Pinball Clemons: more
than a hero to his family
By Ian Denomme
“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
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
“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
“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
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.”