Motivation Is Game for Ex-Athletes
By Michael Kaufman
The other day I received a piece of junk mail containing a letter signed by Mark Spitz, who won seven gold medals in swimming at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The letter was on behalf of a company I’d never heard of that pays cash for gold. It was accompanied by a little plastic bag suitable for holding a small stash of marijuana (not included). What Spitz wanted recipients to do with it was put their unwanted and broken pieces of gold jewelry in there and mail it to the company in a postage-paid envelope. Spitz said the company, a family-owned business in Cleveland he has known for years, would promptly send a check paying “top dollar” for the items.
The silly letter was merely the latest in a long line of endorsements that began when Spitz hung up his trunks at the age of 22 to embark on a lucrative career as the guy who won seven gold medals. He is reported to have made $7 million in the first two years following his return from Munich.
“I would say I was a pioneer,” he said in a 2008 interview. “There wasn’t anyone who’d gone to the Olympics before me who capitalized the same way on opportunity. It depends on timing, it depends on hype, it depends on the economy, and most importantly, it depends on looks. I mean, I’ve never
seen a magazine of uglies. That’s our society. I’m not saying it is right. That’s just the facts.” Luckily for him, aside from gray hair befitting his age, Spitz has retained his good looks, as evidenced by a recent head shot that appears at the upper right corner of the endorsement letter. The Botox he had been promoting, along with Nadia Comaneci, another former Olympic gold medalist, may have helped in this regard.
Like Buzz Aldrin, the former astronaut featured in last week’s post, Spitz now travels the globe as a motivational speaker. Many former athletes have gone that route and, as a sportswriter-turned-medical writer, I have seen a couple of all-time greats in both stages of their lives.
Bobby Hull was known as the Golden Jet when he starred for the Chicago Black Hawks in the National Hockey League and later in the World Hockey Association. A prolific goal scorer and graceful skater, he was so named for the shock of long blonde hair that flew behind his head as he streaked up the ice. It was a pleasure to watch him play.
Although Hull was introduced as the Golden Jet when I saw him give a motivational talk at a medical convention years later, it would have been more accurate to refer to him as the Balding Biplane. As natural as he had appeared scoring goals in hockey, he seemed uncomfortable mumbling his way through prepared remarks about achieving goals in life. To be fair, this
was one of his earlier appearances as a professional motivator and he has surely improved since then. A recent photograph suggests he has also undergone some substantial hair restoration work.
Bruce Jenner won the gold medal in decathlon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, which led him to another record: His picture appeared on the front of Wheaties boxes for seven consecutive years. The previous record of five years was held by the Rev. Bob Richards, who twice pole vaulted his way to Olympic gold, in Helsinki (1952) and Melbourne (1956). Richards also ran for President of the United States in 1984 as the candidate of the newly formed, far-right Populist Party. He got 66,000 votes.
I was at the Montreal Olympics, where Jenner won the gold, and in the late 1980s covered a meeting of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, where he gave a motivational speech. He said the lessons he had learned from his experience did not just apply to athletics but to all walks of life, including the “pharmacy business.” This did not go over too well with audience members, who realized at once that he had not bothered to learn what they do for a living.
Nevertheless, he looked great as he told his story of battling dyslexia and overcoming numerous obstacles to achieve his goal of becoming an Olympic champion.
Jenner’s speaking gigs are arranged through American Entertainment International, which describes him as “a highly respected and much sought-after motivational speaker, especially within the corporate sector…also a sports commentator, entrepreneur, commercial spokesperson, television personality, actor, producer and author.” But wait, there’s more. “A devoted husband and father of six, when he isn’t making corporate appearances or spending time with his family, Bruce Jenner can be found flying planes, racing cars in Grand Prix events and working on his golf game.” Sounds like he’s been eating his Wheaties.
Hey, as Mark Spitz put it, that’s our society. I’m not saying it is right. That’s just the facts. In next week’s post I’ll tell you about the most disgusting, self-serving motivational speech I ever witnessed. Wait till you find out who the speaker was…and how much he was paid.
Michael can be reached at email@example.com
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