The Lakeland Lecture Series Presents: Dan Sloan
On June 21, on the 6th floor LUJ Lecture Hall, Dan Sloan—veteran journalist, former president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ), and LUJ Professor—will be giving a talk about sporting heroes in Japan, such as Naomi Osaka and Shohei Ohtani.
The talk, which starts at 7pm, is titled “The $600 Million Dollar Man: Shohei Ohtani and the Rise of Japan’s Sports Superstars.”
If you’re not able to make it in person, you can also register via Zoom from here.
We caught up with Dan and asked him a few questions about his own relationship to sports in general.
1) Clearly, judging from the topic of your lecture, you're a big sports fan. What are a few of your own past experiences as an athlete?
I played a number of sports in the U.S., ranging from the common - football, baseball and basketball - to niche - swimming, badminton and tennis. Soccer was not really offered in many school districts until I was in high school, and I would have been the last person you wanted on your track and field squad.
Winter sports were not really a consideration in Virginia; the first time I went skiing I wore corduroy pants and nearly froze to death, while I only had the budget for putt-putt, definitely not golf. In short, I was fair to poor in most sports, so quickly shifted to fandom, although I still play softball and now basketball with Lakeland students.
I had the good fortune to report on a soccer World Cup, Olympics, World Baseball Classic and MLB games, FIBA Championship, World Track & Field Championship, the Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas heavyweight fight, as well as sumo. Earlier this year, a LUJ class and I went to the New Year Basho in Ryogoku, which was incredibly rewarding, although I declined the students' request to compete.
2) Naomi Osaka. Shohei Ohtani. They're making millions, but how might be one way they're changing the way the world sees Japan?
Naomi, a bicultural Japanese, is clearly her own voice, and regardless of making a mint in endorsements, has been outspoken on issues of race, athletes' mental health, and Japan. Unfortunately, she has not found playing form in the last two years [and is currently pregnant], but it may return.
Shohei, the focus of my June 21 speech, is a once in a century athlete, charismatic baseball and Japanese ambassador, and raking in $30 million a year in endorsements. He is widely seen as the greatest baseball player in MLB, and arguably - or eventually - in the sport's history. His trajectory to superstardom began in high school, but was set in platinum in this spring's World Baseball Classic.
In terms of how the world sees Japan, each has a class and deportment that has garnered respect in addition to their excellence. Each has been a focal point in Japanese sport - Naomi in the Tokyo Olympics and Shohei in the WBC, but in terms of global impact, Shohei may soon sign a contract in the soccer/football echelon - $500-600 million, which will lead to even greater promotion of his talents everywhere - and possibly, god forbid, Shohei dolls and anime.
3) How is watching baseball live in Japan different than in America?
Sports are expensive, and Americans approach the entertainment in a more sedate, return-on-investment way, although both cultures are passionate. You won't hear songs, drum beats, or see cheerleaders at an MLB game, but you will see fans - usually in the cheap seats - go crazy over heroic moments, wins or even catching a foul ball.
I almost never see Japanese scoring a game - using a book to chart every at bat over nine or more innings, but Americans - mostly older - do this commonly. This is converse to their respective societies, but Japanese are more visceral about baseball and Americans a little more cerebral. Seeing a game live in either culture, you will immediately recognize the intelligence of most fans, the desire to inculcate new generations in the church of baseball, and the heartbreak of failure in a game in which you are above average if you can hit 30% of the time.
4) From your own personal experience, what would you say has been the most significant sports moment in your life?
I had the rare opportunity to attend and report on the Beijing Olympics in 2008. I met and interviewed some of the USA women's softball team, widely considered the greatest collection of athletes in the sport ever.
In an early Olympic game, the USA team slaughter-ruled the Japanese team - meaning they had such an insurmountable lead early on that they stopped the game. In the Gold Medal game, it was USA v. Japan, and most expected the same outcome. The Japanese would not comply.
Japan had an early lead, there was a rain delay, and the tremendous confidence that USA had gained over steamrolling opponents eroded into self-doubt; this was [like] the US-USSR 1980 Lake Placid hockey game, and Japan would have their own miracle.
I saw the toughest USA players break down in tears, as Japan won the Gold Medal. I ran onto the field, weirdly to celebrate the defeat of my own nation; it was the greatest sporting moment I have ever witnessed live and will never forget.
For any questions about the Lakeland Lecture Series, contact organizer Roger Grabowski at firstname.lastname@example.org