Jackie Pepper reports that, despite the tragic death of Reeva Steenkamp and Pistorius’s subsequent fall from grace, fellow paralympic athletes still find inspiration from his rise to fame as they carry the torch for the next generation.
*Click the headline/link above to read the original article
February 14, 2013. Valentine’s Day in Pretoria, South Africa.
Late Wednesday evening, I sat at my computer and saw a tweet on my timeline that made my heart sink and momentarily stop beating. Reports out of South Africa were that the Olympic star Oscar Pistorius had mistaken his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp for an intruder in his home, shooting her to death.
As a sports reporter who has been around athletes my entire life and has worked with them professionally for a decade, I am cautious when it comes to believing public images fed to me by publicists, media outlets, etc. Looks are often very deceiving and being a victim of deception is the kind of humiliation I loathe suffering.
That said, I let my guard down when it came to Pistorius. I threw the book at my usual cynicism and allowed myself to digest at face value the countless human interest stories about the double amputee defying the odds athletically while inspiring millions worldwide.
Feverishly, I refreshed my Twitter timeline hoping that what I had read was yet another sickening online rumor or prank. After several minutes and various stories emerging from mainstream media outlets, I was reduced to tears coming to the realization that something so heinous had happened on account of someone who I believed to be one of the rare, true sports heroes to walk this earth.
Deeply moved by the news coming from South Africa, I decided to reach out to those who knew Oscar Pistorius and one person, in particular, a former UCLA football player who had recently lost a leg, who was inspired by the blade runner while suffering the trauma of amputation.
Regardless of the outcome of the Pistorius trial, there will be no positive results in this case. An innocent woman lost her life at the hands of her boyfriend who either killed her purposely, or by accident. Either way, one life was lost and another ruined by a Valentine’s Day tragedy.
The interviews you’ll read in my article, published by The Good Men Project, were conducted within a week of the shooting death of Reeva Steenkamp. I hope you find the insight offered by those who know Oscar Pistorius as fascinating as I did.
The older you get, the more often you find yourself staring down that damn grim reaper as he takes all kinds of people from this world. Some you love, some you hate, and billions you never knew existed.
Helaine Esterson’s existence was “magnificent,” according to one of her life-long friends who spoke at her funeral today. Helaine, who died last Friday, was a beloved fixture of my summer camp.
If you read this blog often, you’ve likely seen me wax poetic about life at sleep-away camp, not only as a camper during my childhood and teenage years, but also as a counselor and eventually, a supervisor later in my illustrious camp career. :)
When the news broke of a sexual abuse scandal and alleged coverup at Penn State University a few years ago, I stood on my virtual high horse condemning those incompetent and diabolical adults, citing the fact that my fellow camp counselors and I better handled a sexual abuse admission (and other horrid revelations that arise when you live with hundreds of children and teenagers for eight weeks in the summer time) when we were only 19 years old. Now that I’ve had a few years to reflect on that passage I wrote, I still stand by it 100%. It would do a disservice to Helaine’s teachings and guidance to take anything away from how we handled that situation.
Helaine was our camp’s social worker. Helaine devoted her time to training all of camp’s supervisors, as well as all of the counselors. Days-long training sessions were held in which Helaine methodically, year after year, found new ways to teach old lessons that would serve as life preservers every single summer, without fail. Helaine was always so proud when we found ways to navigate such treacherous waters despite our youth and inexperience.
Aside from her background as a social worker (including several years working at the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center), Helaine served our camp community (and me in particular) as a teacher, therapist, mentor, voice of reason, parent, and friend. The way this woman could connect with seemingly any individual was absolutely phenomenal.
Her voice was calming and soothing. She had an answer for nearly everything and even when she didn’t, that voice and language she used would often help provide clarity by way of simply shifting the way one viewed the situation or perceived problem.
At this point, you are likely asking yourself, “what does this lady have to do with sports reporting?” Since you asked, here’s your answer.
As any good therapist or social worker would, Helaine taught us to ask questions without judgement. If you wanted to get to the bottom of something (a behavioral issue, the motivation behind a child or coworker’s actions, etc.), you’d better be patient, present and empathetic.
Something that came up in nearly every single eulogy given at Helaine’s funeral today was her tried and true saying, “be present.” While Helaine was full of great advice and suggestions, that wealth of knowledge came from a deep well in which she stored a flowing sea of information acquired through listening. Decades of listening. A lifetime of listening. Her lifetime of listening.
As supervisors who were responsible not only for the lives of hundreds of children entrusted to us by their parents every summer, we were also responsible for our staff, which was primarily made up of college students. Yes, it wasn’t just the campers that arrived with emotional baggage, but also our own employees who would seek (consciously or unconsciously) our counsel throughout the grind of a summer at sleep-away camp.
Be present. Be aware of your surroundings and the actions of others. Listen to the verbal cues. Watch body language. Ask questions and have empathy.
11 years ago, Helaine told my co-counselor (and now one of my best friends) and I that our listening abilities and genuine empathy for other human beings were two of the things that made us great camp counselors and role models for our young teenage campers, especially the girls.
I’ve struggled with the beast that is the sports television business over the last three years, at times being unemployed or underemployed. On the flip side, the down time gave me great opportunities to go back to camp for weeks at a time to help out, and lets be honest, re-live the glory days by returning to that special place that so strongly molded me into the adult I am today.
During these times, Helaine and I would talk about all kinds of things. Now as an adult, we had things outside of the camp world to discuss, which was always a treat. Helaine was incredibly supportive of my career choice, subjectively professing that those TV hacks didn’t know what the hell they were missing by not hiring me. She also pointed out that no matter what I chose to do for a living, I would bring joy to those in my occupational community.
Helaine told me she wasn’t surprised in the least that I had become a reporter and interviewed people for a living. She said that while yes, my yapping abilities were tough to beat, she was always struck by my desire to listen to others. To know and connect with other people.
This particular conversation (which took place in the summer of 2013 over lunch in the dining hall when Helaine was up at camp visiting) struck me. Helaine said what makes me a good reporter is the ability to develop strong, close and trusting relationships with people I cover. She said that people can tell that I genuinely care about their lives and have a sense of empathy. Helaine said that authenticity would set me apart from many others.
I think she was on to something.
I’ve always said that sport is a microcosm of society. The sports world faces all the same issues that the “real world” does, just on a different scale and sometimes, with different rules (the integration of baseball before the integration of the United States of America thanks to Brown vs. Board of Education, for example).
While I love the games themselves because of the athletic competition and the suspense of spontaneous outcomes, the people who play and watch the games are the glue that holds the whole package together. The funny, tantalizing, triumphant and tragic stories surrounding the sports world are what keep me in this thing for the long haul.
So many tools that I use as a journalist, I picked up via training and teachable moments while working with kids and colleagues at camp during the course of several years. Many of those tools were given to me by Helaine Esterson.
Often times we choose to glorify people in death. We choose to turn a blind eye to the bad, solely recalling the good. We choose to place folks atop a pedestal in memoriam despite never considering such worthiness in life.
Helaine was not one of those people. Her funeral did not consist of phony, cherry-picked stories designed to skew the conversation and force us to remember only the positive. The words spoken about Helaine today were funny, moving, and most importantly, honest.
At least in my little world, Helaine was always on a pedestal, right where she belonged.
Knowing Helaine has made me not just a better journalist, but a better human being. She will be missed, but thankfully her wisdom will continue to serve the community through the countless lives she touched.
Big vs. Big: Abdul-Jabbar Takes Aim At Bynum After Suspension
It’s that time of year again. You know, that point in which NBA center Andrew Bynum’s name finds its way back into the headlines with a seemingly purposeful mission to smear the person and talents he once possessed. For example…
The list goes on and on, which brings us to the present. Bynum, a former All-Star and two-time NBA Champion has been suspended indefinitely by his current team, the Cleveland Cavaliers for conduct detrimental to the team.
Gotta love how Bynum was able to sneak one last scandal in before 2014. Kudos.
Anyway, Yahoo Sports is reporting that a big issue with the 26-year-old is the fact that he just isn’t interested in playing basketball anymore. The game isn’t his cup of tea, a notion those of us in L.A. who watched Bynum with the Lakers have considered for years.
"I believe Andrew has always had the potential to help a team when he puts his heart into it. He just doesn’t seem to be consistent with his commitment to the game. That can lead to a lot of frustration for any team that has signed him.
"When I worked with Andrew I found him to be bright & hardworking but I think he got bored with the repetitive nature of working on basketball fundamentals day in and day out… but they are the keys to long term success.
"In my opinion Andrew is the type of person who walks to the beat of "a different drummer". So we won’t know the facts until Andrew decides to tell us what actually is the issue and shares his thoughts. @KAJ33"
A fundamental difference between the two is love for the game of basketball, which became apparent to Abdul-Jabbar while working with Bynum (and doing a damn fine job if I may editorialize).
After Bynum was shipped to Philadelphia in the Lakers’ trade for Dwight Howard in 2012, Abdul-Jabbar told Lakers beat writer Mark Medina, “Andrew has been up and down on that issue [of commitment and winning]. There are times he wants to play, do a great job and he goes out and does it. Then there are other times where it seems like he’s not focused.”
Any professional athlete will tell you that without the proper incentives (enjoyment of the sport, public notoriety, and big-time paychecks, just to name a few), the strenuous physical and mental dedication to the craft just ain’t worth it.
It appears that the benefits of being a professional basketball player are no longer worth the time and effort for Bynum. For the sake of his teammates, fans, and Bynum himself, hopefully the still-young man will set his sights on a new, more enjoyable career that keeps him out of the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Brady v. Manning: As Told By The Greatest Rivals In Sports History
Sporting events might just be the only authentic reality television. The personalties, athletic ability, competition, story lines and lack of a predetermined outcome captivate fans and audiences worldwide.
Historic rivalries provide some of the best drama sports has to offer. At a certain point, attempting to find new ways to spin old stories can become a bit tedious for writers, reporters and producers of sports content.
NFL Network recently found a brand new way of examining one of the NFL’s most popular modern rivalries, Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning.
One could easily argue that this isn’t quite a rivalry at all considering opposing quarterbacks never set foot on the field at the same time, but the games between Brady’s New England Patriots and Manning’s Indianapolis Colts (and now Denver Broncos) have given us suspenseful pleasures for more than a decade.
Before proceeding, you should know that I worked for NFL Network as a production assistant for nearly two years, and Anthony Smith, an NFL Network features producer who created the network’s latest series about Brady v. Manning, is a good friend of mine. That said, it never hurts to give credit when and where it’s due.
"The Rivals" is a multi-part video series that chronicles not only the history of Brady v. Manning, but also, examines the heart and soul of great rivalries, as told by several of the modern era’s biggest sports rivals.
"The concept came about this summer during a brainstorm for the current season," Smith, in his eighth year at the network, tells PepperOnSports.com.
"I was looking at a way of telling the Brady-Manning story in a way that I hadn’t seen yet."
"The Rivals" roster is long and accomplished as the following athletes participated in the series:
Jack Nicklaus & Arnold Palmer
Bill Walton & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Goose Gossage & Carlton Fisk
Jimmie Johnson & Jeff Gordon
Martina Navratilova & Chris Evert
Pete Sampras & Andre Agassi.
"Pitching the project to the rivals was pretty easy. All of them immediately understood what the project was looking to accomplish," says Smith.
"All of these athletes are sports fans. And all of them followed the NFL, with the exception of Andre Agassi who was up front and honest about that."
Watching and listening to sports titans talk about their career rivals within the context of Brady and Manning is a treat for any sports fan, regardless of one’s familiarity of the historic rivals. “If you don’t know, now you know.”
Shaping A Sportscaster and Other Stories From Summer Camp
If you are receiving this email, that probably means we are pretty good friends. Since we are pretty good friends, you probably know that I grew up going to a sleep-away camp because I talk about it all the time.
"This one time, at camp…"
Here goes my attempt at somehow expressing the importance and impact of Camp JCA Shalom in my life while keeping this email from becoming a novel. Wish us both luck.
I attended my first session of sleep-away camp as a 7-year-old in the summer of 1991. I guess that one week was fairly awesome since I never looked back, and have kept camp in my life ever since.
As an only child at home, my counselors (teenagers whom at the time, I thought were for sure, super old…like, 25) took on the role of older sisters and living in a cabin with 15 other girls taught me about sharing and the dynamics of living with people other than my parents.
While I always had a lot of friends in school and daycare, I was constantly teased about my height (lack thereof) and weight (too much of). For reasons I still can’t quite understand, this was never an issue at camp. Not only was I accepted for who I was and what I looked like, but I was celebrated for it. Aside from relationship building, camp challenges kids and teens to step outside their comfort zones and try new things and activities. After camp, I took the confidence I gained back to school with me, along with new friends which grew my social group every year.
Over the years, I have watched countless kids who were outcasts at school transform into superstars at camp, carrying that fortitude and spirit out of Malibu and right back into daily life at home and school. On a personal level, the encouragement and confidence instilled by my camp experience has undoubtedly helped me not only to succeed in my career as a television sports reporter, but more importantly, to refuse to give up despite several failures and the constant rejection that comes along with the entertainment business.
After seven years as a camper, I wanted to give back to camp by becoming a counselor, and eventually, the teen program coordinator (TASC unit head). In my six summers as a staff member at camp, I “cured” homesickness, wiped away tears, removed splinters and bee stingers, helped kids navigate through divorce, depression, health problems, body issues, death and abuse at home, worked with special needs campers, provided unconditional love and support for kids who “came out of the closet” to me, and created programs about racism, social justice, tolerance and genocide in various parts of the world.
Also during that time, I wore a chicken suit while serving as the camp mascot, led 5-mile hikes from the mountains to the beach, donned a Sumo suit and wrestled other counselors, wrote songs and skits, made countless friendship bracelets, swapped outfits with my teen campers (girls and boys!) for camp dances, repelled down a cliff and through a waterfall, surprised my deserving staff with food and other treats from “the outside world,” and created programs about friendship, peace, love, and of course, the Beastie Boys.
At age 30, the majority of my closest friends are people I met at camp. More than 40% of campers currently attending Camp JCA Shalom are doing so on scholarship. Without the generosity of camp alumni and donors, those kids and teens could not afford to have what could be the best experiences of their lives. When I watch stories on the news about mass shootings, or young people who commit suicide, it pains me to think of how things might have turned out differently if they would have had the type of support and community provided by the sleep-away camp movement.
This is the time of year when Camp JCA Shalom holds it’s annual Gala fundraiser. If you feel compelled to do so, I kindly ask that you contribute to Camp JCA Shalom in one of three ways, all of which, are tax deductible.
1) “Straight cash, homie!” A standard donation of any amount is welcome. Yes, even $5 would be greatly appreciated.
If you choose to support camp in any of the ways listed above, I ask that you please do so “in honor of” of Barri Worth, who is one of my closest friends and one of three Gala honorees. Barri and I met as bunkmates in cabin G-3 in 1992 and remained co-campers for years before going through the CIT (counselor in training) program together, and eventually becoming co-counselors.
Barri is an incredible woman and generous member of society who in her spare time supports many causes, charities and various communities. Barri has also chosen a career public service in which she served for several years in the Los Angeles Mayors’ office, and now, works for the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. If you could name drop her upon donating, I would greatly appreciate it.
I can’t put into words what Camp JCA Shalom has meant to me and how fondly I remember hundreds of the counselors, campers and experiences I’ve had there over the years.
Thanks again for reading my schpiel!
'91-'99 camper, CIT 2000, staff '01-'05 and again in 2011.
Leave it to original Houston Texans offensive lineman Chester Pitts to neutralize some of the negativity, as he and other current and former Texans players will drive senior citizens to the voting booth on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Literally.
Pitts, who retired from the NFL in 2011 and now works for local television station KPRC in Houston, is joining forces with the Harvest Community Center for the second consecutive year in helping the elderly members of his community to vote.
Last year’s event went so well that Pitts decided to do it again, and not just in light of the Houston mayoral race, the fact that the elderly are often an infringed voting group, or because it’s a mitzvah. But also, because old people are awesome.
"Seniors, you can learn so much from them and just being around them for the length of time we were, was an amazing experience," Pitts told PepperOnSports.com.
"Their gracious attitude told me this was something I had to keep doing."
Joining Pitts behind the wheel of several large passenger vans that will shuttle seniors from various community centers to the polls will be current Texans offensive linemen Duane Brown and Brandon Brooks, as well as former Texans defensive lineman Travis Johnson and former Houston Oilers receiver, Haywood Jeffries. Johnson also participated on election day last year.
Tuesday will be the Texans first day off since a demoralizing Sunday Night Football performance in which the team gave up a 21-3 first half lead over the Indianapolis Colts, ultimately losing at home, 27-24 and dropping their season record to 2-6. Texans head coach Gary Kubiak collapsed on the field during halftime with a still unknown medical condition. It’s pretty cool that despite a trying season thus far, some of the Texans are willing to give up what little free time they have to help out strangers within the community.
"There is no responsibility for professional athletes to do this," Pitts told PepperOnSports.com.
"But as a professional athlete you are a role model and I believe you should always do what is right. Helping others, especially our seniors is always important and as long as I am able, I want to do just that."
Pitts says that as a media member, he has approached different players about helping out with the event in the locker room following Texans games. He hopes player involvement will increase each year.
(photos courtesy of Chester Pitts)
(Top photo, Pitts and Brown. Bottom photo, Brooks and Pitts)
NBA Players Talk NCAA Compensation for Athletes, Wacky Injury Stories, and Players-Turned-Coaches at NBAK14 Launch Party
The NBA season is fast-approaching as teams begin training camp in the coming days. For one last hurrah, a few NBA players hit the red carpet at Greystone Manor in West Hollywood for the launch of the video game NBA2K14.
The Western Conference’s Pacific division was well-represented at the event, where Pepper On Sports spoke with Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors), Nick Young (L.A. Lakers) and Ryan Hollins (L.A. Clippers).
We discussed the controversy-ridden NCAA, wacky injury stories, players one would want as a coach, and how the old Celtics crew will fare in Brooklyn.
Here are some highlights.
Does the NCAA needs an overhaul that would include compensation for athletes?
"I think there will be major changes. I flew under the radar in college so I’m pretty sure I didn’t make the NCAA too much money so I’m cool with them. But as far as, especially the case with Ed O’Bannon, he’s kind of the one who pioneered the whole thing. He did make the NCAA a whole lot of money and he didn’t quite reap the benefits and then he didn’t have that exciting of an NBA career afterwards, so you know, it’s very understandable. Guys who are legends in college, and kind of taken advantage of.”
Editor’s Note: Despite his modesty, Andre was a fantastic player in college and made the NCAA plenty of dough.
"I think [players] should get a little bit [of monetary compensation], but USC, no, we’re legit. We’re strictly by the book up there."
*Editor’s note: Nick laughed as he mentioned USC…obviously. Remember this, and this? Nick certainly remembers the latter, as he and Mr. Mayo were teammates.
"I’d love to see it. It’s deserved. I think you’d have a chance to eliminate a couple of kids leaving early, a couple of kids from going out and doing silly stuff to make ends meat, and just bringing real honesty to the game. I was a scholarship athlete, my parents did okay, but I was broke in college. I didn’t make enough to get by, you know? You’re put in a very very tough situation so I’d love to see them you know at least get compensated enough to where these kids don’t want for much."
"Obviously you want a little spending money but just enough to cover your bills…simple necessities, you know?"
"I don’t think nothin’ can top being hit by a stripper. Nothin’ is topping that right now. That’s one of a kind."
Jason Kidd went directly from playing to coaching. If you had to choose one current NBA player to be your coach, who would you choose?
"Probably Andre Miller, just because he passes me the ball more than anyone [lauhgs]. I’m pretty sure he could teach someone how to pass the ball to me. No, but he’s a very smart basketball player and has a very high IQ and that’s why he’s been able to play so long at a high level and he’s going to be a very good coach once he gets the opportunity."
"He’s still competing though, giving guys problems night in and night out so I think he probably has three more years left in him."
"I’d probably have to say Jason Kidd…he’s like a coach, he’s been a coach out there on the court since he’s been playing."
How will your former Celtics teammates Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce adjust to playing for Jason Kidd in Brooklyn?
"I think they’ll do great. After playing with those guys, I don’t want to say that they don’t need a coach, but if there was players that would fit in with Jason Kidd in his first year, the type of player that he is and now growing into a head coaching role, it’s a perfect cast to throw together."