Some of the most colorful and eccentric people on the globe work in sports. Howard Slusher (1937-2022) was one of those.
A quick aside. About twenty years ago, I had just finished a few days of meetings in Portland and was flying to New York. I boarded a plane in PDX and was upgraded. I sat next to a gentleman in a very nice suit, a classic cut, who was enjoying an adult beverage. I joined him in the adult beverage, and we began to chat. He asked me what I did, and I noted that I was in town to work with my largest client. He noticed my magazines and asked me what I did. I showed him the back covers, which were all Nike ads. He smiled and said that he was Buck Knights’ lawyer. For the next several hours, and through a very liquid medium, I was regaled with stories about the early days of Nike. It was then, and is now, one of my most entertaining flights.
I wish I would have had such a flight with Mr. Slusher. A man that could get Phil Knight to note, “Hire that son of a bitch” (per book Just Do it and WSJ article noted below) has my utmost respect and would have had wondrous stories to impart.
I know one thing. The stadium that 21,000 people enjoyed daily during the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, would have made Howard Slusher smile. Phil Knight had entrusted Mr. Slusher with the building of the stadium, and when I wrote about that (June 2, 2018):
“The Hayward Field project is becoming, if it is not already, very complicated. The balkanization of this project is frightening. Mr. Knight included Howard Slusher in the project in early 2018. Slusher is like Mr. Wolf (Harvey Keitel) in Pulp Fiction. Mr. Slusher is a fixer, a cleaner, a man of a certain age and certain means who does not take a liking to subterfuge. Mr. Knight tends to appoint Mr. Slusher to a project when it gets out of control or when he wants it done right. When it was announced a few months ago that Mr. Slusher was put in charge of the project, I knew that meant that the project, rumored to be adrift, was back on track.”
(To see the complete article: The Hot Mess at Hayward Field: Some Thoughts on Phil Knight, Nike co-founder, and his interview with the Eugene-Register Guard. )
The fact is that Howard Slusher put his heart and soul into that project. His relationship with Mr. Knight, forged over decades of work together, meant that both men knew that much was being put on Mr. Slusher because Phil Knight knew he could get it done. Mr. Slusher got the job done.
Mr. Slusher was a kid who wanted to excel. He had degrees in Law and a Ph.D. in Physical Education. Mr. Slusher taught classes on the philosophy and psychology of sports at USC. He represented athletes with every fiber of his being, and that is how Mr. Knight came to meet him on the other side of a negotiating table. With noms de plum such as “Agent Orange,” Howard Slusher sounds like he, to use the vernacular, kicked ass and took names.
One of Howard’s children, John Slusher, is a senior VP at Nike Sports Marketing. He spoke about how much his Dad loved his family and cherished his family. He loved his father. I get that. I worked for my Dad on the line at a Ford plant that he managed and succeeded, in part, because I always knew that I was loved by both my parents.
So every time you sit down in Hayward Field, crack a smile and know that one tough S.O.B. fought for every seat, every color scheme, every meter of that track to be done on time and that S.O.B.’s name was Howard Slusher. Howard did it, I think, because he knew the amount of trust that Mr. Knight had in him, and that meant a lot to Mr. Slusher.
Howard Slusher died on July 13, 2022.
Two days later, the sanctuary of sport, the House that Phil Built, which was managed by Howard, hosted a tremendous World Championships.
And the 27-year journey from the time that Phil Knight and Rudy Chapa pitched I.A.A.F. President Primo Nebiolo on having a World Champs in the U.S. finally happened.
Howard Slusher, Rest in Peace.
For some further reading on this colorful man, please read on: