“Larry’s mellifluous voice resonates with the timbre reminiscent of the great longtime Yankee announcer Bob Sheppard. It is not at all easy to root for your beloved team, who happens to be your employer, and objectively criticize shortcomings and failures” –those are the words of Father Steven Zorzos, Dean of St. Sophia Cathedral in Washington, DC.
As a Greek-American and someone who knows Larry Michael, I was saddened to learn of his ‘retirement’ after 16 exciting, colorful, edge-of-your-seat seasons as the radio play-by-play man for the Washington Redskins. The cold, tersely worded press release ended with “On to the next chapter.”
Wait. What. That was it? He was stepping out of the white-hot media spotlight just when the once-proud team was finally, prayerfully, getting its act together? At the same time the deeply unlikable owner, bowing to intense pressure from his corporate sponsors, had finally agreed to come up with a new name? A name that wasn’t offensive to Native Americans? Just as protestors, in the light of the murder of George Floyd, were finding their voices and making afresh their crusade as Trump cowered in the White House bunker?
When I read more about his reasons, based on the outcome of an investigation by the Washington Post, I learned – I had to peel the onion layer by layer – that Michael, 64, was caught up in a web of sexual misconduct within the office. More than a dozen former employees in the team’s front-office have come forward to implicate high-profile executives, including Michael. The rot-gut owner fired two of them. Michael was third. Of course, the owner distanced himself from the cesspool, vowing to build a more respectful culture. But the fish smells from the head down.
Laying my feelings bare here, I must confess that my initial feelings were based purely on our shared heritage. Yes, we’re innocent until proven guilty, but I was in the thrall of a rush to judgment after feeling betrayed. How could he sabotage his fellow Greeks? His beautiful wife and their kids? And my father-in-law and his dad, Perry, were best friends, closer than brothers. That was back in the village of Xerokambi, high in the rugged, forbidding mountains of Sparta. As a team, closer than brothers, they spent most of their time fleeing the Germans.
For decades following their near-death adventures, they worked side by side at Pan Laconian Federation dances and other events. My wife went out with Peter, Larry’s oldest son. Peter went on to become a successful dentist. When my father-in-law died, the graveside sendoff brought only a small circle of loved ones. I couldn’t help noting the only octogenarian who braved the arctic-like cold that day was Perry Michael. That was a poignant, touching moment and a tribute to their mutual affection.
The Michaels’ house was a five-minute bike ride from our home in Silver Spring, MD, 10 miles north of the White House. We all went to the same public schools, elementary through the University of Maryland.
In afternoon Greek School – we were required to attend it directly after our seven-hour ‘American school’ experience – we frequently would manage our anger by engaging in spitball battles. But when our principal, Mr. Theodore Papaloizos would burst into the ramshackle classroom unannounced, the spitballs would miraculously disappear. His presence brought us back to a modest degree of adolescent sanity as he barked, “no one leaves the room unless a lion comes in!”
The brain is a three-pound mass of gray and white matter brimming with a mere 100 billion neurons. So why, as a seasoned reporter, was I sinking deeper and deeper into the abyss of denial? I prided myself on being fair and balanced, exactly what Fox and CNN aren’t. I found myself not wanting `xeni’ to connect the dots and find out that Larry was Greek. After all, I told myself, while thrashing around the waters of a false sense of security, `Michael’ sounds English. Or Dutch. His people were probably on the Mayflower. The name could connote German-Jewish stock. Nothing like wrapping yourself up with dolmades.
Larry, who started out as a criminal justice major, got his first taste of broadcasting at the campus radio station. He found he had a knack for painting vivid mental images from behind the microphone. That led to a peripatetic lifestyle built on his willingness to pay his dues. And he did this with a smile and a song in his heart. As an eager, fresh-face young man, he worked as a sports freelancer, driving his own car to pro golf tournaments while earning the princely sum of $25. Along the way, he worked for a major radio network, Westwood One. He covered the 1980 winter Olympics in Lake Placid. He was there for the summer games in Barcelona in ’92. He had become indispensable, present, reliable, a model team player.
When I interviewed him a few years ago for a magazine piece, Larry, his can-do, effervescent spirit bathing the tidy office in hope, left me with these words: “Never in my wildest dreams,” he declared, surrounded by a wall of glittering awards, nervously playing with the seams on the football on his desk, “did I think I would do this for a living. There’s no better organization to work for than the Redskins!”
In my fantasy world, the Washington (fill in the blank with a new name), will again have such a repulsive season that the owner will be forced to give away tickets, just to give the appearance of bodies in the seats. (Although with the virus, this may be the new order of things anyway). And a new owner, a fair-minded billionaire with a heart for people over profits, will take the reins and restore sanity to the pathetic franchise. And he will bring Larry Michael out of retirement and put him where he belongs: behind the microphone, painting by numbers high above a field of dreams.