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Len Bias Was Not Decision Fit

August 17, 2020

By Chris Spetzler

Executive Director

Decision Education Foundation

Len Bias was already a standout basketball player and he had the potential to be one of the best players of all time. Those around him were excited by his prospects and he was living his dream, wrapped up with the dreams of so many others in the University of Maryland community and beyond.

Unfortunately, Len made a fateful series of decisions that resulted in an outcome he couldn’t have imagined. He died of complications caused by a cocaine overdose. The possibility he might die was probably not a part of his decision frame. When a friend who was with him the morning he died suggested Len slow down his cocaine consumption, he replied, “I’m a horse, I can handle it.”

That’s the way Len was living his life, almost a secret of his success, driving himself harder than anyone else. He assumed he could take anything.

At 6 feet, 8 inches, 220 pounds, with 5% body fat, Len was very physically fit. But, clearly, he was not Decision Fit. He fell victim to a Decision Trap. The Decision Education Foundation (DEF) teaches how everyone should remember to HALT when they are not Decision Fit. Your decision competence is compromised when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Something similar happens when you are excited or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. You are more likely to do crazy stuff, stupid stuff, and take outsized risks. You are not in your right mind – not fit to make a high quality decision. You need to be able to stop and think before you decide. Len did not stop – he went with the flow, he plowed forward.

It’s probably not an overstatement to conclude Len was feeling immortal in the moments before he died, and those around him were caught up in it themselves. His friends could hardly have imagined how they would truly be caught up in his death and its aftermath, especially those celebrating with him that night. Otherwise, they would have made different choices. Instead, they have likely lived their lives wishing they had.

Could Len have stopped to think about his deeper values, to consider how much he cared about his family, about his friends, about the increasing number of young people idolizing him? That his behavior might suddenly be revealed in such a tragic and destructive fashion must have been minimized to such an extent that it was easily shrugged off, almost invisible.

Len didn’t get the opportunity to live to experience the extremely bad outcome his decisions set in motion. And American society has lived his tragedy in many ways to this day.

From the perspective of learning about decision making, the lessons include how a single bad decision can destroy a lifetime of good decisions. Learning to make better decisions can save lives.

The Decision Education Foundation is a fiscal sponsor and marketing partner for GoGrady Media’crowdfund campaign supporting production of a documentary about Len Bias. You can reach Chris at 650-814-9616.

Intern Reflections – Lessons Learned from a Bad Decision

July 29, 2020

A trio of interns from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism supported production efforts for a documentary about Len Bias during the summer of 2020. They were asked to reflect on their experience.

by Kelsey Mannix

Before starting this internship, I didn’t know much about Len Bias. I’ve been a Maryland basketball fan for my entire life, but Bias played before I was born. After doing more research and reading Dave’s book, I knew this project would be interesting because there’s multiple levels to Bias’ story.

It’s crazy to think about how many people and institutions felt (and in some cases are still feeling) the ramifications of his death: family, friends, the University of Maryland and the United States as a whole. I didn’t know his death prompted drastic changes in prison sentences for people who committed drug offenses. Some people are still feeling those effects today, 34 years later.

While many people remember Bias for his talents on the basketball court, it’s important to also remember that he made a decision that changed his life and the lives of others. Nobody is perfect. Good people can make bad decisions. I know that firsthand; my cousin died of an overdose in 2005. While I mostly remember the good memories, I also remember that one decision changed everything. His passing made me more observant of my surroundings and cautious in my decision-making as I got older.

The lessons we can learn from decisions like these are just as important as preserving Bias’ legacy as an athlete and as a person. My hope is that going forward, people who don’t necessarily want to relive those fateful days in June 1986 can understand that one bad decision does not completely negate all of the positive aspects of Bias’ life, and telling his full story can have a positive impact on other people’s lives.

Thanks to Dave, Don and GoGrady Media for an eventful virtual internship this summer. I’m excited to use what I learned in the future as I finish up my master’s degree at UMD.

Intern Reflections – An Education About Len Bias

July 29, 2020

A trio of interns from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism supported production efforts for a documentary about Len Bias during the summer of 2020. They were asked to reflect on their experience.

by Jamal Williams

Upon taking the role of production assistant, I knew a little about the story of former Maryland basketball star Len Bias. He was destined for greatness because of his tall stature, powerful strength and soft touch jumper. Bias was compared to many basketball stars of his generation and  had him rivaling Micheal Jordan for greatest player of all time. 

I also knew that his life was cut short by a poor decision he made on June 19, 1986. Choosing to take drugs that night drastically turned answers we would have gotten about Bias’ basketball legacy into questions that are still left unanswered 34 years later.

Though I realized the impact his death had from a basketball standpoint, what I didn’t realize is the impact he would have on the school’s athletic department, the Boston Celtics future, and countless others in the country for years to come. Bias’ poor decision greatly affected loved ones, family and even those who never even knew who he was. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was written in response to his death. Many, particularly African Americans, were disproportionately imprisoned by the drug act. 

Bias’ death left the Maryland Athletic department looking for answers and assigning blame to those who didn’t even know he was taking drugs. It put more solace on coaches and staff to monitor athletes more closely, as well as making sure they were on top of their school work.

The Boston Celtics were left without a star to take the team after superstars Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Bill Walton were done playing. It felt like a curse had been placed on the franchise as another potential star, Reggie Lewis, died from using drugs in 1993. For years the franchise struggled to get back the glory they once had in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

I believe Bias’ story is one that needs to be told in its totality. The domino effect the one person had on countless others affected people negatively and positively. It was because of bias’ death that many people decided to never use drugs again. It opened my eyes to the underlying details of what went on that fateful night.

Going from location to location was an exciting way to meet new people and hear their stories on how Bias’ death affected them. Getting to put together pieces of work that helped contribute to the overall making of the documentary made me feel a sense of accomplishment. And standing over the gravesites of both Len and Jay Bias gave me a sense of how surreal this experience has been and that his story is not just one that sounds like an urban myth.

This experience has also helped me to witness the amount of work it takes to put a project like this together. From his book Born Ready:The Mixed Legacy of Len Bias to the 34+1 Campaign, Dave Ungrady has thoroughly studied the instances that made Bias’ legacy a complicated one. I admire his ability to put his all into teaching people that your mistakes can not only affect you, but have an impact on those around you. I’m also grateful to have had the opportunity to work with a great group of individuals: Don Markus, Alex Veizis, Casey Fair and Kelsey Mannix.

A Reflection on Len’s Legacy

July 27, 2020

A Look at His Most Memorable Moments

by Jamal Williams

MOTIVATION

In middle school, Len was cut not once, but twice, from the basketball team at Greenbelt Middle School. Those two setbacks led to a relentless determination for Bias to overcome his failures and become a great basketball player.

FINDING A MENTOR

While in ninth grade, Len met Johnnie Walker, who played varsity basketball at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, the same high school where Len later played. Johnnie would later convince Len to start playing basketball with other boys at the Columbia Park Recreation Center near his home, also called “The Rec”, where Walker was a coach.

Walker taught Bias the fundamentals and toughened up Bias, who Walker called “a baby” when he started working with him. Walker also taught Bias conditioning with innovative exercises, such as plyometrics, which he learned from Bob Wagner, his former coach at Northwestern.

Intern Reflections – Project Increases Awareness of the Len Bias legacy

July 24, 2020

A trio of interns from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism supported production efforts for a documentary about Len Bias during the summer of 2020. They were asked to reflect on their experience.

by Casey Fair

Not only did I further my knowledge within the field of documentary production during my time as an intern for GoGrady Media this summer, I also increased my awareness and understanding of the University of Maryland’s complex history, specifically surrounding Len’s death.

The ripples from Bias’s death were felt for decades within the university’s community, from the athletic department’s budget cuts and personnel changes to how the student athletes were treated on campus. It will be interesting to see how the death of football player, Jordan McNair, impacts the campus in the years to come.

Even more interesting is the impact Bias’s death had on the whole country with drug incarcerations. New legislation was passed in response to Bias’s death which led to a lot of people getting increased sentences that led to increased prison populations and prison conditions worsening. The documentary, Born Ready: A Mixed Legacy, explores this topic heavily—arguably one of the biggest tragedies to come out of Bias’s death.

While I will not be able to see Born Ready: A Mixed Legacy through to the end of production, I look forward to the premiere and seeing the entirety of Len’s story get the recognition it deserves. 

Zoom Call To Promote BTN Broadcast of Terps 1984 ACC Tournament Win

July 17, 2020

Guests include Holbert, Dillard & Philbin

Holbert Will Explain the Mystery of His Missing ACC Title Ring

From: GoGradyMedia 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Former University of Maryland basketball forward Pete Holbert is scheduled as a featured guest on a zoom call next week that will promote an upcoming television broadcast of the 1984 Men’s ACC tournament title game won by Maryland. 

The call, hosted by GoGrady Media  (GGM), will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21. The broadcast of the game on the Big Ten Network will air at 9 p.m. and is part of the network’s “Maryland Day”, 24-hours of game broadcast featuring 10 Terps sports. InsideMDSports will be a promotional sponsor for the call.

Holbert was mostly a reserve forward that year, starting one game. As a senior, he witnessed the slow progression of the Terps team from his freshman season. The Terps finished in second place in the ACC regular season in 1984, the highest finish in Holbert’s Maryland career.

Holbert entered Maryland in 1980 as a McDonald’s High School All-America out of Woodson High School in Fairfax, Virginia. He recorded his best season during his sophomore year, averaging more than five points per game. In 2016 he revealed in a Baltimore Sun story how he recovered his ACC title ring after losing it in 1987.

Dillard served as an assistant coach on the men’s team from 1979 to 1985. He is now a men’s assistant coach with the University of Iowa.

John Philbin, a Maryland strength coach in the early 1980s, will also be a guest on the call. Philbin, owner of Philbin’s Sports Performance, will explain the team’s approach to strength and conditioning at that time.

Maryland in 1984 won its second of three ACC men’s basketball tournament titles; it was the first for coach Lefty Driesell. Maryland also won conference tournament titles in 1958 and 2004.

GoGrady Media is the producer of a new documentary, in it preproduction phase, about the legacy of Len Bias, the former University of Maryland basketball star who died of complications from a drug overdose in 1986.  

Watch the documentary sizzle reel here.

As part of the call, GGM will announce a partnership with the Decision Education Foundation (DEF). DEF is a nonprofit whose mission is to improve the lives of young people by empowering them with effective Decision Skills. DEF has started a crowdfunding campaign to fiscally support production of GGM’s documentary, which is in the pre-production phase. Contributions to the crowdfunding campaign are tax-deductible.  

The documentary, tentatively titled Born Ready: A Mixed Legacy, is based on the book, Born Ready: The Mixed Legacy of Len Bias, written by GoGrady Media President Dave Ungrady. The documentary, an update of the book and The Born Ready Project that teaches decision making skills to teenagers and young adults, are all part of the newly launched 34+1 campaign. 

For more information, contact:  Dave Ungrady – President/Founder, GoGrady Media or Dana Luco, Marketing and Program Development, Decision Education Foundation, gogrady@decisioneducation.org

P.O. Box 93 Clarksburg, MD 20871     

dave@gogradymedia.com  @djungrady

703-282-5259 gogradymedia.com 

U of MD Alumni Remember #34

June 29, 2020

by Jamal Williams

On Friday June 19, the Howard County alumni association hosted a zoom call to commemorate the 34th anniversary of the death of Len Bias. With some 40 people on the call, featured guest Dave Ungrady, author of the book Born Ready: The Mixed Legacy of Len Bias, shared his fondest memories of what Bias meant to the school, his legacy as a basketball player and the effect his death had on the nation at large.

“I saw what Len’s death did to the athletic department…there were a lot of cases where people’s lives changed, negatively and positively,” said Ungrady, a 1980 graduate of Maryland who was a member of the soccer and track and field teams at the school.

Videos were used to show the legacy Bias left behind and why his story still resonates today. The videos depicted a possible matchup of Bias vs. Micheal Jordan in the NBA, explained the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act and showed the effect Bias’ death had on Len’s teammates, friends and family.

During the call former Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus recalled his memories of writing about Bias at Maryland. “It didn’t take long for me to realize that this guy was a stud,” he said.” I had just finished covering Chris Mullins (former St. John’s University basketball player), and even he couldn’t touch Len Bias in terms of his overall impact on a college basketball game.” 

Further, Markus described the fallout from Bias’ death as a blow to the athletic department at Maryland. Basketball head coach Lefty Driesell and football head coach Bobby Ross both resigned. “It really impacted the program for a long time,” said Markus. “It was not only the most important story I covered but it was the most long-lasting and far reaching story I covered in my career,” said Markus.

The 34 + 1 campaign promotes youth education

Ungrady also discussed the overall meaning behind the 34 + 1 campaign he created to help teach people about Bias’ story. “

We’re really trying to use this campaign as a way to educate teenagers and young adults about what happens when you make bad decisions,” said Ungrady.

Ungrady and Markus have begun work on a documentary about Bias that is part of the 34+1 campaign. 

During The Coronavirus Crisis, Ways to Act Resilient

March 20, 2020

With the Covid-19 Coronavirus crisis, we are facing challenging and difficult situations that mount daily, if not hourly. We face a time when resilience, or the ability to recover quickly from a difficult or challenging situation. plays an important part in our lives. 

As part of the Born Ready Project, I developed a program that offers ways to act resilient. and have spoken to youth in large and small settings about the importance of resilience when facing a challenge. Such situations may include an injury, missing a soccer penalty kick in a shootout, a serious illness, the loss of a loved one, or a natural tragedy that drastically disrupts your life. I also pass along these tips to youth as a high school teacher and a professional soccer coach. 

In my latest Born Ready blog, I suggest five ways to stay resilient through a crisis. This can help everyone effectively endure this challenging time.

Stay Positive – It’s difficult to see the light at the end of tunnel that gets clogged every day with more unsettling information about the virus and how it is affecting our lives. The key here is to find and embrace positive moments and situations, and not lose sight of a future that will improve.

As a teacher, I am fortunate to still receive my pay while we sort out the best ways to adjust our teaching methods to suit every student remotely. With schools closed and my wife able to work full time from home, I’ve assumed the role of caretaker for our nine-year-old son, Cayden.

Already I’ve seen the positive benefits of spending more relaxed time with Cayden. Each day we’ve either gone outside for a few hours to play soccer and/or basketball, or riding a bike. Sure, we annoy each other at times, but we also engage in moments of healthy laughter and light conversation. All the activity and quality interaction helps us justify allowing more time for him to watch television or play games on his mobile device. 

Find ways to enjoy each day, and relish the positive moments. Perhaps a young soccer player will spend more time fine-tuning skills, such as juggling or kicking swerved balls against a wall, that will help him when organized play resumes. 

Take some time to imagine what life will be like once this Corona crisis is over, focusing on the lessons you may have learned and ways you can improve your life. At that point, you will likely have to…

Accept Change – anytime we fight change, we embrace feelings that make us more anxious and increase our stress levels. Accepting and embracing change will place you in a more positive frame of mind. 

A competitive athlete knows that resisting and fighting a challenge makes it harder to conquer that challenge. For example, during a conditioning exercise, it helps to welcome every set of sprints, not dread them. Accept that they will cause discomfort, but you will get through them, and be better off once they are completed. 

When a challenge confronts you, take a deep breath, accept the situation and then…

Set Realistic Goals – When you face a drastic change, assess the situation and set realistic goals that will help you work through the challenge. If you are an injured athlete, set time frames to return to comfortable physical activity, then training and ultimately to competition. If you are laid off from a job, quickly research your work options. Do you need a job in a week, or a month? Assess your financial situation and plan a budget 3 or 6 months out. Setting realistic goals will help you understand that there is an endpoint, and see the future in a more positive way. It also helps to…

Take Care of Yourself – to help recover from a challenge, it helps to maintain a strong sense of yourself, and focus on healthy activities that make you feel better and bring joy to your day. They can include meditation, exercise, maintaining clean personal habits, enjoying fun family activities and talking with someone who may provide emotional support. That’s a great way to…

Connect with Others – There’s a good reason why team sports focus on teamwork. One athlete alone can not provide the best result. Teams can not perform to their full potential without practicing together, getting to know each other’s tendencies, and becoming comfortable as a group despite disparate personalities. As part of a team, you connect with each other to overcome challenges. 

To overcome any challenge, connect with others who are facing similar challenges. You will learn things others are doing to help them conquer the challenge. And you will likely find that you can offer advice to help others as well. Working as a team, you will improve your chances, and those of others, to overcome any challenge. 

Inspirational Video – To end on a fun note, here’s a video that shows the resilience of Cayden, then 22-months old, trying to shoot a basketball through a hoop. Try to figure out which of the tips he most displayed while staying resilient. 

Decades Ago Morgan Wootten Taught Me an Unexpected Lesson

January 26, 2020

With the passing earlier this week of Morgan Wootten, I was compelled to think of my most memorable interaction with the famed coach. 

I had heard so much about Wootten in the 1970s and 1980s while I was a track and soccer athlete at the University of Maryland and later practiced my journalism career in the Washington, D.C. area. He was a coach and mentor to some of the best high school basketball talent in the country and coached some of the best teams at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville. He was old-school honorable, respectful, competitive, and inspirational.

I had observed Wootten admirably from a distance until the early 1990s. At that time one of my journalism jobs involved work as a sports anchor and reporter for CTV News on Prince George’s County Community Television. We relied heavily on the schools’ sports teams to provide video they recorded of their games for highlight packages. Over a few years, I recall receiving video from coach Wootten only one time. It was one experience I will never forget.

When I picked up the video from his office at the school, coach Wootten emphatically asked me to ensure I return it. I promised that I would do so. 

A few days later I searched for the video to return to coach Wootten, but I could not find it. I looked throughout the newsroom, in the video storage area, and in the control room. I asked colleagues if they had seen it. Soon I realized it was gone. I felt badly about breaking my promise, but I thought, perhaps disrespectfully, that it was no big deal. It’s one tape about one game. He’ll probably forget about it, anyway. 

No such chance. A few days later coach Wootten called to ask about the tape. I told him that I had lost it and apologized for my mistake. I attended 12 years of Catholic school growing up in New Jersey and understood both the schools’ harsh approaches to discipline and the value of forgiveness. I expected coach Wootten, a staunch Catholic, to favor the latter principle, especially since I was not one of his students or players. I had hoped he would find a way to accept the transgression as a minor inconvenience. 

He did not. I don’t recall the exact words he used to express his disappointment, but they were not kind, and lacked any trace of forgiveness. Further, I was surprised by his calm, but pointed and extended expression of disappointment. I felt as if he was talking to one of his students who had cheated on a history test, or a player who ignored one of his directions at practice. I felt he as if he wanted me to feel guilt and remorse for my mistake, and I did. I also felt a bit of, are you kidding me? People make mistakes. It was an honest error. Can’t you see that?

Upon reflection, I understood the reasons for his admonishments. He was a coach and a teacher, and this was a teachable moment. And, although I was an adult in my early 30s, I realized he felt the need to teach me a lesson about respecting another person’s property and the importance of keeping a promise. 

The incident carries more significance to me now that I am a public school teacher, a youth travel soccer coach and a teacher of leadership skills through my Born Ready Project. In all capacities, I stress the values of respect and forgiveness. 

Years after the video tape incident, coach Wootten took part in a video project I produced about youth sports leadership. And most recently, he took my calls when I asked him questions for my book about Len Bias. He was very accommodating, gracious and accessible. 

And, it turns out, he forgave me after all.

Free Minds Book Club member calls the BRP “some real-life stuff”

May 8, 2015

Below is a testimonial letter that I am proud to share because it shows the Born Ready Project’s potential to help change lives in a positive way.

Dave

Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, a non-profit in Washington DC that uses books and creative written expression to empower incarcerated youth at the DC jail, was privileged to have Dave Ungrady, author of the book “Born Ready: The Mixed Legacy of Len Bias” give a presentation on the importance of productive decision making to our April apprentices!

Free Minds apprentices are young men who have gone through all three phases of our program, Book Club, Continuing Support and Re-entry Support.  As part of our book club, they were youth between the ages of 15-17, charged as adults at the DC jail where we visited them twice a week to hold our book club sessions.  While in Continuing Support, we sent the guys books that they requested, our monthly newsletter the “Connect,” letters and birthday cards, and Re-entry Support that helps our released members attain job readiness, community support and educational resources.

Dave visited us and conducted an engaging and informative session incorporating facets of his real life experiences, a video presentation about the life of Len Bias as well as a well prepared power point presentation that kept our apprentices engaged and inquisitive!  One of our apprentices’, 17 year old Leon Epps, said “I really appreciated some of the things that he was teaching us, it was some real life stuff.” 

FreeMinds_with the boys

Dave and apprentices of the Free Minds Book Club after his presentation.

Dave introduced our apprentices to concepts such as the varying degrees of decision making, tools to making good decisions and how the decisions they make impact them and the people in their lives.  One of the main goals of our apprenticeship program is to help our apprentices change their lives by changing their thought process so Dave presentation was a perfect fit! 

Our apprentices greatly benefited from Dave’s presentation, and when we conducted our post apprenticeship evaluation, we asked the apprentices to list the sessions that they enjoyed the most, and more than half of them selected Mr. Ungrady’s session as one of their top choices.  We are very grateful for Dave’s participation and have invited him back for another session during our next apprenticeship starting in June.

Keela Hailes, Program Manager

Free MInds Book Club and Writing Workshop