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Michael (Pinball) Clemons

Michael (Pinball) Clemons.Photo illustration The Globe and Mail. Source photo: MLSE/Handout

The running back is running late. To be fair, the PR folks had warned that might be the case. Michael (Pinball) Clemons, the former Toronto Argonauts star who earned his nickname by bouncing off would-be tacklers, now evidently spends his days bouncing from one of (too?) many obligations to the next: Argos GM since 2019 (his contract newly extended); motivational speaker; proud father of three and new grandfather of one; founder of the Pinball Clemons Foundation, which seeks to empower youth through education. But with the Argos set to celebrate the team’s 150th anniversary next week, Clemons, 58, wedged us into his schedule – only 15 minutes late! – for Globe Sports’s weekly Q&A.


You first played for the Argos in 1989, but you didn’t take Canadian citizenship until 2015. What took so long?

A lot of it is because of just being busy. In my heart, I was already a Canadian long before they labelled me one, before I decided to make it official.

How many motivational speaker engagements do you do each year?

I try not to count. There are official ones you do, but there are many more small talks that you do within a group of young people, or somewhere you just happen to be and someone says, ‘Hey, would you say a few words?’ I think some of the best conversations are not up on the stage, they’re actually in small groups or situations.

Can you motivate me in 20 words or less?

That would be very difficult for me. Motivation is speaking to people where they are, not where you want them to be. So it really does take me actually knowing you more, and understanding you more, and what works for you. I could give you words. But when words are empty, they don’t fill the cup, right?

On what occasions do you lie?

I try not to. But, you know, I think little white lies – like saying I’m on the way when I’m late. I kind of say I’ll be there in 10 minutes – knowing it’s 15. I really try not to do that, but there are little things sometimes I say that stretch the truth. But it’s a lie.

What is your best quality?

I think my best quality is that I understand how important I’m not.

What is your worst quality?

Time! (Laughs.) No question at all. You can do a pictorial for that answer – just put a watch there!

What do you dislike in others?

I try not to be judgmental there. I really like people who are kind, right? But I also understand that there’s probably a story around people who may not be as kind, right? And so I want to respect that story. I want to respect that history, and I want to understand that if I was in the same situation, I might be worse.

What is your greatest fear?

Oh, I’m not a fear guy. But there’s a scripture that says, ‘The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.’ So I could go with that.

What is your favourite book?

It was the business bible of the ‘90s, a book by Jim Collins called Good to Great. And the very first line of that book said, ‘Good is the enemy of great.’ And it went on to say that the reason we have so few great companies in North America is because we have so many good ones. And good is the enemy of great.

Do you have a favourite cultural institution – gallery, museum, symphony?

I hope to grow in this because my wife is a singer, and she really enjoys it, and I love it when I go. I just don’t take time to do the good things in life. And maybe that’s the thing that I like the least – that I don’t allow time, right? I was better at it when I was younger, oddly enough. Because my wife and I consciously, intentionally booked the time at the beginning of the year, we sort of organized our vacations and all of that. And since the kids have gone to university and graduated and done all of that stuff, our life is a wreck because they took all of the organization out of it.

Are there words of phrases you overuse?


Any you want to mention?

Yes! I repeat “yes” all the time!

You can’t say no, that’s the problem! Is there a talent you wish you had?

I wish I could sing or play – any instrument.

What would be your favourite journey?

A pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Clothes. No doubt. My closet – my wife goes in and she cleans it and makes it presentable, and I have no idea how she’s able to put everything somewhere. So, yeah – clothes, that’s my guilty pleasure.

What is your favourite possession?

My bride of 31 years. And while I don’t own her, she chooses to be with me.

Which historical figure would you like to meet?

Martin Luther King Jr. I was born the same day as Dr. King.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Being the husband of Diane and the father of Rachel, Raven and Rylie. The greatest achievement of my life is seeing my kids grow and now starting to begin their own families. Being with my wife and staying faithful to her, and her to me. That is, for me, the essence of life.

Next week, the Argos are going to celebrate their 150th anniversary. In that time, they’ve won 18 Grey Cups. You’ve been a part of seven – that’s almost 40 per cent of them – as a player, a coach or an executive. The team has never lost a Grey Cup you’ve been involved in. Has anyone ever suggested to you that you should coach the Leafs?

Wrongly so, yes.

Why ‘wrongly’?

Sport is one of those unforgiving things. There’s so much that goes into it, and the people who lead these organizations ultimately are beyond competent, right? And, really, being in the right situation at the right time is the real medicine, right? So, the gesture is, in an awkward way, kind. But I also feel that it does an injustice to those who are working towards that next Stanley Cup championship.

What is your idea of joy?

Joy is seeing life fulfilled for others. Seeing people around you happy and comfortable and living their best life, and enjoying and embracing life. It’s understanding that adversity will happen, and it’s not whether or not it will happen, it’s how you deal with it that will determine your success.

What is your idea of misery?

Misery is losing to the Hamilton Ticats.

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