Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sports Really Is a Business, But There's Humanity Involved

I remember crafting a letter to the most recent coaching hire at Portland State, Jerry Glanville, when he was first hired as football coach. As a member of the Timbers Army, I was contacting him about PGE Park to welcome him to town and ask for help to update the turf at the stadium. Unfortunately, my letter went unanswered, which I wasn't all that surprised about. The Army wasn't nearly the influence it was then, and MLS was just a pipe dream.
Fast forward to today, and MLS is on the fast track, and Glanville is now the former coach of Portland State as he resigned today. Granted, his performance warranted some concern, as he won a grand total of 9 games in three years since taking over. Glanville might be a great guy and has football knowledge, as his resume is filled with NFL experience, college programs, and some success along the way. But he could never recover from the loss of his offensive coordinator, Mouse Davis, during the offseason, and could never gather enough talent to be competitive in the Big Sky. It seemed like the team is a bit in disarray, but after watching them against Weber State, the team never quit and kept trying to right the ship.
Glanville could tell some great stories about his past football exploits, and he gave up part of his coaching salary to help cover some salary loss for his assistants. He was extremely generous to the citizens of the city, giving sandwiches to the homeless and getting involved with other philanthropic projects about town, and he garned lots of attention for the program. When he was first hired, the attendance spiked and there was a huge buzz around the program, but in the end, Glanville couldn't keep the momentum as the losses piled up.
It's a challenge to be successful at a commuter school that is trying to improve its athletic profile. Portland State is the largest university in Oregon and was a Division II football power in its past, yet they've virtually been ignored in the profile of colleges in the area. Oregon and Oregon State cast a huge shadow over the state in academics and athletics, and as such, it's hard to gain traction when you are running uphill against the Ducks and Beavers. PSU has worked hard to get the word out on their school and successes, and I think they are gaining in some respects. It seems that the alumni are paying more attention and getting involved, while the student body has also been engaged more than they have, but there's still work to be done.
Portland State has always harbored dreams of competing with the big boys, and the thing is the foundation is here. Portland is a large media market and has lots of PSU alumni about, and the school is putting money into their programs to gain some traction on the field while improving academic programs. It's a tough and competitive world out there to get the attention of young people to invest their money and time into going to college there, but they are making strides. My hope is that the athletic department hires a coach that has the energy and passion to push the profile up further, so that Portland State isn't such an afterthought in some conversations.
The other big news is that Trail Blazers and Seahawks owner Paul Allen was diagnosed with lymphoma and will be undergoing treatment. Because I've dealt with the ravages of cancer in my family, I have a lot of experience in dealing with the various emotions that this condition bring forward. I went to visit my mom because she was ill and within a week, she was gone. It was one of the worst things I've ever dealt with, and it still rings with me to this day. You never get to the point where you are really completely OK with what happened, but you learn to deal with the death of someone by cancer by just managing it. I'm still reminded of things she said and did, and I'm shocked at how often I think about things and get a little emotional.
That being said, when I heard the news, I was able to put a more personal spin on things than most. In reading the comments on blogs and on sports radio, people have been freaking out about the long term harm to the Trail Blazers and what happens if Allen isn't able to beat this disease. Granted, those things are concerns, but right now, this situation isn't about a guy who has more individual wealth than most of us will ever see in our life. It's isn't about an intensely private guy who shows himself in little glimpses supporting his sports teams, nor is it about a guy that has been trashed in various avenues for being quiet, aloof, or an accidental success.
It's about a human being that is dealing with a very real health challenge, and I wish him nothing but the best during his recovery. He's already beaten Hodgkin's disease once, and having the experience of that combined with the support of his family and friends is a huge key, and he'll have access to the best doctors available. The situation is entirely treatable, yet nothing in this is entirely certain. All you can do is what you can do, and I think having distractions will help him in the long term. Now that the team is doing well and faces less uncertainty in its future, I can't help but think that a successful Trail Blazers season will do a lot towards helping Allen in his recovery.
I've personally had issues with the Trail Blazers organization and many of their decisions about the Memorial Coliseum, questionable player decisions, and some of the tactics they use to maintain a monopoly in the sports media around here. But none of that really matters right now, as I'm wishing my best to their owner, who has personally done a lot to keep basketball fans happy for years following their team. It's hard to separate the person from the owner at times likes this, but right now, both of them need support in dealing with the challenges that are forthcoming.

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