February 4, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 69  

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Pinball Clemons: more than a hero to his family

By Ian Denomme

Gazette Staff

Matt Burnside/Athletes in Action
“EVER SINCE I WAS A YOUNG BOY, I PLAYED THE SILVER BALL.” Despite his diminuitive nature, Mike “Pinball” Clemons still held the attention of his audience last Thursday at Middlesex College.

Mike ‘Pinball’ Clemons doesn’t like to admire his stats. He doesn’t even like to be introduced as a three-time Grey Cup champion or professional football’s record holder for all-purpose yards.

He would much rather be introduced as Pinball Clemons, husband of Diane and father to three daughters.

Clemons was at Western last Thursday to speak about social awareness and leadership in an event organized by Athletes in Action. Athletes in Action is a Christian club that helps athletes interested in integrating their faith into sports.

“I was a coward for a living — I ran from people,” Clemons said about his career as a professional football player. “I don’t care about awards.”

Although he may not like to admit it, his stats are impressive.

He holds records for all-time, all-purpose yardage (25,402) and single season yards (3,840). He is the only player to surpass 5,000 career yards in four different categories. And in 1997, he became the only player ever to record 1,000 yards in three different categories in one season.

However, Clemons wasn’t on campus to talk about football. Instead, he used a variety of humorous anecdotes and personal stories to outline his message.

First, he spoke about passion and used a story about Wayne Gretzky to show what that’s all about.

“When I first came into the league, I went to a fundraiser with Wayne,” he told the crowd at Middlesex College. “I couldn’t believe that I was going to meet ‘The Great One’. I planned out everything I wanted to say to him, but when first saw him, all I could say was — you’re scrawny!”
Clemons said that even though Gretzky wasn’t the biggest or the fastest, he played with more passion than anyone in history and that made him great.

Anyone who has ever seen or heard Pinball speak knows he has a natural gift for speaking, which he said goes back to childhood.

“I guess my first time public speaking would have been in church growing up. We always had to do plays and presentations. Then, when I was still in university I started getting asked to speak at high schools,” he said.

Clemons spent a great deal of time talking about the concept of team.

“The only thing that matters is the name on the front of the jersey,” he said. “My definition of team is ‘I am you and you are me.’ The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Having been on a number of successful teams, Clemons knows what makes a great teammate and outlined three things that great teammates do.

“They are competent at what they do, they make others around them better and they have a habit of giving their all,” he said, pointing to the example of Michael Jordan.

Following his lecture, there was a question and answer period where the subject of faith became front and centre. Clemons was asked how he stays passionate.

I’m passionate about God,” he said. “That drives everything else. My wife, my kids, everything I do. What God has for me is even better than what I have for myself.”

The crowd for Pinball was sparse, but still enthusiastic. Unfortunately, for those who missed it, they may not get another chance to hear him speak in the near future. “It’s not a tour,” Clemons said, regarding his talk at Western. “I was asked to come to Western and I always like to get involved. But I don’t move around as often now that I have something closer to a real job.”

Clemons closed with a story about Muhammed Ali and a final message to everyone there. He told the story of Ali flying from Africa back to the United States right in the middle of his training for his match with George Foreman. He flew back to visit a young boy with leukemia, whose last wish was to meet his hero. Clemons said that he read about it in a book by Ali’s daughter called More Than a Hero.

He finished by saying: “I want you all to make an effort to live your life, so that if someone wrote a book about you, they would be able to title it More Than a Hero.”



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