Tag Archives: Only A Game

A study on obesity says that if you’re conceived in winter, you’re less likely to be fat. On his final broadcast of “Only A Game,” Bill Littlefield replays a beautiful essay. And the bear who wandered into a hot tub and drank a margarita

It’s Monday, it’s August, and I know what you’re thinking: It’s so hot out, my spouse and I should try to conceive a child.

OK, OK, maybe that’s not exactly what you’re thinking. But maybe some of you are thinking that. If you are, hey, more power to you. But just know, it’s entirely possible that if you DO decide to try and make a new human in the summertime, it’s more likely they’ll be overweight as an adult than if you just wait till December to have sex.

Sounds crazy, right? Well, I have science on my side to prove this. Well, to at least argue this. Check out this story on a new study from the Institute of Food Nutrition and Health at the ETH Zurich University in Switzerland.

Check this out, from a Newsweek story on the study: Their work hones in on brown adipose tissue, or brown fat, as opposed to white fat. The latter collects around the belly, and is used to store energy. In contrast, brown fat is used to keep us warm and gathers around the neck, torso, and in white fat reserves. Existing scientific evidence suggests brown fat burns a relatively large amount of energy when it is activated. It is believed the presence of it in the body could make it easier to lose weight, in the right conditions. It is also linked to a lower risk of becoming overweight or developing metabolic disorders, the authors noted.

“The study identifies for the first time a link between environmental temperature and offspring metabolism which is transmitted through the sperm,” Dr. Christian Wolfrum, lead author of the study, said.

I find this fascinating. The idea that the climate, and the temperature of the people involved in conception, could make a difference whether your offspring is heavy or skinny blows my mind.

Both my kids were conceived in winter, so I guess that means they can eat whatever they want? Of course not.

Still, science is kind of amazing sometimes.

**Next up, I’ve written many times in this space about my love for the NPR radio program Only a Game, and its wonderful host, Bill Littlefield. After 25 years of bringing listeners stories about little known and famous athletes alike, filled with humor, heart and insight, Littlefield is retiring.

On Saturday his show replayed some of his best pieces over the years, and this one in particular moved me greatly when it aired in 2015, and did again listening to it this weekend. (Listen to it at this link below).


It’s about Bill, his Dad, and two trips to Cooperstown taken a few decades apart, and what they meant. Just really beautiful stuff.

***And finally today, because we all need a good bear story every now and again, I bring you this enterprising little fellow out in California. Seems the bear in the video above decided to drink a margarita while at Mark Hough’s house in early July, and then help himself to the hot tub in the backyard.

Look, it’s not easy being a bear, OK? People are scary, the woods can be dangerous, and there’s always some joker calling you “Fozzie” or something.

Sometimes you just need to chill out, have a drink, and relax.

Oscar predictions from a non-expert. The great story of how a 1936 U.S. Olympian told off Adolf Hitler. And a beautiful eulogy from a Parkland parent to their child.

With so much misery around us these days, from school shootings to Donald Trump opening his mouth and, hilariously, declaring he’d have run into the Douglas school shooting “even without a weapon,” I’m really glad March is almost here (whoo-hoo, best month of the year, college basketball tournament season!) and the Academy Awards are this Sunday.

I’m very rarely any good at Oscar pools, I think I’ve won one my entire life (and that was two years ago, thanks to “Spotlight,” one more reason to love that amazing movie.)

But this year I’ve seen some of the nominated flicks, and what the hell, here’s one person’s opinion on Sunday’s results:

Best Picture: It would be thrilling if a horror movie like “Get Out” somehow won, but that’s not likely.  It seems like “The Shape of Water” or “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” will win. I’ll go with “Three Billboards” because it seems very timely given the culture of sexual harassment shaming/outing going on. Haven’t seen it but apparently it’s a beautiful film.

Best Actor:  I’m of the belief that any time Daniel Day-Lewis is nominated for anything, he should win, because he’s the most amazing actor of my lifetime. But everything points to Gary Oldman winning here for “The Darkest Hour.” So I’ll go chalk and say Oldman.

— Best Actress: Would love, love, love to see Saorise Ronan win for “Lady Bird,” because it’s such a great movie, or even Meryl Streep who killed it in “The Post.” I’m going to pick Ronan because upsets happen sometime, and everyone seems to think Frances McDormand is a lock.

Best Director: Again, would love to see Greta Gerwig win because she’s so humble and delightful and she made a terrific movie, but it’ll probably be a dude. Christopher Nolan or Guillermo Del Toro will likely win.

Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney, who I worship and adore, seems to be a consensus lock for her portrayal of Tonya Harding’s Mom in “I, Tonya.” I have no problem with that. But I bet Mary J. Blige would give one hell of an acceptance speech if she somehow won.

Best Supporting Actor:  I have no idea or feel on this one. Sam Rockwell was apparently great in his “Three Billboards over Ebbing, Missouri,” but Willem Dafoe has gotten lots of buzz for “The Florida Project” and Richard Jenkins is always sensational. I’ll go with Dafoe.


**Next up today, I’ve written many times about the awesomeness of NPR’s “Only a Game” podcast, but it’s been a while since a story hit me as strongly as one that aired last week (it’s linked above). It’s a story I’d never heard and it knocked my socks off.

When you say “Germany” and “Hitler” and “1936 Olympics,” most people automatically think about Jesse Owens and his winning four gold medals, metaphorically spitting at Hitler’s “master race” beliefs.

But I sure as heck didn’t know that the 1936 Winter Olympics were also held in Germany, and that an American hockey player named Francis Baker stood up to Adolf Hitler, right to his face.

Baker was a goalie from upstate New York, and had studied German at Hamilton College.

A last-minute addition to the Olympic team, Baker was never shy about speaking his mind. At the Opening Ceremonies, Hitler expected every other nation to raise their arms to salute him. But the U.S. contingent did not do that; they had their hands at their sides.

Hitler was furious,  and apparently Der Fuhrer came around to speak to the American team in their locker room, a day before Team USA was to play Germany.

Hitler berated the American team, and declared Germany would certainly beat the U.S.

Well, little Francis Baker, all 5-foot-7 of him, spoke German and decided to retort.

” ‘We will not only beat Germany in hockey tomorrow,’ ” Baker told Hitler, according to Fischler. ” ‘In addition, Die Vereinigten Staaten werden Deutschland immer besiegen: The United States will always defeat Germany.’ And Hitler was infuriated and conducted an orderly retreat.”

Amazing story. Listen to it at this link and learn about the life of an Olympic hero who so few remember, but who certainly deserves to be remembered.

**Finally today, please read this moving eulogy written by Max Schachter, whose son Alex was murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School two weeks ago.

It has beautiful stories in it, about Alex’s joy of being in marching band, the new friends he’d made this year, and the tragedy he and Alex suffered when his mom passed away when Alex was 4.

The last paragraph just hit me hard:

“Two weeks ago, Alex was assigned a poem for a literary fair. He decided to write about roller coasters because Alex loved roller coasters. He wasn’t writing about his life and had no idea that his poem would become his future.

Our elected lawmakers are a big part of the bar of our life’s roller coaster. Don’t just start anew and repeat the failures of Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Act now and hear the cries of our community. No child and no family should ever have to experience this because of someone else’s failure to protect us.”


Good News Friday: The Cleveland Indians win streak is insane and awesome. A competitive creative writing team at a school in Ohio makes me smile. And a dog saving another dog the best video of Hurricane Irma

It takes a lot for casual baseball fans to care about the sport this time of year.

You’ve got pro football, college football and high school football starting. The U.S. Open just ended (you may have read something about that in this space), school is getting going again so parents are busy, and the baseball playoffs are still a month away, which for the casual baseball fan leaves plenty of time to do other stuff before baseball gets “serious.”

But this Cleveland Indians thing… man. I’ve found myself totally caught up in it the last few days. If you’re not aware, one of the most historically awful teams in the sport, the franchise that now has the longest current World Series title drought (a drought that was extended when they lost in extra innings of Game 7 of last year’s World Series, oh by the way), won its 22nd consecutive game Thursday night.

That’s a record in the American League, maybe a MLB record (there’s dispute), and it’s pretty incredible. Baseball stats don’t mean much to me, but check this out:
— Until Thursday night, when the Tribe were actually behind for a bit, they’d only trailed for four innings during the first 21 games of the streak.

— They’ve hit more home runs (41) than their opponents had scored runs.

— This is the longest baseball winning streak in 100 years. One hundred years!

But what really gets me about this streak is this: Look at the crowd, and the players, in the above video. They’re partying and celebrating like they’ve won the World Series. That kind of unbridled joy is rare in any kind of regular-season event, in any sport, and it’s made me smile the last few nights, seeing long-suffering Indians fans celebrate.

I know this incredible streak will be a footnote if the Indians don’t go on to win the World Series. But sometimes it’s good to go a little overboard with your joy, you know?

Plus, as we know, the Indians went on a similar tear in the 1980s, with players like Willie “Mays” Hayes and Jake Taylor. Oh wait, wasn’t that…

**Next up today, we’re staying in the great state of Ohio for a story that warms my inner high school English nerd deep inside me. I had no idea this existed, but thanks to the consistently awesome NPR show “Only a Game,” I do now.

At Gahanna Middle School East outside of Columbus, teacher/coach Jessica Anderson presides over a team dynasty.
No, she doesn’t coach the basketball, soccer or tennis teams. She coaches a team in a “sport” I didn’t even know existed, but am thrilled that it does: Competitive creative writing. The competition is called Power of the Pen, and according to this story it works like this: Competitors are given a prompt and 40 minutes to write a short story. By pen.

Gahanna’s team has won district, regional and state titles, and this story goes inside the team with two of it’s stars, Madi and Jenna.

Of course an obvious question emerges: Is this a “cool” team at the school?

“Not exactly,” Jenna says. “Some people kind of judge, but I don’t really care what people think about me, so, I just like to write.”

I think these kids are awesome. I totally would’ve been in this “sport” when I was younger. So glad that it exists.


**And finally today, let’s head out to the weekend on a dog video. Because who doesn’t love a good dog video (well, cats probably don’t, but my metrics tell me they hardly ever read my blog.)?

Check out this video from Worldwide Weird News’ Twitter feed, of one pooch helping another during the Hurricane Irma floods in Florida.

Man’s best friend, sure. But also doggie’s best friend.

Good News Friday: A Houston “veterans court” helps soldiers immensely. My 10k has finally arrived. And a school in Mass. believes in lots of phys. ed!

As you might imagine, transitioning back to civilian life for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has been difficult.
Physical, emotional and psychological tolls have led many vets down wayward paths they never would’ve considered before.

Seeing hundreds upon hundreds of vets going to prison every month, a unique “court” program in Houston started up and is doing some remarkable work, getting vets off drugs, into work programs, and most importantly, trying to heal their heads.

This is a really uplifting story that shows what can happen if we don’t just lock everyone up.

**The good news is, my long-trained for 10k run, to benefit the great Hope for the Warriors charity, has finally arrived. So I can finally stop training, which my calves and ankles will most certainly appreciate (they’ll send me a thank-you note in a few days once they stop aching).

The bad news, now I have to actually run 6.2 miles Saturday morning.
I actually feel pretty good about where I’m at, endurance-wise. I’ve been able to run between 5-5.5 miles three times a week for the past 3-4 weeks, so I have no doubt I’ll be able to finish.
I’m just hoping for a decent time; I run around 13-minute miles (pathetic, I know; all serious runners are laughing at me) so I’m hoping to finish in 1:20 or so, but as long as I’m under 1:30, I’ll be happy.

Can’t wait to actually be on a course with other runners, after running in solitary for a while. And I also can’t wait to do that cool runners thing of throwing my arms up in the air when I cross the finish line (OK, I know that’s not cool, but I’m doing it anyway, dammit.)

As long as Saturday goes OK, my next goal is a half-marathon, which is of course twice as long as a 10k, next fall.

Upon hearing said goal, my entire lower body just said “no thanks.”

**Finally, while we’re on the subject of running around, I can’t applaud enough the efforts of the South Lawrence Fifth Grade Academy in Massachusetts. What the district has done is expand the school day to eight hours, but include three physical education periods for all students, as a break between learning sessions.

There have been numerous reports (one of which found here in the “Only a Game” NPR story that brought South Lawrence to my attention) that say physical activity helps kids learn.
Also, in case you haven’t noticed, our kids are getting fatter and more and more schools are cutting recess and gym classes.
I hope South Lawrence’s model catches on, and fast.

Good-news Friday: The man who made 1 million free throws for charity. My 1 good news thought from Jets debacle. And saving the world from Nickelback

It’s time for another Good News Friday, and I’m going to start with a very dedicated man.

Two years ago Dave Cummings decided he wanted to do something special to help pay tribute to and raise money for American soldiers. So he vowed to make 1 million free throws over the next two years.  He raised nearly $70,000, made about 1,300 free throws a day, every day, for the last two years (think about how much of a time commitment that is, especially if you have a full-time job like Cummings did).

But the New Hampshire man did it, and on Veterans Day at the Basketball Hall of Fame, he sank foul shot No. 1,000,000.

A beautiful tribute to the troops. Check out the great NPR “Only A Game” radio show’s story on Cummings here.

**And on the Veterans theme, I continue to be touched by these awesome “surprise reunion” soldier videos …

Vodpod videos no longer available.

**It would be absolutely impossible for me to keep this “good news” thing going today and talk about last night’s disgusting Jets loss to Denver. The only good news for me out of this loss is I no longer think I’ll be watching the rest of the Jets season.

And now, back to the good news: How cute is this? A puppy giving a massage to a  cat. 

**Finally, this is good news to all who like good music. The horrid band Nickelback was scheduled to play the halftime show of the Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day game against the Green Bay Packers next week.
Correctly horrified, a Lions fan started an online petition asking the NFL and the team to book a better act. He got 50,000 signatures in a week!

Good music taste should win out. But alas, Nickelback will play anyway. Still, nice to see we can still mobilize large numbers of people around something really important: Not inflicting horrible music on America while we’re eating turkey.

The guy who beat himself up (literally) over Oprah tickets. Another ridiculous infomercial. And adult spelling bees?

Men make life so hard on themselves sometimes.
For example: Robert Spearing of Ontario had a great idea: His wife is a huge fan of Oprah Winfrey, so Spearing, being a great husband, told her he got tickets to Oprah’s Farewell special at the United Center.
And Mrs. Spearing was delighted. The couple drove all the way from Ontario to Chicago, thrilled at the chance to see Oprah before she left her show.

But the day before the big taping, Mr. Spearing went to police with the horrible news that he’d been mugged, and the rotten thieves had stolen his Oprah tickets! (Criminals are huge fans of Oprah, everyone knows that). Spearing went to the hospital with cuts on his head.
Somehow, the fine policemen of Chicago got a little suspicious of Spearing’s story.
It turns out that Mr. Spearing never had Oprah tickets. And to avoid disappointing his wife, he pretended to get mugged.

I’m not exactly sure what his plan was, given he HAD NO TICKETS. But he did spend a night in jail, so maybe that got him some sympathy from the wife.

But probably not. I’m sure she really wanted to see Oprah.

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**This thing pretty much speaks for itself. Does the world really need a Koozie Pocket Shirt? I don’t think so. But hey, maybe it’s just me.

**Finally, this week brings my favorite “sporting” event of the year. Yes, the Scripps National Spelling Bee! I love the Bee, as I said last year. It’s full of drama and excitement and I just love seeing smart kids get rewarded on national television. (it’s on ESPN Thursday night at 8:30, if you’re a bee fan like I am).

Apparently I’m  not the only grown-up who likes Spelling Bees; according to this story on NPR’s Only a Game, spelling bees for adults are growing in popularity. These people in Louisville have them at a bar, and it’s a whole social thing.

Very interesting stuff. I totally want to find one here in Florida that I can spell at.

My new hero


So my heroes used to be Don Mattingly, John McEnroe, Wesley Walker and Mark Messier.

I’d say with the exception of McEnroe, I chose pretty wisely as a kid. I thought Johnny Mac was so cool for the way he blew up at umpires and humiliated them, until I grew up and learned that for all his remarkable talent, he was just a big baby and remarkably immature. I outgrew McEnroe and was sort of ashamed that I used to love him.

But I’ve got a new hero now, and he’s kinda different from any other role model I’ve ever liked.

His name is Lance Allred, and he’s a 6-foot-11, deaf, OCD sufferer who’s a former Fundamentalist Mormon and grew up on polygamous compounds in Montana and Utah. He’s been battling in basketball his whole life, and for three shining games in 2008, finally made the NBA.

He just wrote an astonishingly honest, hilarious, forthcoming and tragic book about his life called “Longshot,” and I finished reading it last night.

To say it’s one of the best sports books I’ve ever read would be an insult, like calling Rembrandt just one of the 17th century’s best painters. Allred’s book is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in my life.

Unlikely, you say? Wait till you hear his story. He was an awkward, gangly child who was seen as a bit of an outcast since his father “only” had one wife. He became deaf immediately after being born but was undiagnosed for years.  He was told by a Sunday School teacher that he couldn’t hear because of sins he’d committed in a previous life (I hope that teacher got fired immediately, but I’m sure he didn’t.)

Eventually, his parents broke away from the compound and moved to Utah, before another family split made them homeless for a short while.

As a kid, Allred struggled to find his place (you know how kind kids can be to children who are different), and he finally did on the basketball court. Of course, that only brought more suffering. A much-beloved coach at the University of Utah named Rick Majerus treated Allred unconscionably while he was there, humiliating and destroying Allred’s confidence and once telling him he “was a disgrace to cripples.” (Majerus was eventually investigated for his behavior, and resigned from Utah shortly after Allred transferred).

Allred became a star at a smaller school, but then found himself battling through the bizarre and highly unpredictable world of minor league basketball in Turkey, France, and the United States (if for no other reason, buy the book to hear Allred’s wickedly funny description of travel life in the NBA Developmental League). 

There were so many times Allred wanted to quit, and so many times coaches and others gave up on him. But he finally made it to the NBA, if only for a few days, and when you get to that point in the book, you almost feel like cheering.

In his beautiful writing style, Allred weaves metaphors about life and basketball together with meditations on religion, the monotony of practice, and too many other topics to count. He refused to blame others for his failures, and is quick to credit others for his success. He’s funny, smart and had me looking at some things in a whole new light.

I got to meet Allred last month at an NBA summer league camp, after having heard about him on this NPR podcast, “Only A Game“. I wrote this column about him for my newspaper, and I was so impressed with his intelligence and humility that I knew I had to read his book. It blew me away.

Lance Allred will not become a major superstar, of  that I’m pretty certain. But he’s why I love sports; proof that beyond the reprehensible reputations of Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress and Barry Bonds there are good guys with amazing stories to tell of will and determination.

I defy you to read this book and not become a fan of Lance Allred. If money’s tight and you’re not able to buy “Longshot,” you can probably find it at your local library.

“I do not care about the money, or the fame,” Allred writes in a letter to God in the book. “I just want to say that I set an “unreachable” goal and I made it.”

He certainly did.