ESPN’s “Journalism Showcase” – May 19, 2017
On Sunday morning, E:60 will air an in-depth profile on former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf (9 a.m. ET, ESPN) and a 90-minute special on Thursday, May 25 (8 p.m., ESPN2).
To depict who Leaf has been throughout all the stages of his life, producer John Minton and reporter Tom Rinaldi interviewed some compelling personalities including his mother, his prison cellmate, and former coaches.
“By researching the story arc of your main subject, you’re able to pinpoint major chapters in their lives,” Minton said. “In Ryan’s case, he perhaps had more stops in his journey than most. But with each destination, whether home in Great Falls, Mont., in San Diego with the Chargers, or even in prison, we sought out individuals who were alongside Ryan every step of the way. The goal is to interview a comprehensive and diverse group to achieve balance and proper perspective.”
One of the most enlightening interviews is one with Leaf’s former cellmate Joshua Pol. Rinaldi said Leaf has remained in contact with Pol and that’s how he and Minton were able to reach out to him.
“Doing an interview with us was a big act of trust from Ryan’s cellmate. He is sharing his own story in a way as it shines light on Ryan’s,” Rinaldi said. “And in the interview, he not only backs up what Ryan says, but it really is a pivotal moment in Ryan’s life.
“What he told us was that in this one moment in the cell he challenged Ryan when he said, ‘I am going down to try to teach other inmates how to read, you should come with me’,” he said. “Ryan said it was the first moment in his entire life that he did something for someone else with no benefit to himself. Not only was it a challenge, but it gave him something to do. It was a call to action, and Ryan credits it to the beginning of his transformation in prison. Just look at what he’s done since he got out.”
Leaf now dedicates his time to helping others who struggle with addiction through sharing his story.
Rinaldi hopes viewers take away a better understanding of addiction and also that they aren’t too quick to judge.
“I think it’s very easy to judge from a distance but hopefully people can put judgment aside, watch this story and understand the experiences that Leaf has gone through and then perhaps make a judgment as to where the man is now,” he said. “That would be my number one hope.
“I think you learn a lot about Ryan Leaf, you learn about his flaws, but you also learn about his resilience and strength,” Rinaldi said. “Hopefully we did it in a way that helps people understand more the plight of addiction and that it can happen to anybody. Even people who are suddenly multi-millionaires and have been on the cover of ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated.”
Sunday’s SC Featured segment on SportsCenter will feature Jann Mardenborough, the son of an EPL soccer player, who made it to the pros his own way. As Tom Rinaldi reports, after winning a contest playing the video game Gran Turismo, Mardenborough went from virtual to reality and is now driving in the highest level of Japanese open-wheel racing. Watch the trailer below.
“It’s a fascinating story,” Rinaldi said. “Imagine going from sitting on your couch playing video games to now driving 225 miles-per-hour in a car that costs $1.5 million at four times the force of gravity in a curve. That’s him.”
Mardenborough’s story sadly includes a tragedy: as he was working his way up the racing ladder, he competed at the Nurburgring circuit in Germany, and his race car was lifted off the ground by a gust of wind. It tumbled end-over-end over a safety fence and killed a spectator.
“Jann could not be a more lovely young man,” Rinaldi said. “He’s a great and humble man. And he has continued; no one has found fault with him for the accident, to date, and he’s continued to race and race well.”
“Player 1” will debut in the 10 a.m. ET edition of SportsCenter on Sunday, May 21, and will re-air in other editions of the program throughout the day.
-by Andy Hall
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