John Granato: Stop the persecution of the minority athlete

The Winter Olympics suck. Getty Images

I found it very odd this week that a Fox News executive, John Moody, thought it prudent to criticize the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion for praising how diverse this U.S. Winter Olympic team is.

First of all I had no idea there was such a thing as an olympic director of diversity and inclusion. Of course it is 2018 so I should not be surprised at this in the least. It’s a very 2018 thing to be; diverse and inclusive. I just didn’t know we needed a director for it.

Secondly, it’s not wise to criticize diversity and inclusion in 2018 but it is a Fox News executive so I guess it’s OK. Actually it’s probably encouraged at Fox News.

It’s not like Fox News is WEEI in Boston where they’re shutting down all live programming on Friday so all their employees can go through sensitivity training. This after one of their hosts called Tom Brady’s daughter an annoying little pissant and another used a Chinese accent in one of their radio bits.

How dumb can you be? Using a Chinese accent in one of your bits? That was soooo 2017. No one does that anymore.

Anyway, back to Mr. Moody. You remember him, the one who thinks it’s OK to criticize diversity and inclusion. Next thing you know he’ll say Black Panther wasn’t the greatest movie ever made. He may even be one of the 2% that gave it a bad review on Rotten Tomatoes. I’d hate to be those people. They will never be able to come back from it. Their lives will be ruined by the Twitter police.

Mr. Moody thinks they should change the Olympic motto from “Faster, Higher, Stronger” to “Darker, Gayer, Different.” Kinda funny but not really. This is 2018. Funny is not something we approve of anymore, not at other people’s expense.

Mr. Moody goes on to say “In Olympics, let’s focus on the winner of the race - not the race of the winner.” A very clever turn of phrase, I’ll give him credit for that. But also very un-2018. In 2018, we have to look at everything through our race glasses. It’s what we do.

Did you know that the Winter Games have been going on since 1924 and in 2006 Shani Davis became the first black athlete to win a gold medal in the Winter Games? That’s crazy. But not really.

Coming from up north and from a hockey family I know a little about winter sports. The overriding thing about them is that they suck. You’re always cold and they’re expensive as all get-out.

Ever skied? Sucks. You freeze on the lift and need to take out a second mortgage to rent the equipment and buy the lift tickets.

Hockey? Same thing.

Figure skating? Those little dresses don’t come cheap. Neither are all the lessons and don’t even think about ice time. Ice rinks typically open at three in the morning and close at five in the morning. Have fun with that.

Ski jumping? How do you even start to do that? Why do you even start to do that?

Curling? It’s shuffleboard on ice. You should not be forced to do this unless you’re 90 years old on a cruise ship in Norway. And what in life prepares you for this? I swept the kitchen floor really well as a kid?

The biathlon is interesting though. You could use that somehow in your life; to be able to cross country ski and then shoot things? If ever there’s a serial killer on the loose in the woods in Alaska they’d be the first people I would call.

The Summer Games are much more practical. With a few exceptions, everyone has run somewhere at some time in his or her life. Running from your mom or the cops or to get to your girlfriend’s house, it’s something most all of us have done.

Shooting hoops, swimming, riding horses, playing ping pong, fencing; these are all things we do in our everyday lives. Well maybe not fencing but when you were a kid and you saw Zorro or Gladiator or Lord of the Rings you and your brother immediately picked up a long sharp object and went at it until someone cried. Had to. Immediately.  

There’s nothing practical about the Winter Games. You can’t ever use those skills again (unless you’re after that Alaskan serial killer, that’s the only exception).

And look where you have to go to compete in the Winter Games versus where you go for the Summer Games.

Winter: PyeongChang, Sochi, Salt Lake, Sarajevo

Can’t wait to get there. Nothing says fun like the mountains in Russia, Bosnia and Utah. Hold me back.

Summer: Rio, Paris, Sydney, Los Angeles, Athens, Barcelona.

Case closed.

So I say let’s not force minorities into doing useless, expensive cold weather things in crappy places. Let whitey be miserable on that ski lift in Bosnia, freezing cold, broke, wondering whether or not he might lose a toe from frostbite while minorities run and jump and shoot and meet Brazilian women and win gold medals doing things they can use in their lives.

Stop the persecution of minority athletes. It’s the right thing to do.


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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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