Wednesday, July 19, 2017

MIKE VITI: TRUE WARRIOR AND AMERICAN HERO


15 seconds into my interview with Mike Viti, I knew it was going to be one of the best ones
I've ever conducted. Viti isn't a household name, doesn't have a multi-million dollar contract in
his back pocket or rank as the most followed person in the Twittersphere.

No, he's none of that. Mike Viti is a true warrior and American hero. There aren't many of those
in this "look at me and my selfie" world we live in.

Viti is a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan. He was a military captain and earned a
Bronze Star for his courage and character in the global war on terror. Viti was also a four-year
letterman and captain of the Army football team during his senior year.


As we sat down on the West Point campus, which wreaks of history, honor, and tradition, I
expected something really special and I got it. In preparation for the interview, I scoured articles
and videos to get a better understanding of Viti. I knew that a disciplined, everything-close-to-the-
vest veteran wasn't going to warm up quickly to some reporter he had never seen or even
talked to before this afternoon. I surmised he'd have little time for someone who was unprepared, either.

My television feature story on Viti is going include the symbiotic relationship between sports
and service and how they might parallel each other when it comes to discipline, teamwork, commitment, sacrifice, and doing things the right way.

I am intrigued and in awe of anyone who has fought for this country. I admire all
those who have the courage to leave so much behind at home to fight against faceless enemies
a world away. To me, they are all heroes. Forever.

Mike Viti, center, military captain

After we settled into our seats, our eyes locked on one another. I figured Viti would have no
interest in opening up to someone who had shifty-eyes and couldn't stay engaged. I was engaged.
This was a war hero. The adrenaline was flowing.

"What does it mean to you to have fought for and served your country?"  was the first question
I asked. There was a pause and his steely-eye stare could've bore a hole through my forehead.
This question was right in his wheelhouse. This is what he lived for. This is what he wanted to
tell the world about.

"It was the greatest experience and honor of my life," Viti said in a strong, deliberate tone.

I got chills and could see the goose bumps stand at attention on my forearms.

Viti talked about honor, courage, country, sacrifice, and commitment. He never looked down
and didn't blink for what seemed like 10 minutes. This was his life, his world, his reality. I
was fully engrossed.

After we talked about his military and football experience and the collision of the two worlds,
we moved onto a subject that was spectacular and close to unbelievable.


In 2014, Viti walked from Seattle to San Diego then across the country to Georgia and finished
up in Baltimore. He wanted to bring awareness not to himself, but rather Gold Star families and
the more than 6,000 people who lost their lives in the global war on terror since 9/11.

4,400 miles on foot.

During his journey, Viti met with 67 Gold Star families. He often stayed at their homes overnight
and listened to parents, brothers and sisters, and children who lost a hero in the war. When he
wasn't taken in by a Gold Star family, Viti camped out under the stars. He walked through
Yuma, Arizona where the temperature reached 120 degrees. And sorry, while it may be dry heat,
temperatures that high can kill a person.

Viti started the journey at 240 pounds which was close to his playing weight and finished the
cross-country walk weighing about 185 pounds. Viti told me he got on a scale once during
the 232 day event and cringed when it read, 188. 


"It made me feel weak," Viti said. "I haven't been on a scale since then," he said. Viti is a
chiseled 195-pounds or so today. He doesn't have an ounce of fat on him.

Viti ended his journey at the Army-Navy game in Baltimore that year. Today, he's back at
West Point coaching fullbacks, the position he played for Army. I asked him about his future
aspirations.

"I want to be a head coach. I want to be a leader of men," he said. 

What an honor to be in the presence of a former military captain and Bronze Star recipient.
That doesn't happen everyday and I was grateful for the opportunity to talk with and interview
someone who has given so much to this country.

Mike Viti is a true patriot, true warrior, and most of all, an American hero.




Friday, July 14, 2017

GOOD-BYE, BIG HUGH DONOHUE


There are people you meet once that you'll remember for the rest of your life.

Hugh Donohue was like that.

There are people you spend time with, get to know, and come away saying, "I'd fall on a
sword for that guy."

Hugh Donohue was like that, too.

If there was a food label on him it would read: 100 percent natural. No artificial flavors or
preservatives added. He was as pure and genuine as a person could possible be. Huge Donohue
was real--plain and simple.

Donohue died on July 13. He lived a full and spectacular life, leaving an indelible impression
on a countless number of people, including me and so many student-athletes who passed
through the University of North Carolina. He enriched the Carolina experience like few ever
have on the tree-lined campus in Chapel Hill.


At 6'8" with a barrel-chest, Donohue was a mountain of a man blessed with a big heart, warm personality, and an unforgettable booming voice. He played basketball for Dean Smith and the
Tar Heels, which automatically made him royalty in the eyes of many of the young athletes at
UNC. He shared the court with  basketball legends like Larry Brown and Donnie Walsh and
was good friends with others such as Billy Cunningham, George Karl, and Bobby Jones.

If you loved Carolina, history, and sports, and needed a good story about all three, few could
weave it and make it come to life like Hugh Donohue. The New York native held court many
times as the owner of "Four Corners", a bar and restaurant that became a Franklin Street landmark
and hangout for just about every baseball player on what seemed like every night of the week.

We soaked up all of his stories and Carolina basketball memories. They were pure gold

Long before "Cheers" came along, "Four Corners" was a place where everyone knew your name.
It was  a home away from home, a stadium, or the challenges that we all faced trying to balance books and baseball. Huge Donohue made it that way.


He let most of us drink for free and would often turn the other way if he caught us raiding
the refrigerator for a late night snack. I'm sure his profit margin went down significantly during
our years there, but I don't think Donohue cared one bit. He was putting smiles on a lot of faces
and that was important to him.

Mr. D. was like a best friend who never judged and went out of his way to help no matter what
your status on the baseball team was. He treated everyone the same: beautifully.


Several years ago, I ran into Mr. D in Westchester Country, New York, not far from where he
grew up in Yonkers. He was the same man I met 25 years earlier in Chapel Hill with just a little
more gray in his hair. We shared a lot of laughs then went our separate ways. It would be the
last time I'd ever see him.

I was saddened by the news of his death. Anytime a great man passes on it is hard for his
family and friends. But the sadness was followed by a mile-wide grin on my face. Hugh Donohue
was a beautiful man. One who provided some great laughs and helped connect Carolina athletes
from all walks of life forever.

Rest in peace, Mr. D. We will never forget you.



Wednesday, July 5, 2017

I AM AN UNNAMED SOURCE


I am an unnamed source.

I'm often like Manti Te'os old girlfriend: you've heard of me but I don't really exist.

I'm like the fuel in the gossip section of your old high school cafeteria. I can ignite fires, bring
you down, and pretty much destroy your career if I want to. But you'll never catch me. I can
give a rumor validity even if it's not even close to being the truth. However, in this 140-character
or less, rush-to-judgement world we live in, does the truth really matter all that much anymore?
Sure doesn't seem that way.

I am an unnamed source.

I get used by members of the media like a fake I.D. on a college campus: a lot. They know
it's wrong but they just keep doing it until they get busted, which is very rare. These so-called
journalists slip me into their story, hoping to give it legs and some credibility. Oh, I can be a
reporter's mailman, milkman, or personal trainer, but just as long as Joe Live-from-the courthouse tags me as an unnamed source, I might as well be the head of the CIA.


I am an unnamed source.

One of the best things about being me is that nobody ever keeps track of my record. Seriously,
did you ever hear Wolf Blitzer say, "Our unnamed source was wrong. It's losing streak now stands
at seven when it comes to misinformation." It's like I'm playing with house money.

I am an unnamed source.

I am the shield for the weak and cowardly who want to talk a big game but aren't man enough
to attach their name to the nuclear missile they launched on a person's reputation or career.

I am an unnamed source.

I am the crutch shady reporters use when they don't want to prepare, dig deep, or go the
extra mile to strengthen a story with integrity and honor. No, with the media today, it's all about
getting it first, getting it fast, and going viral. Damn the facts.



You see what Mike Barnicle did? He tried to disguise me as "a family friend" for a significant
story. Man, did he get burned. Barnicle, a convicted plagiarist, reported the death of Pete Frates,
who wasn't actually dead. Then Barnicle tried to steer the blame towards that "family friend."
Ouch. What a dope!

I am an unnamed source.

Most decent journalists toe the unnamed source line because it protects them. If their unnamed
source turns out to be correct, then they can celebrate their scoop and pat themselves on the back
They might even get a thousand likes on Facebook after they post their big scoop. But if they are wrong, they can just blame it on the unnamed source and wash their hands of it.


With all the "Fake News" out there today, I'm getting used like never before. If I had a dollar
for every time I heard a reporter or anchor say my name, I'd be, according to an unnamed source,
far more wealthy than our nation's president.






Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A VERY SPECIAL FOURTH OF JULY


July 4. Independence Day. A celebration of the birth of our country. There will be fireworks,
hot dogs, parties, and most likely, a lot of alcohol consumed. It's a Federal holiday and one that
most Americans can fully enjoy without having to think about work.

Four years ago, I had to think about work because I had to. I drew the short straw and punched
the clock on the Fourth of July. It's usually one of the worst days in the television business
because the rest of the world is celebrating while you're covering parades, fender-benders, and
the rescue of some fat cat in a tree. In other words, B-O-R-I-N-G. About the only benefit to
working on the Fourth is the free food management usually orders for you. The food usually
sucks, but it tastes better only because you didn't have to pay for it.

On this day in 2013, however, the assignment I got was totally priceless and made working on
a holiday a special experience. There would be no parades, fender-benders, or the rescue of
some fat cat in a tree. I had to do a feature on a 98-year-old woman who tends bar on the
mean streets of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

When I arrived with my photographer, there she was in all her glory. Angie McLean looked like
Old Glory, dressed in red, white, and blue from head-to-toe. She had more than 30 miniature
American flags dotting her perfectly coiffed hair. McLean, is a star, who, after living nearly
a century, has more than earned her stripes. As I got set to interview her, I watched her buzz
around the bar, mixing drinks and serving customers with a smile on her face, and just wondered
to myself all the things she has experienced in her life, one that begin on April 6, 1915
.

I also said to myself, "This woman is living life. Retirement is a four-letter word to her. She
is 98-years old, working six days a week and has a smile on her face. I love this person."

As McClean settled in behind the bar for her interview, she seemed ready for my first question,
as if she knew it was coming.

"Why are you still bartending at 98-years old?", I asked.

"Because I'm not the type of person to sit around and watch TV. That's not for me," she
responded.

Great answer and one that left me saying, "Wow", to myself. I'm just praying I'm still
above ground and playing shuffleboard with my friends at 98, and this woman is loving
life as a bartender, slinging drinks six days a week. Take time to think about that for a second.......
incredible.


McLean lives by herself and is picked up by her bosses who take her to work and drive her
home after work every night. She dresses up for every holiday. On July 4th, McLean is an
American flag. On Christmas, she morphs into a Christmas tree with all the ornaments.

"Do you ever get tired from working six days a week," I asked her.

"Of course not. You have to keep moving. Life waits for no one. If you stop, it passes
you by," she said matter-of-factly.

Amazing. Perhaps, I was really talking to the sister of Norman Vincent Peale or the
grandmother of Anthony Robbins. She was so positive, so full of life and her energy
was rubbing off on me. I knew I was in the presence of someone truly special. No, she
wasn't a great athlete, movie star, or politician. Angie McLean is just a normal person
who has lived an extraordinary life exactly how she wants to live it.


McLean gave me a special gift without even knowing it. She inspired, motivated, and educated me. Today, I am 52-years old, exactly There is so much of life left to live, so much left to accomplish.

If I become a bartender for the rest of my life that won't be a bad thing, just as long as I
do it with a smile on my face like McLean has on hers every single day. Thank you
for the gift, Angie McLean.