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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.  

This is what you have to look forward to on this week’s episode of Going Roggin on KNBC ch.4 here in LA. Sporty banter, bickering and plenty of laughs to go around. See ya Sunday night/Monday morning at midnight!

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Death sucks.

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.  

Just another day at the office. Me, Junior and Cesar Millan. I got in a solid 5min of catch w/ Jr. He loves tennis balls. Catches, then nudges the ball back to you with his snout. Such a good boy! #cesar911

#bears WR Alshon Jeffery is a beast on the field, but a gentleman with lovely ear bling in the real world where the rest of us live.

#bears WR Alshon Jeffrey is a beast on the field, but a gentleman with lovely ear bling in the real world where the rest of us live.

Interviewed #colts kicking legend Pat McAfee today. Not only is Pat hilarious, but he can bust a move. #9amDanceOff

                        2010 Gold Medal Game: Ecstasy and Agony 

In the newsroom at CSNNE just outside of Boston, I sat at my desk intently watching the United States and Canada duking it out for Olympic gold.  The place was Vancouver, the year 2010.  The task for the U.S., enormous.  The pressure for the Canadians to win the gold medal on home ice, insurmountable. 

Four years later, it remains the best hockey game I have ever seen.  The intense pace, paired with a display of both physical and finesse style from the world’s best on skates created a palpable, electric energy that shot right out of the Rogers Centre, through the television set and into the veins of those watching at home.  

Even when the Canadians led by a score of 2-0, there was never a feeling that the U.S. was out of the running, it was just that close.  When Zach Parise’s goal with a mere 24 ticks on the clock tied the game for the U.S., our skeleton weekend crew at the office erupted in the newsroom.  The feeling of exhilaration for the game itself, and the success of one’s country was phenomenal.  

U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller took a beating in the overtime period, somehow diverting shot after shot, away from the net thus preserving the game and giving his team a chance to pull a massive, upset win.  Miller had, after all, been the most outstanding player throughout the hockey tournament.

There would be no second “Miracle on Ice,” at least not that Sunday afternoon.  Sidney Crosby scored the game-winning goal in overtime.  The best player in the world scored an incredible goal in the most exciting hockey game ever played in the country that birthed the sport.  It was the only way, right? Right.

I sat at my desk, in tears.  

The tears were not because my nation’s team lost.   No, not at all.  The tears were two-fold.  They represented the joy that sport is capable of eliciting and also, the sorrow that it couldn’t last forever.  All good things must come to an end, and boy, that game was fun while it lasted.  

Four years later, just a few days before the Olympic hockey tournament begins, players from both teams reflect back to that Sunday in February.  They remember it as if it were yesterday… 

It’s been real Oklahoma. Thank you to Naismith and Wooden Award winner, and of course 1988 NCAA National Champion Danny Manning for sitting down with me and taking a stroll down March Madness memory lane. Huge thanks to Eric Hollier and the Tulsa athletic department as well as our local camera/audio crew. It was fun!

Well, I finally got mad on TV. Yikes!!! If you’re in LA, check out Going Roggin on KNBC Ch4 here in LA. Tim Cates of Fox Sports Radio’s Petros & Money show and I didn’t exactly agree on much of what’s happening these days in the sports world. I promise you one thing about this episode. You’ll be entertained. Tune in at midnight tonight, aka Sunday/Monday morning for debate about the Super Bowl, all things hockey, Friday Night Tykes, the Olympics and much more! As always, thanks for watching.

                The Sherman Effect: The Proof Is In The Pudding 

Richard Sherman.

If you’ve had enough, or aren’t interested in yet another Sherm discussion, feel free to take a pass on this blog post.  Countless media outlets have covered some angle relating to the Seattle Seahawks cornerback’s on-field interview with Erin Andrews following the NFC Championship game over the last several days, so I fully intended on staying out of the cluster.  Why bother, right?

Well, I now feel compelled to jump in on the action for two reasons. 

A) new “evidence” has emerged as to what exactly went on between Sherman and 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree on the last play of the NFC Championship game, prompting Sherm’s jacked-up mini-rant, and

B) the vocabulary used to describe Sherman says a lot about our country in general and specifically, certain individuals who used such words.  

The above video comes to us care of NFL Films and NFL Network.  As you know, NFL Films places microphones on coaches and players during games throughout the season, creating a “Sound FX” segment that gives viewers a great insight as to what really went down between the hash marks.  

If you start 40 seconds into the video above, you’ll see that Sherman approaches Crabtree after the game-ending play, pats him on the butt and says, “hell of a game.”  Crabtree’s response was to shove his hand in Sherman’s face.  

Someone in Crabtree’s corner knows a hell of a lot about excitedly greeting an opponent after you’ve beat them.  Remember when 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh gave then-Lions head coach Jim Schwartz a bit of an aggressive good-game-smack on the chest back in 2011?  If your memory of the ensuing brawl is a bit fuzzy click this link to watch the video.

Many, many things were said about Harbaugh and Schwartz after that debacle, but one word I don’t recall hearing about either coach was “thug.”  

Sherman, on the other hand, has been absolutely hammered for his excited utterance into the lens of a Fox camera within seconds of earning his first trip to the Super Bowl (to be played against the Denver Broncos on Feb. 2).  

Thug, as defined by Merriam-Webster is “a violent criminal,” and “a brutal ruffian or assassin.”  

Deadspin posted a story showing usage of the word “thug” on television went through the roof on Monday, following the NFC title game Sunday evening.  The article even broke down usage of the word by television market.  In the least surprising part of the story, Boston led the nation in “thug” chatter, with WEEI radio’s good’ol boys Dennis & Callahan dropping a thug-bomb assault on their listeners during a discussion about Sherman.   Those dudes…SMH.  

So…. Harbaugh and Schwartz are jerks, loud mouths, out of control, etc.  Sherman is a thug (which by definition, is a murderer).  Why the distinction?

Common sense tells us that two of these things are not like the other.  The aforementioned coaches are white, and Sherman is black.  It’s a fairly simple (and upsetting) truth. 

Richard Sherman agrees with that assessment and pointed out the hypocrisy in a recent press conference. 

Sherman said that some folks are now using “thug” as a substitute for the N-word, and by golly, he’s right!  When Sherman retires from football, he should immediately jump into the sports media business because he’s entertaining, intelligent, and comes up with great talking points.  

"There was a hockey game [Flames vs. Canucks] where they didn’t even play hockey,” Sherman said on the subject of his new “thug” label during the press conference.

"They just threw the puck aside and started fighting.  I saw that, and said, ‘Oh man, I’m the thug? What’s going on here?’"

Sadly, I think we all know the answer.  

                      Eddie the Eagle Soars To Olympic Fame

Eddie Edwards’ journey to the 1988 Calgary Games is one of my favorite Olympics-related stories.  Eddie was basically the worst ski jumper of all the athletes participating in the competition in ‘88, yet he’s easily the most memorably jumper from those Games.

Remember when the Olympics were kinda, sorta, about true amateurs representing their nation and a passion for the sport?  Ok, I don’t either, but if I did, Eddie would epitomize that ideal.  

Watch and enjoy the video above in which Yahoo Sports catches up with Eddie, who after all these years, remains a hero in the UK and beyond.

From Yahoo Sports:

Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards did not land a medal at the 1988 Calgary Games, but losing at the Olympics made him a winner in the end as the world fell in love with the comically inept British ski jumper.

These two couldn’t care less about football. They are fans of the @dodgers blanket though. #SDvsDEN

Memorable Moments: Katarina Witt skates for gold during turbulent times

Yahoo Sports’ “Memorable Moments” franchise is back in action with 10 mini-doc episodes featuring the best moments in Winter Olympics history.

The first episode of the series is about Katarina Witt, one of the greatest figure skaters in the history of the sport.  

"Witt captivated the world with warmth and grace on Olympic ice despite a cold political climate in her native East Germany. During a storied skating career that included heated rivalries and close finishes, Witt transcended athletics becoming a figure of German diplomacy." 

Original Link:  http://sports.yahoo.com/video/memorable-moments-katarina-witt-skates-214837821.html?soc_src=copy

                       Happy New Year From PepperOnSports

KTLA in Los Angeles will be broadcasting the 125th Rose Parade live from Pasadena on New Years Day.  Shortly before the 6:30pm newscast on New Years Eve, KTLA reporter Kacey Montoya tweeted this photographic gem.  

Yep, this little Lakers fan and his puppy are spooning on the sidewalk, both fast asleep on Colorado Blvd resting up for an early morning full of excitement, flowers and fun.  

I’m not sure what, if any attachment the rest of the country has to Rose Parade, but here in Southern California, the unique annual event brings a sweet and special feel to L.A. natives like myself.  

I wanted to share this photo because it includes two of my favorite aspects of life; sports and animals (you’re cute too, kid!). 

Thanks to everyone who reads PepperOnSports.com.  I sincerely appreciate your support, interest and interaction.  I hope you all enjoyed 2013 and that 2014 turns out to be even better.  Have a safe and happy New Year :)