- Jemele Hill, ESPN.com, ESPN The Magazine
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Since 1980, Eric Braeden has played the ruthless billionaire Victor Newman on the long-running soap opera “Young and the Restless.”
However, his love of sports has spanned a lifetime.
“The great thing about America, what I’ve loved about it, is how sports-friendly it is,” Braeden said. “In America, sports are respected and loved.”
In fact, if you talk to Braeden for any length of time, it becomes quite clear that he knows as much about sports as he does about creating an iconic soap opera character.
Perhaps it’s because Braeden was a formidable athlete growing up. Born in Kiel, Germany, in high school, he helped his team win the National German Youth Championship –- which was an Olympics of sorts for teens his age. Braeden competed in discus, javelin and shot-put.
At 18, Braeden journeyed to the States alone and attended Montana State on a partial track scholarship. Braeden didn’t get his degree, but his need to compete and watch sports never waned.
Braeden also isn’t shy about sharing his sports opinions. He believes America is the most dominant sports nation in the world, even though other countries have proven to be far better than the U.S. in certain sports. Soccer, for example.
“America has the best athletic programs,” Braeden said. “Even when the Soviet Union existed, that was Mickey Mouse compared to the U.S.”
For Braeden, the London Olympics were sports nirvana. He watched religiously and was especially enthralled by the track and field events since they remind him of his own upbringing.
“I really enjoy seeing it all,” he said. “Athletes on this level are, my God, the best. I have great respect for decathletes. I love the discus and shot-put and javelin. Usain Bolt and his fellow Jamaicans. Then, gymnastics when you look at that. I have such respect for what they do. My God almighty how they hurl themselves in the air.”
It also didn’t take Braeden long to adopt American sports traditions. He loves pro football, and the Lakers. Like many other Los Angeles residents, he thinks it’s an outrage that the city doesn’t have an NFL team.
“That’s the biggest shame there is, that LA doesn’t have a team,” he said. “I was a big fan of the LA Rams and when they left, I lost interest. Then there was the Raiders, and they left. How they can’t have a football team in the biggest market in the world is beyond me.”
He’s also a diehard boxing fan. In fact, his character Victor Newman often boxes on the show in between running the international conglomerate Newman Enterprises
But these days, Braeden is disgusted with his favorite sport. If you want to see Braeden bring Victor Newman to the surface –- meaning the angry Victor who is prone to disowning his children when they don’t do what he says –- then bring up June’s Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley fight.
“I will never watch (boxing) again,” said Braeden, among those who were infuriated by the controversial decision, which went to Bradley. “That was so egregious, so outrageous and so obviously corrupt that I won’t watch again. That kind of (expletive) is the death knell of boxing. That’s why UFC is taking over more and more.”
Considering that Victor Newman has raised a generation of soap opera fans, he definitely knows something about takeovers.
Jemele Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.