Prince of Pennsylvania Review

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As I’ve said before, I tend to think and write about sports quite a bit, but as my interests evolve, I tend to gravitate to sports in situations where they make you think more about life.  I have always enjoyed the 30 for 30 series that ESPN has put out over the years, so when a new episode appeared on my DVR over the last week, I wanted to give it a look.  As I read through the description, it sounded vaguely familiar, and then it hit me that it was a documentary covering the events that led to the movie Foxcatcher starring Steve Carrell.

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I spent the hour watching this story unfold in complete awe.  If you haven’t watched it yet, its highly recommended.  The story follows a man by the name of John du Pont, of the famous du Pont family who founded the famous chemical company of the same name.  He grew up in a wealthy family, but decided to dedicate his life to do everything he could to win a gold medal, as he saw this as the ultimate success.  When he realized he wasn’t an olympic swimmer, after giving his all, he moved to steeplechase, and after a couple additional setbacks, he decided to take some of the family property and turn it into a world class amateur wrestling training facility in the 1980s.

It should be stated that at this time, US Olympians were absolutely forbidden from being any form a professional athlete, so they basically lived in poverty training for their one chance to have a medal put around their neck.  When du Pont opened his training facility that he called Foxcatcher, due to the many fox hunts that used to take place on the land, it was like a gift from the heavens for olympic hopefuls to train there.  It was no coincidence that after Team Foxcatcher was put together and had sufficient time and resources to train that the United States began to transform into a powerhouse in amateur wrestling.  du Pont not only housed and fed many of the athletes that trained there, but also gave them a scholarship of sorts, paying them so they could have a family while training for hopeful olympic gold.  What these athletes gradually began to see is the bizarre eccentricities from the man that had saved and is now funding their careers.  DuPont was so paranoid that he thought the camp was under surveillance by Nazis.  On multiple occasions, he drank too much, and crashed vehicles around the farm.  He began carrying firearms on him at all time because he was convinced that someone on the team was an informant and out to get him.

The worst part was that the athletes basically had to look the other way, as du Pont literally was their meal ticket.  They had to put up with his bizarre behavior or their olympic dream was gone, and even worse, they could be back on the streets.  Unfortunately, du Pont’s mental illness hit a crescendo with the murder of olympic wrestler Dave Schultz.

After his conviction, du Pont spent the rest of his life in prison before his death in in 2010.  The story hit a nerve with me as just how much a vulnerable person will put up with.  It was almost as if these dedicated athletes were held hostage by this mentally deranged man that they had to come up with every excuse in the book in order to stick around.  A tragic ending to an amazing film.

A Sports Reality Check is Good Sometimes

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From reading this blog, you can clearly see that I enjoy sports.  Its something I grew up sharing with my father, and I still try to watch plenty of sports today.  That said, over the years, I’ve become more interested in how sports effect the ‘real world’, or what it tells us about our society.  There is no question that we take sports far too seriously in this country, but for many people it is their leisure outlet.  If they sit behind a desk all week working on spreadsheets, they look forward to screaming at the television for their favorite team on the weekend.  Last weekend, we saw another great example of this.

The University of Michigan hosted the Michigan State Spartans in what was set to be the college football game of the week.  Michigan has always dominated Michigan State, but MSU was undefeated going into the game.  It was also the first game between the two schools since the University of Michigan plucked coach Jim Harbaugh (Michigan grad) from the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.

As long as you weren’t living under a rock, you saw the highlights of the end of the game.  Michigan was sent to punt the ball away with 10 seconds remaining with a 23-21 lead.

As you can see in the video, the punt was mishandled by the Wolverine’s punter, Blake O’Neill, and it was run back for a touchdown and the win, by Michigan State in one of the more bizarre endings in recent memory.  The shots of the University of Michigan crowd were rather telling with people standing with mouthes agape.  It was one of those games that you were just happy to say you were watching it.  That’s when it should have been over, but unfortunately it wasn’t.

It wasn’t too long later where numerous people went to social media going as far as laying out death threats toward the Wolverine punter.  The amount of vitriol was far over the top and actually scary that someone could think it is a good idea to put online.  Less than 24 hours after the game, the Michigan Athletic Director, Jim Hackett published an open letter to Michigan fans chastising people for what he said were

“…hurtful, spiteful and vicious comments to one of our students.”

It was truly a classy move to take a leadership role, and get people to settle down a bit.

On Tuesday, the punter, Blake O’Neill met with the press.  Mind you, O’Neill is from Australia and was a graduate transfer to the University of Michigan just this year.  His take was incredibly mature.

“Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and go again, that’s the beauty of sport,” he said. “You get a chance to prove yourself against Minnesota.  That we’re improving and we’ve learned from the stuff we did against Michigan State.”

Here is a young man who didn’t grow up in our borderline insane culture when it comes to sports.  Yes, he was upset that the play happened, but he is not going to let it destroy his life.  He is already thinking about next week on the field, yet you have crazy people calling for his life?  While the game was one for the ages, I hope it was a bit of an eye opener to people that it is indeed…just a game.

USC Football Firing Brings Workplace Issues to Forefront

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The University of Southern California is one of the top football programs in the entire country.  The have amassed 11 national championships over the years.  In 2013, after controversial hire, Lane Kiffin was fired, USC’s Athletic Director, Pat Hayden, called on Steve Sarkisian to hopefully bring the Trojans back to their national championship ways.  Sarkisian was a graduate of USC, coached under former USC coach and now head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Pete Carrol, and seemed like a perfect fit.  Last year the team finished with a pedestrian record of 9-4, and the fanbase was wanting more, so hopes were high going into this season.

The season got off to a rather bizarre start when on a Saturday night in August, Coach Sarkisian showed up to an event for donors clearly intoxicated, was slurring his speech and used crude language.  He was pulled off of the stage by the AD Hayden, and eventually issued an apology where he said that he had a small amount of alcohol, but mixed it with medication which had an adverse effect on him.  From that point, he decided to completely stonewall the media and only talk about football.  Not much was said from that point, but this past Sunday morning it came out that Sarkisian would be taking an “Indefinite leave of absence” from the team.  It was stated that the coach showed up to practice intoxicated Sunday, and was immediately sent home.  Again, it was the Athletic Director, Pat Hayden taking center stage and giving the quote,

I called Steve and he made it clear to me that he was not healthy, and I asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence. I think this is the right thing for our team.  I’ve spoken to our team and our coaches — they obviously had a great deal of concern for the health of Coach Sarkisian.

More stories came out Sunday that Sarkisian was drunk during the game against Arizona State this season.  You are talking about a man who is leading 100 college students, being intoxicated during a game is a major red flag.  That said, as Hayden said, USC is most concerned about the health of the coach, and they were rooting for him to get better.

Fast forward to Monday, literally 24 hours later, and the announcement comes out that Hayden had fired Sarkisian.  This came as a bit of a shock.  The official stance was that Sarkisian didn’t ‘live up to the university’s standards’, which is a rather generic statement.  There are rumors out there that there are plenty of other alcohol stories to come out, and USC just needed to cut ties with Sarkisian as soon as possible.

All of that said, it begs the question if the university handled matters correctly in this circumstance?  Why was Sarkisian not forced into treatment after his alcohol fueled embarrassment at booster event in August?  Why was he not immediately removed from coaching when multiple people thought he was drunk during the game against ASU?  Make no mistake about it, college football is a billion dollar business and should be treated that way.  To put a press conference together Sunday morning, and say the coach is taking an indefinite leave of absence, and you are concerned greatly with his health, gave the impression that the powers that be at Southern California were treating alcoholism as the true illness that it is.  They were swiftly removing him from his players and coaches and trying to get him the help that he seems to desperately need.  However, to then undergo a 180 degree change and fire the coach within 24 hours with a vague reason makes you wonder if there was any compassion there to begin with?  It seems more like a ‘CYA’ move by the university in case other negative information came out.  At the end of the day, alcoholism is a disease, and it should be treated that way.  There are thousands upon thousands of companies around the country that help their staff when they are going through a difficult time.  USC should be no different.  They could have nipped this in the bud in August when Sarkisian displayed an obvious cry for help.  However, they focused too much on the public perception, and let the problem spin out of control.  Just when it seemed like they were finally going to show long awaited compassion, they cut ties with someone who is clearly ill.  This debacle should be a lesson to all business owners out there as to how to not handle a sensitive situation.

Could SNL Impact the 2016 Presidential Election?

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This past weekend was the premier of the 41st season of the institution that is Saturday Night Live.  Miley Cyrus both hosted and performed, and while it was something special to watch Miley start crying at the piano singing a song covering such topics as Gumby, safaris, aliens and karate, the real eye opener was how hard Lorne Michaels and the writing staff promoted Hillary Clinton.  Watching the episode gave you the feel that it was as close to a campaign commercial for Hillary than anything else.

It should be said, that Saturday Night Live is not NBC News, its a comedy sketch show and not held to journalistic integrity like other news outlets.  The show started out with their cold open lampooning Donald Trump.  Admittedly, I am a huge fan of SNL, and was excited about the season premier to see exactly how they would handle ‘The Donald’.  The man is already a cartoon character, so I wasn’t sure exactly how they could make him seem more outrageous than he already is.  That said, they did a nice job using Cecily Strong to play Trump’s wife Melania, with her delivering the comedic lines.

From there they launched quickly into one of their fake commercials, this time a drug commercial for “Abilify”.  It is portrayed as a pill for people with ‘mental illness’.  What you soon learn is that the drug is only effective for 11 people and that just happens to be 11 of the Republican candidates.  It was a solid piece and set the table before the first commercial of the show that they were coming after the Republican party.

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Now that they slammed the Republican party, it was time to move over to the Democrats that didn’t fit the bill in their minds.  SNL waited until Weekend Update for this where they took their turns ganging up on both Vice President, Joe Biden as well as Bernie Sanders.  At this point, it feels as if there must not be anyone out there to vote for.  That is when Hillary is brought in for the rescue.

The skit starts with the fake Hillary, played by Kate McKinnon, sitting at a bar drinking away her sorrows about all of the attention that Donald Trump is receiving.  The big reveal is when the bartender turns around and we get to see that the bartender is none other than Hillary Clinton herself.  Through the conversation the fake Hillary is able to admit that she was incorrect on her thoughts and late to come around on both the Keystone Pipelilne, but more importantly gay marriage.  This spot is especially poignant as Kate McKinnon is the first openly gay cast member of Saturday Night Live.  She also had the great line of:

I have a 1-year-old granddaughter. She calls me Madam President.

It was an obvious attempt by Clinton’s team to humanize her, as well as give her a bit of a ‘hip’ feel as hard as that may be.  In all honesty, it worked.  It will be interesting to watch the rest of the season to see how she is handled.  It just makes you wonder though if Lorne Michaels is sitting in the dark in his office scheming as to what candidate he feels would be the best fit and then puts the wheels in motion.

Strange Success Story Catching My Eye

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Being an entrepreneur, I enjoy reading stories about new ideas out there, the people behind them and its road toward success.  These days just about everything seems to be in the tech space.  Whether it is a new gadget, a new dating site, or even something like FitBit, almost all new products seem to be centered around technology.  Therefore, when I tell you that there is a company that was founded less than 18 months ago and is now valued at over $500M, and is on pace to have over $100M in revenue this year, you would have to imagine it is in the tech space, right?  Well, what about one of the most basic verticals there is…sleep!  Casper was founded in April of last year as a mattress shopping alternative for millennials.  You simply pick out the mattress online, its shipped to your door by UPS or FedEx.  The mattress arrives in a shockingly small box, and when taken from the box and the wrapping cut, it basically ‘explodes’ for lack of a better term, and it full size in a matter of minutes.

When I sit back and think about some of the situations I’m most annoyed with in life is when something like your cable or your internet, goes out and you have to leave the office and basically be held hostage in your home during that four hour window for a technician to maybe show up.  Normally having a mattress delivered is that exact same experience, other than normally you have to drive to a strip mall and plop yourself down on four or five mattresses to try to determine what feels best for you, while being hard sold by what appears to be a used car salesman.  To me, that is why this idea is so ingenious.  Not only do millennials (and myself) tend to order everything online, but they also are tied to social media, and the upstart mattress companies have done an outstanding job of using social to their advantage.  Anyone who purchases a mattress is encouraged to upload an ‘unboxing video’.  Not only is it kind of fun to watch the mattress take shape, but the majority of companies are running promotions, where your videos contain an affiliate code.  If someone watches your unboxing video and then orders their own, you are sent a $50 check.  The Wall Street Journal actually just posted an article on the industry after I started writing this called the affiliate fees the “the Mary Kay model, digitized”.

The memory foam mattresses in this space sell for roughly $650-$1,000 based on size and model.  I actually went to a Sleep Number store in our local mall a few months ago, and was looking at $5,000 mattresses, so fun to have someone come in and disrupt the space.  At the end of the day, its exciting to to see companies take a look at a a relatively boring/basic industry that has been in place for over 100 years, and look to find a way to make stark changes.  The growth curve of Casper over the past 18 months shows that they have been successful with those changes, and I may have to post my unboxing video here in the near future.