Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Former Sports Illustrated Associate Editor, Characteristics of Greatness
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Program Descriptions

What Makes the Great Ones Great
As a New York Times best-selling author and Sports Illustrated Associate Editor, Don has had the opportunity to spend time with some of the greatest winners in the world of sports. Using these rich, personal accounts gathered from more than 20 years of interviews with legends like Walter Payton, Jimmy Connors, Dot Richardson, Shaquille O'Neal, Michael Jordan, John Wooden, Pat Riley, and Dale Brown, Don has distilled "Sixteen Consistent Characteristics of Greatness".

Turning Adversity into Advantage
Don, a cancer survivor, relates stories and lessons taken from those who have encountered great challenges and become better, not in spite of them, but because of them. In this speech, he reminds his audience that adversity is one of the most potent forces in life - it can build you up or tear you down. Your reaction to adversity – big or small – shapes your character, clarifies your priorities and defines your path. And, as described in this speech, it can fuel your greatness. He has discussed this subject with athletes and entertainers like Tim McGraw, who watched his father lose a battle with brain cancer. McGraw's experience preceded the release of the monster hit, "Live Like You Were Dying."

Five Habits of Horrific Leaders
Many have chronicled the habits of great leaders; however, their opposite is often overlooked in conversations about integrity, bravery and strength. In a twist on the classic discussion, Don reveals that much can be learned by studying the mistakes made by terrible leaders. Don gives his audience an inside look at some of the stories he has written about tyrants, such as Uday Hussein, the son of Saddam, who led Iraq's Olympic Committee for 20 years and tortured athletes who didn't win. Along the way, Don points out where they went wrong in order to help his audience really grasp some of the most important lessons in leadership.

All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Little League
Sportsmanship, Leadership, Teamwork, Honesty and Humility: Through emotional, personal stories, Don shows how these and other life lessons are learned in little league. Don tells how legendary Alabama Coach Bear Bryant used football to break down racial stereotypes and how Bryant's decision impacted many in the South. He also details how the US government uses sports to help rebuild the fabric of fledgling democracies. From his experiences in Iraq, Don reveals that one of the first moves made after Saddam Hussein was captured was the successful restoration Iraq's sports community, providing Iraqi youth with opportunities to compete in soccer, basketball and track. Why? Sports give communities, families and friends something positive to rally around.

What Will Your Legacy Be, And What Are You Doing to Ensure It?
In today's "live-for-the-moment" world, few of us have given thought to the legacy we will leave behind. While working with two exceptional athletes - Walter Payton and Tug McGraw - as they were battling for their lives, Don spent hours discussing the subject of legacy with them. Both men provided lessons that changed Don's life - lessons too important not to share.


Biography Read more

As an award-winning keynote speaker, business leadership coach, a seven-time New York Times Best-selling author and longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, Don Yaeger has fashioned a career as one of America’s most provocative thought leaders. As a speaker, he has worked with audiences as diverse as Fortune 500 companies and cancer survivor groups, where he shares his personal story.

He is primarily sought to discuss lessons on achieving greatness, learned from first-hand experiences with some of the greatest sports legends in the world. Additionally, Don has been retained by companies and organizations to coach their leaders, management teams and employees on building a culture of greatness by looking at Great Teams in sports and discerning the business lessons we can learn from them. Throughout his writing career, Don has developed a reputation as a world-class storyteller and has been invited as a guest to every major talk show – from Oprah to Nightline, from CNN to Good Morning America.

In the two decades since he accepted his first newspaper job in Texas, the breadth of his assignments has been astounding. He has traveled the world in pursuit of stories as diverse as: Walking into Afghanistan with the Mujahadeen as they fought the Soviets Going into Baghdad with the victorious Iraqi soccer team as the battle between insurgents and the US Military waged around them Visiting China in pursuit of underworld characters counterfeiting American golf clubs Heading to Damascus to find the last living terrorist from the 1972 Olympics Living with football legend Walter Payton and his family as Payton was dying Roaming around Europe and the Middle East interviewing Iraqi athletes tortured by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday, chairman of the Iraqi Olympic Committee Traveling with candidates from both parties during Presidential campaign Chronicling the high-profile Duke Lacross scandal Yaeger began his career as a reporter for the San Antonio Light where he rose through the ranks to pen investigative features for the daily. He later moved on to the Dallas Morning News. Following his stint in Dallas, Yaeger worked as a political editor for the Florida Times-Union.

After four years, he decided to dedicate himself to the pursuit of writing books. Yaeger’s first book, Undue Process: The NCAA’s Injustice For All, was published in 1990. In the 22 years since, he has penned 23 more books, including seven New York Times Best-sellers. His Best-sellers (and their debut date on the Times list) are:

  • Under the Tarnished Dome: How Notre Dame Betrayed its Ideals for Football Glory October 3, 1993
  • Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton October 1, 2000
  • Ya Gotta Believe: My Roller-Coaster Life As a Screwball Pitcher, Part-Time Father and My Hope-Filled Fight Against Brain Cancer with Tug McGraw March 7, 2004
  • It's Not About the Truth: The Untold Story of the Duke Lacrosse Case and the Lives It Shattered July 7, 2007
  • I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness, to the Blind Side, and Beyond with Michael Oher February 27, 2011
  • Play Like You Mean It: Passion, Laugh, and Leadership in the World's Most Beautiful Game with Rex Ryan May 22, 2011
  • Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain: How I Went from Gang Member to Multimillionaire Entrepreneur with Ryan Blair August 21, 2011

    Don also wrote A Game Plan For Life, with legendary coach John Wooden. It was published on Coach’s 99th birthday in October 2009.

    Movie rights to both the Duke book and Turning of The Tide, a book about a 1970 football game between the last all-white team at the University of Alabama and the fully-integrated team from the University of Southern California, have recently been sold.

    After several years of freelancing for Sports Illustrated, Don joined the magazine’s staff full-time in July 1996. Two years later he was promoted to Associate Editor, where his work was to cover not just sporting events but the off-the-field happenings which affect the world of sports. He took an early retirement from full-time work at SI in 2008 and continues to freelance for the magazine.

    Yaeger and his co-author William Nack were finalists for a 2000 National Magazine Award in the public interest category for their cover story “Who’s Coaching Your Kid?: The frightening truth about child molestation in youth sports.” This important piece triggered follow-up reports by programs such as Dateline, 20/20 and The Oprah Winfrey Show. It also resulted in changes to the law in several states and several youth sports organizations, including Little League of America, changed rules to require background checks of coaches and volunteers.

    Born and raised in Hawaii, Yaeger has traveled extensively. The Dominican Republic, Honduras, Japan and Great Britain can be counted among the countries in which he has resided. A 1984 graduate of Ball State University, Yaeger currently lives in Tallahassee, FL. He also owns a political consulting business and a public relations firm. He and his wife Jeanette have a son and a daughter.
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    "Your "conversational" manner of delivering the message on What Makes the Great Ones Great, and being able to weave that message into every day activities was truly inspiring for all in attendance. There is no question as I listened to you and watched the audience that you were engaged with them and the qualities you spoke of were from life's lessons we could all benefit from."
    --Harrison Finance Company

    "Our attendees were a bit apprehensive at first not knowing how sports could relate to the field of Human Resources. However, you connected the two and shared such great stories on teamwork, preparedness, goal setting and relationship building. This insight provided a unique aspect on their everyday tasks and responsibilities. Not only are they trying to find "great" employees, they are also furthering their professional development."
    --Society of Human Resources Management

    "Your Characteristics of Greatness presentation was overwhelmingly rated as the best motivational speech the employees had ever heard."

    "He may be a sports writer, but he should be a speech writer. Don Yaeger is as polished with the spoken word as he is with the written. His speeches transcend age and gender. School kids and Fortune 500 executives will learn similar lessons about life, told in poignant and humorous anecdotes from Don's personal experiences."
    --Target Companies

    "Inspiring stories that make the audience stop and think. Even if you aren’t a sports fan, the stories transcend the sport into how we impact others around us." 
    --Infinex Financial Group