A Conversation with Paralympian Josh George

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Of all the words Josh George said, this idea struck me the most:

We’re all given one body and we’re all skilled at different things. And everyday we have these creative problems to solve. For me, purely getting faster and doing what I can do each day to get faster is my motivation.

Josh George is much more than a high-performing athlete but don’t be mistaken, he is a high-performing athlete. The soon-to-be four time Paralympian brought home medals from Athens, Beijing and London1 and is headed to Rio next month seeking more hardware. The winner of multiple marathons including Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and London speaks passionately when talking about his love of wheelchair racing. He describes the intricacies of racing to me in a way that suggests each one is more of a complex puzzle to solve than simply a long race to win. I ask George which marathon is his favorite and he starts with Chicago telling me it’s fun because it’s flat and you find yourself in these packs of racers where much of the challenge is about the strategy of when and how to break away. He talks about the New York City Marathon and the grind of crossing all five boroughs and conquering an incredibly hilly course. And he describes the London Marathon as a flat course with lots of turns and amazing, historic sites. Josh’s enthusiasm as he describes each city tells me they’re all his favorite; every competition fuels his goal to be the best at what he does. The medalist, world champion and motivational speaker personifies the idea that each of us should maximize the body, and the life, we’re given.

Josh George is headed to Brazil for his fourth Paralympic Games. But before he represents the United States in Rio George will host the Roll to Rio2 event in Champaign, Illinois on Sunday, August 14th. The Roll to Rio, which starts at 4:00PM, begins at West Side Park with rally goers slow rolling through town with a police escort on bikes, skateboards, kick scooters, wheelchairs and more. The day finishes up at The Accord where people will have the chance to cheer on the Paralympians before they head to the games in Rio. Why host the rally in middle-Illinois? Because, as Josh tells me, the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign has a rich history of accessibility and “a community that is open and accepting of what we are doing.” The university, a recently designated U.S. Paralympic Training Site, hosts para-athletes like George who train for the biggest competitions across the globe. When Josh was asked to be the focal point of a nationally televised BMW advertisement it seemed completely natural for the crew–who he worked with over nine hours–to film in the rural back roads and cornfields of Champaign rather than a backlot in Los Angles. The roads they filmed on were, after all, the very ones he spent countless hours training on. George describes the shoot as a truly amazing experience. The outcome is a sixty-second spot that evokes emotion both with stunning visuals and simple, powerfully spoken words.

Josh George’s involvement with this sleekly designed, high-performing racing wheelchair hasn’t been limited to his time filming the commercial in Champaign. He told me that BMW wanted to help develop tech for the Summer Games so the self-motivated athlete went out to LA and pitched the idea of focusing their efforts on wheelchair racing. Josh presented the BMW team with the opportunity to rethink what racing wheelchairs could be and should be–challenge accepted. They coupled the insights that come from his real world racing experiences with some of the best designers and engineers in the business to develop the ultimate racing wheelchair. It’s that wheelchair and the wont to continue his successful athletic career that brings us back to Rio and the next chapters of his story.

Fans from around the globe are embracing the Olympic Games in Rio–names like Phelps, Ledecky, Walsh Jennings and Biles have captured our collective attention across the United States. But I wonder, how much can their fellow athletes watch while also focusing on their upcoming trials, heats, meets and competitions? “I’ve been watching as much of the olympics as possible. This is when it all becomes real–it’s exciting!” says George, who seems ready to land in Rio and take it all in for himself. The Paralympic Games along with all of Josh George’s other unique experiences have led him to the important message that he now spreads whenever he gets the chance.

His Maximize Your Potential campaign embodies the words that struck me the most when I looked back at our conversation. When “we’re all given one body” it’s up to each of us to make the most of it. When “we have these creative problems to solve” it’s up to each of us to push our minds and bodies to solve those problems. Where did that message come from? As Josh tells it, the idea evolved a few years ago after a couple down years of racing. The question he kept coming back to–why do I keep racing? And the answer, as simple as it may seem, gave rise to this Maximize Your Potential campaign. George recalls that answer succinctly: “I didn’t feel like I had met my potential. So it clicked.” Of course it meant the palpable need to bring out in others what he has long brought out in himself.

Like wheelchair racing champion Josh George, each of us have incredible potential. We won’t all land in Rio this summer but we are each given a mind and body with which to make a difference–to help those in need, to raise caring families, to lead successful careers, to win at life. Before we finished talking I asked Josh for some advice to those of us still searching for the motivation to achieve greatness. “I’d tell that person to take a step back and ask themselves what they love about what they’re doing. Refocus on that initial desire and love.” His hopefulness for us all is inspiring and his own desire and love of competition tells me he’ll dominate in Rio and succeed wherever else his journey takes him.


Found It:
Josh George1
University of Illinois Alumni Association2

 

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International Soccer Friendly Pitch Perfect

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AC Milan and FC Bayern Munich squared off within the Soldier Field confines in a well-attended, well-matched international friendly this past week. There was no major reward awaiting the victor, AC Milan, who finally won in a penalty shootout. The Italian club didn’t secure a spot in the World Cup or earn top seeding in the next Euro Cup. The friendly–an exhibition put on as part of the International Champions Cup–meant as much as the NBA All-Star game or NFL Pro Bowl. Yet the play on the pitch was worthy of the over 44,000 mostly Bayern Munich fans attending the match.

I’m not a super soccer fan. I looked over the starting lineups before the match kicked off and didn’t recognize more than a handful of names. I don’t go to Chicago Fire games and I’m not glued to my seat for every Premier League or UEFA championship. Major League Soccer was founded in the early 90s when my fandom was already interwoven with baseball, basketball as well as American football making it hard to latch onto another sport, especially one that’s so low scoring. But here’s the thing: soccer is exciting and those of us that don’t give it enough attention are missing out on world-class events.

Soccer matches, even exhibitions, are thrill-a-minute (well, thrill-every-few-minutes) chess matches from kick-off to final whistle. Much like hockey, the low final scores aren’t a good representation of the 90+ minutes of action I saw as the stars of Bayern Munich and AC Milan traded goals until the very end. Well-placed corner kicks, powerful headers, sharp passes, outside the box strikes and even near misses brought the crowd to its feet time and again. Fans of soccer follow the game with a passion, for a good reason.

Advanced analytics and deep statistics have drawn a new fanbase to baseball in recent decades. Numbers, and the challenge of extrapolating them into stories and predictions, have brought younger fans to baseball when Major League Baseball needed them most. The folks attempting to establish soccer as a thriving American sport are bringing that level of numerical depth to Major League Soccer with tools like the Audi Player Index1. If successful it will bring thousands of new data points to fans’ fingertips. The index comes with lofty goals–rating nearly every on-pitch player action to define a unique score per player. This kind of info will help casual fans get who’s most impacting the match. If enough people dig into the details we’ll see an expedited fan migration to the world of American soccer over the next few years.

Exciting goals and heartbreaking misses coupled with digestible data can make soccer a truly compelling sport. The last World Cup captivated the US audience, international friendlies are filling up stadiums across North America and Major League Soccer attendance is growing2. Soccer hasn’t cracked the big four of American sports quite yet but more fans are realizing the pitch is perfectly suited for action-packed entertainment.

Found It:
MLS Soccer1
World Soccer Talk2

RE: Pro Football Weekly Returns…

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So far March has brought Chicagoans whipping snow, chilling cold and more bad Bulls basketball. As Chicagoland Radio and Media recently reported, it also returns a familiar name to football fans–Pro Football Weekly is back!

From 1967 through 2013, Pro Football Weekly was America’s largest news-magazine devoted exclusively to professional football. The magazine’s final owner, Gatehouse Media, ended the publication (and its website) when advertising revenue could not keep up with the printing and distribution costs.

Last year, Arkush was able to regain the rights to the PFW name from Gatehouse Media. Teaming up with Chicago area media publishers Shaw Media, Arkush brought back PFW’s annual NFL Preview Magazines and Fantasy Football Guides.

As of March 1, 2016, PFW is back on a full-time basis. The website, ProFootballWeekly.com officially re-launched this morning.

Hub Arkush, the former and current Editor-in-Chief of Pro Football Weekly, hasn’t been muted during its hibernation period. His website, ChicagoFootball.com has brought us plenty of Bears news and commentary while his time on 670 The Score is some combination of infuriating, interesting and entertaining.

But I’m happy, for Arkush and my fellow football fans, that he and PFW are reunited once again. The PFW website, while not considered the prettiest on the block, delivers stellar news and commentary on teams, players, coaches and front office personnel across the NFL. Welcome back to the big leagues, PFW!

RE: NIU Brings Huskie Chi-Town Showdown to U.S. Cellular Field

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The Northern Illinois University Huskies will take a bus east on Interstate 88 next fall to suit up against the University of Toledo in the first-ever football game hosted at the home of the White Sox.

Northern Illinois University and the University of Toledo will play in the “Huskie Chi-Town Showdown,” the first football game in the 25-year history of U.S. Cellular Field, on Wednesday, November 9, 2016.  Annually one of the Mid-American Conference’s premiere contests, the #MACtion game between MAC West Division rivals will air nationally on an ESPN Network at a time to be determined.

The Huskies won’t ever get the recognition of our country’s powerhouse schools although NIU is consistently one of the better football programs in Illinois. It’s nice to see some recognition for a team that has dominated the MAC for nearly a decade.

The Sad Demise of Grantland

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Have you ever finished an entire article on Grantland1? If so, you’re a fan with plenty of free time–the website is long-form sports journalism at its best. Now that the Bill Simmons’ spun sports and pop culture site is defunct, you’ll have even more spare time. Sadly, the talented writers at Grantland will publish on the site no more.

There are thousands of websites devoted to sports–major media publications like ESPN and Sports Illustrated, fan-run niche blogs and everything in between. In Grantland, ESPN attempted to capitalize on the popularity of primo columnist Bill Simmons by granting him the dream of creating and running his own website. A boutique island of the ESPN world that was independently operated yet safely tucked into the sports giant’s ownership umbrella. Simmons, a longtime ESPN writer, on-air talent and all-time pain in the ass, reveled in the opportunity to create something unique in the cookie cutter space of sports journalism. A staff was hired and Grantland launched, with much ado, in 2011. An overprotective, overbearing company grants an egotistical, brilliant media star more power–what could go wrong?

Grantland dared to be different mixing two of Bill Simmons’ great loves in life, sports and pop culture. The outspoken editor-in-chief ditched word count limits and put down the editorial pen in favor of long-form prose and get-out-of-the-way leadership. And he brought in award-winning talent to fill its pages with quality content. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wesley Morris, MacArthur Award-winning novelist Colson Whitehead, well-respected author Jonah Keri, New Yorker staff writer Malcom Gladwell, Zach Lowe and others signed on because of Simmons’ gravitational pull. He’s a writer so he ran the site in a way that assumed great journalism would lead to growth, recognition and ultimate victory. Growth and recognition, yes. Ultimate victory, alas not so much.

Bill Simmons, a brash personality that stuck out among his watered-down ESPN brethren, caused his shared of controversy while with the mothership. His 2014 rant against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell2 led to a suspension and the beginning of the end for the Simmons-ESPN relationship:

I just think not enough is being made out of the fact that they knew about the tape and they knew what was on it. Goodell, if he didn’t know what was on that tape, he’s a liar. I’m just saying it. He is lying… If you put him up on a lie detector test that guy would fail. For all these people to pretend they didn’t know is such f——- bulls—. It really is. It’s such f——- bulls—…

The journalistic genius of Bill Simmons created the Grantland brand which grew from just another sports website into a property that included beautiful writing, an entertaining gaggle of podcasts, a healthy video network and a loyal following. And, though ESPN funded the endeavor, Grantland-focused promotion on ESPN television networks, ESPN.com and ESPN Radio was lacking. But team Grantland kept at it. Simmons hired great talent and challenged them to create a unique website that popped among a sea of competition. And it was working–website traffic peaked in April 20153–regardless of ESPN’s lackluster reasoning4 for shuttering the Grantland doors.

After careful consideration, we have decided to direct our time and energy going forward to projects that we believe will have a broader and more significant impact across our enterprise.

If Bill Simmons’ media prowess made Grantland successful, his boldness and recklessness helped bring about its demise. ESPN terminated his contract this past May despite Simmons’ success as an ESPN.com columnist, Grantland editor-in-chief and driving force behind the award-winning documentary series, 30 for 30. He created a level of tension with suits in Bristol because he, unlike others at the company, confidently spoke his mind despite his employer’s business dealings. Let’s hope Simmons’ next great adventure5–an HBO talk-show host, an HBO Sports consultant and general HBO content producer–brings interesting, uncompromised information and entertainment to sports fans.

I don’t wholly blame Bill Simmons for the end of Grantland. I simply accept the part he played in its downfall. His is just one of many egos that shredded the pages of a uniquely whimsical and wordy sports website. The same greatness that built Grantland also helped tear it down.

Niral Patel ~ SecCitySportsReport@gmail.com ~ @SecCitySports

Found It:
Grantland1
Sports Illustrated2
Alexa3
CNN4
Hollywood Reporter5

Adidas and MLSStore.com Soccer Giveaway

Chicago Fire Giveaway

Adidas and MLSStore.com are inviting Chicago soccer fans to enter an amazing sweepstakes by August 25th that will bring you closer to the Fire and the players you love!

Win the chance to take in a Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United game at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. on October 18th. Or score a suite at Toyota Park for you, and fifteen of your friends, for an upcoming September 19th game against the Orlando City SC. Adidas is also giving away jerseys and other prizes as well as sponsoring player appearances. Click here now for details! Enter by August 25th to qualify.

Chicago Fire Prize Details:

  • The Grand Prize Winner and fan of the Chicago Fire will receive a VIP AWAY MATCH FAN EXPERIENCE AT RFK STADIUM, which includes two (2) tickets to the Chicago Fire game played at RFK Stadium on 10/18/2015 against D.C. United, hotel stay for two (2) nights, flights for two (2), and transportation to/from hotel and to/from game.
  • The Second Prize Winner will receive a signed jersey and suite for up to sixteen people at Toyota Park, to the 9/19/2015 match against Orlando City SC.
  • Other game tickets will be provided weekly as lower level prizes.

There are also giveaways for fans in the Philadelphia and LA area too. If you live in Philly and cheer on the Union or reside in Los Angeles and root for the Galaxy click here to enter!

Mannelly Leaving 670 The Score

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Update on February 19th, 2015:
Jason Goff will team up with Matt Spiegel for middays on The Score according to CBS Chicago. Congrats and welcome back to Chicago!

Original Article:
Former Bears’ long snapper and current 670 The Score host Patrick Mannelly is leaving the station.

Robert Feder reported the news late last week and Mannelly himself confirmed it this morning on The Spiegel and Mannelly Show. What’s next for Mannelly is yet to be announced. He wants to stick to football and will remain on the station as a fill-in host and Bears pre-game host. Mannelly wants to follow his passion, football.

So who claims the empty seat Mannelly leaves behind the microphone? Matt Spiegel’s next co-host hasn’t been announced yet either. Bring back Dan McNeil? Release Matt Spiegel and hire David Kaplan and David Haugh? Promote Lawrence Holmes? Let the rumor mill start churning.

Niral Patel ~ SecCitySportsReport@gmail.com ~ @SecCitySports

Found It:
Robert Feder