Friday, January 29, 2010

Kurt Warner's Legacy

When Kurt Warner announced his retirement, I was sad. Not only because he, along with Coach Whisenhunt, changed the culture of a perennially sad and woeful team named the Cardinals, but because Kurt Warner is the embodiment of what life is all about: grinding toward you goal while never giving up service to others.

Sadly, sports is replete with stories of selfish, solipsistic behavior or a sense of entitlement. Very rarely does someone come into sports do something that is Herculean in nature: Kurt Warner made his team better; better players and better people.

Kurt Warner is more than just a football player, more than just a great quarterback. He is a transcendent inspiration on the field and off.

Think about it, if I were to tell you about a man who was invited to try out and cut by the Packers, missed his appointment with the Bears because of a spider bite, stocked groceries, played in the Arena League and landed as a backup in St. Louis, and won a Super Bowl, you would say that that's a stellar career. A career any player would want.

But if I told you how Kurt was cut by St. Louis, mentored Eli Manning of the Giants, wound up in the NFL trash pile called the Arizona Cardinals to mentor another young quarterback, but got the starting job and carried the team on his shoulders, taking the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl in their long history, you wouldn't believe it.

Plus, he's happily married with kids and a foundation that really gives back to the community.

That kind of career is a movie script. It's like a mythical, biblical parable - part true, part fable, and part tall tale with a wonderful didactic ending. Warner's NFL career makes Job look like a whiner.

But that's been the hallmark of Kurt Warner. From the time he was in college, he handled himself in a quiet, unassuming manner, stoking that competitive fire to do his best for himself, his family, holding steadfast to his beliefs and most importantly, others.

And when life was not kind, he never gave in to cynicism or bad-mouthing his team or other players. He kept his values, faith and principles in check, always keeping football important, but serving others a top priority.

Kurt Warner is a grinder, someone who keeps head down, works hard and when life threw obstacles in his way, he didn't quit - he kept grinding. I have a ton of respect for people like that and Warner is atop that list.

After the loss to the Saints, Kurt said he wanted God to take the desire to play football from him. I understand what he meant by that.

Kurt has been grinding so long and hard, not for a paycheck, not for the notoriety, but for the love of grinding it out, working hard and grinding toward his goals.

I will remember Kurt Warner as a great football player, but more importantly, a better human being.

Thanks, Kurt. The Cardinals, the NFL, and every city you've played in is a better place because of you and the lives you've touched.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Declaring that he “won’t quit,” President Obama’s first State of the Union speech was a 70-minute patchwork quilt of regurgitated reiteration that he made to Congress a year before.

I wanted an apology. What I got was a do-over.

Last year, after his inauguration, the president went before Congress and spoke of his lofty, laudible goals for the country. Goals that included changes and/or reform concerning health care, energy, education, and the stimulus package.

This time, he added a few more goals while talking about America’s resiliency, taking shots at the Supreme Court and trying to sound like an political outsider and chastising his own party.

But the one line that stood out, the one sentence that made me actually shout “Ya’ think?” during his speech was when the president said, “No wonder there’s so much cynicism. No wonder there’s so much disappointment.” He was talking about American’s reaction to Washington D.C., but he should have shouldered the onus upon his slender shoulders because that’s where the blame surely and soundly sets.

I wanted an apology from the president for not listening, not hearing what Americans have been saying for the past year and wasting that year on his agenda, not the people’s.

We need a president to not only lead, but also have a vision for this country.

Instead of leading, Barack Obama has handled our current state of economic and unemployment affairs as a minor distraction in the grand scheme of what he wanted to accomplish. That goal of Health Care Reform died with the election of a Republican to Ted Kennedy’s seat two weeks ago.

In the SOTU speech, once again we see the president not focusing on what is important, but trying to please everyone by regurgitating his entire agenda that got him elected.

The president didn’t sound conciliatory because he truly believes he’s done nothing wrong. By chastising his own party and attacking a branch of government he has proven once again, he is not a leader.

Leaders take responsibility for their mistakes. Instead, all I heard was the same promises and a vow to “not quit.”

I guess that’s better than “hope and change.”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Conan: A Lesson in Kindness

After all the drama, the forced angst, and the blind stupidity of choosing sides, Conan O’Brien’s last time hosting the Tonight Show on NBC uneventfully aired last Friday.

Full of tepid, awkward, and surreal irrelevant moments, (Neil Young as your last musical guest? Really? And Will Ferrell is getting close to becoming the comedic house guest who has outstayed his welcome), Conan actually gave a heartfelt and emotional “thank you” for the outpouring of creative and raucously loud support for him to continue to host the Tonight Show.

But it was in the middle of his farewell show that O’Brien delivered the most poignant and brilliant piece of advice I’ve ever heard from someone whose job it was to take shots, make fun of and laugh at other people’s expense. If you missed it, here’s his effulgent quote: “Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought there were going to get, but if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen…” He then went on to speak about his hate of cynicism, saying it’s the worst trait someone can possess.

Now I think a certain amount of cynicism isn’t a bad thing, but Conan is dead-on correct about being kind in your daily life.

Conan wasn’t taking jabs, wasn’t sticking it one more time to NBC pinhead Jeff Zucker, or even the golden boy, Jay Leno. He was speaking from the heart and I wish he had spoken more to this than making bad jokes about stealing office supplies and sticking NBC with the bill.

Being kind is something I’ve had to learn as an adult. Not because it wasn’t ingrained in my from my family; my mother made me volunteer at a nursing home when I was a kid instead of sitting at home all summer long. But between leaving college and being enveloped by the real world, those lessons are overshadowed and often counter-intuitive to becoming successful.

I am not making excuses, but when I saw successful people, I saw people who were ruthless, cunning and diabolical not only getting ahead, but being wildly successful. They were titans of industry, heads of state, made of Teflon, and having veins of ice water.

People like that are called sharks, cutthroat, corporate raiders, and rouges. In the broadcasting industry, they are called geniuses, talent with a capital “T,” divas and more importantly, they commanded a lot of money and are feared. Back in the late ‘80’s, I would listen to Glenn Beck when he was a morning DJ and still a raging alcoholic. One of the more infamous stories of his tenure in Charm City was when he fired someone for handing him the wrong kind of pen. It wasn’t long after that incident where Beck found himself without a job, without friends, and hitting rock bottom.

People like Glenn (who has done an amazing job in rescuing his life and career and is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met) and others who have faded into radio infamy or white-knuckling their jobs, were whom I aspired to be like (without the drug and alcohol addiction). But what I didn’t know or understand was that for all their outward success, they were also the first to be let go when ratings went down and miserable people.

Realizing that being kind is not a show of weakness, but actually a source of strength and maturity was a real awakening for me. Like Conan pointed out: nothing is guaranteed, but along the way kindness is invaluable in managing the vicissitudes and vagaries of life. Call it karma or the Golden Rule but so much opportunity has come my way after I decided to be kind and give back in my own life.

Remember the cliché, “Kill ‘em with kindness?” That’s exactly what Conan did.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Francene Cucinello -- RIP

Radio is an incestually small, uber-ego driven, and severely cutthroat business. That’s why when someone goes against the grain, a talented broadcaster who is also a wonderful person, they always stand out.

And it’s that much sadder when they are no longer with us.

A wonderfully talented, vivacious woman left us last week. And unless you live in Louisville, KY, you’ve probably never heard of her.

Francene Cucinello, according to the AP, died after suffering a heart attack and brain aneurysm last week. She was 43.

I never met Francene, but I remember her television days in Baltimore on WMAR. She was a bright, hard-working, compassionate reporter who made everyone feel immediately comfortable with a gleaming smile and inquisitive personality.

In 2003, I had the opportunity to audition at WHAS in Louisville, which is an outstanding station with a long and proud broadcasting heritage. My audition went well and afterward I talked to the program director Kelly Carls about the position. He said he was interviewing a couple of people but I was in the top tier, so I assumed had the job.

A couple of days later, Kelly called me to tell me that I wasn’t going to be the new midday host on WHAS. I was crushed, but when he told me whom he had hired, I totally understood.

Francene had switched from television to radio and was working in St. Louis, doing well, but wanted a better time slot. Kelly spoke glowingly of her talent and I could not argue with his decision. I reached out and emailed Francene, writing I remembered her from Baltimore, and congratulating her on getting the gig at WHAS. She couldn’t have been more gracious and friendly in her reply. We sporadically emailed each other the years went on, but I lost touch since I moved to KTAR in Phoenix.

I regret not keeping in touch. 43 years young is way too soon to be dispatched from this earth; especially as a talk host. Most radio hosts don’t hit their stride until their 40’s. Francene had become a great fit at WHAS and Louisville. Her ratings were strong, but more importantly, she connected with her audience and her audience grew to love her.

Woman talk show hosts are few and far between. Since it’s primarily a “boys club,” I applaud Kelly Carls and WHAS on taking a chance in hiring a woman to hold a prime spot on a great station. This morning I received a reply from Kelly after I emailed him my sympathies. He said that at the memorial one of Francene’s friend summed up her life this way saying Francene packed 100 years of living into 43 years of life.

We should all aspire to live like Francene Cucinello. You will be missed. RIP.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Security Is an Illusion

Since the Boxer/Brief Bomber terrorism scare on Christmas day, there’s been a lot of talk about “security.”

At first, Homeland Security Director, Janet Napolitano said that the system worked. She recanted two days later and the Obama Administration has been furiously trying to figure out what went wrong and how the major agencies can stop someone trying to execute a “man-made disaster,” which used to be known as a “terrorist attack.”

Good luck.

As a society, for the most part, we strive for, pay for, and crave something that is elusive, mercurial and ephemeral. “Security” is just an illusion.

Any psychologist, poet or philosopher will tell you that the sooner you give up on this idea of being “safe” or “secure,” life becomes easier; it’s not fraught with Henny Penny anxiety or hand-wringing over “what if’s.” But that’s not what the American people want from this president or the Department of Homeland Security.

Charles Schulz’s Peanuts cartoon always had a character who never went anywhere without his blanket. Linus represents all of us who hang on to this illogical notion that if we have a blanket, a lucky rabbit’s foot, anything that makes us feel safe, we will be okay.

The notion of being safe is just that – an idea, not a concrete fact.

Take the economy. There are many people who did the “safe” thing. They had good credit, bought a house they could afford, got a good loan. But are they “safe” from this recession? Probably not. The house is probably be worth less that what they paid for it. And yet, they did everything to be “secure.”

You can work out, watch what you eat, and not smoke and still be stricken with cancer or hit by a gasoline truck on your way to work driving on Camelback.

Don’t get me wrong, this administration doesn’t understand what terrorism truly is and what needs to be done to monitor and thwart attacks in the future. But when the president announced new measures to make sure our country would be “more secure”, all I kept thinking was what a waste of time. Just because this administration implements a new piece of technology to screen someone at an airport doesn’t mean we are any “safer.” Security isn’t about spending billions of dollars on new technology; it’s not about creating another layer of paperwork from the major agencies that will report to the president. It’s not even about accountability. Security is realizing that no matter how much you prepare, train, pray, pay or kvetch, stuff still happens in this randomly chaotic universe.

Janis Joplin sang it best: “Freedom’s just another word, for nothing left to lose.”