Pinned Takes On a Whole New Meaning at the ESPYs
Joyce Aschenbrenner of the Jimmy V Foundation has worked at four ESPY Award Ceremonies. Her campaign to bring attention to the V Foundation is inspirational. Her interaction with sports celebrities and Hollywood stars on the Red Carpet at the Kodak Theater will lift your spirits and keep you smiling.
Note the Jimmy V pins on these celebrities
My Life in the Real World
by Joyce Aschenbrenner
When Mary Jo Haverbeck asked me to write for this newsletter, I imagined she was looking for something from the perspective of one who has departed the collegiate athletics ranks for business in the "real world."
No more 24-7 marathons to finish up the basketball press guide; no more Sunday afternoons camping outside the football coaches' meeting room waiting for quotes; no more 2:00 AM phone calls from the wire service to confirm/deny an bar fight involving the star defensive tackle; no more Friday afternoons in the rain with the goalkeeper's mother watching a field hockey game, ankle-deep in mud.
I now work in the "real world." Instead of funding balls and jockstraps, we fund cancer research. Success is not based on wins and losses, but by fundraising goals. If one of our funded scientists makes even a minor breakthrough in the complex world of cancer research, that's our National Championship. Instead of screening media calls, we cajole for visibility. Instead of boosters bemoaning a sluggish offense or a slumping shooter, we listen to the stories of victims/survivors/families that have experienced the dreaded three words -- "you have cancer." The glamour that often surrounded my career in sports has been replaced with grim daily realities of life and death.
The V Foundation is blessed with a wonderful relationship -- our founding sponsor, ESPN. Unlike other foundations, The V Foundation operates with a very small staff -- seven full-time employees (Lance Armstrong's foundation has nearly 70). Our relationship with ESPN and the visibility they offer us gives the illusion that we are much larger. This allows us to keep our budget "lean and mean" resulting in an amazing percentage of your donation earmarked directly to research. It's The Big Deal for us.
Part of that relationship includes visibility at the ESPY awards, which, if you know anything about The V Foundation, is where Jim Valvano gave his famous speech that started it all for The Foundation. So, for one day every year, I have the amazing opportunity to step back into the razzle and dazzle of sports and be part of the annual ESPYs.
The press tent is run by ESPN PR staffers -- it's a real zoo with a mixture of sports and entertainment media. The show itself and everything connected to it is produced by Hollywood professionals and huge army of ESPN staffers coordinating every aspect of this tremendous operation -- it's an amazing behind the scenes experience.
My job, be it ever so humble, is to "pin" the celebrities on the red carpet. Don't laugh.
The Hollywood types hate that we do it -- they say we "hold up" their red carpet experience (not true). So, every year, a few brave ESPN colleagues and I steel ourselves against the abuse of the Hollywood handlers, self-important headset wearing "supervisors" (not sure what, exactly they supervise) and legion of Gestapo-like security guards to man (er. . ., WOman) the ESPY red carpet and pin the celebrities.
Exit the Real World.
The basic concept (I have perfected this technique over the past four years) -- have a pin in the ready-position, stakeout the opportunity and blurt out as quickly as you can before a handler whisks the celebrity away -- "The V Foundation for Cancer Research is the official charity of the ESPY Awards will you wear our pin tonight?". . .get that pin onto the lapel and clear out of the way.
It's about 120 degrees on the red carpet thanks to the California afternoon sun and a flaming red carpet that reflects not only the sun, but the megawatts of television lights all pointed directly at that carpet.. My first year I snidely laughed at Joan Rivers who had an assistant stand there and point a little fan directly on her every moment she was off camera.
Joan Rivers is a very wise woman.
You drip like a wet mop for three hours.
On one side the carpet is lined deep with bleachers jammed with screaming fans, an announcer constantly working this group into a crazed frenzy. On the opposite side of the red carpet is The Media -- jammed little roped-off areas for the big entertainment shows and then six-deep photographers behind security ropes -- you think football sideline photographers can be a pain? Yowsa.
The Hollywood paparazzi guys are crazy! They scream and yell at the celebrities to look this way and that way; they boo and hiss if a celeb doesn't stop and pose. Add into that mix smaller TV shows, radio people, etc. behind the ropes thrusting microphones and barking at the celebs ("Brandy! Over Here!"). . .("Vince! Inside Edition!").
My cohorts and I -- this year Rachel Mack from ESPN and Amy Lupo and Katie Moses from the X-Games -- slip in and out of the craziness trying to be as invisible as possible. If you don't directly pin the person, the pin never makes it to the lapel.
If you've seen the women's ESPY attire on TV you know why we rarely pin women (but that's another story. . .). The pins are important to The Foundation -- it's an unparalled opportunity for visibility. The added bonus, the pins show up in pictures used throughout the year (e.g. Nick Lachey during the divorce -- the same picture of Nick and Jessica from the ESPYs was reprinted repeatedly in magazines and there was my little gold "V" on Nick's lapel ). Sorry about the divorce, but LOVE the picture. . .
That's the why and how of red carpet "pinning."
Katie and Amy posted themselves inside the security tent (the celebrities have to go through airport- like screening before they enter the red carpet) -- Rachel caught the people that they missed at the beginning of the carpet and I caught the rest further down. It still thrills me to watch an ESPY show and see our little V pins on the lapels of sports stars and celebrities.
The willingness of so many famous, uber-famous (and not-so-famous) people to wear our pin still humbles me. Many stop and give a quick "I knew Jimmy V" or "I still remember Jimmy V running around the court looking for somebody to hug" or "I watched him give that ESPY speech when I was a kid" and that's heartwarming to know so many people still have fond memories of Jim.
Some, like Dr. J, come over to be "pinned" without asking -- his annual pinning "bear hug" is something I cherish. I've pinned LeBron James the year he came alone as a high school honoree and this year when he had two Hummer limos full of his "guys" (biggest entourage to date).
Sometimes you just stand back in awe -- Janet Jackson is absolutely stunning. Or shock -- Ben Stiller is a very small man; Lara Flynn Boyle was unimaginably beyond skinny. Serena Williams is as friendly as your girlfriend from high school. The guys from Entourage were cute and crazy and funny, just as they appear to be on TV.
Mostly, it moves so quickly, there's no time to be star-struck. The handlers frantically rushed Patrick Dempsey through, but he graciously paused quickly enough to get a pin through his lapel. A huge scream went up from the crowd. I didn't even realize that he was kissing me on the cheek when I pinned him, but the women in the bleachers went wild at the gesture. Oh. . .My. . .God. . . McDreamy kissed me.
Ben Rothlisberger was being "held up" for Entertainment Tonight so we stood there making small talk; I mentioned that my entire family is rabid Steeler fans and that my niece Megan would die if she knew I was "just hanging" with Big Ben. He glanced at my cell phone and smiled. He spent the next several minutes talking long-distance to Megan. "OK Megan, nice talking to you but I've gotta go -- Mary Hart is ready for me. . ."
Did I mention that I'm the BEST AUNTIE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD????
And so it goes.
Say what you want about Terrell Owens, but every year he stops for the pin and wears it throughout the night so he's OK in my book. Whether it's Dwayne Wade or Peyton Manning onstage, or the Little League champs who get a quick camera shot from their seats, the fact that they'll wear our little V pin continues to give me an enormous sense of pride.
Finally the big question -- has anybody ever turned us down? Only twice in my years of "pinning" has anybody refused to wear a pin. First time was John Madden. I was thoroughly offended and took it personally (OK, so I don't take rejection well).
The other was Matthew McConaghey. He refused Amy and Katie in the security tent and then he turned down Rachel who tipped me off to not even try. While all of the other men were dressed in expensive suits or tuxedos, McConaghey sported raggedy jeans and a shirt, so let's face it, it's not like he had to worry about my pin putting a hole in his clothes.
Whatever! Who needs the "Sexiest Man Alive?" After all, I've been kissed by Dr. McDreamy.
What was that I said about now working in the "real world?"
Note: The ESPYS gather top celebrities from sports and entertainment to commemorate the past year's best sports stories by recognizing major achievements, reliving unforgettable moments and saluting the leading performers and performances. The ESPYS are committed to the advancement of The V Foundation for Cancer Research, established by ESPN with the late Jim Valvano and announced at the inaugural ESPYS in 1993.