Monday, September 30, 2013


Being hurt is part of the human condition. All of us have been let down and disappointed. We have all been hurt by someone we care about. 

All of us have failed as people occasionally. We are not perfect creations, and part of our journey is making mistakes. Which makes compassion and forgiveness something we all must dispense, and way too often need. 

Some of us have been scarred deeply, and find it’s hard to let go of the resentment. We too often hold onto pain, becoming bitter in the process. For those who have grown up in dysfunction, its watching and living in a household sinking into anger’s abyss, that makes learning to forgive a struggle. I know many who still are angry at their now deceased parents for reasons both great and petty. 

But it’s not retribution that heals our lives. It’s forgiveness. 

It’s easy to focus on the injustices we have been dealt. An “eye for an eye” is hardwired into the DNA of most religious denominations. But in our search for some elusive form of perfect justice, we never find it. 

Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself” – Richard Nixon

The contested (and plausibly stolen" Election of 1960 changed things. The loser, Richard Nixon, chose not to contest the result. But as the saying goes, the resurrection is not that spoken of in scripture, for the dead certainly rose in certain South Texas and Cook County precincts. 

He was notoriously angry at the media, famously telling a press conference after his loss in the 1962 California gubernatorial election, “you won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore.” 

The chip Nixon carried on his shoulder predated the loss to the charismatic Jack Kennedy. Some thought it went back to a joyless childhood, the deaths of two young brothers, his cold and remote Quaker mother, and most notably a very angry and embittered father. His campaigns were notoriously dirty affairs, with tactics extreme for the McCarthy era. 

His image never recovered from the name “Tricky Dicky”, or the Herblock cartoons showing a heavy bearded Nixon emerging from a sewer. The perception was so pervasive, a recurrent theme of his successful 1968 campaign was the presence of the kinder, gentler “New Nixon.” 

The rest of the story needs little retelling. The end of the Nixon presidency had its seeds with both the botched burglary of the DNC offices, but also in the fact he never could let all the past slights go. Few days in our history were as tragic as the end of the Watergate era, and some believe the ongoing toxicity of those days, haunts our politics today. 

A month after his resignation, the country was shocked at hearing of his crimes being pardoned by President Gerald Ford. Even today there are those convinced a quid pro quo between the two Presidents took place. The pardon possibly cost Ford the narrow 1976 election. 

It took nearly forty years for a different picture to emerge, that Ford really believed that the only way for the nation to progress was to stop a process that would have taken years of trials and appeals. Deeper still, Gerald Ford knew from his own experience that forgiveness was a gift we give ourselves in order to move on. For he himself had to learn to forgive a legacy of hurt from his good for nothing biological father, in order to accomplish the rest of his good life. 

Even the pardon’s most eloquent critic, recognized Gerald Ford did the nation a greater favor than he did Richard Nixon. When Gerald Ford accepted the Kennedy Library’s Profile in Courage Award, he did so from Edward M. Kennedy. Who, in his own great political and flawed personal life, knew a bit about the politics of compassion and the need for personal forgiveness.

Refusing to forgive is like taking poison and hoping the other person will die.” - Unknown
We need to forgive people for ourselves so that we don’t get trapped into that place where the elusiveness of vindication, creates a perpetual cycle of anger at the injustice of someone, “Getting away with it.” We never really do know, the utter hell that may occupy the existence of another. Karma is a powerful force, and none really knows what awaits us after we transition. 

When we live in a state of anger, it poisons our other relationships. In our romantic life, the unresolved anger we carry from the past can define our current relationship. When we are so conditioned, we push others away. In business, it compromises our judgment and causes us to miss out on all the good that can be done with the time we spend focused on a frozen past that never changes. Wallowing in our own self-pity. 

People are inevitably going to let us down. People are imperfect, they do dumb things and we wound ourselves and others. We strive for perfection, but never totally prevent our daily sins of omission and commission. We hope our worst transgressions are repairable, but whatever their scale, all but those with ethical bypasses at birth, will find themselves forgiveness, hoping there might be some absolution. 

All of us have been wounded. Friends, Lovers, Parents, and Siblings, have the power to wound. And in other very profound ways, we find our those dynamics present in our professional lives. In my own walk, there have been times in life where I never could let a slight be forgotten, and found myself carrying each inside, just setting the stage for others. When we live in that ongoing state of judgment, it creates a realization as unrealistic as never being hurt. For it presupposes that the next person you meet is to be feared. Some live life in utter terror of being profoundly hurt, because the underlying cause was never really resolved. 

It can be very hard to learn how to forgive. But if we seek to try, we find with each success there comes strength with truly letting the past go.
Some confuse forgiveness with weakness. And forgiveness does not mean, hanging around to be kicked again. It’s about coming to terms with a situation, with zero obligation to keep exposing ourselves to toxic dynamics. We can forgive someone while still absenting them from our presence. Forgiveness is about letting go of anger and judgment of a situation driven by someone else. We really do not know the utter hell others go through, or the reasons animating their behaviors. The only thing one can do is be aware of our own hearts, and let that animate our choices. 

One of the best ways to peace into life is to truly let go. There is merit in detaching ourselves from outcomes, much less those others can only control. The more we can access compassion and empathy, the less we worry about life’s downside. It may seem counter-intuitive to believe that only by forgiving those can we move on and find peace. It’s very hard to imagine forgiving apartheid, without some heavy consequences, but that is what Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu chose to do in South Africa. The truth and reconciliation commission was a body tasked with discovering and revealing past wrongdoing in order to resolve conflicts and the past. One lesson that was found, is that the oppressors needed absolution more than the oppressed needed retribution. 

My favorite quote is from Gandhi : “When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it—always.” 

No matter how difficult it may seem to forgive someone, there is no escape from the consequences of actions, no matter if termed Karma or Divine Judgement. Forgiving is one of the best ways to bring the gift of peace into our life. It may be hard to get there. But it is infinitely easier than the alternative. 


NIXON'S Farewell

Sunday, September 29, 2013


It’s been 50 years since the Kennedy assassination. Much of it will be reprints or rehashes of the usual Kennedy fare, hagiography and conspiracy theories.

One work coming out on October 8th will be very different and very interesting.  It’s the story of Dallas in 1963 and is the subject of  a new book by Stephen L. Davis and Bill Minutaglio.  In one of the interviews promoting DALLAS 1963, Minutaglio sums up the book’s premise:

 “We felt there was a welling toxic environment in Dallas….That there was something that started as unease and dread in the community at large and it really began building to a fevered pitch. It was waiting there for Kennedy, and he didn’t know it.”

DALLAS 1963 follows the city through a three-year arc, starting with events surrounding the 1960 Election,  culminating with the Kennedy visit,  three years later.  The parallels to today are striking. The sixties were a time of great social change, and the nation was boiling over with anger on matters of racial equality, perceived external threats, and cultural changes ushered in by the election of a Catholic President.

Dallas became the center of the political opposition to Kennedy’s New Frontier “People were literally coming to Dallas to join this anti-Kennedy resistance,” Minutaglio says. “Lee Harvey Oswald was there, and was kind of caught up in the swirl, and might have been motivated as a disturbed individual to action, to be a part of this maelstrom. Nothing like this could have happened, but in Dallas.”  (Links to information on the book and interview follows).

“WE’RE REALLY IN NUT COUNTRY NOW”  -  JFK: November 22, 1963

The DALLAS MORNING NEWS of that day featured an ad entitled "Welcome to Dallas, Mr. President", replete with taunting questions like "WHY have you scrapped the Monroe Doctrine in favor of the "Spirit of Moscow"?.  He commented to the First Lady, "We're really in nut country now."

Another piece of art was the "treason" flyer (see link) , it was printed and distributed by members of The John Birch Society, which was the “Tea Party” of the day. The Birchers were connected to retired Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker, a prominent new Dallas resident, (and future member of the Larry Craig Public Restroom Club). The Flyer speaks for itself, with the usual “red-menace” boilerplate and accusations of “treason”. 

In tones reminiscent of today’s religious extremists, not only was Kennedy guilty of cutting a deal with Moscow, he "consistently appointed Anti-Christians to Federal office, upholds the Supreme Court in its Anti-Christian rulings" and  the blanket "…. caught in fantastic Lies to the American people.”  And  of course, ““WHY have you ordered or permitted your brother Bobby, the Attorney General, to go soft on Communists, fellow-travelers, and ultra-leftists in America?”

The far-right was bankrolled by billionaires like H.L. Hunt and their events were mandatory attendance for those seeking to rise in the local corporate culture. Dallas was also the home of the religious right of its day.  That included fundamentalist legend W.A. Criswell, and the bisexual,  Billy James Hargis.  And the Dallas News was considered the most biased paper in America, led by EM “Ted” Dealey, who enlightened a Kennedy White House lunch, by telling the President America needed a “man on horseback” rather than some wimp on “Caroline’s tricycle.”

And it was not as if the White House was unaware that things in Dallas could turn ugly. A highlight of Campaign 1960’s final days in Dallas, was a spit-shower launched by some of the lovely Republican ladies of Highland Park, with the local Republican Congressman (Bruce Alger), blazing the trail for Ted Cruz. Then there was the matter of UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, getting struck in the head by a sign wielded by an insurance executive’s wife the month before.  A “Negro pushed me” , said Cora Lacy Fredrickson.  The saner heads in Dallas, like the head of Neiman Marcus, Stanley Marcus, warned, then begged JFK not to come. Even Billy Graham had a premonition.

The rest of the story speaks for itself. As editor Bob Moser says in the Texas Observer, “But JFK, for all his (actual and factual) faults, possessed an oversized set of cojones–too large, perhaps. After Air Force One landed in Dallas, he took his sweet time shaking hands along the crowded airport fence at Love Field, “showing he is not afraid,” as one reporter said. Twenty minutes later, the presidential limo he’d insisted on leaving open-topped was gliding toward the Dallas Trade Mart, where Kennedy planned to say a few choice things about right-wing fanaticism.” The last thing Jack Kennedy heard were the words of Nellie Connolly, “You can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you……”

Moser goes on, “The denizens of Texas nut country did not kill Kennedy that day. But many celebrated openly and joyously after Lee Harvey Oswald did. Birchers and Klansmen gloated. Elementary-school students in the Dallas ‘burbs broke into spontaneous applause. In Amarillo, a reporter witnessed jubilation in the streets, with men whooping and tossing their hats in the air and one woman crying out, “Hey, great, JFK’s croaked!”


As the PR for DALLAS 1963 states, the book will be a “sobering reminder of how “ordinary” America can turn into something else entirely.” Minutaglio  speaks of “a welling toxic environment in Dallas….That there was something that started as unease and dread in the community at large and it really began building to a fevered pitch. It was waiting there for Kennedy, and he didn’t know it.”

In the year 2013, we need look no further than AM Radio as outlets for the reinforcement of this era’s overheated rhetoric, every hour and every day. Much larger than a city in Texas,  “nut country” has grown to encompass much of the land between the coasts.  To paraphrase the Observer,  it is a throwback to another time “when a vocal minority”  is expressing open, slanderous and rhetorically violent hostility toward a president whose greatest crime is not being a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.”  The only thing new, is sadly the history we do not remember.  


“For the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, there are dozens of books coming. But the only one, for my money, that really distinguishes itself is this terrifying account of the potent blend of right-wing hysteria, subversive reactionaries, and violence that bubbled over in Dallas in the years before Oswald pulled the trigger. The scariest part: the paranoid right was as freaked out then as they are now."
—Lucas Wittman, The Daily Beast





Thursday, September 26, 2013


"Arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, verbose, a showoff. I have been called all of these. Of course, I am." – Howard Cosell

Some time ago, Billy Crystal was on “Late Night” promoting his new memoir. A highlight of the story was his encounter with a more than tipsy Howard Cosell while hosting the “Tonight Show.” Even today, Howard Cosell’s persona is an indelible memory for the baby boom generation, though his significance has been often discounted and forgotten. A huge presence in the cultural history of his time, much of what is seen on sports television today began with his work. He was the first person to actually attempt to apply journalistic techniques to covering the games we play and are obsessed with. 

From the 1960s through the mid -1980s, Howard Cosell was the most controversial figure in broadcasting. His mantra of for “telling it like it is,” joined with an inimitable voice, polysyllabic pronouncements, and urban Eastern demeanor, made him one of the most prominent figures in the landscape of American television. To those who witnessed his most prominent work, it seems difficult to believe that he’s been gone over twenty years, much less beginning to be forgotten. For Howard Cosell was one of the fathers of broadcast journalism, the first to cast daylight on the power structure of American sports. 

Though associated with the accents and rhythms of New York City's speech, Howard Cosell was born in 1918 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, then growing up in Brooklyn. He graduated in English literature from New York University, then the NYU Law school. Howard's photographic memory served him well academically, allowing him to easily pass his bar exam. 

Never interested in practicing law, he entered Officer Candidate School when war came. The newly minted Major Cosell oversaw a civilian workforce of some 65,000 men, at the New York Port of Embarkation in Brooklyn. During this time that he met and married Mary Edith “Emmy” Abrams. As was typical for the era, Emmy’s family fiercely objected to her marriage to a Jew, but the two were happily married until Emmy passed away in 1990. 

At war’s end, Howard’s efforts to find work fell flat, a circumstance which he blamed on anti-Semitism. He auditioned at radio station WOR but was rejected for the same Brooklyn accent and nasal tone, that later contributed to his mass success. He was told, “With that voice, you’re never going to make it.” Cosell reluctantly joined a small law firm in Manhattan, becoming a specialist in labor law. 

Through the contacts he developed in his practice, he ultimately did get a broadcasting break. In 1953 on ABC Radio, Cosell began hosting “All-League Clubhouse”, a show in which Little League players asked questions of Big League players. ABC offered him twenty-five dollars per show to give ten five-minute sports updates every weekend. Three years later he finally was able to pursue broadcasting full-time, working as the sports anchor for WABC, the network’s Owned and Operated Station in New York. 

In an era of “rip and read” sportscasts, where little more was said than what appeared in a box score, Cosell approached his work as a print journalist would do covering hard news. In an age where technology was primitive, Cosell would appear at events, carrying the heavy equipment of the day. His approach scandalized the sportswriters of the day, in an era where there was already tension between print and broadcast news operations. His legal background defined his style, which was to ask probing and difficult questions and not accepting the common vague and empty answers. 

Traditional sportswriters and broadcasters were often paid shills for their local sports franchise owners. There was very little analysis in stories, and seldom was anything printed or uttered that challenged anything easily found in a press release. Add in the usual prejudices of the day against the sons and daughters of Catholic and Jewish immigrants, and the sight and sound of a “New York Jew” with the regional accent and delivery was an unwelcome intruder into their clubhouse. 

Howard’s rejection of the easy path and opposition to simply regurgitating what was seen on the field was a threat to the empty sports journalistic canon of his times. He saw the business of sports as culturally important enough to demand analysis and the application of accountability. 

With the advent of public financing of stadiums and arenas, big-league sports became an enterprise that increasingly was a public interest. In the case of the four major team sports, franchises were big businesses demanding publically financed facilities from their communities. Given the developing place of sports in the context of the broader events of the nineteen sixties, he understood the economic impact and policy implications of the games we play and pay to watch. 

His broadcast persona was not one that traditional network suits would have ever considered placing on TV play by play. But as the sixties began sports television began to claim broader swatches of airtime. In an era where ABC was considered barely a half network, the one area the paradigm had shifted was in the area of sports. Despite the lasting anathema, Cosell’s abrasive style had evoked among network executives, his style had caught the attention of the innovative producer Roone Arledge, a young producer then seeking content for ABC’s new sports anthology series, Wide World of Sports. Arledge began by using Cosell to cover ABC’s low rated baseball games, while using him to cover a variety of events on Wide World of Sports, with an emphasis on boxing.

Cosell’s specialization nurtured his long association with the fortunes of the young Cassius Clay, who within a few days after winning the Heavyweight Championship, had changed his name to Muhammad Ali while joining the Nation of Islam. Recognizing Ali’s transcendent talent, and his developing courage and conviction, Howard developed a famously electric on-air rapport with Ali, while defending his right to worship as he pleased, to take another name if he wanted. When Ali was stripped of the heavyweight championship for refusing to be inducted into the army, Cosell virtually alone, defended Ali’s right to earn a living as his court case wound its way upwards to the US Supreme Court. His defense of Ali was based on his professional understanding of the law, and his position was proven correct in 1971 when Ali’s case prevailed in the High Court.

In an era where both racism and the war in Vietnam were wedge issues in American politics and culture, both Ali and Cosell became deeply unpopular among sports fans, who regarded the boxer as a traitor to his country, and the voice of a deeply threatening cultural change in terms of race. Cosell’s defense of Ali, his support of Curt Flood’s challenge of the “reserve clause” in baseball, and his correctly perceived liberalism created his reputation as the sportscaster that America loved to hate. Much of lunatic America certainly did, given the death threats that greeted Cosell, as he traveled around the NFL as ABC embarked on its next revolutionary step, Monday Night Football. As seen with Fox nearly 25 years later, the acquisition of rights to the NFL made it into the leading national network. 

Monday Night Football began in 1970, with Cosell in the broadcast booth with the veteran sportscaster Keith Jackson (ex-player Frank Gifford came onboard in 1971 ) doing “play by play” and former Dallas Cowboy Don Meredith. Although initially unwanted by any of the networks, NFL football on Monday Night’s was an instant hit in the ratings. The show not only ruled the Nielsen’s, long-held American behaviors were altered on Monday nights, decimating Mondays for restaurants, cinemas, and bowling leagues. Cosell’s banter with “Dandy Don”, referred by the comparatively bland Gifford, made Cosell a Superstar. 

His apogee came in the mid-1970’s when he hosted a short-lived variety show on Saturday Nights. By then, Cosell had become increasingly worn down with his status as the man Red State America loved to hate. Hypersensitive at best to public opinion, he was increasingly distressed by the downside of his fame, often accompanied by open displays at games, and the occasional death threat. His relationship with his co-workers degraded, and remarks that seemed humorous at the beginning of the series seemed bitter and mean. Cosell began to complain of a “jockocracy” of former athletes, who had been hired as commentators on the basis of their athletic careers. Driving this was a belief he was wasting his life on broadcasting sports, driving self-speculation he was a viable candidate for the U.S. Senate. 

By the early 1980s, Howard became an increasingly polarizing figure on air, and behind the network scenes. He started to bite the hand that fed him, by openly criticizing first boxing, then the National Football League. While ringside at a horrifically awful fight match between Larry Holmes and Randall “Tex” Cobb, he became enraged when the referee incredibly refused to end the fight, saying “I wonder if that referee is constructing an advertisement for the abolition of the very sport that he is a part of?” Afterward, he announced that he would never again cover another professional boxing match as long as he lived, appearing before a Senate Committee to call for an end to the sport. 

Further troubles came later in 1983 when Cosell referred to Washington Redskins wide receiver Alvin Garrett as a “little monkey.” The ridiculous accusations that he was racist hurt to the core, even after a host of African-American leaders, came to his defense. He had threatened to leave Monday Night Football for years, near the end of the season he did so. Though he continued his daily radio show, “ Speaking of Sports” for a time, the weight of years and continued feuds and controversy ended his career. After the death of his Emmy in 1990 he became a hermit in his Manhattan apartment, shunning all visitors. The sad decline ended in 1995 when Howard Cosell passed at the age of seventy-seven.


“Above all, he was sui generis, an unalloyed original who, as a homely Jewish lawyer from Brooklyn, brought to television what one writer called "the grand slam of network liabilities." Upon arriving on the national scene in the 1960s, Cosell got swept up in the political currents quickened by the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. Unlike his buttoned-down peers, who ducked social issues and lied at the first whiff of controversy, Cosell waded into every major battle of his time, cutting his way against the grain. He allied himself with Curt Flood in the player's challenge to baseball's hoary reserve clause, and he championed Muhammad Ali in his fight against the draft, setting fire to the national shirt by insisting on calling Ali by his Muslim name. Many of his pen pals remained anonymous when they addressed him "You nigger-loving Jew bastard...."” 

William Nack- Sports Illustrated


PS- One of the most enduring memories people of a certain age have is the night that John Lennon died.  We had no social media and CNN was in the infancy of the 24 hours news cycle. Here is a great piece on how Howard Cosell broke the news to the world. 

Here is the HBO documentary on Howard Cosell:

Howard's interview on "Outside the Lines"- 1991

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Hope is a belief in a positive outcome, belief in the future, in what we can achieve. Hope is the belief that things just might turn out for the best. In our English language, Hope is both a noun and a verb, but either way, it’s the same concept. Hope is the act of viewing tomorrow with confidence in a better day. 

In our professional lives, we hit points in our journey where it is our role to restore confidence. In many cases, we have to instill in a team, a sense of direction and purpose. One reason people give up or give in is the sense that they are powerless to change their state, that they are isolated from others. That nobody cares about their concerns. Businesses underperform for a reason, and the beginning of the end is when the internal culture begins to view the future with resignation. It is often our job to restore hope. 


The campaign poster became iconic. The image on posters as Barack Obama ran for President used a single word and simple message. Hope. 

In 1992 an eleven-minute convention video introduction redefined a troubled campaign. The candidate closed both the video and his acceptance speech with a reference to the perfect political place of origin. Hope. Arkansas. 

A student of communications and politics, or a viewer of the footage on YouTube and CSPAN of great political moments, will say the greatest of all were those moments where a great speech transformed the national mood from despair to optimism. 

Sometimes it’s the moments of great tragedy, that teaches us how essential the gift of hope is to those who need it. thousands of people this moment doing that in more quiet ways, or simply by personal examples, every moment, every day. Whatever the moment, they believe in that “place called hope.” And we each have the chance to send that message, every moment, every day. 

There are those who study the communication of hope as a management and interpersonal strategy. Well before the term “Hope” landed on a Barack Obama poster, business leaders and behavioral scientists were studying how imparting hope as motivation and promoting a daily sense of well-being in the workplace, affected motivation and success on the bottom line. 

Whatever our politics say about Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama, each was able to engage enough people in their cause to get elected. Each inspired hope, by the goals they set before the electorate, their path to reach that goal, and a conviction that motivated millions of volunteers, donors, and ultimately voters. There is no question from this example that hope is a strength that can help each of us in our lives and can be cultivated to help others. 

Hope is a combination of an emotional state and a belief we can reach attainable goals. Hope gives us a rationale to address life issues, that we believe will advance our cause or those people and causes we care for. There are steps that can get us and our teams to that place we need to go. 

A pioneer in this research, was the late University of Kansas psychologist, Rick Snyder. His academic and life’s work was focused on the concept of hope. The positive-psychology movement looks at human strengths instead of weaknesses. Among some very prodigious academic output, Snyder personally wrote six books on the theory of hope. His books and 262 articles described hope’s impact on various aspects of life, including spirituality and work.

Dr. Snyder believed that hope was advanced by three factors:

· Having a goal in mind,

· Having the determination that a goal can be reached

· And a plan on how to reach each goal.

The underlying principles are the same, whether we hope for big things or smaller more achievable goals. Hope often is bound by an objective understanding of obstacles in our paths. Our tactics may have to include flexibility, and the ability to choose alternate paths between points A and B. Even with determination and a strategy on how to achieve our personal and professional goals, we may have to reach non-attachment to specific paths or even a specific results. It’s as simple as the parable of the little engine that could. We must keep telling ourselves and our teams, "I think I can, I think we can". 

Hope changes lives. No matter what the winds of the moment, we can deal with suffering or defeat while seeking out hope in our daily life. The positive psychology movement Rick Snyder believed in, “has helped to demystify hope and forgiveness for the world. “ Thanks to this body of work, we have much better tools to apply to our lives and those we touch each day.

To steal that phrase from President Clinton’s campaign, “ I still believe in a place called hope. “ 


Sunday, September 15, 2013


Ever live for a time in a place without hope? My trip through the valley came after I had spent myself at a job running a very troubled older property in a very troubled place.  For two years I was beaten up virtually each and every day. I worked for absentee owners, that were not very experienced, and who viewed the property as the bastard stepchild they believed it was. 

It was the first point in my life I ever came close to giving up on myself, a scary place for one who equates the end of ambition as the onset of death.  The loss of people to death, professional betrayal, and the passage of time had called the underpinnings of life into question. 

Then I met the one being who changed my life.  The greatest teacher I have ever had was a Mammoth Jack Burro, who cracked open my heart.  His name was “Oneness”. He saved me. 

Oneness and I were an unlikely pairing. My visiting a burro sanctuary was an unlikely event, and started as a civic project as Hotel General Managers are known to do. Never having had spent much time with animals growing up, and seldom traveling through any place marginally rural, I was the most "urban" person my friends had ever known. Nothing prepared me for seeing how Horses and Burros roaming freely.  Nothing prepared me to see how many were neglected and abused in past lives. Oneness arguably was the worst case.

I was unprepared for the wounds he so obviously carried from his past life of no small neglect, or the gentleness of this massive being. Little did I know this special soul would crack my heart wide open, and in many ways save my faith in all that is gentle and brave and good. He lived with great pain, deformity, and illness and never ceased to be loving, abundantly affectionate, and always serene.

I remember the first time I fed Oneness a carrot, and the sound I heard as he sought to speak. At first, we were scared as if our treat had choked this huge animal, and then we realized he had just heard the deepest and most heartfelt bray we had ever heard in our limited experience. It was like the line in Jerry Maguire, he had me at "hello."

Being blessed with an unprecedented amount of free time, and a definite deficit of friends locally, Oneness became my friend, psychiatrist, and career placement counselor. In the weeks before winter came to Northern Arizona, I had the volunteered for the challenge of learning to bathe this huge mammoth burro, and washing the wounds he still carried on his body. Having borne the scars of adverse encounters with an evil Chihuahua, I was suitably respectful of what could happen if a large animal did not like shampoo in their eyes. It did not take me long to realize that despite some technical errors in water temperature and technique, Oneness always gave me an "a" for my efforts instead of a well-placed kick.

As time went by life settled into a ritual and routine, with Oneness and his friends the central organizing factor. Inevitably the first stop would be wherever Oneness was standing, for he called out to the car as soon as it appeared. As we sat there enjoying breakfasts of lattes for me and carrots and apples for him, I found ways to entertain my new friend and myself. For one thing, I found that a certain mammoth burro had defined tastes in music, and preferred classic rock and roll to AM talk radio.  He liked to sway along with certain beats, and you could sense his enjoyment of the chance to jam out.

Despite his love of Springsteen and the rest, Oneness adored hearing his opera singing friend’s voice both live and on CD.  As part of an effort to do well and do good, someone dedicated her Christmas show at the Elks Opera House to Oneness’s sanctuary. Sooner than later I found myself taking photos of two dear friends wearing Santa caps and getting into the Holiday season. 

As I looked at the images of the two of them, I noticed the image that found its way to her finished Christmas CD. It was a picture of Leah smiling, with Oneness smiling, literally smiling as well. As one who always hated the tendency of writers towards "anthropomorphizing" creatures for their own purposes, I struggled with the idea and assigned it to chance for a time.  But in subsequent shots, it was obvious that my friend knew exactly what he was doing. He was always that aware.

In the weeks before his departure, I  often was in tears over Oneness and what might come down the road. It was a constant struggle for my friend to remain among us, how desperately he tried to stay.  He endured an awful round of surgeries and procedures.  All of us who loved him sought to find a way to keep him in our lives forever. Each day he encountered discomfort and pain and was stoic. His countless friends were hopeful then shattered, for many felt in his absence,  the world would once instantly become a lesser place. It has.  

I never shed a tear at most of my life's tragedies, but when it came to Oneness I suddenly found myself unafraid and unashamed to cry. That is because tears are often a sign of healing, and each time I thought of him or was in his orbit,  I knew that I was in the presence of one who instinctively understood our conflicted   human nature...both the depths of our cruelty and the love souls like his are placed into the world to tap.  He understood the part of man that was neglectful and cruel, and his most lasting gift was giving hope that there could be healing for another wounded soul joined with some hope of human redemption. 


Saturday, September 14, 2013


A handful of professional sports franchises serve as models for the business world to follow. The most successful teams have been cited as organizations to emulate.  

The Dallas Cowboys of the “America’s Team” era were the first NFL team to standardize scouting, the first to use computers to evaluate scouting results for the draft. With the supportive Clint Murchison as owner: the team of Tex Schramm, Tom Landry, and Gil Brandt won with a strong system that worked.  They were the model of success for nearly 20 years.

The Cowboy system was built around hiring for the skill sets needed. Their business model succeeded because of the technocratic competence of everything they did. The palpable lack of drama in Tom Landry's operation contrasted sharply with teams that demonstrated generational patterns of futility. We constantly see examples of this in the hospitality industry I've worked in. For every organization that is excellent, there are those that fail, each and every year. 


Compare the Cowboys of Landry and Schramm to the team's erratic on-field course under Jerry Jones.  The Raiders in the last years of a fading Al Davis demonstrated a primary issue with owning your own franchise and micromanaging the same, The inability to accept past mistakes and inability to avoid their re-execution is a plague on certain franchises. The Raiders spent freely on a JaMarcus Russell on a whim. Al hired a long line of different yes people with inferior skill sets and had multiple people assigned to the same tasks, They often confused the failure to discuss problems as “loyalty”, and oftentimes have a difficult go of getting their organizations to embrace more than mediocrity. 

Insanity often wins while these teams continually find new ways to lose and torture their devoted fans, business partners, and lose great team members. You may ask about the Yankees under “the Boss” George Steinbrenner and the great teams of the late 1990’s. Most define that turnaround as beginning with the two-year suspension he served in the late 1980's and the ability of Brian Cashman and Joe Torre to avoid the same disasters that previously occurred under George. 

The list of failures takes longer to recite in a post than the successes. These situations are the same in any other business, certainly in hotel management, and there is a great commonality in both the cardinal sins leading to failure and implementing certain key practices to win. I prefer to focus on winners. For that, we have a great teacher. 


"If Bill Walsh was a general, he would be able to overrun Europe with the army from Sweden." 

- ESPN analyst Beano Cook 

Like many of us, Bill Walsh had a difficult boss. Paul Brown was the tree from where so many coaching branches started. More than any other figure Brown had pioneered the pro football we know today. He invented the facemask and made millions from the patent. He invented most of the coaching systems and the passing schemes used in the NFL today. But he was a complicated man, and an increasingly arrogant figure, and hell on his key assistants when they sought to leave to become head coaches. The last of that line was Bill Walsh. 

Bill Walsh developed the "West Coast Offense" out of desperation. Having lost the potentially great Greg Cook to injury, the Cinncinati Bengals were left with the mobile, but less physically gifted, Virgil Carter. Unable to use a passing offense called "the vertical game", The Walsh offense was a masterpiece of adaption. Walsh modified the long passing scheme into a horizontal passing offense defined by quick, short throws, and designing plays that leveraged the entire width of the field. 

With the infant West Coast philosophy, the new offense was much better suited to Carter's physical abilities. After the arrival of the best quarterback yet to miss the Hall of Fame (Ken Anderson) and the great Isaac Curtis, the Bengals were defined by a consistently good, high percentage, offensive scheme. 

When Brown retired as head coach following the 1975 season, he chose to embrace nepotism and appointed a functionary as his successor.  He repeated the same mistake by appointing his son (the unfortunate Mike Brown) as CEO of the franchise to ensure generational succession. Walsh resigned and served as an assistant coach for the San Diego Chargers in 1976. 

In interviews just before his passing, Walsh noted that during his time with the Bengals, Paul "worked against my candidacy" to be a head coach in the NFL. "All the way through I had opportunities, and I never knew about them……And then when I left him, he called whoever he thought was necessary to keep me out of the NFL." 

His experience resonates with anybody, who has contended with backdoor references by people angered that a team member wishes to advance, rather than endure nepotism and other soul-crushing behaviors. It was an experience shared by other very successful coaches under Brown, including the legendary Weeb Ewbank who coached the chronically lamentable New York Jets to a legendary upset in Super Bowl III. 


Bill Walsh was 47 in 1979 when the San Francisco 49ers named him head coach and general manager. The 49ers had been putrid, had won just 31 of their last 86 games. They had mortgaged their immediate future for a washed up OJ Simpson and went 2-14 in 1978. Within three years the 49ers won their first NFL championship, happily with a 26-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI. It was the first of a great string of successes for Walsh, who also defeated the same Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII. He is the reason we see the names of Joe Montana and Steve Young in the Hall of Fame. 

Bill Walsh had an amazing ten-year run, going 102-63-1 that included a 10-4 record in the playoffs. From 1981 – 1988,  the 49ers won six NFC Western Division championships and the NFC title in 1981, 1984, and 1988. In that period, with the exception of the 1982 strike year, the 49ers won 10 or more games and appeared in the NFC playoffs. The 49ers advanced to the NFC title game in 1983. His victories in Super Bowls XVI, XIX, and XXIII made the 49ers, by every measurement, the NFL team of the 1980s. Using the foundation of the Walsh Years, the 49ers won two other championships in Super Bowls XXIV and XXIX.

Bill Walsh never forgot his years in the wilderness. He ended the inhumane coaching practices many of us grew up with, epitomized by the open humiliation of players in front of others. His influence in how the game is coached is seen by the assistant coaches who went on to head coaching jobs, including his successor George Seifert, Mike Holmgren, Ray Rhodes, Sam Wyche, and Paul Hackett. Those coaches, in turn, spawned a host of other coaches, all imbued with Walsh's distinctive offensive schemes. It was the West Coast offense that was the signature of his "coaching tree". Precise timing from multiple formations provided myriad possibilities, amplified by extensive use of moving players around before the snap. 

Practices under Walsh were not the head breaking sessions that existed under other coaches. Practices were for preparing for every variable they may face in a game. Walsh started the scripting a game's first 25 plays, a habit started with the Bengals. At first, it was the first two series. For the Chargers, it was 15, then 25. It was a defining practice with the 49ers. The script was never frozen in ice, he deviated from the list when events dictated, with the option of resuming as conditions changed. 

His philosophy of contingency planning was driven by how stress and emotion can make it extremely difficult to think clearly, writing "The whole thought behind 'scripting' was that we could make our decisions much more thoroughly and with more definition on Thursday or Friday than during a game.” He felt that the format of practice and contingency planning, are the biggest contributions that I've made to the game," he said.

Many would disagree in view of the social developments in the NFL in the years since his death. Walsh created the Minority Coaching Fellowship in 1987 to help African American coaches improve their job prospects in the NFL and Division I colleges by inviting them to an up-close look at the 49ers' operation. Among those who took advantage of the program were Tyrone Willingham, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and countless NFL assistants. The NFL later turned the fellowship into a league-wide program.  Bill Walsh is also largely credited for the Rooney Rule, which assures minority coaches are strongly considered for head coaching jobs. 

Bill Walsh may have branded himself as a sage white-haired professor, who spent his spare time engaged in academia due to his two stints coaching Stanford football. In reality, his created persona hid both a creative and sensitive man. 

"Bill pushed us all to be perfect, That's all he could handle as a coach, and he taught all of us to be the same way." – Joe Montana

"He was the most important person in football over the last 25 years, and I don't think there's any debate about that. He brought into Silicon Valley, about the time Silicon Valley was being born, the same kind of innovation. When you mention Steve Jobs or Andy Grove, you just say Bill Walsh. He was doing the same thing, just in a different venue - football. I've always said Bill would have been a great CEO of anything. Luckily for us, it was the 49ers." – Steve Young 


Bill Walsh and Glenn Dickey, Building a Champion: On Football and the Making of the 49ers. St Martin's Press, 1990. 

Bill Walsh, Brian Billick and James A. Peterson, Finding the Winning Edge. Sports Publishing, 1998. 

Bill Walsh with Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh, The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership. Penguin Group Publishing 2009 

ONLINE Ten Leadership Lessons from Bill Walsh 


PS-- Here is a hidden gem, Bill Walsh speaks at a coaching clinic.