andre-agassi-and-steffi-graf
Andre Agassi and Steffi Graff

Quarterback Tom Brady and Super Model Gisele Bundchen are. So are Tennis great Serena Williams and Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian. Then there is golf icon Tiger Woods and ski champion Lindsey Vonn, as well as Olympian greats Nadia Comaneci and Bart Connor. These are Sports’ Power Couples, a duo of envious capabilities and qualities that will cause entire rooms to turn heads.

But perhaps the greatest sports power couple of all time is the love match of tennis legends, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf.

Andre Agassi, the charismatic, enigmatic tennis tour de force of the 1990s and oughts is one of 8 men to have a career grand slam, having won eight grand slam titles over the course of the four major tournaments: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. To win the biggest tournaments on three different surfaces – hard court, grass and clay – is a testament to versatility and greatness. Additionally, Agassi won gold in men’s singles tennis at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, thus making him the first and only man to earn the informal title of Career Golden Slam, until Rafael Nadal accomplished that with combined Olympic victory in 2008, and US Open victory in 2010.

Steffi Graf tops the accomplishments of her husband. The German superstar of the 1980s and 1990s is arguably the greatest female tennis player of all time. Over her career, Graf has won 22 Grand Slam singles titles (tied with Serena Williams), and in one incredible year, she pulled off a purist’s dream. In 1988, Graf won the Australian, the French, Wimbledon and the US Open, capping it off by winning the gold medal in women’s singles at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

A Golden Slam. Until Steffi Graf, no one, man or woman, had ever done that.

steffi-graf-and-andre-agassi-family

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Celebs Ringside at Floyd Mayweather vs Arturo Gatti - WBC Lightweight Title Fight - June 25, 2005
Friends Tom Brady and Donald Trump
  • 70% of NFL players are black.
  • 74% of NBA players are black.
  • 88% of blacks voted for Clinton.
  • 8% of blacks voted for Trump.

With the ouster of the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, two years ago, and the more visible acts of support for causes like Black Lives Matter, the NBA appears to have more of an activist bent than most North American sports leagues. Thus, the reaction by NBA players and coaches to the election of Donald Trump for the presidency of the United States has been more predictable.

Gregg Popovich, one of the most successful coaches in NBA history, had this to say: “Right now I’m just trying to formulate thoughts. It’s too early. I’m just sick to my stomach. Not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenure and tone and all of the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic.”

Then there was 5-time NBA champion and coach of the champion Golden State Warriors in 2015, Steve Kerr, who spoke out in frustration recently.

… all of a sudden you’re faced with the reality that the man who’s gonna lead you has routinely used racist, misogynist, insulting words. That’s a tough one. That’s a tough one. I wish him well. I hope he’s a good president. I have no idea what kind of president he’ll be because he hasn’t said anything about what he’s going to do. We don’t know. But it’s tough when you want there to be some respect and dignity, and there hasn’t been any. And then you walk into a room with your daughter and your wife who have basically been insulted by his comments and they’re distraught. Then you walk in and see the faces of your players, most of them who have been insulted directly as minorities, it’s very shocking. It really is.

Coach Kerr openly stated the million dollar question in team sports – how does a coach coach a team of whites, blacks and hispanics who are united by team purpose, but possibly divided by national purpose?

The NFL has a similar ratio of black players to the NBA. But the press has reported more comments from coaches in support of President-Elect Trump, compared to the NFL. Certainly, the most famous case is the coach of the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, who tends to be tightlipped about anything he believes not relevant to his football team, and play on the field. And yet, Trump quoted a letter from Belichick to Trump on the eve of the presidential election, clearly seeing an opportunity to get more votes in the New England states.

My guess is Belichick would have preferred to keep the contents of his letter quiet, but when confronted, he did explain his relationship with Trump at a news conference. “Our friendship goes back many years. Anybody who spends more than five minutes with me knows I’m not a political person. My comments are not politically motivated. I have a friendship with Donald.”

The New England Patriots’ organization is famous for the strict control it imposes on its players in regards to talking with the press, and very little has been heard from the players, except for their star quarterback, Tom Brady, who is also known as a long-time personal friend of Donald Trump.

In terms of football, the words of Belichick and Brady are the most important on the team. But when your coach, your star quarterback and even the owner of the team are friends of Trump, what impact will this have on the team fabric, likely made up of a number of players who view Trump as a racist?

rex-ryan-and-donald-trump
Rex Ryan and Donald Trump

The Buffalo Bills are not the New England Patriots. The Bill’s head coach, Rex Ryan, has openly supported Trump, even giving speeches for Trump at rallies in Buffalo.

“There’s so many things I admire about Mr. Trump, but one thing I really admire about him is—you know what—he’ll say what’s on his mind,” Ryan said in this Bleacher Report article. “And so many times, you’ll see people—a lot of people—want to say the same thing. But there’s a big difference: They don’t have the courage to say it. They all think it, but they don’t have the courage to say it. And Donald Trump certainly has the courage to say it.”

When Ryan was the coach of the New York Jets, my hometown team, it was clear that Ryan was seen as a player’s coach, the kind of guy you would run through the wall for. But supporting Trump may have an impact on team dynamics. In that same Bleacher Report article, a couple of Bills’ players were quoted anonymously that their coach’s comments did not sit well with them.

“Rex is such an open-minded guy, a really good person,” said the player, who asked not to be identified, fearing repercussions from the Bills. “But the fact he could back someone as closed-minded as Trump genuinely shocked me.” The player, who is black, emphasized that teammates’ frustration with their coach’s public endorsement was not universal. But in private discussions, he said, “Some of the African-American players on the team weren’t happy about Rex doing that.”

Indeed, said another black player on the Bills who requested anonymity to speak freely about tensions swirling with a combination of protests led by Colin Kaepernick and a combustible candidate: “I see Trump as someone who is hostile to people of color, and the fact that Rex supports him made me look at him completely differently, and not in a positive way.”

What’s interesting, although predictable perhaps, was the reaction of a particular player on the team, Richie Incognito. “I think that he can help this nation get back to a world superpower,” Incognito told B/R’s Tyler Dunne. “Where I think he could help is putting us first again and having that—it’s my mentality, too—having that tough attitude where you put America first and everyone’s thinking we’re the greatest nation in the world. Don’t mess with America. That toughness is where I identify with him.”

Incognito, a Caucasian, was suspended from his former team, the Miami Dolphins, after being identified as one of three harassers of a black teammate, Jonathan Martin, who asked to leave the team. It appears that Incognito’s bullying of Martin was incessant and racist, and included members of Martin’s family.

In the end, those who oppose Trump have had to come to grips with reality.

Doc Rivers, the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, said in this article that we need to accept and then take action, not just complain.

Listen, Donald Trump is going to be fine, all right, as president. That’s something I never thought I’d have to say, honestly. But at the end of the day he will be because I just believe America overall works. There’s a Congress and a Senate and it’s gonna work out. But if you don’t like it, you have two years from now to change it. Not (to change the) president, but you can change the Congress and you can change the Senate. So if you don’t like it, change it. And you change it by either running for office or voting… Don’t get mad — go do something.

Opening Ceremony Maracana Stadium 2016August 5_New York Times
New York Times

The Debutante Ball is over. And Brazil is looking very good.

Despite all the issues that have arisen in Brazil in the run-up to August 5 – the impeachment of its President on corruption charges, the collapse of its economy, the constant news of the polluted Guanabara Bay, the shocking news of the impact of the zika virus, rumbles of possible riots by the underclass – the opening ceremonies at Maracanã Stadium went off pretty much without a hitch.

And there were a few big moments. Let me focus on three:

Sex: Carlos Nuzman is the president of the Rio Organizing Committee, and former member of the International Olympic Committee. He and his teammates likely helped inspire generations of volleyball fans in 1964 when he was on the men’s Brazilian team in Tokyo, where the sport debuted as an Olympic event. There he was on his country’s biggest stage on Friday, bubbling with excitement, exorcising all of the repressed worries he told countless people in the press not to be concerned with.

We never give up, we never give up. Let’s stay together when differences challenge us.

But to add a bit of spice to the formality of the opening speeches, Nuzman made one of those slips of tongue that the head of the IOC will never forget. Nuzman was responsible for introducing Thomas Bach, and said it was his honor “to hand over to the president of the IOC, the Olympic champion Thomas Bach, who always believed in the sex…success of the Rio 2016 Games.”

OK, Bach will always cherish that moment I’m sure…and it’s what’s on the mind of half the athletes at the moment anyway. (It’s been heavily reported that 450,000 condoms have been made available in the Olympic and Paralympic villages.)

Beauty: I’m a Jets fan. I hate Tom Brady. That goes with the territory. While Brady is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, an instant hall of famer, his wife is arguably even more famous globally. Super Model, Gisele Bündchen, who was born in in Southern Brazil, travelled to London at 17. She was plucked out of the crowd of wannabes to make it on the catwalk for designer Alexander McQueen. From that point, Bündchen was a star, becoming a mainstay on the cover of Vogue and the body of Victoria’s Secret.

And so, in a moment of exquisite simplicity, the organizers brought together Brazil’s most famous song and its most famous face. First the crowd heard the massively familiar bossa nova rhythm and melody of The Girl from Ipanema, performed by Daniel Jobin, the grandson of the music’s writer, Antonio Carlos Jobim. From the other end of the stadium emerged the super model, coming out of retirement to make her final catwalk. Probably her longest catwalk ever, Bündchen sashayed some 150 meters across the entire stadium floor to the roars (and photo flashes) of 78,000 ecstatic fans.

gisele bundchen rio olympics
Gisele Bündchen – click on this image to see a video of the moment.

Glory Restored: It was the marathon event at the 2004 Olympics, in the birthplace of the race, Greece. Brazilian, Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, of Cruzeiro de Oeste, was leading the marathon race with 7 kilometers to go when a strangely dressed spectator burst onto the road and just as suddenly pushed de Lima off the course. As I have described in a previous post, de Lima looked disgusted as he made his way back onto the course and continue on with the race. At the end of the 42-kilometer footrace, de Lima finished in third. There were attempts to give him a gold medal, but it is likely that since de Lima was still in first with a decent lead, the IOC decided to keep the results as is.

No doubt, this incredibly quirky incident was hard to forget for Brazilians, and particularly de Lima, who could have been on the top step of the awards podium, with a gold medal around his neck, listening to his national anthem. Instead, he listened to the Italian anthem, consoled with a medal of bronze.

Fast forward to 2016. The most famous athlete in Brazil, the legendary Pelé is rumored to be too ill to participate in the opening ceremonies. Up steps de Lima, who took the sacred flame from Brazilian basketball star, Hortência de Fátima Marcari, and carefully climbed the 28 steps to the Olympic cauldron. He raised the flame high with two hands to immense cheers, turned to the cauldron and ignited it, and the hearts of 78,000 people in the Stadium.

As the cauldron climbed into the night, to become the centerpiece of an incredible metal sculpture that turned the sacred flame into a swirling solar spectacle, de Lima was probably feeling the pride and joy he could’ve, should’ve, would’ve felt, if not for that crazy man in Greece in 2004. As the fireworks exploded around and above Maracanã Stadium, de Lima’s heart, I’m sure, was full.

Vanderlei de Lima lighting the cauldron
Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima lighting the Olympic cauldron.