Archive for April, 2015

I live much of my life with a nonstop musical score, sometimes just the one in my mind, but more often actual sounds… so I considered it a very good omen when the first song in the rotation today was Patty Larkin's Letter..."Give me a ticket for an airplane...” I'm heading to Louisville for the 141st annual running of the Kentucky Derby, my favorite annual sporting event. derby1_w This will be my 31st time there, and every single time it's been magic.  I love being at Churchill Downs, they've always greeted me warmly -- Southern Hospitality at its finest. Derby2_w Sunrise on the backside. Beautiful.  Blissfully peaceful, even with the cacophony of Derby week. Derby5_w The stunningly powerful thoroughbreds, just babies, but magnificent, the best of their breed -- coats glistening in the early morning air as they breathe hard following the morning gallop. Getting washed, and rubbed down, surrounded by crowds of onlookers all eager for this private glance at the elite 20. Derby8_w There are a number of sporting traditions that still move me. The crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground singing Waltzing Matilda before the Aussie Rules Grand Final, the quiet when the sprinters get into blocks for 100 meters final at the Olympics, match point on centre court at Wimbledon, walking through the Grove before an Ole Miss/LSU game Dixie quietly being played behind heavy Southern drawls and lilting coed laughter -- I've gotten to be there front and center for all of them.  But there is nothing like hearing My Old Kentucky Home as the horses enter the track for the greatest two minutes in sports. Derby3_w When that happens, I go to a different place, the one where I am a young boy hanging out in a pasture with a little red transistor radio listening to the call crackling on the tiny speaker imagining the splendor of the great place.  Little did I imagine I'd be standing on the track year after year during the race, comfortable with surroundings I've come to know so well. Derby7_w Lots of my friends will be in town for the race and it'll be wonderful to see them, especially Dan Dry who took me to my first Derby; Razor Bogdon who will no doubt borrow something from my cases; and the little General, Bill Luster, whose covering his 50th Derby. 50! Wow! From hearing stories, I would have guessed the number to be much higher. Derby4_w But three won't, and I'm sad about that. I worked the race maybe 25 times with the legendary Heinz Kluetmeier -- the best there ever was, and my default answer at the track is always the same, WWKD? Laura Heald has been with me doing a lot of the heavy thinking -- and lifting -- for the past 7 Derbies, but we've been running especially hard this year, and she is sitting this one out. I'll really miss her. We got in from Beirut last night, and we're headed back out right after the Derby so she drew the long straw and gets to enjoy some much deserved beach time before another three intense weeks on the road. The last absent friend, Tony Leonard. His image of Secretariat as a colt hangs in my office.  He was a special guy. We lost him a few years ago, 89 years young.  I'll raise a lens to him, and save him a spot on the rail -- as he would have done for me.

My friend Amine Khoury; a kind, thoughtful, gentle man of letters was telling me one fine fall morning that one of his greatest desires in life was to be able to fully share his love of his native Lebanon, especially Beirut, with the world. 


As we talked, I felt his sadness about the lack of international understanding for the city.  Sitting on his balcony far above the burgeoning populous, a gentle breeze carrying the aroma of the sea, the scents of thousands of flowers, and wafting smells of delicious cooking foods we spoke over strong coffee, wonderful Arabic bread and walnuts.  He explained that if people could just see the love, life and laughter the city contains through children’s perspectives, the world would view the city as the vibrant metropolis it is - full of life, culture, food, music, grace and style. 


Beirut is tucked tightly along the eastern edge of the Mediterranean—a city known for a long time  as the Paris of the Middle East.  As a man who made the first of at least  50 visits to Paris as a 15 year old, more than 40 years ago, I can tell you without question that the comparison fits—except I find the citizenry of Beirut far more affable and engaging than those of the French capital.

Beirut is a visually stunning place. The faces of the people are glorious.  The fashion diverse, yet consistently immaculate. From the apartments overlooking the coast, snow capped peaks are visible much of the year. It’s magic.   

There are of course the scars left by the conflict the place has endured.  Those wounds are slowly being eradicated by booming real estate construction. 

Lebanon itself is a small country, less than the size of Wales, but it’s people have had a massive impact on the history of civilization. From Byblos the ancient Phoenicians exported the alphabet making possible so many of the great literary joys and treasures the world enjoys. Perhaps the  DNA the modern Lebanese share with their ancestors  is the reason they venture far and wide sharing a marvelous sense of, well, simply embracing life with a joy, a fervor for education and the security of close companionship that is especially gained through a commonality of understanding.   

It’s clear that children have a unique perspective, one that is not clouded with bias, and they are excited to share their ideas with the world. It’s Amine’s vision, and passion, and the love for country, family—both personal and his students  that drove us to want to partner with the Eastwood College for the Beirut Through Our Eyes project. 


I’m pleased that this week, we are back in Beirut, helping nine hundred students make a film about their hometown.  Each level of the Eastwood College ranging from pre K to 12th grade will work together to document a different aspect of the city as only they can. The students will share their insights through words written and spoken, images still and moving, dance and drawing. The results of their work will be displayed in a short documentary film, and an iBook.     


Beirut Through Our Eyes is about digital citizenship. It is about teaching storytelling.  It’s about pride.  It’s about sharing. This film festival is a way for the students to spread the joys of creativity, filmmaking, and education.

I hope you‘ll have a chance to follow the progress of  the project on Instagram and Twitter using the hashtags #BeirutThroughOurEyes #LiveLoveBeirut #EastwoodCollege #EastwoodSchools.


The Nebraska name game continues...... I was the keynote speaker at the Freedom Awards in Kearney, NE. on Tuesday night.  Great crowd, completely sold out. Walking to the conference room, Laura and I were discussing how long it would be before I met someone I could play connect the Nebraska name game with. I immediately connected with my cousin Kip, but Laura claimed he didn't count. At dinner, the woman seated next to me introduced herself and her husband.  Thirty seconds into our conversation, I learned my Uncle Ron married them. After the speech more familiar faces showed up. rodney Nebraska, the good life.

Flying last night through a very turbulent, apparently angry sky. Or possibly one that had too much chili earlier on... flight As I was indulging one of my great guilty pleasures, Garden and Gun magazine, I came across a marvelous little piece by Ace Atkins, a fine Southern novelist -- even if he did play football for Auburn, that cut to the chase of what it's been like working for Sports Illustrated for a huge chunk of my adult life. He wrote: "Even after writing 17 novels, I inevitably encounter people at my Alabama book events with the ragged old SPORTS ILLUSTRATED cover I was on more than 20 years ago and that's what they want me to sign." As it always is. Covers

Of all the SI covers I've shot, these are four of my favorites mainly because the subjects were terrific.

It's my favorite time of day during one of my favorite times of the year in one of my favorite places. Cranes2015_09946s I'm sitting alongside the Platte River in Nebraska, listening to far away train whistles sliding through the crisp, clear, chill of early morning air, piercing the cacophony of calls from 500,000 Sandhill Cranes getting ready to take flight when the sun creeps across the horizon. Sandhill Crane Migration 2015 Grand Island, NE The water and the scene bring my thoughts to my absent friend, Bill Epperidge. Epp was one of a kind. A great documentary and sports photographer. He was the guy during some Life Magazines greatest years. Epp  

One night sitting in our Olympic Village cottage in Lillehammer, I casually mentioned to Epp that I had met Bobby Kennedy when I young.

He asked when and where. Epp had an incredible memory.  He remembered the trip and found the image of a young me in a room with a group of kids and RFK in 1967.

Bill and I became great friends in the 1980s, and I got to spend the better part of two decades with my name right next to his on the masthead of Sports Illustrated.  One of my photography heroes and a truly lovely guy.

He was a great storyteller, and a wonderful companion. He loved fishing, and I just read a fine book, On the Water: A Fishing Memoir, that I think he would have loved. onthewater My colleague from the Miami Herald Carl Hiassen wrote the forward.  I have huge respect for the wide range of work Carl has crafted during a long and prolific career.  Another guy who always makes me think, and smile. HiaasenBooks It's interesting how life takes you in small tight circles.

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