Daniel Suárez: Habilidad. Fortaleza. Pasión

Skill. Fortitude. Passion.

To describe driver Daniel Suárez, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said those very words on Satruday. The reason France said them was because of the history Suárez made at the Menards 250 at Michigan International Speedway. Suárez became the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR XFINITY Series race.

“Daniel Suarez has competed in NASCAR for a relatively brief time, yet his impact on the sport has been immeasurable,” said France. “Combining impressive talent and an incredible personality, Daniel has attracted fans throughout North America.”

The 24 year-old from Monterrey, Mexico had shown flashes of that talent with six second-place finishes previously in NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck racing. It wasn’t a question of if for Suárez, but when would the breakthrough happen. He also became the second foreign-born driver to win on an oval track (via MRN.com). The first was Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya.

The victory was also a win for the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program. Begun in 2004, Drive for Diversity was created to help draw in more minorities and women to the sport, not just as drivers but in crew, sponsor and owner positions as well. The program was built similar to a 2003 program created by Joe Gibbs and NFL legend Reggie White. Each program’s focus was to increase diversity in the predominantly white sport of stock car racing.

Suárez joined the program in 2013. It provided the opportunity not just to race, but to race on many levels and circuits. He’s raced in NASCAR’s series in Mexico, as well as trucks and other lower-level series here in America. The program, said Suárez in 2013, exposed him to other drivers and gave him the “needed experience” and media training necessary to compete at the highest level.

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A fitting moment for NASCAR too with the announcement of their partnership with RISE, a program initiative created by Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross to help promote diversity. I heard directly about the RISE program last month at the Sports PR Summit. 

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The partnership was announced, coincidentally, the day before Suárez’ historical win.

Progressive steps for a sport that hasn’t always been known for its diversity.

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Three years after joining the Drive for Diversity program, Suárez is now an XFINITY Series race winner. The victory also helped Suárez increase his series lead over Elliott Sadler (434) and Ty Dillon (416) with 452 points.    

It was an emotional moment for Suárez. “I don’t think I can speak English or Spanish right now,” he said in a post-race interview. No need to. His driving today said it all.

Habilidad. Fortaleza. Pasión.

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Seismic Shift in the Sports-Social Media World

WRITER’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on the now-defunct Yahoo! Voices network on May 23, 2012. The article is no longer available on Yahoo’s network. Reprinted here as the author of original work.

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Seismic Shift in the Sports-Social Media World

A tremor in the sports-social media world took place this week.

Did you feel it?

Most didn’t realize it when it happened. But, the early rumblings of a seismic shift in the Twitter/Sports relationship occurred, unsurprisingly, in the world of NASCAR.

On Friday, Twitter and NASCAR representatives announced a “business” partnership that is the first of its kind between Twitter and a sports league. The early details of this partnership, scheduled to begin next month at the Pocono race on June 10, entails a promoted NASCAR hashtag (#NASCAR) as well as a NASCAR specific page to take the fan-sport interaction to another level.

Currently, Twitter has promoted tweets that occur on users timelines. According to Twitter: “Promoted Tweets are ordinary Tweets purchased by advertisers who want to reach a wider group of users or to spark engagement from their existing followers. To what extent the “promoted tweets” have been successful or not depends on who you ask. But according to this May 2011 article, Twitter expected ad spending to triple from 2010 to 2011.

So how does this affect Twitter’s new relationship with NASCAR? Can you say: #WINNING?

NASCAR has long been known for being a “fan’s” sport. History shows large attendance numbers at races as well as the driver interaction with fans proved to be beneficial to NASCAR’s growth. Despite the economy cutting into those numbers, NASCAR has been able to evolve and adapt, using social media to do it.

Because their drivers were already accessible to the public, the use of Twitter by NASCAR and their drivers was a natural extension. Highlighting this was Brad Keselowski, earlier this year. During the Daytona 500, there was a fiery crash that Keselowski had opportunity to snap a picture of as it happened in front of him. Using his phone, he tweeted the picture to the world.

Not knowing how this simple act would take off (he gained over 100,000 followers in just a matter of hours), it proved the connection of Twitter and sports beyond just the sport of NASCAR. It was a trending topic online but work offices around the country. The power of NASCAR. The power of Twitter.

Twitter social media shift

Fast forward to Friday. Twitter and NASCAR joining forces. Hashtag promotion. A NASCAR-specific page on Twitter. A page where tweets will be curated (gathered), from media, the fans, drivers, their families and crew centrally located in one place. What are other fans saying about the race? The media? Anything happen before the race fans should know about? Fans will no longer have to search for the hottest topics during the event. Twitter will do it for you.

That is a good thing. Less work for the fan to do, the more likely they’ll be to stay on that page. A captive audience if you will. And in the world of advertising, that’s the best type of audience to have.

If it succeeds, that tremor, that seismic shift…is only the beginning for Twitter and sports. 

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Learning Sports Lessons Through Life

WRITER’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on the now-defunct Yahoo! Voices network on June 5, 2012. The article is no longer available on Yahoo’s network. Reprinted here as the author of original work.

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Life Lessons

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The decision, for me, was never hard.

Was it surprising to me? As a life-long sports participant or fan, it seemed inevitable that my children would be involved in sports. So it was surprising.

That was, until I met, Gage.

Gage is the youngest of my three children. An inquisitive, sensitive, strong-minded ten year old. His older sister and brother were big-time into sports. His sister was a premier-level soccer player until knee injuries did in her career. His brother was a club-level goalie and non-stop “full 90 minutes” player on his high school soccer team. Both kids enjoy watching sports too but my older son is by far, the bigger sports fan of the two.

From a young age, I knew there was something different about Gage. He just had a way about him that you knew instantly that he was created a bit different from the other two. We tried sports; soccer, track, cross-country. Playing sports just wasn’t his thing. Other than just trying to keep him active, I made the decision ‘not’ to push sports on him.

Gage liked to play. But Gage also liked Legos. He liked music. He liked video games. He liked reading. He liked his scooter. He liked cartoons. He liked just about everything else…but “playing or watching” sports.

Now before anyone gets the wrong impression, Gage is a normal, healthy young boy that I am completelyIMG_0052 2in love with. For him, sports is something Mommy likes. It’s part of Mom’s job. That’s the extent of his sports-affection. His mom. Me. 

And that’s okay. 

I was reminded of that this week with stories from two dads “in sports”. One, a new father, and the other, facing a life-challenge through the body of his son.

Both stories in their own way reminded me of how thankful I am for my youngest. He is teaching me lessons beyond the field, court, pitch or diamond. There is a life beyond sports. That “life” can be hard to see sometimes when your work revolves around the 24/7 world of sports & social media.

Life is building a Death Star out of Legos. Life is zooming down the street on a scooter. Life is having a sword fight with the enemy in the backyard…because you can. And yes, life can be sports too.

But it does not need to have a place in my life as the ‘be-all, end-all’.

Gage has taught me that. Sports isn’t everything. Life is. Sports certainly is a part of that. Gage understands it. He may not always get it when I say the Rangers, in June, I’m probably talking about the Texas Rangers and not the New York Rangers (sorry Rangers fans). If I say Seattle is playing, I have to make sure I explain it’s the Sounders, not the Mariners or Seahawks.

And when he says ship, he has to make sure to explain to me “it’s a Naboo Fighter, Mom” and not a boat for the water. These can fly in the air and “get the bad guys, Mom”.

Getting the bad guys. Living life.

Ain’t that the truth.

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Disposable Athletes

WRITER’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on the now-defunct Yahoo! Voices network on April 27, 2012. The article is no longer available on Yahoo’s network. Reprinted here as the author of original work.

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Disposable Athletes


Discarded tires.

Tires that have been worn, stripped, shredded, ripped, torn in half and dumped in an empty field.

There usefulness has expired. No longer wanted. Sitting in emptiness.

Discarded tire

What becomes of athletes whose usefulness is no longer needed?

When they are battered and bruised. Broken and stripped of talents and gifts that they were created with. Worn out beyond their life span.

Are they discarded like these worn tires? Or are they given the tools needed to succeed beyond their “sports-life span”?

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I often wonder if high school and college athletes are getting the education they need. Education as in life skills. Life skills for “after” sports.

Invariably, there will always be a post-sports life. What happens then? True, there are those athletes who have the skills to succeed but many don’t. Would we see athletes leave school early for the NBA or NFL, only to find they are no longer wanted or needed like before? Who fills their head with dreams of fame and fortune, yet reality screams ‘THERE IS MORE TO LEARN’?

We call them student-athletes. Athletes on the field or court. Students in traditional classrooms. What do they learn in high school and college? Reading, writing and arithmetic? If one has a learning disability, is he simply passed along so he graduates (high school) to get that scholarship or maintains his eligibility (college), all in the name of bringing glory to the school? The greater the glory….the greater the money that comes in right?

What if the “student-athlete” does not know how to track his money? Open a bank account? Use a debit card? Recognize the psychology (motives) of those around him? Does he know how to use social media effectively? Can he recognize a potentially “bad” situation? Has he surrounded himself with people who will give him truth not just a “yes”? Will he believe the agent that promises him first round draft status, despite his undraftable skills? What about making decisions for the future?

When the lights and cameras fade away, all the athlete has left is his life. Does he know how to make it without the sports, the fame, the fortune, the “yes” people, the lights, the adulation from fans? What then?

Discarded athletes. Discarded tires. 

NFL Drafts Alone Don’t Win Championships

WRITER’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on the now-defunct Yahoo! Voices network on May 9, 2012. The article is no longer available on Yahoo’s network. Reprinted here as the author of original work…for posterity’s sake. 🙂 

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Team ______. Your selections in this year’s NFL Draft did not meet my standards of mock-draftness. You get a grade of “D”.

NFL experts are paid to study. Study the players. Study the teams. Study the games. For some, it’s almost as if they are paid per word to speak, write and tweet.

Fair? Unfair? It depends on how much stock one puts in the “experts” opinions. 

In this year’s draft, take for example the case that is the Seattle Seahawks. The prevailing opinion among a variety of “draft grade” stories is that the Seahawks rate no better than a “C”.

When the Seahawks selected West Virginia’s Bruce Irvin with the 15th overall pick in the first round, “reach” was the word. He is a raw athletic talent with great potential; excellent pass-rushing abilities. How many teams, however, draft “potentials” in the first round on defense? Not many.

But does that type of a move justify grades? Sure, “experts” grade an entire team’s draft. But much of the grading stems from how well a team does with their first pick.NFL Drafts

In 2011, the Seattle Seahawks received unfavorable draft grades. One network (FOX Sports) gave the Seattle Seahawks a grade of “D”. Their first pick in 2011, offensive lineman James Carpenter, was a surprise even to his Alabama coach Nick Saban. That set the tone for the Seahawks draft grades. As the FOX Sports article states: “While they selected a few good players early on, Seattle picked them before many personnel evaluators felt they should have gone off the board.” 

Who else was drafted last year? John Moffitt (3rd), K.J. Wright (4th) and Richard Sherman (5th). All players, including Carpenter, received significant playing time last season, aside from injury.

And yet the grade was a “D”.

For contrast, look at the last two drafts for the Arizona Cardinals (the Seahawks NFC West division rival) and this past season’s Super Bowl champion, the New York Giants.

In that same FOX Sports 2011 article, the Arizona Cardinals were given a B+. 2010 was similar according to this AOL (Huffington Post) story with a “B”. What do two straight years of a “B” draft grade equate too?

Two straight years with no playoff appearances.

The New York Giants, on the other hand received similar grades to the Cardinals. In both the 2011 FOX Sports story and the 2010 AOL/Huffington Post story, the Giants received an average grade of “B”.

What did the two years of a “B” draft grade earn the Giants? A Super Bowl championship this past February. 

NFL draft grades don’t win championships. There are too many variables, including the draft, that go into a championship team. Team health plays a huge part. Coaching. Team chemistry. Free agent signings. Front office competency. Any number of factors can contribute to the making of a Super Bowl champ.

Solid drafts help but are not the end all-be all for teams.

Or fans.

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Lakatriona Brunson: I Know I Can Do It

I know I can do it.

With those words, Florida high school football has been forever changed. On February 8th, Miami Jackson High School named Lakatriona Brunson its first female football coach in the history of the state.

Check that.

She’s not just a football coach. She is the HEAD FOOTBALL COACH of the Jackson Generals.  

In the wake of Dr. Jen Welter and Kathryn Smith being hired this past year in the NFL, Brunson’s hiring is another triumph in the male-dominated sport of football. Much like Welter and Smith, Brunson has some football playing experience behind her.

Playing on the defensive line for the Independent Women’s Football League’s Miami Fury, Brunson once told the Sun Sentinel she modeled her game after “Warren Sapp, Jason Taylor, Bryant McKinnie”, just to name a few. All of whom were players with attitude.

Brunson brought that same attitude to television viewers in the reality show, South Beach Tow. Dealing with offensive line players and quarterbacks is one thing. Dealing with pissed off folks who are getting their cars repossessed…well…that’s another.

It might be easy for some to think of this as a publicity stunt. Those without knowledge of the Florida high school football scene could think that, especially with the hiring of Luther Campbell (yes, 2 Live Crew’s Luther Campbell). But, those folks don’t understand how long Campbell has been around South Florida football.

“At first I thought ‘this [expletive] might be crazy because I take football real serious,” Campbell told the Miami Herald. Talking with Coach Brunson allayed any fears Campbell may have had about working under a woman. “She knows her football. She’s on point. I don’t take this as a joke. I didn’t want to be part of no circus.”

LUTHER CAMPBELL   unclelukereal1  • Instagram photos and videos

via Instagram

Brunson agreed. “We’re just here to change the atmosphere at Miami Jackson and get some W’s on the board,” Brunson said in her introductory press conference. “We’re here to make Miami Jackson be contenders and win.”

With Brunson as head coach and Campbell as associate head coach and defensive coordinator, they’ll seek to raise the profile for a team that finished 3-6 overall (2-3 district) in 2015 playing in the competitive District 16-5A of Dade County. In 2014, then-coach Earl Little, Sr led the Generals to the playoffs and a Soul Bowl win over rival Northwestern. It was the team’s first Soul Bowl win since 2002.

If the pressure of Florida high school football isn’t enough, being the first female head coach in the state certainly adds to it. “I’ve coached since I was in high school so this isn’t anything new for me,” Brunson said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t (on feeling she has more to prove).”

“I was blessed to get out of Miami to see other things. I think that’s just my objective – to get these kids out of Miami Jackson, out of Miami period to see other things. To be able to go on and be able to bring it back here and do the same thing I’m doing right now. My objective is to be here to just help these kids.”

Welter, Smith and now Brunson. With each hire, women are breaking new barriers in football coaching ranks.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

For me, it’s not about breaking barriers. It’s about being given an opportunity, regardless of gender. If a woman has the qualifications, gender shouldn’t disqualify her from being considered. If a man is better qualified and fits what the employer, team or otherwise is looking for then the man should get the job.

But, if a woman is better qualified, hire her. 

Because she can do it. 

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The Struggle of CONCACAF Women’s Soccer

Another Olympics. Same old, same old.

USA and Canada are the CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) representatives headed to Rio for women’s Olympic soccer.

Again.

The two teams advanced as a result of their semi-final victories in Women’s Olympic qualifying matches in Houston on Friday. USA defeated Trinidad & Tobago, 5-0. Canada defeated Costa Rica, 3-1. The two teams square off on Sunday to determine seeding for Rio.

It was an all too familiar scene in women’s CONCACAF soccer. Canada has qualified for the last three Olympic games. They are the reigning bronze medal winner from the 2012 games. The U.S. has qualified for every Olympics since women’s soccer began playing in the Games since 1996. Mexico is the only other CONCACAF team to qualify having done so in 2004.

Costa Rica, with the 2015 NCAA National Player of the Year Raquel Rodriguez, is improving and on the rise. Mexico, under the same manager since 1998 and swirling in dysfunction, is seemingly going backwards. Trinidad & Tobago, although a semi-finalist in Houston, is nowhere near competitive to the top teams in the region. Guyana, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama and the rest of CONCACAF? Not a chance.

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The U.S. is currently ranked #1 in the world according to the most recent FIFA rankings (12/18/15). Canada is #11. The next nearest CONCACAF country is Mexico which sits at #26. Costa Rica comes in at #34. The U.S.’s semi-final opponent, Trinidad & Tobago, made it to the top 50…at #48. 

That is the state of women’s soccer in CONCACAF. The United States, Canada and then everyone else. They are the two countries who have made an investment in women’s soccer. Even then, the U.S. women’s team was paid significantly less for their 2015 World Cup victory ($2 million) compared to 2014 men’s WC winners, Germany ($35 million) The reason is simple, according to FIFA. The men get paid more because they make more money for FIFA.

All well and good until you realize that more countries around the world invest in their men’s teams financially, promotionally and organizationally than they do women’s teams. For some countries, there isn’t enough money to go around.

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In November 2015, Global Finance Magazine released their list of the world’s richest countries. The numbers were determined based on the GDP (gross domestic product) per capita. In other words, how much the average resident of a country is worth. It also involves something called PPP (purchasing power parity).

Taking the list at face value, here is where the eight CONCACAF teams in women’s Olympic qualifying ranked:

  • United States #9
  • Canada #20
  • Trinidad & Tobago #35
  • Mexico #67
  • Costa Rica #78
  • Guatemala #117
  • Guyana #120
  • Puerto Rico (not registered; on bring of default as of June 2015)

What’s the point of economics in this soccer discussion? Without financing and proper infrastructure, the rest of CONCACAF women’s soccer will continue to lag behind the U.S. and Canada. The only way these teams can make strides is if their players play collegiately in the U.S. 

Check the rosters on teams like a Costa Rica or a Mexico and you will see players that played in the states during college. Some argue that the countries themselves should invest more in women’s soccer. That’s all well and good, but without proper financing…and a change in male attitudes…in these countries, women’s sports will get left behind.  

 “I could go on and on in listing the countries that have made little to no strides forward since 40 million Americans saw at least some of the Women’s World Cup final in 1999,” said soccer legend Julie Foudy in July 2015. “And that is the sad truth: 16 years later the women’s game has barely grown outside of a few countries.”

Although Foudy puts most of the blame on FIFA in her article, the key point remains this: the game hasn’t grown for women around the world. Cultural and gender stereotypes in many countries is a legitimate barrier. That, in turn, dictates how much a country will support (spend money on) women playing sports, let alone soccer. 

FIFA can’t change gender and cultural mindsets because those traits exist within FIFA itself. That said, FIFA is holding its 2nd Annual Women’s Football and Leadership Conference on March 7 in Amsterdam. The goal is to promote equality throughout the sport through reform.   

A good start, but how will those reforms translate to cultural change within an individual country?

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Patriotism moves the needle.

When the U.S. defeated Japan in this past summer’s World Cup, the broadcast broke viewership records here in America. While some attributed that to growth and interest in the women’s game, I saw it more patriotism than game-fandom.

American fans love to cheer American athletes and teams. Fans burst with American pride when an American achieves at the highest levels. Every two (previously every four), we celebrate victories in less popular sports like gymnastics or figure skating. We revel in the highs of skiing or track.

Every time the Olympics come around, Americans tune in. Although rating numbers may fluctuate depending on the time zone of the Games, they still are must-see tv for many Americans. All because of patriotism.

Patriotism moves the needle. But, patriotism falls to the wayside when it comes to women’s sports leagues in America. Some argue that until women are in broadcast executive positions, television coverage of women’s sports will be a non-priority. There is some truth to that, but that isn’t the sole reason for the failure of multiple soccer leagues here in the U.S.

NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush said this in July 2015, “We’re trying to run it like any other business. Revenues have to grow. Expenses will grow over time, but they’re going to grow in a prudent and sustainable way.”

Prudent decision-making by the league, more pro-women’s sports broadcast executives will help grow the game here in America. It won’t do much to grow the game within countries like Qatar or Turkey where machismo culture reigns. Even in Mexico, the support for the women’s team is more talk than action.

It is 2016. Rio is around the corner. Traditional women’s soccer powers will once again grace the fields of Brazil. The rest of the world can only watch. “For many of the world’s women, playing soccer is a distant dream,” said the Fuller Project’s Xanthe Ackerman and Christina Asquith.

The U.S. and Canada will have Rio dreams of gold, silver and bronze. The rest of CONCACAF teams can only dream. 

Another Olympics. Same old, same old dreams.

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