U.S. Open qualifying the best freebie in sports. Sunscreen that smells like KFC, because, you know, it’s America. And the new cereal restaurant in Times Square is a lot of fun

New Grandstand View #2 Photo Credit Jennifer Pottheiser

There are two things every year I look forward to on the sports calendar more than anything else. Happily for my wife and the health of my marriage, they’re spaced six months apart.

One is March Madness. The other is the U.S. Open, my love for which I have written about many times here. Tuesday started the pre-Open qualifying tournament, which is the best value in sports.

The qualifying tournament is for those players whose pro ranking isn’t high enough for them to be invited into the main draw of the Open, which starts next Monday. These are players usually ranked outside the Top 100, and they usually fall into three categories: young players just on the way up, former stars who have fallen pretty far and are trying to get back, or career “journeymen” who are in their mid-20s to mid-30s, just trying to scrape out a living doing what they love.

Anyway, “the qualies” always produce great, compelling tennis, and they’re free for fans. I went Tuesday and saw all the cool new stuff at the Open this year, including the new Grandstand court, above (it looks way too big and the lower seats, always available on a first-come first-serve basis at the old, beloved Grandstand, are now cordoned off for the hoi polloi only) and the new food court by Court 17.

If you’re anywhere in the New York area, I highly recommend checking out the qualies. You can get mere feet away from future stars, the crowds are non-existent, and again, it’s FREE.

Going to be doing a lot of freelancing from the Open again this year and will link some stuff; this first story is on women’s Top 50 player Madison Brengle, the pride of Delaware.

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**Next up today, another one of those stories that I prayed was just an Onion satirical thing, but is actually real.

Kentucky Fried Chicken (sorry, KFC, because they don’t want to remind you that their product is fried) has come out with a new sunscreen that smells like KFC food.

Yes, step right up at the beach, folks and get yourself some “Extra Crispy Sunscreen,” SPF 30, guaranteed to protect you from the sun’s rays and leave you smelling like fried chicken. (sorry, it the ad says “leaves you with a healthy chicken aroma.” As if that’s a thing.)

Come on people, I know Donald Trump is a major-party nominee and everything, but have we sunk THIS low? Who the hell wants to walk around the beach smelling like fried chicken? Are you trying to attract birds or something to your towel? Are you hoping other sun worshippers smell you and get hungry, then come over to your sand and ask for a thigh or a leg?

Who would want this? Sigh. America.
UPDATE: Yeah, KFC gave away 3,000 bottles of this stuff in two hours on Monday. I weep cholesterol-filled tears for the future.

**Finally today, my little guy and I had a unique lunch experience the other day. I heard about this place on “CBS Sunday Morning” a while back, and it was as cool as I’d hoped. Kellogg’s NYC is a new cereal-only restaurant in Times Square, where they concoct twisted versions of your favorite cereals that taste great.

Besides the wide variety of toppings and spreads you can get on your Corn Pops or Frosted Flakes, there are some cool touches here, like getting your order out of a little cabinet. It’s totally a tourist-y thing to do if you’re in NYC, but me and my boy enjoyed it. But it’s pretty inexpensive, and who couldn’t use a bowl of Cocoa Puffs every now and again?

Anybody remember Merrick Garland? The Supreme Court disgrace continues. Team USA completes an amazing Olympics, winning something not seen since 1908. And the P&G ad that made me cry again

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So there’s been quite a lot of news going on this summer. We’ve got a Presidential election going on, starring perhaps the most bat-shit crazy person ever nominated by a major political party (I say “perhaps” because who really knows how nuts Richard Nixon or some other candidate I’ve never heard of from the 1820s might’ve been). The Olympics are just finishing up, and they were as usual, awesome and infuriating and dominating the news. (more on them below)

We’ve got racial tensions and police violence and violence against police in so many American cities, plus a ton of other stories that don’t get nearly the attention they deserve.

And in all that, nobody seems to be talking about the outrage that is the Merrick Garland nomination to the Supreme Court.

Merrick Garland, remember him? Name ringing a bell? He’s the completely qualified, unimpeachable judge who was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the next Supreme Court Justice after the death of Antonin Scalia.

That was five months ago. FIVE months ago! And as I write this, there has been no Senate judiciary committee hearing on Judge Garland. There has been no Senate confirmation hearings either, of course. There have been almost no meetings with Judge Garland by Senate Republicans, lest they (heaven forbid) be seen even considering voting for or against him.

I cannot stress this next point enough: This is unprecedented in American history. One political party refusing to even interview or hold a hearing on a Supreme Court justice, dangerously and irresponsibly allowing the Court to remain at eight justices, leading to (of course) several 4-4 opinions decided in June.

I don’t know why this injustice isn’t being screamed from the high heavens by every elected Democrat and every Democrat running for a House or Senate seat. I don’t know why Merrick Garland isn’t being paraded around the country next to these Senators and Congressmen, with everyone in America being reminded, over and over again, what a disgrace it is that a Republican-majority Senate refuses to even hold a hearing (and remember, the GOP is still in the majority! What are they so afraid of?) is.

I know there’s a lot going on in the world, I do. But this absolute refusal to consider Garland should be getting a lot more attention than it is. Let’s hope clueless Harry Reid will follow up on what he’s promising here.

Brianna Rollins of the U.S. celebrates winning the gold medal with silver medalist compatriot Nia Ali and bronze medallist Kristi Castlin in the 110m hurdles. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Brianna Rollins of the U.S. celebrates winning the gold medal with silver medalist compatriot Nia Ali and bronze medallist Kristi Castlin in the 110m hurdles. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

**Next up today, the Rio Olympics ended Sunday night, after what, all things considered, has to be considered a really successful Games. Again, the bar was so low given how unprepared Brazil seemed a few weeks ago, but overall these Olympics will be remembered for the incredible performances, I think, more than any malfunctions.

Too many great efforts to mention them all here, but just this past weekend, I was inspired by Usain Bolt and Jamaica dominating on the track, an American named Matthew Centrowitz winning the 1,500 meters, the first time a U.S runner has done that since 1908 (1908 was also the last time the Cubs won the World Series, so, you know, that’s an omen), and this little piece of video from American pole vaulter Sam Kendricks, who decided to stop an attempt midway through when he heard “The Star Spangled-Banner” playing.

The fantastic photographers at Reuters put together this great photo gallery of the Olympic’s best moments. No. 3, No. 9, No. 17 and No. 26 are my favorites, along with the one above, but they’re all just terrific.

**Finally today, I always love the heart-tugging Olympics commercials, and I’m kind of amazed how every Olympics Procter & Gamble manage to set the bar pretty high for emotional ads.

This one was just superb, it gave me chills each time I saw it. Watch it, then go call your Mom.

 

Good News Friday: A beautiful display of Olympians helping each other on the track. Missy Franklin’s community does something awesome. And Roger Federer’s hilarious new commercial

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Quick note: Before we get to three happy, uplifting stories, many of you may know, from reading this blog over the years, that I spent several years of my sportswriting career covering Ryan Lochte for his hometown paper, the Daytona Beach News-Journal, and interviewed him and his family dozens of times. (His mom is a total sweetheart and I hate that she’s been dragged into this).
It’d be way, way too easy to pile on Ryan right now after his idiotic last few days in Rio, but I’m also not going to defend him. I’d rather wait a bit and see if he shows any contrition. In the meantime, Sally Jenkins wrote a fantastic column about the mess here.

All righty then, let’s get to some positive stories. First, I’m sure you heard about this one earlier this week at the Rio Olympics. During the women’s 5,000 meter track and field finals, New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin and Team USA’s Abbey D’Agostino collided and both fell to the track.

Instead of keeping on running as maybe 99 percent of other runners might’ve done (and hey, it’s the Olympics, who could’ve blamed them?), D’Agostino helped Hamblin up, telling her “Get up, get up, we have to finish this.”

D’Agostino was injured during the collision, and could barely run as they continued. Hamblin did not go off and chase the pack, though; she stayed with D’Agostino and the two hobbled to the finish line together. D’Agostino would leave in a wheelchair, and is too injured to compete in the 5,000 meter final tonight (Hamblin is scheduled to race).

Hamblin was overcome by D’Agostino’s gesture; it really was beautiful

“That girl is the Olympic spirit right there,” Hamblin said … “I’ve never met this girl before, and isn’t that just so amazing, such an amazing woman,” Hamblin said.

“Regardless of the race and the result on the board, that’s a moment that you’re never ever going to forget for the rest of your life, that girl shaking my shoulder, like ‘Come on, get up’.”

Tremendous stuff. So great to see. Here’s footage of how it happened.

**Next up today, swimmer Missy Franklin was a huge star of the 2012 Olympic Games, and figured to continue her ascent into Michael Phelps-land in the Rio Games. But Missy has had a rough last couple of years in the pool, and at this year’s Olympics she won “only” a relay gold and didn’t reach the finals in her individual events.

So returning home to Centennial, Colo., you could understand if she was a bit down. Then she saw all the love shown to her on her front lawn. What an awesome video; her reaction is so sweet.

**And finally today, it’s almost U.S. Open time, which of course has me giddy beyond belief. I sadly won’t get to see my man Roger Federer at the Open this year, because of injury. But Fed is starring in this brand-new Mercedes commercial and it’s hilarious. Basically, it’s a trip through 100 years of tennis and fashion through Federer’s, um, body.

Really, really love the mullet, Rog…

The man whose death left dueling obituaries, by his wife and his girlfriend. Simone Biles wows everyone again. And I inflict a horribly awesome Donald Trump rally song on you

Wife.GirlfriendObit

And a Happy Wednesday to all of you in blog-land; I turned 41 a few hours ago and am feeling like a very lucky man these days.

First up today, my old friend and an amazing journalist, Brian Hickey, got to do one of those stories that you pray for when you’re a young scribe, because they’re so bizarre and fun.

Seems a man named Leroy Black of Egg Harbor Township, N.J. died on August 2, and naturally there was an obituary in the paper submitted by his loving wife.

And another one from his girlfriend.

Yep, old Leroy was quite the ladies’ man, apparently.

“A man answering the phone at Greenidge Funeral Homes told PhillyVoice that the obituaries were placed separately because “the wife wanted it one way, and the girlfriend wanted it another way.” But he did not anticipate any problems because everybody knew it was happening.”

Well, sure. As long as the wife and girlfriend know about each other and can write separate obits, all is well with the world.

Oh, Leroy, even in death you are causing trouble.

Simone-Biles-Floor-Routine-at-the-Rio-Olympics

**Next up today, the Olympics continue to roll on, with so many great moments each day it’s hard to keep track of (that collision/pickup in the women’s track race yesterday will be happily covered in Good News Friday this week). Lots of upsets are happening, lots of dominant performances, too, that it’s hard to single out any one particular effort.

But Simone Biles, my goodness. What an incredible Olympics she’s having in gymnastics, capped off by yet another gold medal on the floor exercise on Tuesday. This tiny woman is so powerful, so smooth, so graceful on the mat, that she’s bringing the sport forward several leaps.

I know the shelf life of an Olympian is very short, and in a few years Biles will be off doing “Dancing With The Stars” or pursuing a college education, or something else worthwhile.

But take a minute in the middle of your day to watch her amazing performance yesterday in winning her fourth gold medal. In an Olympics with so many standouts, her grace and joy somehow manage to rise above.

**So, since this is probably one of the last weeks people consider Donald Trump a “real” Presidential candidate (the guy is imploding more and more every day; Walter Mondale’s going to call him soon and be like “Dude, even I won ONE state!”), I feel it important to share these two pieces of political propaganda.

First, a delightful takedown of the vulgar, talking yam in his own words over years:

And next, something you truly have to see and, what’s the word, inflict on your friends. It’s a “song” by Rodney Carrington, called “Vote for Trump,” and oh, it’s glorious in its awfulness.

Enjoy?

A hot and fun day at Sesame Place in PA.: Oh, the humanity. And Usain Bolt, just incredible again

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It sounded like such a great idea at the time: Good friends of ours whose daughter is about six months older than our little guy said “Hey! Why don’t we all go to Sesame Place together this summer! The kids will love it!”

We enthusiastically said yes, and then pre-bought tickets for what turned out to be the hottest freaking day of the summer. Maybe in history.

Yep, Saturday on the East Coast was the kind of day that would make any sun-worshipper stay inside and let the air-conditioning work its magic. I don’t want to say it was hot, but I think I saw a human being melt into the concrete he was standing on.

Anyway, it was a hell of an interesting day, and not just because it was our first adventure to a children’s theme park with my boy, who turns 2 in about a month.

Some thoughts on the hot and sticky madness that is Sesame Place on an August afternoon:

— I’m pretty certain I’d been here 35 years earlier or so with my own parents, but I have no memories of the place. Still, I was a huge Sesame Street fan as a kid, and I was anxious to see how Nate would respond to seeing characters up close. He’s never seen “Sesame Street” (we haven’t let him watch TV yet), but he’s a huge fan of his Elmo doll, and before we went I showed him some videos of Oscar, Bert and Ernie, and the gang.

The first thing I noticed that surprised me was that the main characters were hardly anywhere to be seen. There was a parade with Abby and Elmo and all them at 3 p.m and again at 8:30, and a live show in the theater at 5, but other than that, we hardly saw anyone in costumes. Maybe it’s just at Disney World where there are characters everywhere you look.

— I will say, it’s got to be cruel and unusual punishment to dress a human being in a giant furry costume on a 100-degree day like Saturday was. I think I saw Oscar the Grouch lugging an air conditioner into his trash can.

— Was prepared for horrible lines and crowds, but it really wasn’t that bad. Since our kids were too little to go on the popular rides, we didn’t have to wait too long for most stuff.

— The line of the day went to our friend who remarked, as we walked into the wading pool to cool off, “Try not to think about how much urine is in this thing right now.” Always good advice!

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— The people we did see, though… man. There was a whole lot of humanity on display. First of all, I know it was hot, but there were a ton of people walking around with no shirt on who really shouldn’t have, you know what I mean? I’m not judging, but I think I saw a few bodies that were scarier than the characters were.

— Also always fun seeing the parenting “styles” on display. I saw one father scold the hell out of his son for walking too far away from the family, and a few minutes later saw two girls, about 8 and 10 years old, asking if the other one knew where there parents were. Most disturbingly, one time while I was resting on a bench two little girls (maybe about 6) approached and one asked in a really timid voice “Do you know where our Mommy went?”

I told them I was sorry but I didn’t, and then talked to them for a few minutes figuring that might keep them calm. The mother arrived a few minutes later and not even a word was said.

— The park itself is smaller than I expected, and things went pretty smoothly except for the inexplicable fact that while we were in one of the cafeterias getting food, they told us they ran out of ice. How do you run out of ice at a summer water park???

— As for my little guy (above, holding hands with his little girlfriend), he had a great time. He forsook any nap attempts all day, had a hell of a time splashing around in the wading pool festooned with water cannons drenching us occasionally, and was totally enthralled at the “Elmo: The Musical” live show I referenced earlier.  He’s still not a fan of Carousels (screamed bloody murder as we tried to put him on a horse) and rides in general have him spooked.

It’s funny; I know he won’t remember any of this, but it’s so rewarding to see him experience stuff for the first time.

So, Sesame Place. The kids will love it. Bring your own ice. And don’t drink the water in the wading pool.

Bolt.photoOlympicsemi

**Finally today, just a few words on Usain Bolt. The Jamaican sprinter won his third straight 100-meter Olympic final Sunday night, and once again, he made it look so, so easy.

The picture above (from his semifinal race, taken by Cameron Spencer of Getty Images) illustrates just how much fun, and how easy, all of this seems to be for Bolt. Dude is 6-foot-5, a legend, and trailed for 80 of the 100 meters in the final, and still won looking like he barely broke a sweat.

One of the most legendary athletes of our time. Just sensational to watch. Dear God, I hope he’s clean.

Good News Friday: A woman sends her Uber driver to the Olympics to watch his son. The L.A. Rams making kids’ day and doing great things. And the American-Muslim fencer breaking down barriers

UberDriver

And a Happy Friday to all of you fellow sweltering people if you’re on the East Coast like me; triple digit temperatures are always fun, no?

I’m hoping to cool down at a water park this weekend, I highly suggest you do the same if you have the chance.

We start an Olympics-heavy Good News Friday post with an awesome and random encounter between an Uber driver and a customer. (Awesome Olympics night Thursday night: Simone Biles, just amazing. Aly Raisman, pretty awesome, too. And Michael Phelps just swimming AWAY from everyone in the 200 IM, that dude just isn’t human!)

Sorry, back to the Uber driver story. A woman named Liz Willock was leaving the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia a few weeks ago and grabbed an Uber driven by a man named Ellis Hill.

They got to talking and it turned out Hill had a son going to the Olympics in Rio named Darrell Hill, a Team USA shot-putter.

You must be so excited for him, are you going to Brazil? Willock asked. Nope, Ellis replied. Too expensive.

For 95 percent of us, that would’ve been it. But Willock went the extra mile, times 10.

“It just made me sad because any loving parent would want to see their child compete in the Olympics,” she said last week in a great Washington Post story.

Willock started a GoFundMe page to raise money for Ellis to go to the Olympics to watch his son. Darrell Hill shared the page on social media, and within 48 hours they’d exceeded the $7,500 goal for flights, hotels, meals and other expenses.

So now when Darrell Hill competes in the shotput next week, his proud Papa will be there to watch him live.

Awesome. I love this part of the story, at the end:

“Hill had only been an Uber driver for about four weeks when he met Willlock. And meeting her as reaffirmed what he’s always believed to be true about people.”

“People are people, so until they do something different, you expect the best out of people,” he said. “It’s an awesome thing.”

Rams.Pearlman

**Next up today, my fantastic friend Jeff Pearlman took his 9-year-old football-crazed son to a Los Angeles Rams practice the other day. The Rams, as you probably know, just moved back to California from St. Louis, where they’d been since 1995, when they left L.A.

You would think that the Rams would go out of their way to cultivate new fans since they’ve been gone for so long. Happily, they are.

Jeff wrote beautifully about a magical day he and his son had at Rams practice. Pro athletes’ small gestures can go so far, and how great they treated children on this day is terrific.

**Finally today, I love the story of American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first Muslim-American Olympian to compete while wearing a hijab.

“I feel like my hijab is liberating,” Muhammad says. “It’s a part of who I am, and I believe that it allows people to see me for my voice, and now necessarily how I look.

“I hope that it’ll change a lot of the misconceptions that people have about Muslim women specifically.”

The above video shows Muhammad speaking truthfully about the stereotypes that confront her every day, including a scary incident where a stranger followed her because she “looked suspicious.”

Ibtihaj Muhammad didn’t medal in fencing; she was eliminated in the second round earlier this week.

But as this Michael Rosenberg column on SI.com pointed out, she won just by competing.

“Don’t Think Twice” is a sweet, funny movie you should see. Michael Phelps may be the most dominant athlete ever. And Alex Rodriguez, don’t let the door hit you on the way out

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“Has anyone here had a particularly hard day?”

That’s the question the fictional improv group “The Commune” asks at the beginning of every show in the fabulous movie “Don’t Think Twice.” It’s an open-ended question that any audience member can respond to, by saying anything, and then the magic begins: The six comedians onstage take whatever is thrown out and make a hilarious sketch out of it.

Improv comedy is one of the most fun shows you could possibly get into, but it’s also very, very hard, isn’t at all lucrative, and can lead to quite a lot of frustration.

I love Mike Birbiglia, as I’ve expressed on here before, and I love Keegan-Michael Key, and when a movie starring two of my favorite comedians has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 99 percent, I had a feeling I’d love “Don’t Think Twice.”

And I did. This 90-minute little gem of a flick, about an improv group and what happens when one of them makes a “Saturday Night Live”-type show is terrific. I thought it would be funny, and it was. But it was much sweeter and tender than I expected, as we get storylines like Bill (Chris Gethard’s) Dad struggling with health issues, and Miles (Birbiglia) being the elder statesman/teacher character and being forced to watch his pupils have better careers.

Gillian Jacobs is sensational in this movie (I never watched “Community” so I didn’t know her that well), and the dialogue and reactions of the characters feel very real.

“Don’t Think Twice” isn’t playing in wide release, sadly, because in the summer only superhero-type movies make money. But if it’s playing near you, I highly recommend it.

Next up today, another incredible night for American athletes at the Rio Olympics so far, and also might I say me and millions of others may be wrong about these Games being a total disaster? Oh, there have been problems in Rio so far, but not nearly the disaster it appears to be (NBC’s TV coverage, however? Yeah, that’s a disaster).

I promise to write about the fantastic Katie Ledecky sometime soon, but tonight I’m all about Michael Phelps. This guy… I mean, is he more dominant, for a longer period of time, than any athlete, ever? You can say Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky were each on top as long as the 12 years Phelps has, and I would say you’re right.

But Phelps is right there on the same level as MJ and Gretzky, and great as they were, they had teammates. Tuesday night, competing in an event he said he’d never do again (the 200 butterfly), he turned back challenger Chad Le Clos from South Africa and squeaked out yet another gold medal win.

That’s 21 gold medals for Phelps now, more than all but 40 countries have ever won. Phelps has 21 golds, the next closest athletes have NINE. NINE!

The superlatives are useless in describing him, they really are. Guy is a once-every-hundred-years kind of competitor, and we’re lucky we’re alive to see him.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 22: Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees reacts after lining out to left in the second inning against the San Francisco Giants at Yankee Stadium on July 22, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

**Finally today, a few words about Alex Rodriguez, who’s announcing his retirement from baseball on Friday.

Good. Riddance. One of the most despised players in baseball in the last 40 years, his career is a testament to cheating, phony statements and sentiments, and an overall persona eclipsed in jerkitude (not a word but I’m making it one) by only Barry Bonds.

I’ve been a Yankees fan for 35 years, and he’s far and away my most despised Yankee (Clemens is No. 2). He is one of the greatest players to ever play, with natural talent so many would kill for, and he chose to knowingly cheat, then lie and obfuscate about it for years.

I cannot wait until he’s out of that Yankee uniform for good. Few have disgraced it as much as he has.

The craziest game show idea ever is now a thing, in England. The “USA Freedom Grown-Ups” are hilarious. And the athletes most worth rooting for in Rio don’t have a home country.

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I love game shows as much as anyone, maybe more. I’ve talked on this blog several times about my love of “25,000 Pyramid,” “Card Sharks,” and of course, “Jeopardy!”

As good as American game shows are, the overseas ones are even better and crazier. One of my favorite TV shows ever was the short-lived “I Survived Japanese Game Show” on ABC, where they took a bunch of clueless Americans and flew them to Japan and subjected them to some insane and completely silly competitions. I also loved the sadly short-lived “Concentration” game on Comedy Central, where contestants had to answer real questions while having some horrible distraction (like being given an electric shock) done to them.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I thought just about every game show conceit had been invented, but happily, I was wrong. On NPR last week I heard about this insane new show in Britain called “Naked Attraction.” It’s a dating show, sort of.

Here’s how it works: A female contestant gets brought out and she sees silhouettes of six men behind giant screens. The screens then start to rise and stop at the men’s genitals. The woman contestant then examines each man’s package and rates, discusses and eliminates them based on what she sees. The screens then rise up a little more each round, revealing the rest of the men’s bodies before the female contestant chooses which man she’d like to go on a date with.

Then the roles are reversed, as a male contestant sees all kinds of vaginas and judges women on that.

It sounds completely disgusting and ridiculous, but of course it’s been a huge hit and caused all kinds of protests in England. (Brexit? Who’s got time to worry about that anymore?)

Here’s a clip of the show, if you dare. If you’re keeping score (and obviously someone was), one recent episode showed 300 penises.

So many jokes, so little time… I think it’s so funny how British people are always stereotyped as being so prudish about sex, and yet “Naked Attraction” becomes a big thing.

All I know is, if we all were judged by the physical attractiveness of our genitals, 90 percent of the world would still be single.

**Next up today, this story just keeps getting better and better. Remember two weeks ago when I told you about the young singing/cheerleading girls called the USA Freedom Girls who performed at a Donald Trump rally in Florida, then never got their promised payment and reward for the gig?

Well, Stephen Colbert decided that Trump needed to be mocked for this, among so many other things, so he invited the USA Freedom Grown-Ups to perform a similar song about the vulgar, talking yam

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/usa-freedom-grown-ups-trump_us_57a45e6ae4b021fd98783adc

**Finally today, the Rio Olympics are only three days in and there have already been some incredible moments. Katie Ledecky, as dominant a swimmer on the women’s side as America has produced, won her first gold medal. Juan Martin del Potro upset world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the first round of the tennis competition, and then the two shared a fantastic hug at the net, with both men eventually crying. (Don’t tell me the Olympics don’t mean much to pro athletes).

And Michael Phelps won an unfathomable 19th gold medal Sunday night, while Simone Biles showed why she’s going to be the biggest star of these Games.

But for me, the best part of the Games so far has been watching a handful of athletes without a country, walk in the Opening Ceremony. The Refugee Team, made up of athletes from countries like Syria, Ethiopia and South Sudan, have endured so much hardship, and seen unthinkable cruelties, just to survive. So many of them escaped death and despair, losing family members and nearly being killed themselves, that to watch them walk into Maracana Stadium Friday night, to the cheers of thousands, was incredibly heartwarming.

The immensely gifted S.L. Price wrote a fabulous story about how this Refugee Team was formed, and what obstacles they overcame to get here.

Good News Friday: The Ice Bucket Challenge money leads to ALS breakthrough. A 69-year-old woman gives up her liver donor spot to a 23-year-old. And a San Francisco street sweeper is inspiring

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And a Happy Friday to all of you out there in Internet-land. As we await the exciting Opening Ceremonies from the Rio Olympics tonight, where we may get to see raw sewage seep out of the stadium and onto the athletes as they march (Seriously, there’s nothing that would surprise me at these Olympics, they’re going to be historically awful. Check this out.)

We start today’s Good News Friday with the Ice Bucket Challenge. Remember that in the summer of 2014, when practically every person in America decided to dump ice water over the heads of a friend or loved one? Sure it was dopey, but it raised an incredible amount of money for research into Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or ALS, approximately $115 million. (My favorite one was above, when hockey player Paul Bissonnette had water from a helicopter dumped on him.

It was thought at the time that such a huge sum could eventually lead to a breakthrough to find a cure to such a horrible disease (You may have seen some publicity about ALS with the new documentary Gleason, featuring the life and times of ALS sufferer and former NFL player Steve Gleason.).

Two years later, the ALS Association has announced that in fact, the Ice Bucket Challenge money has started to pay off. Thanks to a large data-driven initiative funded through the Ice Bucket Challenge, researchers on Project MinE announced they’ve identified a new gene associated with the disease, which of course could lead to new treatment possibilities.

“It’s very exciting because it shows everyone who contributed to the ice bucket challenge that their donation had an impact on the research,” said Brian Frederick, executive vice-president of communications and development at the ALS Association. “The work that Project MinE is doing is really important, and the discovery of this new gene will help us better understand ALS.”

Now some have quickly debunked that this is a huge “breakthrough,” but it certainly seems to be a step forward. If only we could also get an “Ice Bucket Challenge” for a disease like Alzheimer’s…

**Next up today, a beautiful story of selflessness. A 69-year-old woman in Texas named Brenda Jones had been waiting for a liver transplant for more than a year, when on July 17 she finally got the call that one had arrived.

At the hospital, Jones met 23-year-old Abigail Flores, who was from a tiny town in East Texas and had only days to live if she didn’t get a new liver. Both Jones and Flores were perfect matches for the new liver Jones was scheduled to get.

According to this story on People.com, doctors decided to tell Jones about the situation.

In my heart, I wouldn’t have been able to live with the liver if I had let this little girl die,” Jones told the news outlet. “And I still had more time … I would have been a very selfish person.”

Jones selfless decision ended up saving Flores’ life – and just a few days later, she received a liver herself.

“I think she saved my life,” Flores told the news outlet. “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be sitting right here right now. I thank God for her each and every day.”

What a great story. Jones had no way of knowing whether she’d get that liver she’d been waiting so long for. But she selflessly allowed a complete stranger to have it.

Beautiful.

**Finally today, I love people like this. A 67-year-old San Francisco woman named Suu Ngo moved to America from Vietnam three decades ago, overcame the tragic loss of her daughter (murdered by her husband), and now helps raise her grandchildren.”

After leaving a restaurant job five years ago, Suu walked into San Francisco’s City Hall and asked for a job. She’s now a street sweeper for the city, and loves her life and her job.

“My grandchildren say, ‘Grandma you need to stop work, we’ll take care of you.’ and I say, no. I still strong, I want to work. I don’t want to stay home, boring. Nothing to do. Watch TV all the time? You’d be crazy. I don’t want to do that. I want to go outside, exercise and see people talking, talking, happy. I don’t want to stay home, no. I happy.”

Watch the video and see the simple joy of a woman who loves her life, and just wants to see people happy.

 

Sandy Hook Elementary prepares to re-open, four years after the horror. An inspiring story of an Olympic swimmer with Crohn’s Disease. And a beautiful tribute to a mom from an NHL star

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It’s been nearly four years, and it still seems kind of unfathomable, doesn’t it?

A man walked into an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 12, 2012 and killed 26 people, including 20 children, some as young as 6 years old.

It was supposed to change everything, the great Charlie Pierce writes in this piece that I highly, highly urge you to read. A man slaughtering children, with an arsenal of weapons on his person, was supposed to finally, finally, finally be the massacre that made Americans demand that our elected legislators in Congress do something about gun control, and how incredibly easy it has been to kill fellow citizens.

From Pierce: “The NRA and its hirelings used the slaughter of children to line their pockets. The Republican majorities in the Congress hid behind the drapes, and Sandy Hook slipped into memory, one more station on an endless road to an armed and dangerous Golgotha.”

But as you know, nothing changed, and I don’t want to go off another rant about guns here. Instead, read this piece by Pierce about Sandy Hook Elementary getting ready to open once again in a few weeks (it’s at a new location, thankfully), and think about the power of the human spirit, and how even in a place where such horror occurred, there can be positive thoughts like this one:

“Our school is built on being nice to each other, as our principal, Dawn Hochsprung, always said and preached,” said Newtown First Selectman Michael Llodra.

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I hope the children of Sandy Hook have nothing but happy days in their sparkling, $50 million new school.

But it’s an absolute tragedy that it had to be built at all.

**Next up today, a happier story from my man Joe Posnanski, who’s going to be all Olympics, all the time for a few weeks for NBC Sports. Joe always writes best when he writes about his family, and this week he wrote a beautiful story about Olympian Kathleen Baker, whose Crohn’s disease mirrored that of Joe’s daughter. Baker had to completely change her training and re-adjust her goals, but she made the Olympics anyway.

I loved this story, and not just because I, too, have Crohn’s (a much, much, much milder form than Joe’s daughter or Baker does, though.)

It’s a great read.

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**Finally, The Player’s Tribune, the Derek Jeter-founded website that allows athletes to speak directly to fans, continues to put out tremendous content.

Bobby Ryan, an NHL star, lost his mother, Melody Stevenson, to cancer recently, and the loss understandably devastated her son.

Ryan’s father was incredibly abusive, and he beat up his wife almost to the point of killing her one night in 2000. Bobby and Melody fled to avoid him, and Ryan’s father was eventually caught and sent to prison, and then it was just Bobby and Mom, trying to make a life for themselves.

From Ryan’s piece:

As I reflect on our time together, there’s something I really need to tell you — and for the world to hear me say it: Thank you, Mom. Thank you so much.

Thank you for putting your life on the back-burner for several years just so that I could be happy. I know you didn’t have anyone to lean on, but you understood how much I needed you, and so you gave me all of yourself.

Thank you for showing me what it means to be a professional, for showing me that no matter what obstacle you may be facing, the best approach is always to just put your head down and go to work.

Thank you for helping me get through the eighth and ninth grades when neither of us really knew what we were doing with the whole home school thing. I still can’t believe we pulled a 3.0 GPA.

Thank you for playing so many roles in my life. You were my only parent for so long, but when it was time you were still able to let me go so that I could learn about the world on my own. I know how difficult that was for you. One of the biggest reasons I am where I am today is because you put me in a position to succeed. And not only succeed, but succeed on my own.

The whole thing is great. And after you read it, if you’re able to, call your mother. I know I did.