Visual Arts — September 16, 2019 16:57 — 0 Comments

ESPN’s Kenny Mayne On RunFreely.org, Playing Quarterback and Colin Kaepernick

For any sports fan or ESPN aficionado, the name Kenny Mayne is more than familiar. Mayne, of course, is the sardonic, sarcastic personality who often hosts the station’s flagship program, SportsCenter. Mayne, who has also hosted shows like ESPN’s Widler World of Sports, grew up an athlete and played quarterback at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he broke his leg in 1980. Ever since the break, Mayne has suffered ankle pains – so much so that he once considered amputation. More recently, however, he found relief with intricate rehab and special braces. This relief has translated into a foundation he co-founded with his wife, RunFreely.org, which helps wounded veterans walk again. We caught up with Mayne to ask him about the project, how he got into sports and what’s next. 

How are you?

I’m folding clothes in the back of my car. I’m not, like, on the board or anything: but there’s a charity in Seattle called, Millionaire Club, and they basically try to get people off the street and working. For $100, you can clean somebody up and give them a couple skills and the next thing you know, they’re the vendor at the Seahawks game.

Oh wow!

So, occasionally, I try to clean out my closet. Because they’re a jobs program, primarily. People come in and they literally get a job for a day. But it’s really cool, they’re doing really good things.

You seem like a very charitable fellow. Where does that come from? Is that something your parents taught you?

I would say – nothing against my mom, she was always kind-hearted for people needing a fan – but I would say it comes from my dad, primarily. He instilled – I just remember, I forget how it put it, but it was like, “Treat the janitor the same way you treat the CEO of the company. They’re all human.” He used to do kind things. He would make my sisters invite the whole class to their birthday party, not just seven kids, to not exclude people. He did it in small ways. He wasn’t a rich guy by any means – hell, I think I make more for the speaking appearance I’m doing in a month then he made in the whole year. So, I think I have a good head about not letting all this whatever minor amount of success get to me. I should still be the same person.

Hell, I think it also is born from my own experience. That’s how I ended up getting hooked up with this Millionaire Club. I’ve been helping them for, like, 30 years, or so. I was in a real rough spot myself and without family support and at the time a girl I was with. You know what I mean? I’m not saying I would have been on the street, necessarily, but I wasn’t doing great. I’d quit a job and was in between – I was just hustling work. I was trying to do anything to pay the bills. And I realized, “Damn it doesn’t take much to cross that line.” You see these people on the street and they all have a story. Some of them are veterans, some of them have drug or mental issues and others just got squeezed out. Like, “Fuck, I don’t have anywhere to live. I just lost my house and now I live in my car. I just lost my car now I live on the street.” That’s a long-winded answer, but yeah, I treat people well. I think it’s a good way to live by.

You’ve obviously had some success and you have a great sense of humor about yourself. That must keep you levelheaded as you move through the world.

I definitely have confidence and some pride that I can do certain things halfway well. I think I’m an okay writer and I think I know how to pull off speaking engagements and whatnot and TV shows. But I’m not all full of myself, like, “Oh boy I’m so important because I’m on ESPN. Because they could have hired somebody else and not me. That’s the funny thing. My friends and I were just talking about the Seahawks. And they’re 2-0 but they could be 0-2. And if they were 0-2, we could say they could be 2-0. Sometimes it’s impressing literally one person in a chair in some building and that person gives you the chance and then you make the most of it.

I constantly laugh at what a ridiculous job I have. I watch sports and make up really obscure shit to say and hopefully people get it and then I get to do the next one. Yeah, I don’t think we’re curing cancer up there. We’re just doing sports scores. And I definitely I am a hustler – I don’t mean “hustle” in the sense of hustling people. But I’m pretty aggressive. I take 100 shots a year but if I only hit 10 of them, then that’s pretty good. If I sell two commercials – I just had a meeting with Amazon for a greeting card line. It’s a long story, but basically I made up a silly greeting card one day for a nephew, who was 1-years-old. Because I was like, “Why does he need a card? He’s 1. He literally can’t read. It’s stupid we’re even doing a card.” But the whole line is making fun of the necessity of having greeting cards for little kids. And I met with somebody there and just called the printer on the phone about 10 minutes ago and it’s pretty good. Who knows? I could sell a million of them or I might not sell any. But it’s not going to cost that much to find out.

I was thinking about that ingenuity with you and your show, Wilder World of Sports. It’s like Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown but with sports. I thought that was really smart. 

It’s funny, somebody just said that the other day. The production house that came to me with a couple ideas and one of them, they thought they were making up a new idea. He said, “Hey, you know that Anthony Bourdain show? I feel like you could do a similar show with sports.” He was giving the same parallel, and I was like, “Yeah, we did that, like, five years ago.” So, I’m actually re-pitching that to ESPN right now because they need more good programming. Hell, we have, like, five million ways we’re reaching viewers now with ESPN+ and the Disney Portal. We have many ways to do it. Hopefully, they listen to me. Because my second daughter has now gone to college. I got nobody home and I’ve got lots of free time every month because I’m only working, you know, 12 shows a month, or whatever the number turns out to be. So, I’m definitely going to see if I can do a few more things. Both to do it, because I think I’ll get bored otherwise. Also, to make more money. But I just walked out when you texted me, I was on the elevator. I just met with our CPA, who duns our taxes for the RunFreely.org events. He wasn’t a horrible price, I was pretty happy we got out alive! He didn’t hurt the budget too much.

When did you first start paying attention to sports?

I’m drifting on that question because I was just going to give away a t-shirt. I was making a debate, do I want this shirt or am I giving it away? I’m going to give it away. Well, I grew up in a neighborhood with kids who loved it and my sisters – especially my oldest sister – dated the star football player at the high school. So, at a very young age, maybe 8- or 9-years old, I had the dream of wanting to be a football player. We would announce the games as we played them in the backyard. The funny thing is, the first year I wanted to go play, my parents said, “Yeah, go try out. We don’t care.” But I had to bring home the parent permission slip, but I wasn’t old enough. I missed the cutoff by like a month for my birthday. The first year, I had to play soccer instead. Nothing against soccer, but it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t the sport I wanted. Then I had to wait a year. But I think I was always invested in sports.

I was little. Now, I’m 6’2” and 200 pounds, or whatever I am. That’s what I was in college. But when I was much younger, I had big hands and feet and had to grow into them. I think my 9th grade year, I was 5’8” and 138 pounds. And junior year, I was 6’2” so I grew into it. But football was by the far the one I cared about the most. And I ended up playing in college.

Yeah! You played ahead of future NFL star, Randall Cunningham, on the quarterback depth chart in college at UNLV. Do you have a favorite memory playing with him?

That is a funny thing. I’m so old, I knew who is brother was, Sam Cunningham, who played at USC. He was a star running back and played in the NFL, as well. I knew the family name but I didn’t know who Randall was until, all of a sudden, we heard, “Randall Cunningham, the brother of Sam, is coming to school.” You could tell immediately that he was a major talent. But he was a freshman and he was still kind of growing into himself. He wasn’t ready to take over and be the starter. He was great and physically we knew he was going to be great. But the guy we had – I was second string. The kind who played ahead of me was Sam King and he led the nation in 1981 in passing yardage. That’s who I ended up playing behind, unfortunately for me because I wanted to play more but I was playing behind a pretty good player. I got in here or there. The year before, my junior year, I had broken my leg in the middle of the season. I had a really bad break, called, “A fracture-dislocation” of my right ankle. That is eventually what led to this whole organization. But I came back and played my senior year when Randall was a freshman. He was just a funny, silly guy. He was the little kid who had all this talent and we all knew he was going to be great and so I’ve always been happy for him, the success he had. I think he should be in the Hall of Fame.

I was surprised he wasn’t.

Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense to me. He was a revolutionary quarterback. Also, you take into account, the ridiculous thing about NFL owners not trusting black quarterbacks. I played behind one, a black quarterback, and I played ahead of one. To me, it was nothing. It’s funny to even have the discussion because, as players, we could have cared less who was what color, it just didn’t matter. We didn’t talk about it. We might joke about it in a friendly way, but it just wasn’t a deal. Like, whoever could play could play and that was that. Remember, Warren Moon even had to go through that. He had to go to Canada for a few years because he wasn’t sure they were going to give him a shot in the NFL. I think he was in Canada for, like, five years before he got the shot in Houston. Fortunately, we have evolved somewhat as a society. Hopefully not anybody is hung up on it anymore. But I was never hung up on it. I can talk about it not being anything of relevance as far back as 1979 when I was going to college.

Those are two of my favorite quarterbacks, as a Vikings fan, oddly. I grew up loving Warren Moon and then when Randall Cunningham took over, it was great. Him and Randy Moss.

That 1998 year. Randall and the Vikings should have made the Super Bowl. They missed that one field goal. They had an amazing offensive year. He had Randy Moss and Chris Carter. They were loaded. That’s the way it goes. There’s a lot of good players who never get in the Super Bowl.

What does Seattle feel like as a sports city to you, compared to others?

I think it’s a good one! I can’t say that I know other towns intimately, because I go in for two days and cover a story or I’ve been there for midweek in advance of a game. I think Seattle is pretty damn passionate. They maybe do it in a different way. But certainly you look at the support for the Seahawks, the support for the Sounders, the Seattle Storm. They just got knocked out of the playoffs but they won the WNBA last year. They drew a huge crowd. The college crowds are big here, the Washington crowd. Even for other sports, there’s some smaller level sports around here that the college gets really great support for. UW gets a huge crowd for the rowing events. So, I think it’s a good town. And it’s a crime that we don’t have the NBA here anymore, which is a really long story. I think that it would thrive again and I think the new hockey team will do pretty well. I’m pretty sure they’re going to have great success when they get up and rolling. I don’t know if it will turn out like Vegas right away but hopefully they’ll get some traction.

For people who have never been to Seattle is there a restaurant you recommend that they have to try?

Yup. I just went there last night. It’s hard because we have a few favorites. But the one that’s come to be our number-one is Matt’s in the Market. [My wife] Gretchen and I ate there literally last night. And we also like another one called, Tavolàta. And there’s Umi Sake House, the sushi joint. It’s funny, I left Seattle for a lot of years and moved back here. Now it’s been six or seven years and I’ve caught up with some of it, but there have been so many changes and places I’ve never heard of. I was just down in that little Amazon district, which is like it’s own little city. It’s a very unfamiliar place. I felt like I was in a town that I’ve never been to. Nothing against it, but I’m just not familiar. So, the city’s grown up. In some ways for the better. There’s more choices and the economy is great here, mostly. But anybody who’s older always misses the old days. It definitely has a different feel to it. I’m not saying it’s necessarily bad, but it’s gotten bigger and busier. Hell, when I was a little kid, people still thought, “Oh, wow. Seattle! That’s a big city.” But it was like Smallville. My old comedian friends call it Mayberry with Skyscrapers. It’s not really a big, mean city. It’s just Seattle.

As someone who travels often, do you have any tips or superstitions?

I don’t think I’m superstitious about really anything. On TV, I like my microphone going from right to left, so when they give it to me backwards, I change it. But I don’t know if that counts as a superstition. It just feels more comfortable. There are people who think you have to do this or that. In sports, it’s kind of funny the notion of superstitions. If a guy didn’t shave and he got three hits and he doesn’t shave again and he gets four more hits then he won’t shave until he has a bad day. That’s colorful and funny to see those played out. But the real deal, like, how you can’t step on the white line coming onto a baseball field is kind of weird. Like, why? What’s going to happen if you don’t? Also, I like in the game of craps when you go into a casino, there are people when they’re playing that – let’s say you want to make an eight as the winning number, at that point in the game eight is good and seven is bad. Seven is good on the first roll, now it’s bad on the next roll. And there will be people who if they hear someone say the word “seven” out loud, the whole table will stare at them, like, “Why did you do that?” But me, generally, no. Especially for travel, I do things different each trip. I don’t have to be first in line or last in line. Actually, that’s not a superstition, it’s more of a way of life. Either get on the plane early or get on the plane last. I hate being in the middle of the crowd. I like people but I hate crowds.

Any favorite Northwest travel or vacation destinations?

Well, Seattle, itself, of course. Go see Mount Rainier, go see the Olympics and the North Cascades Highway. There’s even more than that. Those three alone – when people ask me, I get people all the time who are at ESPN when they go on vacation or a lot of people come out and watch their baseball team. A Philly fan will come out for three days when they’re in town and they always want other stuff to do. So, I’m pitching all the cool restaurants and the fun in-city stuff. But I always say make one day and figure out how to get to one of our national parks. Because they really are amazing. I was watching this documentary about the national parks and I was blown away by how little I knew about the Olympic National Park. I hadn’t been there in so many years. Gretchen and I keep planning to get out there one of these days. Sometimes it’s just about finding that extra time. The other simple one is, and it’s so easy to do, is just get on a ferry. You can do a round-trip ferry in less than an hour, or so. It’s just beautiful, the pictures you’ll get. You might see whales up there and God knows what else. It’s just fun taking it all in. That’s why I love – the other tip would be, go get a window seat and have your camera ready as you’re either on the descent or ascent out of Seattle. Because it’s insane. I have so many beautiful pictures of Mount Rainier, especially on certain routes. Just right off the wing is Mount Rainier. You get a picture you’d pay money for, get it on your mobile phone out your window.

You founded RunFreely.org, which helps wounded veterans walk again. What does it feel like to be part of this mission?

It’s very gratifying. Again, it’s not like we’re looking to have people think we’re heroes. I kind of feel and I’ve said this and I think people think I’m kidding when I say it, but it’s sort of like I’m just asking other people to help pay my debt to the veterans. As I was saying before, I broke my leg severely in college and this is 40 years ago since it happened in October of 1980. Each year, there’s more surgeries and more arthritis and locking up. And about seven or eight years ago, I went in in one week and saw one doctor who was going to replace it and one doctor who was going to fuse it and the third one was going to cut it off. I’m not saying that lightly. That was literally one of my three options because the pain was so bad, I barely wanted to get out of bed and I had to travel for my stories. It just became. My coworkers gave me a hard time because it was easier to laugh at it then be upset with it, but they would say, “Oh god, it’s a bad ankle day.” Or, “Can we get you some ice.” I had to treat it every day just to get to the next day. I really was probably depressed. I didn’t get seen for it, or anything. But I know I was just embarrassed by it, which I shouldn’t have been but I was. And it hurt so damn bad.

But the good news is, the guys who do the amputations said, I’ll never forget it, “You’re too young to make that kind of decision. Maybe down the road you reconsider it, but you have to imagine you’re in a hotel in Chicago, it’s 3 am and you have to get up to the bathroom. Are you going to put your fake leg on, are you going to hop across the room?” You have to think of all these consequences. And also your pain might not go away. There’s phantom pain sometimes. Or, amputation can lead to other issues. So, I saw a better therapist, that was their advice.

And by sheer chance, I was lifting weights one day at a YMCA, my daughters were at swim class and this man walks up and asks me why I was limping around so much. And I told him my whole story. Turns out he was the PE teacher of my daughter’s grade school and he was, like, “Go see this guy.” His name is Neno Pribick, he’s in Kirkland. And he was really, like, a miracle worker. He saw my situation. He did a whole bunch of therapy on me and exercises and he brought my leg back to life. Then I met a guy who makes these braces – and this is not the new brace I have, it’s an older one. I flew down to California, got a brace. It definitely let me do more things, I could play flag football with no pain. To me, and no offense to him, it was like the station wagon and now I’ve got the Ferrari. I met another guy in Gig Harbor, Washington. I knew him through my sister and I just went and gave it a try.

He sold me in one day. And I don’t mean sell me like he was selling a used car. He told me his story and he said I didn’t have to commit to it. You can make a model of it and see how it feels and see if I wanted to go forward. I went ahead and rushed it and did it and put it on and I was running on the same day. Literally, running. And I hadn’t been able to run without pain for 15 years. I could run if I had to or go off an play a flag game for one day, but I’d always pay for it. I’d always have this severe pain and the swelling was horrible and it would throw off my back. It was always a mess. Now I have this brace, it’s called an Exo-Sym. Essentially, you stick your foot and leg inside this device and then you stick the whole device in your shoe. It’s not healing anything, it’s not fixing your problem. But it lets you do things that you can’t do without it. So, when I got mine, it was two Novembers ago. I called Gretchen and I could barely talk, I was so happy. It hit me mostly like I was unworthy of it. The reason why they made these devices in the first place was because we have people who went off to war and came back injured and needed something to get around back in civilian life. And I hadn’t done that. All I’d done was break my leg in Oregon in 1980. I had to get over that piece of it.

There was a veteran who happened to be there that day who talked me through the whole, “Pain is pain. You got yours your way; we got ours our way. But we’re equals in that regard, we all have an issue.” So, Gretchen and I literally the next day, we started step-one towards building a foundation, which really means you fill out a bunch of paperwork and you pay somebody $5,000 to do all the legalities of it. We don’t have a building, we don’t have any employees. We have me and my Twitter and word of mouth and her doing her work with her friends and others.

The good thing is, as small as we are, the support we’ve gotten has been amazing. Our opening event was last August of 2018 and we had Jamal Crawford, Gary Payton, Steve Largent, Jerry Rice and Lenny Wilkins. They all showed up. Unfortunately, either I didn’t do a good enough job or people weren’t motivated or they were confused, but we only got a couple hundred people to show up. I was almost ready to cry, I was so upset and mad at people. Like, how could you guys not show up. Forget my foundation! Just these guys that showed up on their own, no pay. We flew them in and put them in a hotel, that’s all we did for them. Them alone showing up to talk or do a clinic you think would draw a whole bunch of people and oh by the way we’re also going to serve veterans who are injured. That part was frustrating. But they all knew where I was, like, “Dude, it’s day-one. We’re here. The people who are here are here. Let’s put on a show for those people.”

We did a really cool – and I’m going to do another one, if I ever get time – we basically did an – I don’t even know what you want to call it – audience participation. We all spoke, I interviewed each one of them, told everybody what we’re doing and why we’re doing this and then we just by chance – I said, “Raise your hand if you want to throw a pass to Jerry Rice.” And five people through their hands up and those five came down and got to throw a pass to Jerry Rice. The next group, Steve Largent. The next group got to guard Jamal Crawford. The next group got to score on Gary Payton. In all, 30-odd people got to experience something that was really unique, playing one-on-one with Gary Payton. He’s talking smack. Jamal did his thing. It was just cool. It was a really wholesome, fun day. It only lasted 90 minutes, or whatever, but everybody who came was, like, “Wow! I’ve never done that before.”

Those who didn’t have to rush out for a different event, which is true, stayed and took pictures and autographs. None of this we asked for. We told them there doesn’t have to be an autograph session but they didn’t care. They were like, “Whatever you want, man. We’re here as long as we can be.” It was pretty cool to see. It was an emotional day. If you look at the video on our web site, I’m emotional and my voice is cracking. It was pretty damn cool.

Then Jamal bought one, himself. He wrote a check for the price of one of these devices and the other guys did their own donations. We’ve just been getting help. Steve Kerr last October, the Warriors played an exhibition came in Seattle and he took the prizewinner out to lunch. It was a really cool day – Kevin Durant coming out in the Shawn Kemp Jersey. We also had an event with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the winner got to go to North Carolina and he showed them all the cool racing sights. Those are just some examples. We’ve had Seahawks tickets and Sounders tickets. We’ve just had people pitch in a little here and a little there. Sometimes it raises good amounts, sometimes not so much. But as we’ve gone on in one year’s time, we’re just about to put the twelfth person into a brace. That’s not bad, one per month.

It’s so great. It’s such a nuanced necessity. It may not be the first thing to come people’s minds but it changes people’s lives to help them walk again. 

I know! That’s a good way to put it. Everybody’s always – and don’t get me started on the whole National Anthem thing. We had so many “patriots” who will stand up for the Anthem. I’ll say it on record: I’m frustrated by how many people play the game that they’re such patriots and they care so much about our troops and “thank you for your service” at the airport. But what do they do that’s in reality substantively benefitting anybody. And I’m not saying everybody has to start a foundation or give $10,000, or whatever. I just mean, there’s a lot of, what’s the word?

Lip Service?

Yeah – I wouldn’t call it – just falsity. Just insincerity about that issue. When the Kaepernick thing happened, everybody tried to make it be about the veterans or the active soldiers. But it had nothing to do with that. He was talking about Civil Rights and everybody being treated equally. But everybody tried to hijack it and say he was anti-troops. But no he’s not, that’s not what it was about. There’s a whole bunch of people on both sides – left-wing, right-wing…

And it was a solider who told him to kneel.

Yeah, Nate Boyer. Stevie Wonder has a song called, “Jesus, children of America.” And it’s all about double standards. People saying one thing but not really practicing what they preach. Just looking at yourself and saying, “What are you really doing?” We have the means to do this, Gretchen and I kick started it and I’ve had the time and connections – because you find out that it really does help and this is no knock against anybody, when you throw a prize out there, it draws more attention, it gets people excited and it’s fun to give to a cause and maybe win something cool. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s our model. We’re just going to continue to think up – I’ve got one with Jenny Simpson, the middle-distance track star and the winner is going to get to go to Boulder, Colorado and she’ll train you for a day or two. We’re just going to keep doing little things like that and raise $2,000 or $3,000 or $4,000 at a time and every time we get $8,000, we’ll buy another one. Right now we’re at $5,000, we’re almost broke and I just wrote a check for $1,200, so I’m at $4,000 so right now we can’t even do one. However, we’ve got about $12,000 coming in from the Dale Earnhardt thing, so we can afford the next guy’s.

It reminds me of all the work being done by Rainn Wilson and Macklemore, you’re doing these great charities for people. 

I think if you have those instincts to begin with – hell, even when I was broke, I think I still had a charitable heart. I just didn’t have the means to do anything about it or I’d give very small amounts. But, yeah, it’s really silly. How much stuff can you buy? I’m dropping off – not to like paint myself as Mother Teresa here – but I’m driving to this Millionaire’s Club in a minute and I don’t need these clothes. They’re just sitting in my basement closet. I’m never going to wear them. I had a paid of jeans that didn’t fit and I was going to take them back to Nordstrom’s and I was like, “Why not just give them away? They’ll probably fit somebody else. Just put a belt on, whatever.” There’s so many ways that all of us – I say it all the time, I’ve said it on Twitter like 20 times – I just say, “Seattle men, just go through your closet.” It doesn’t take five minutes and by the way your closet looks better too. You don’t have the junk you’re not wearing – and I don’t mean “junk,” just stuff you’re not wearing. And it feels good to do it. Your one little tiny act of kindness – I gave away some suits because these guys maybe need to put on a suit for a job interview. They probably don’t have a suit. There’s so many ways all of us can look out for the next guy. I think it’s kind of a requirement, not even really an option. It’s something we all should be doing.

Bio:

Jake Uitti is a founding editor of The Monarch Review.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney