Six years ago, when he was 12 years old, Cam Perrin found his calling. An enthusiastic baseball card collector then, he tells Bryant Gumbel now, he stumbled on a few Negro League players. Intrigued by how little information as readily available on them, Cam began to research—not only online, but in more old-fashioned ways, writing and calling the men whose names he discovered. “To his amazement,” Gumbel says, “Many of them wrote back.” And a few did not: as Cam recalls on this week’s HBO"s Real Sports, a few didn’t take his calls, and a couple even pretended to be dead, saying they weren’t who they were. But Cam is nothing if not persistent, and despite the lack of record-keeping by the Leagues, he tracked down and reconnected teammates who had lost touch with each other, pulled together documentation on careers so that players could begin to receive their pensions (they need to show they played for four seasons to be eligible), and got himself invited to the annual reunion at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, a reunion whose attendees have increased thanks to Cam. Today, Gumbel visits with Cam, acknowledged as “one of the foremost authorities on the Negro League,” and appreciated by the players. “He is a white kid that shines among the blacks,” smiles former Indianapolis Clown Russell Patterson, one of many former players who consider the Tulane student a close friend.
As heartening as this story may be, this story of recovered history, community, and self-respect, a second segment of this week’s Real Sports offers another. Reported by Soledad O’Brien, new to the series, this one focuses on the work by Todd Vance, an Iraq war veteran who has found a way to work through his devastating PTSD as an MMA fighter. Vance has gone on to use his San Diego-based Pugilistic Offensive Warrior Tactics (POW) fight club to help other veterans too. Observing the training and fighting, O’Brien looks skeptical for a moment: “It seems so contradictory,” she says, all this violence as a means to cope with trauma. Shane McCutcheon, now a professional fighter, offers education: “I don’t consider MMA violence.” Rather, it’s organization, it’s solidarity, and it’s survival. As O’Brien reports, the numbers of veterans who survive the war and come back debilitated and suicidal are “epidemic,” and Vance and his comrades have rediscovered themselves in one another and in their shared focus.