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Speakers Bureau

February 27 2005

On Being Greek In America

FIRST, IT IS AN HONOR AND PRIVILEGE TO BE INVITED INTO YOUR HOUSE, AND I WANT TO THANK JOHN GALANOS FOR SPEAR HEADING THIS OCCASION…GREAT JOB JOHN…YOUR EMINENCE, AS YOU KNOW, WE ARE ALL SERVANTS OF GOD AND IT IS IN THIS SPIRIT THAT I COME TO YOU TONIGHT…FOR FRANK MANIOS, YOU KNOW MY IN LAWS FROM CLEVELAND, SO I HAVE TO BE ON EXTRA GOOD BEHAVIOR…FOR DEMI KAPOLIS, THE GRAND PRESIDENT OF THE DAUGHTERS OF PENELOPE, LIKE YOUR PREDECESSOR, EVELYN TSIDIS, SEE ME ABOUT YANNI TICKETS LATER…AND FOR ALLISON ROSATI, YOU AND I KNOW THAT WE ARE IN THE GREATEST PROFESSION IN THE WORLD..WE HAVE ACTUALLY FOOLED PEOPLE TO PAY US FOR A LIVING!…AND FINALLY, BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, TO ALL OF YOU, MY EXTENDED BIG GREEK FAMILY, LET ME INTRODUCE TO ALL MY RELATIVES..NICK, NICKY, NIKO, NICODEMIS AND NICHOLAS…WHAT IS A BUNT CAKE, EH?

IF I WERE TO TELL YOU THAT MY JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY BEGAN AT MY BAPTISMO, I WOULDN'T BE LYING. BORN IN DETROIT, MY PARENTS FLEW ME TO NEW YORK, ONLY 90 DAYS OLD, SO THAT ALL THE RELATIVES WOULD COME TO THE OCCASION…TODAY, THAT IS NOT A BIG DEAL, BUT THEN, THE AIRLINES GAVE ME A CERTIFICATE SAYING I WAS THE YOUNGEST BABY EVER TO FLY? ONLY A GREEK IN AMERICA WOULD DO SUCH A THING...AND LET ME CLARIFY SOMETHING…WE ARE ALL PROUD AMERICANS FIRST...BUT WITH LOTS OF GREEK HIGHLIGHTS…AND WHY NOT? WHEN YOU ARE AS SMALL AN ETHNIC GROUP AS WE ARE IN AMERICA, YOU GRAB ON TO WHAT YOU CAN…I SORT OF DID THAT WITHOUT REALLY KNOWING IT WAS HAPPENING TO ME…I SPOKE ONLY GREEK UNTIL I WAS FIVE AND THEN, WITH KIDS BEATING ME UP ON THE PLAYGROUND, LEARNED TO ADAPT TO THE AMERICAN WAY BY BEING THE BEST BASEBALL PLAYER ON THE BLOCK…I LIKED GOING TO CHURCH SO MUCH THAT I THOUGHT THAT ALL THE KIDS ON MY BLOCK WERE GREEK, THEY JUST WENT TO A DIFFERENT CHURCH OR HAD LAX PARENTS. I LOVED GREEK EASTER WEEK, CLIMAXING WITH THE OVERNIGHT DINNER AT A SMOKEY GREEK NIGHTCLUB IN GREEKTOWN…I LITERALLY DID NOT SEE MY PARENTS FROM 2AM-5AM…THERE WAS REALLY NOTHING I DIDN'T LIKE…OF COURSE, LATER I HAD THE REBELLIONS…HATED GREEK SCHOOL, DIDN'T WANT TO GO TO GREECE, BUT PLAY SUMMER BASEBALL, NEVER DATED A GREEK GIRL…OF COURSE, TODAY ALL MY KIDS TAKE GREEK LESSONS, I HAVE BEEN TO GREECE 25 TIMES AND I MARRIED A GREEK-AMERICAN…NOT ONE, BUT TWO…THORPI!

THIS IS MY WAY OF SAYING THAT IT HAS BEEN A PURE JOY TO HAVE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO PRODUCE AND WRITE THE THREE NATIONAL DOCUMENTARIES ON US AS A GROUP…HEARING SIMILAR STORIES FROM EVERYONE ACROSS THE COUNTRY…I CAN TELL YOU THAT IT HAS BEEN ONE OF THE MOST REWARDING EXPERIENCES OF MY PROFESSION CAREER..NO, IT IS NOT LIKE PRODUCING A SUPER BOWL PREGAME SHOW OR YANNI AT THE ACROPOLIS OR AT THE TAJ MAHAL...IT IS ACTUALLY MORE PERSONAL AND TOUCHING…BECAUSE THERE WAS NOT ONE INTERVIEWEE THAT DID NOT GIVE OF THEMSELVES COMPLETELY…EVERY TIME I WALKED AWAY FROM AN INTERVIEW, IT FILLED MY HEART AND SOUL WITH SUCH A FEELING OF GRATITUDE TO GOD AND TO MY FAMILY FOR LETTING ME INTO THIS WORLD THAT I JUST WANTED TO DO BETTER AND BETTER FOR US AS A GROUP…SEE IF YOU DON'T AGREE…

(ROLL THE FIRST TAPE....)

OF COURSE, I HAVE TO GIVE THANKS TO A GREAT PERSON AND A GREAT PROFESSIONAL, THAT I HAVE HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF WORKING WITH FOR 15 YEARS…YANNI...THE NICE THING ABOUT THIS WORKING RELATIONSHIP IS THAT WE DIDN'T MEET BECAUSE OF OUR GREEK BACKGROUND NOR DID WE REALLY DID IT TO WORK TOGETHER…AS A MATTER OF FACT, BEING MALE AND SCORPIO, I WOULD SAY THAT THIS RELATIONSHIP IS MORE OF A BROTHERLY TUG OF WAR…OR SHOULD I SAY TWO STRONG HEADED BULLS!..I ACTUALLY DID A TV SHOW WITH YANNI IN L990 THAT REMAINS ONLY IN MY LIBRARY, AND IT IS THE ONLY THING I HAVE LEFT TO TRY AND WIN AN ARGUMENT WITH THE GUY…BUT THERE IS NOT MUCH TO ARGUE WITH…TV SPECTACULARS, INTERNATIONALLY KNOWN AND RESPECTED AND A GENEROUS PERSON TO A FAULT...AND A COMPLETE PROFESSIONAL, WHO IS AS DEMANDING ON OTHERS AS HE IS ON HIMSELF…TAKE A LOOK AT THE RESULT…

(ROLL THE SECOND TAPE....)

I CANNOT LEAVE YOU TONIGHT WITHOUT TALKING ABOUT THE SPECTACULAR JOB THAT THE GREEKS DID AT THE 2004 ATHENS SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES. I WAS ON THE L996 ATHENS OLYMPIC COMMITTEE WHEN THEY LOST THAT BID AND AT THE TIME, I PRIVATELY AND PUBLICLY STATED THAT ATHENS COULD DO THE GAMES AND SHOULD RE BID ON THE GAMES…NEEDLESS TO SAY, I WAS NOT POPULAR IN GREECE OR AMONGST AMERICAN BROADCASTERS…EVEN WHEN NBC SPORTS HIRED ME FOR THE 2002 AND 2004 OLYMPICS, EVERY MEETING WAS PREFACED BY THEM QUESTIONING THE GREEKS ABILITY TO COMPLETE THE TASK…I AGAIN PUBLICLY AND PRIVATELY GAVE THE REASONS WHY NOT ONLY WOULD THE GAMES BE STAGED WELL, BUT THAT THE WORLD WOULD WALK AWAY IN AWE…AND THEY DID...NARY A NEGATIVE FROM 6,000 ATHLETES AND JOURNALISTS…THEY DISCOVERED WHAT WE ALL KNOW…IT IS NOT JUST THE CLIMATE AND THE TERRAIN, IT IS THE PEOPLE…THAT WHEN YOU GET PASSED THEIR INSECURITIES AND THEIR PRIDE, YOU WILL NOT FIND A COUNTRY WHERE THE HOSPITALITY IS AS WARM AS THE WEATHER…I WAS THERE FOR FIVE WEEKS, PRODUCING 8 HRS A DAY OF HIGH DEFINITION COVERAGE, AND THIS IS WHAT I WROTE AND HOW WE ENDED NBC'S TELECAST…

(ROLL THE THIRD TAPE....)

THANKS TO ALL OF YOU FOR INVITING ME INTO YOUR HOUSE TONIGHT


    
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