitting next to me ringside while I called that fight,” Lampley said of Merchant.

“I don’t think there was another reporter alive who could have brought more to enhancing my call and interpreting for the audience…He was to a large degree a great mentor of mind in boxing…”

***
My look back at the 25th anniversary of the Tyson-Douglas fight is featured in this series, including more articles on the way in the coming days: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/column/tyson-douglas-shocker-revisited/

Note: the Brooklyn-born Merchant’s 84th birthday is on the fight’s 25th anniversary.

Sports — what it’s all about: people

By Ed Odeven

Today, I read two articles that in different ways provided a poignant reminder that sports are, above all, about people — not about Xs and Os, advanced metrics or the latest gimmick play. The relationships that develop between teammates, coaches, fans, front-office staff, media, et al with sports as the backdrop for these interactions is often the most compelling part of it all.

Exhibit A: Brendan F. Quinn’s compelling profile of John Beilein’s coaching journey from upstate New York to the University of Michigan, and all the stops in between.

http://www.mlive.com/john-beilein/

And the other: Glenn Dickey reminisces about his strong ties to sports in recent story posted on his website.

http://glenndickey.com/_gd.php?view_one=yes&which=1660