Lee Reherman — better known to many as American Gladiator, ‘Hawk’ — died February 29th in California. He was 49.
Some might wonder what difference that makes, as we seem to have a glut of famous people of all ages dying at present, but Lee had a role you won’t see if you look at his Wikipedia page as I write this. He was BattleBots™ very first host at the Long Beach, CA event back in 1999.
I was privileged to work with him there, and it’s been so difficult to work out and express my feelings and thoughts on it that this took me two weeks to write. It’s difficult not because it’s hard to say something, but because it requires me to break the habits of a lifetime and express some confidence in my words and actions — something I feel that Lee tried to incite in me those many years ago. I finally realized this when it came time to write this and talk with others who had worked with us at the Long Beach event.
I was in the US for my first time at 19, assisting at the first BattleBots on my own dime and on my own initiative. I knew the sport (I was part of the team holding the Robot Wars UK Middleweight title, and had been a regular on the forums for a few years) and the technology (I was a year into a B.Eng.[Hons] in Robotics at the University of Liverpool at the time, and grew up in an engineering household), so it was a great way to spend my money.
To say I was young and nervous was an understatement, but Lee saw through that, and asked if I’d assist in being his color commentator.
That someone would ask that of me after less than half an hour of talking to me, that someone would put that kind of trust in me to help do a job as co-front man was mind-boggling. Plus, this was *Hawk* asking. After all, it was teenage me, who’d had limited American experience.
Hawk, in some respects, was ‘quintessentially American.’ Strong, good looking, brash, and hard but fair during the games, he was someone I’d see on TV when American Gladiators (and International Gladiators) was shown on UK TV (the former late at night, the latter at prime time). Now, to meet him and talk to him and see that he was even smarter than he seemed with an MBA and some work towards a doctorate in economics, well, this had me reevaluate things even more.
Needless to say, I chickened out.
The assembly of the arena had issues and so we were behind. Specifically, the saw modules were not ready, but we were under a time restriction. The event was being broadcast live on ZD-TV (later to become TechTV). I decided to take the path that held less fear for me, so I dived under the arena, and held down a lexan panel over a killsaw bank (the far left from the driver’s platform) for the first session.
It left Lee somewhat in the lurch, but I was the youngest, smallest, and most agile of the crew (and possibly the only one brave/stupid enough to be under the arena with a quarter inch of lexan, and at times inches from bots at full combat — the sight of Ziggo gliding over my head spinning at full speed was wondrous to behold. To me, that was less scary than being out front in the public eye.
To this day, I still kick myself for not having taken that opportunity. Is there someone else that could have gone under the arena? Probably. However, Lee’s solo coverage wasn’t exactly ideal. He certainly tried his best, but the fluidity with the crew wasn’t there. There were sometimes big gaps that had to be filled with ‘something’ (yes, that included at least one dance contest).
There were also cheering contests between different sides of the pyramid venue, with various created rivalries. GTE vs. AT&T was one that stuck in my head. I’d never heard of GTE, and less than a year later it merged with Bell Atlantic to become Verizon.
Opinion on his resultant commentary was not exactly positive, with several of the more prominent names very displeased with the job he did. Part of the problem was he didn’t know that much about robot combat or the technology, and neither did the audience (it was the first event in the Los Angeles, CA area; previously it’d been in San Francisco).
There were also delays that had Lee effectively being the warm-up guy as well, in a building that was HOT — delays that meant the last session ran over by more than two hours. So sure, he floundered some, but would he have floundered so much if he’d had someone to bounce stuff off, someone who had some knowledge of the bots and the sport (didn’t have to be me)?
From this day on, though, I’m going to now attempt to express some of the potential that Lee saw in me almost 17 years ago, and to be more confident about public speaking. All because Lee showed me that confidence is important to overcome adversity. While it may have hurt Lee that many thought poorly about what he did, he didn’t let it stop him from doing it because ‘not well’ is better than ‘not at all.’
Rest in peace, Lee. I, for one, will remember you for your strengths, and hope that one day I will have the confidence in myself that you expressed in me.
Lee Reherman July 4, 1966 – February 29, 2016
This piece was written in March 2016 and appeared in the May edition of Servo Magazine.