Monday, January 7, 2013

The end game: How sports stars battle through retirement

This Jill Martin Wrenn article appeared in the online edition of CNN. It explores how some famous athletes have been dealing with retirement.

Retirement terrifies sports stars. The end of a glittering career can feel like falling off a cliff to an athlete who thrives on fame and fortune. And the longer the career, the harder the end game seems to be.

For living legends, it's especially tough to know how to quit. World heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield turned 50 this year -- but he still wants to box professionally.

"I'm not retired," he says. "If I can get a championship fight, I will."

He won't fight just anyone, though -- only top boxers. Because he holds five heavyweight titles, he tells CNN that young boxers could want to challenge him just because they have something to prove.

Holyfield can still draw a crowd, nearly 30 years after his professional debut. During a recent visit to CNN Center in Atlanta, fans swarmed him, taking pictures and shaking his hand.

 "I keep myself right at the (professional) level, in case somebody feels froggy and says, 'I think I'm going to whup the old man,'" he says. "And they'd be shocked." 

He says he trains every day, so that he always feels ready to fight at the top level. But Holyfield also faces a fight outside the ring: He lost his Atlanta-area mansion to foreclosure in 2012.

So he understands the perils of quickly rising from modest means to riches -- then back again. He is trying to get his financial house in order. He recently took a sales role with Primerica, a financial services company. Holyfield sees it as an opportunity to teach others how to manage money.

"When I was 21 years old, I was a millionaire," he says. "You're talking about a guy making $8,000 a year, working 40 hours a week, made the Olympic team, went to the Olympics, two weeks later -- a millionaire."
When Holyfield signed his first million-dollar contract three decades ago, he had been working three jobs that together earned him less than $10,000.

"It was just all of a sudden," he says. "I came into boxing, I made big money."

But getting used to big swings in the bank account isn't the only challenge celebrity athletes such as Holyfield face. They also have to learn how to live without the constant cheer of the crowds once they're out of the spotlight.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 65, was one of the world's most famous basketball players. He remains the record all-time scorer in the National Basketball Association. He still has to duck to get his 7-foot, 2-inch frame through most doorways.

But when he retired as a player in 1989, after 20 years of professional play, he was at a loss.
He told CNN: "The first training camp that I missed, I was like, 'Jeez, what am I going to do now?'" He quotes another sports legend -- Jackie Robinson -- to describe how he felt when he retired.

"He said that athletes die twice," Abdul-Jabbar said. "You know, when that first career is gone, that's a death."

That adjustment was harder for Abdul-Jabbar to process than his cancer diagnosis in 2008. He has chronic myeloid leukemia, a blood cancer that he manages with drug therapy.

"I think that (retirement) was the more difficult adjustment because you don't know what to do," he said. "I'd had this incredible career." But when he started to cultivate his talents off the court, he discovered a new calling. Now, he says, he wants to be known for his writing -- not just his basketball prowess.

"I always tell people I can stuff a basketball into a hoop, but I also have a mind," he said. He has written seven books, including one for children, that focus on contributions from African-Americans to U.S. culture. Inspiring young people to pursue paths in science, math, engineering and other disciplines beyond professional sports is a passion. Because of his reputation as a famous athlete, his advice resonates with young fans."It's really important that young people get ... that there's more to their life than sports and entertainment," he said.

Abdul-Jabbar also works as a paid spokesman for Novartis Pharmaceuticals, which makes Tasigna, the drug therapy he takes to manage his CML. He says this role exposes him to a new fan base.
"People come up to me now and start talking to me about someone in their family, or a friend, or a loved one that has some type of leukemia." He said the experience has opened up a new world to him.

Sports psychologist Jack Llewellyn says that very few professional athletes want to think about coming to the end of their careers while they're still playing. "As a consequence, very few of them are prepared for that next chapter."

Finding a passion off the court while she was still playing in major tournaments helped Martina Navratilova. The tennis superstar, now 55, played professionally well into her 40s. She said that after retiring, "you become irrelevant really quickly."

But because she never defined herself solely through tennis, she was able to accept the transition.

"My sense of self-worth did not depend on winning matches," she said.

Navratilova still is committed to keeping fit: she runs with her dogs, skis, cycles and plays hockey. "And of course, I play tennis."

Navratilova serves as fitness ambassador for AARP, which she says she loves. And she wrote "Shape Your Self: My 6-Step Diet and Fitness Plan to Achieve the Best Shape of Your Life."

Her advice to other athletes, professional and amateur? Play a new game when you get older.

"Find another sport that you can really improve at, that you can get excited about, and have fun," she said. Athletes can still satisfy their competitive drive, without comparing their current game to how they used to perform when they were younger.

Like Navratilova, Kevin Willis played professionally much longer than most others in his sport. His career with the NBA stretched into his 40s. But he still didn't want to retire.

"If it wasn't for the simple fact that I'm older, I would (still) be playing," he said. He finally stopped because he says he didn't want to wear out his welcome.

Willis spent half of his prolific career playing for the Atlanta Hawks. The president of the team, Bob Williams, acknowledged that most NBA athletes don't want their playing days to end.

"It's hard to give up the adrenaline rush," he said. He noted that Willis is exceptional in carefully orchestrating his next step after the NBA, and other players could follow suit.

"He's leading by example," Williams said.

Willis already had a post-NBA pursuit lined up when he stopped playing for good five years ago. He started a clothing brand, Willis and Walker, back in 1988. It caters to men who are 6-foot-3 inches and taller, a demographic the 7-footer understands very well.

Speaking from his boutique in Atlanta, he told CNN: "The relationships that I built over those 21 years from basketball, I tapped into ... to help me build this." His clients include former and present professional athletes.
Having two decades worth of NBA earnings helps Willis to finance the endeavor. He says he has poured more than $1 million of his own money into the brand.

Willis turned 50 this year, but he can still carry his weight -- and then some. He says he can still bench press 315 pounds, just as he did when he played professionally. But now, instead of lifting one set of that weight, he completes five sets of five or six repetitions.

"And how did that happen?" he said. "I don't know, man. It's just in the genetics, I guess."
Without the rigors of the NBA game schedule, Willis has more time to train -- and to reflect on his recent milestone birthday.

"That's a lot of life," he said of turning 50. "And I'm always thankful for a lot of stuff, but when you reach that milestone, it's like: 'Wow!'"


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Golden girl Jessica Ennis urges girls not to 'fear' sport

Olympic victor Jessica Ennis encourages girls to engage in sports and set aside their fear of losing their feminine figure.

Article re-posted from:

Olympic heroine Jessica Ennis believes young girls are being put off sport because of fears they may become too muscular.

Ennis, who has been shortlisted for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, warned that some talented young girls are wary of training because of the impact it may have on their figure.

The gold-winning heptathlete told the Radio Times, "It's important that girls aren't afraid of sport. I remember when I first started doing weight training, I didn't want to be any good at it because I didn't want to be all muscly".

"My coach sat me down and said that if I had more muscles than the average woman, but won an Olympic gold medal, it would be worth it", she told the magazine. "He was right, but it's hard when you're younger and want to look like everyone else".

The London 2012 poster girl also called for more attention to be paid to top-level women's sports.

"We need more coverage of women's sport and we need to get women involved in coaching and administration", she added.

Yesterday Ennis was revealed as one of five women on the 12-strong shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

Last year there was criticism that the judges failed to recognise achievements of women at all.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

SMU prevails in Larry Brown's coaching debut

Re-posted from GameHQ, Copyright 2012 STATS LLC and AP.\

DALLAS -- Nick Russell scored 19 points and Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown won his SMU coaching debut as the Mustangs defeated Loyola Marymount 73-58 Sunday.
Ryan Manuel added 14 points for SMU, Shawn Williams had 12 and Jalen Jones finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Loyola Marymount (1-1) was led by Anthony Ireland with 17 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Ashley Hamilton added 16 points and Ayodeji Egbeyemi had 14.

Brown, 72, the only coach to win both an NBA championship and NCAA title, hadn't coached since leaving the Charlotte Bobcats in December 2010. This is his 14th job in a four-decade coaching career, but his first at the college level since leading Kansas to a national title in 1988. He also won an NBA title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Lew Perkins: Landing a sports management career

For young sports lovers, a career in sports management represents wide opportunities with many overall advantages. If the acclaim reached by executives like Lew Perkins isn’t enough of a motivator, the high salary and excellent health and wellness benefits certainly would. Being a sports manager is a great way to make money and establish rapport with fellow sports fans, but exactly where one wants to be placed would depend on a number of factors, among them is the direction of one’s own career plans.

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One of the factors in selecting a career path in the sports industry is the expertise of the new sports manager. Sports management as a whole deals with the business processes of the sports industry, but the exact responsibilities would vary between the sectors one enters, which can be to an advantage depending on the aptitude of the applicant.

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The level also matters. College sports offers many opportunities for recognition; Lew Perkins was the only one on Time Magazine’s Top 35 Sports Executives of 2008 from the collegiate level. In general, professional sports (both major and minor leagues) offer plenty of room for advancement.

Pay is another factor. Entry levels for collegiate jobs have salaries on average up to $25,000, while those in minor leagues usually pay lower. On the other hand, executive-level jobs in major-league professional sports bring in the largest sums of money.

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More information on Lew Perkins can be accessed on this Facebook page.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

World-class athletes: Lew Perkins and the stars of Paralympics 2012

The Summer Olympics is over, but the sporting world is still abuzz, and this time, the spotlight is on the Paralympics. Sporting enthusiasts, like Lew Perkins, know that the Paralympic Summer Games is the second largest sporting event in the world. A remarkable feat since it was only in 1948 when Dr. Ludwig Guttmann advocated the creation of athletic games for people with disabilities. Dr. Guttmann believed that sports therapy can enhance the quality of life of people who were injured during World War II.

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Today, the Paralympics is no longer just about rehabilitating people with disabilities. It is a celebration of how men and women can overcome physical deformities and excel just like able-bodied athletes -- it is about human strength and willpower.

For athletic directors, like Lew Perkins, young athletes can take inspiration from the strengths of the stars of this year’s Paralympics, for the stories of Paralympics athletes are tales of perseverance and faith in oneself.

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One example is the story of sprint runner Oscar Pistorious. Born with fibular hemimelia, a bone disorder that led to his legs being amputated at age 11, Pistorious refused to be cowed. He fought hard to compete against non-disabled athletes, and won, when he was selected for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Another remarkable story is that of swimmer Natalie du Toit. Having lost a leg after being run over at age 17, she won 10 Paralympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008, and competed in the 2008 Olympics, the first amputee to do so.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” These Paralympics athletes sure know.

Lew Perkins Image Credit:

For more information about Lew Perkins, visit this website.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Lew Perkins and the importance of keeping in line with regulations

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Among the many tasks addressed by sports executives like Lew Perkins is the keeping in line with the policies of sporting regulatory bodies. Complying with these regulations indicates that the team (and, in the case of collegiate athletics, their home school) intends to participate in the competition in a fair and just manner and holds itself to a high behavioral standard. Noncompliance with these regulations also leads to a number of sanctions from these regulatory bodies, such as suspension from further competition.

Athletics organizations like the NCAA have a number of regulations that need to be followed to ensure that the sports are played fairly. These include not only a rigorous enforcement of the rules of every game but also compliance to a number of other regulations, including behavioral ones.

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Ensuring that a team complies with these rules falls on Lew Perkins and fellow sports executives. In his time as an athletic director for Wichita State University and the University of Kansas, he has swiftly dealt with noncompliance issues left behind by his predecessors. Through his efforts and those of others, these athletic programs managed to recover from their shambles and rise above them.

It falls upon an effective sports executive to ensure that the program complies with the regulations set by governing bodies to ensure both fair play and to maintain a positive view of the team as a model of sportsmanship.

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Updates on Lew Perkins can be accessed via this Twitter page.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A sporting chance: Lew Perkins and Title IX

To those who are familiar with Lew Perkins, it will not come as a surprise that the famed athletic director is a staunch supporter of women’s athletics. During his stint as director of athletics at the University of Kansas, the women’s volleyball, soccer, and basketball teams excelled in their leagues.

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In 1972, 37 words changed the world of women’s rights and athletics: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

Those are the words of Title IX, a section of the Education Amendments signed into law by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972. And for Lew Perkins and other supporters of women’s athletics, those 37 words made a huge impact on collegiate sports.

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Although the words “sports” or “athletics” were not part of the legendary 37, they have become closely associated with Title IX. Forty years after Title IX was signed into law, men and women athletes are enjoying almost the same privileges, benefits, and success. Almost, because many recognize there are still more work to be done. Take for instance the existence of only one U.S.-based pro league for women, the Women’s National Basketball Association or WNBA.

Lew Perkins is highly regarded nationally as an effective director of athletics, and a staunch supporter of women’s athletics.

Nevertheless, numbers don’t lie. Records show the number of girls playing high school sports jumped from 294,015 in 1971-72 to 3,172,637 in 2009-10, an increase of more than 1,000%. Meanwhile, the number of women playing sports in college rose from 29,972 in 1971-72 to 186,460 in 2009-10, a jump of more than 600%.

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Those who support women’s athletics hope that it will not take another 40 years before they can see another breakthrough. After all, Billie Jean King already proved in 1973 that women know how to play sports: by beating a man in a televised tennis match watched by 50 million people.

For more information about the career of Lew Perkins, visit this Twitter page.