Discover more from Bald Faced Truth by John Canzano
Canzano: When the president shows up big
What does 'all-in' look like?
Cory Hansen grew up in Sonoma County. He went to college at Cal-Berkeley, where he studied business and served as the team manager for coach Mike Montgomery and the Bears men’s basketball team.
After graduation, Hansen took a job at Portland State, where he spent four years working in the athletic department.
It’s safe to say that Hansen understands the frustration that Vikings coaches, administrators and athletes have suffered over the years. The lack of support and the absence of funding undermined their efforts. It’s not that a long line of university presidents didn’t like athletes, personally. It’s that they didn’t understand them at all. So they mostly ignored them. And that fostered a deep division in the downtown campus.
It’s why what happened this week is so interesting. Because Hansen, who now works at SportOregon, picked up on the “you too” trend on social media and turned it into a massive victory for all involved.
If you’ve ever received food from a server in the restaurant who said “Enjoy your dinner” and you inexplicably replied “you too” you understand how awkward that exchange can be. Or if someone has wished you a “Happy Birthday” and, without really thinking, you’ve shot back “Thanks, you too” without a thought, then you get it.
You too… is a thing.
Ann Cudd is the new president at PSU. She grew up on a horse farm in Ohio. Her mother, Bernice, was one of 19 children. And her favorite adult beverage is a pinot noir.
Cudd’s favorite television show?
Her favorite song?
Elton John’s “I’m still standing.”
Cudd studied math and philosophy in college, then later taught as a professor at places such as the University of Kansas and Boston University. She loves to hike, is married, has three sons, and has co-authored a book. But what jumped out at me when I read about Cudd’s background is that she understands the value and role of sports in a campus community.
She played basketball, swam and loved to run as a kid. Her high school didn’t have a girls cross-country team. So Cudd recruited four of her friends and they became the first-ever girls cross country team that suited up for Mt. Vernon Senior High School.
Cudd has since run more than a dozen marathons.
As Portland State coach Bruce Barnum told me this week: “Ann Cudd… is a stud.”
Hansen, the former PSU athletic department staffer I told you about, hatched an idea to do a “you too” video featuring the new campus president. He pitched it to Portland State and waited for the rejection. Hansen’s idea was to have Cudd walk past a football player on campus and say, “Hey, good luck against Eastern.”
The player would reply: “You too.”
Then after a long and awkward pause, viewers would get an idea of what it might look like in some bizarro world if Portland State’s new president was actually part of the football team.
“She bought in,” Hansen told me.
Cudd agreed to participate by working out in the team weight room, and by suiting up at last Saturday’s home football game. She ran onto the field in a helmet and shoulder pads and a full team-issued uniform.
“We were surprised at the level of commitment, Hansen said. “She didn’t have to scream after the deadlift and make all the faces. She didn’t have to put on the pads and we were certainly surprised she was so willing to show up on a Saturday and run on the field.”
Portland State’s football team bought in, too. The film crew that produced the project — ReelNative Films — is owned and operated by Justin Desaki and Dylan Blane, a couple of PSU graduates. When the production team arrived to the weight room to film Cudd performing a dead lift, it expected to find six or seven Vikings football players and coach Barnum present for the shot.
“Sorry, this is all we could get,” Barnum told them.
The entire football team stood behind him.
The finished video was posted to a variety of social media sites on Tuesday morning. It went viral. The NFL’s social media accounts and ESPN’s SportsCenter both re-posted it. The juxtaposition of a diminutive campus president chalking up her hands and lifting weights is a hilarious scene. When she ran onto the field, my jaw dropped. I watched the video a half dozen times. And the replies by others who have seen it are interesting.
“I wish that was my campus president,” one viewer wrote.
The point of this piece isn’t to knock the line of campus leaders at Portland State who came before Cudd. Sports just wasn’t their groove. They didn’t understand the value of athletics. They had no idea that football or basketball or soccer or volleyball could help fuel their mission. College athletics — done right — drives gift-giving, boosts enrollment and helps glue a campus together. Those concepts were beyond the imagination of other presidents, maybe because they hadn’t lived a second of it themselves.
I asked one former PSU president if he played sports as a kid. He told me that he rode a bicycle. That was the limit of his youth sports experience. No teams. No shared adversity. No sense of belonging to something greater than himself. I knew on the spot that the Vikings athletic department was toast.
Cudd was a four-sport athlete in high school. She told me on Wednesday: “I’m a very competitive person. I think my competitive juices were stoked in athletics.” She also said that sports create “something to rally around.”
The president has a campus to manage. Cudd has holes to fill in her budget. It’s her job to navigate the choppy waters of higher education, but I love that she’s got some proof of buoyancy. The farm kid is a life-long troubleshooter, and her rich personal experience in athletics tells me that she gets it.
It — being the value of athletics to her mission.
Someone in charge at PSU finally showed some enthusiasm for sports. Other presidents have feigned interest. The last guy showed up to a team spaghetti dinner once. The players told him they appreciated it. But nobody did what Ann Cudd did.
Barnum said: “She’s talking (football) stadium. She’s talking athletics — period. That hasn’t been done around here in a few moons. Since Pokey Allen, probably. It’s good to see that. It’s good to see that interest.”
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