Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Sports Talk with Kellen Winslow
Nestled away in Central Florida, far from the roar of the launches at Cape Canaveral, the motorcycles at Daytona, and the cell phones at Disney World, lies a sleepy golfing community called “The Villages”. A recently developed concept, it has captured the imagination of North Americans, particularly those from northern climes, who want the sun and the opportunity to chase the little white ball all year ‘round. There are Championship courses, stamped with the approval of Arnold Palmer and Nancy Lopez.
While perusing their local events calendar, I discovered they hosted a club there called “Sports Talk Club”. I made the appropriate call and signed up for that evening’s event at one of the Community Halls. The organizer of the event, the congenial Don Landry, has been hosting the gatherings at The Villages for three years. This was the seventh such meeting this year, and Harry Wendelstedt, former Major League umpire had been the previous guest. Wendelstedt, the senior, called balls and strikes in the majors from 1966 to 1998. That would be thirty-two years of joy with the likes of Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, and Lou Piniella. Junior Wendelstedt took over from his father in 1999, and still works for MLB.
Kellen Winslow was the honoured guest at the event. Towering over all of us at six feet five inches, Winslow was an imposing figure. Slim and trim, he added that he tipped the scales at 260 pounds, just slightly over his playing weight.
And play he did. From 1979 to 1987, he was the premier tight end in the National Football League. Since then, he has been recognized in the following manners:
1. Elected to the pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995.
2. Elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
3. As part of the 75th Anniversary of the NFL, named as one of the top 100 players of all time.
Winslow took the microphone and spoke for about an hour. Easy going, unassuming, articulate, he covered the bases, then fielded a few questions.
He did not duck any issues. At that time, Jackie Robinson was being honoured by Major League Baseball, celebrating the 60th year since he broke into the major leagues. The previous week, Don Imus, a sports talk host, had trashed a women’s college basketball team with racial epithets. (Imus was later fired for his comments.)
Winslow has no time for such garbage. He ignores yappy sports talk hosts. “Male gossip” was his term for 24 hour sports talk stations. He often enjoys games with the mute button in full force. There are elements of the game he likes today: the magical “First down line” on the field. (How do they do that?). He likes real grass fields as opposed to artificial turf.
He likes the work that the players do behind the scenes: the visits to the hospitals, the supplies to flood victims, the purchase of homes for destitute single mothers. He regrets the fact that these things are often ignored by the press.
Winslow’s son plays for the Cleveland Browns. Winslow is justifiably proud of his boy, and he has high expectations for the lad. Kellen Junior has had his share of woe as he enters his NFL career. He has sustained serious injury, and has been hospitalized. On one occasion, he sustained a knee injury in an accident. News hounds ascended onto the scene, with their news trucks. Employees were badgered to get information about his condition. Winslow said that two employees were fired for attempting to access his medical records. In sum he stated: “We need to expect more from our media”.
Winslow chuckled when comparing current salaries with players from his day. “My son got more money in his signing bonus than I did in my entire career. Even after six months into his career, I was still paying his cell phone bill!” A normal father-son relationship.
He compared the life of an athlete today to those from the past. Players now work out all year, and live in the city in which they play. (Winslow Junior stays in Cleveland). Certainly, the Players’ Union has more clout today, but there is still room for improvement. Actual playing conditions and practice conditions need improvement---there are no uniform or standard conditions yet in place. Today’s athlete is bigger, stronger, more fit than those of yesteryear---and more susceptible to injury.
I asked him how he approached retirement. “It was at training camp. I told the offensive co-ordinator that I was going in. (to the locker room). As a nine year veteran, I was not questioned about my move. I took off my stuff and knew that that was it. I went in to see the coach the next day, and cried a little bit with him.
“I played golf the next year, and then went to law school.”
Winslow currently works for the Disney Corporation at Disney’s Wide World of Sports near Orlando. Several years ago, I attended my first Baseball Spring Training game at the facility. The complex hosts the Atlanta Braves training camp.
But the park is more than baseball. There are events throughout the year of all description: lacrosse, in-line skating, basketball, golf, soccer, track and field, football, wrestling. Check it out at “disneyworldsports.com”. Many American sports championships take place at the park.
Former major league baseball player Champ Summers is the club’s next guest. What a treat for all sports fans! What a great idea! (I will work on it---the Sports Talk Club, and invite any comments or suggestions.)
Winslow’s biography is available on the internet through the “NFL.com” web site. Move on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and you can read about his greatest game, a tilt which some consider to be the greatest game ever in NFL history. You can also listen to his acceptance speech in Canton! The marvels of the Internet!
Winslow declined to share tales about his quarterback Dan Fouts. Something about the old adage of “What goes on in the locker room stays in the locker room…”
He graciously signed autographs for all parties following his talk. A fine gentleman. A great evening for all sports fans.
May 1, 2007