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The Real People of History

Real People Histiry

“Lather was thirty years old today.
They took away all of his toys.
His mother sent newspaper clippings to him,
About his old friends who’d stopped being boys.”

Grace Slick

There are those moments you never forget as a child, when your innocence is rattled with so much g-force that everything stands still, and you realize that adults do not have it all figured out and that the justice of fairytales has begun to fade.

Coming home from dinner with my grandparents one late January weekend in 1967 to learn by television news bulletin that Apollo 1 astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White II and Roger Chaffee had been killed in a launch pad fire during a test at Cape Canaveral, Florida, before they had ever tasted the release of earth’s gravity.

Bobby Kennedy in the Ambassador Hotel in California, moments after saying “On to Chicago and let’s win this,” felled by Sirhan Sirhan’s bullets and immediately cradled by Juan Romero, the hotel busboy who rushed to his aid.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the end of a dream.

As a child who grew up with ABC’s Wide World of Sports, the first Super Bowl, Joe Namath’s guaranteed win and the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, sports presented a window to the world – a glimpse of its soon-to-be over-commercialized future and its possibility of tragedy.

I was 14 in the summer of 1972 and just before the Olympics started, I received my weekly issue of Sports Illustrated, which included Mark Spitz and profiles of many foreign athletes, including an attractive female Israeli sprinter as she sat on the track. I was struck by her relaxed, joyous smile and youthful beauty enhanced by her athleticism. A few days later, she was dead. The horror of the terrorism and hostage taking of the 11 Israeli athletes and the nearly successful but ultimately botched heroic rescue effort meant that some but not all of the Israeli team had been killed. I looked at the list in the newspaper – hoping not to see her name – and realized that all that was left was the photograph.

About a week later, the undefeated U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team, comprised of all amateur collegians, was playing the Soviet professionals in the gold medal game—which was more than James Naismith had ever imagined in his wildest dreams. It wasn’t a sporting event. It was the Cold War in 48 minutes. 

What happened next was the most controversial ending in sports to this day, with Soviet satellite basketball officials extending the game’s last seconds three times until they got the ending they wanted, with the Soviets winning by a point. My childhood had officially come to an end.

Less than two years later, I was watching television in my parents’ room – a rare treat when they were home – between the two best college basketball teams in the country that year, Maryland and N.C. State. Unfortunately they were in the same conference – the ACC. Whoever won the conference championship would get invited to what at the time was a small field of 25 teams for the NCAA basketball tournament. The other would be a footnote. Maryland, my team, would lose 103-100 in overtime as my Dad and I watched Maryland, led by, among others, Tom McMillen, match a great N.C. State team basket for basket until the very heartbreaking end.

Life was not only filled with tragedy, but even our escapes could come with their own form of despair.

Like so many of the other moments mentioned above, I can remember where I was, what room I was in, who I was with. Today, a small box in my basement is all that remains of my high school, college and early 20s memorabilia. A few papers I was proud of at the time and some old love and “Dear John” letters. Loves and heartbreaks that I was certain would stay with me forever. The last time I opened that box – and it has been years – I didn’t even remember who the people were. The heartbreaks we were certain would last a lifetime have been reduced to not even a memory. Was that even me?   

Compared to a lifetime of moments, memories are few and those we retain are imperfect, recreated each time we conjure them up. But a few form our own personal Mount Rushmore, hardly dimmed with the passage of time. Can it really be half a century?

Over the past year, I have gotten to know Tom McMillen – The Man Who Did It All.” He is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the LEAD1 Association, which represents the athletic directors and programs of the Football Bowl Subdivision. He was on both the 1972 Olympic and 1974 Maryland teams, a Rhodes Scholar, NBA player, Member of Congress, author, founder of several publicly traded companies and the youngest Presidential appointee ever. And as humble and accessible as can be.

He graciously offered to be a guest on In House Warrior, the daily podcast I host for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal, and we discussed the state of college athletics; the historic 1972 Olympic gold medal basketball game; the 1974 heartbreak; Name, Image and Likeness; January 6th and more.

In the winter of 1983 I went to a matinee with my friend Ron – I cannot remember his last name – to see the movie La Traviata, the film version of Verdi’s opera. I remember feeling a little proud of myself, being 25 and watching an opera. I had no idea who Placido Domingo was; who played Alfredo, the tragic and broken-hearted hero; or anything about the story, save for the subtitles.

I also had no idea that the tragic opera – which seemed too melodramatic to my uniformed senses – was actually based on the 19th century true story of Alexandre Dumas’ affair with French courtesan Marie Duplessis, a laundress who at the age of 13 had been forced into prostitution by her destitute father. She taught herself to read and write and studied extensively so that she could hold her own in high society. Soon, rich and powerful men were falling for her intellectual charms and captivating beauty, including Franz Liszt – who would write that, “She was the most complete incarnation of womankind that has ever existed.”

Dumas and Duplessis fell in love but, as a then-struggling writer, he could not afford the extravagant gifts her wealthy suiters could and broke off the affair, writing, “I am neither rich enough to love you as I could wish nor poor enough to be loved as you wish.”

Duplessis never answered Dumas’ final letter as she was too ill from tuberculosis and would die at 23. A broken-hearted Dumas published his novel The Lady of the Camellias four months later, which would inspire Verdi to to write his opera.

In an age of instant accusations and judging, do we know the story behind the story? Did we even hazard a moment to ask? The poverty that would cause Marie to sell her body? The tragic disease that would prevent her from answering a mournful Dumas? The heartbreak that would inspire one of the greatest operas of all time? Franz Liszt’s lifelong guilt for being on tour and never having a final visit with Marie? There is always a story behind the story.

The names and faces of history are real people – a fact made plain to me as I watched the remarkable footage restored from a number of post-war German cities in a silent film shot by George Stevens called Deutschland 1945. Stevens, a film producer, joined the Allied forces in World War II and headed a film unit under General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Not actors, not special effects. Real people, real history, real torment.

I interviewed several other real people on real issues this week, including Ivan Wasserman, Managing Partner of Amin, Talati & Wasserman and one of America’s premier attorneys for health, wellness, beauty and other consumer products. He discussed the trends, litigation and challenges on food labeling, including how to develop advertising campaigns that match the clinical evidence. With class-action litigation against food and beverage companies hitting a record high last year, his insights have never been more important.  

I also interviewed Jordan Lipp, Managing Member of Childs McCune and a member of the Berkley Life Sciences Elite Defense Team, to discuss best practices in product liability. Jordan represents virtually all types of companies regulated by the FDA, including pharmaceutical, medical device, dietary supplement and food companies, and has successfully defended some of the largest recent jury trial product liability cases in Colorado. He is the author of Product Liability Law and Procedure in Colorado.

And finally for the week, I spoke with Rudy Rivera, the Chief International Counsel for Fidelity National Financial – a Fortune 500 company that provides insurance, claims management services, real estate solutions and information services on Managing International Litigation. Rudy successfully manages multimillion dollar national and international litigation with an 80 percent success rate. He provides recommendations for managing litigation, litigating in multicultural jurisdictions and managing outside counsel. Rudy also shares stories about his hardscrabble youth and solo practitioner legal practice and how they influenced him as an in-house counsel.

I’ve now hosted nearly 500 podcasts and I am constantly amazed by the fact that we are all real people, not headlines. Real hopes and dreams.

“I’m also just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her.”

Anna Scott, played by Julia Roberts, in the film Notting Hill

Enjoy the listens.

Richard Levick

Listen to the Man Who Did It All

Listen to From Buyer Beware to Seller Beware

Listen to Best Practices in Medical and Pharmaceutical Product Liability

Listen to Managing International Litigation

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