It started with a single question: how could a soccer team be trying to qualify for the World Cup in the middle of a civil war? In September 2016, ESPN producer Greg Amante ’81 and reporter Steve Fainaru set out to uncover the answer. For seven months, the pair traveled the world—8 countries, 13 cities—researching, interviewing, and piecing together a story about how the Assad regime has oppressed and abused the Syrian national soccer team, using them to project an image of unity and stability.
After six weeks of editing, the 27-minute piece, titled “The Dictator’s Team,” aired on May 14, 2017, as part of ESPN’s investigative series E:60. In May 2018, the story won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Journalism. “A lot of people would think that’s the most successful part of that story,” Greg says. “But I’m going to read you something. This is success.” Greg recounts an email ESPN received from a Syrian-born, Muslim-American man raising a six-year-old, sports-obsessed son.
It reads, in part: “After I watched your story, I called [my son] into the room and asked him to sit by my side and watch it again with me. Because if it’s a sports-related story, he will watch. He will listen. He will learn. And he did just that…From a Muslim father trying to raise a son in America today, I thank you. Thank you for journalism that speaks to the heart of a tragic issue. Today my son learned about Syria. He learned about his brothers and sisters suffering. He learned about it through sports.”
“I have won almost every major award in broadcast journalism,” Greg says. “There is no award that is more meaningful than that email.”
In 21 years as a producer for ESPN, Greg’s credits are numerous and varied. He’s covered World Series, Super Bowls, Stanley Cups, heavy weight title fights, Tours de France, and a handful of Olympics. “Name the event, and I’ve probably covered it,” he laughs. He’s been to countless countries and nearly every state in the U.S. He once interviewed President Obama in the White House for a story on Dan Rooney, the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers who was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Ireland in 2009.
“I got into sports because I believe the sports page is the only section of the newspaper about human achievement, and the rest of the paper is about human failure,” Greg shares. “When I got into investigative journalism, that became a cloudy line.”
That line was certainly blurred in another Emmy Award-winning story Greg produced, called “The Squad,” which exposed a pattern of alleged sexual abuse by former Olympian and track coach Conrad Mainwaring.
“It’s different than the Orioles or Ravens winning a game; it’s human achievement in that these boys survived and finally stood up and spoke out. Human achievement shows its form in so many different ways,” Greg explains.
Thanks to the investigative efforts of Greg and his colleagues, Mainwaring was arrested and charged for assault. That’s not the first time Greg’s work has helped put a criminal behind bars. A three-episode series he produced on a youth football league in South Florida scratched the surface of organized crime, breaking up a gambling ring and leading to the arrests of nine men on felony bookmaking charges.
Greg retired from ESPN in early May 2022. Knowing that his stories have made a tangible difference in the lives of so many people, he says, “It feels like you’re doing worthwhile work. You are making an impact; you are vital to change. Compare ratings to a class. Sometimes you do a great story and it gets great ratings, and sometimes you do a great story and it doesn’t get many. Not every kid in the classroom is going to go on and become president of the United States or become all that successful. But if you have a class, and you changed one kid, inspired and helped one kid to become better than he thought he could, isn’t that a worthwhile class?”
At Mount Saint Joseph, Greg was that kid in class who was inspired to become better than he thought possible. After two years of public high school, where he’d been putting in minimal effort but still making good grades, Greg transferred to The Mount as a junior. “The difference between MSJ and a public school for me is that you are being cared for,” he explains. “You are not being pushed through; you are being guided through. Someone is walking alongside you or pulling you from the front, but no one is kicking you from behind.”
Greg experienced firsthand the benefits of nurturing a young person’s potential and has carried that with him throughout his career by taking on young production assistants and associate producers. “If you invest, you will see the dividends,” he says. “My father used to say to me, ‘Greg, be the best you can but make sure you’re helping others along the way to bring them up.’”
It’s with this instruction in mind that Greg decided to establish an endowment at Mount Saint Joseph in his father’s name. A civil servant for the Department of the Navy, Mario Amante was enormously proud when he was able to send his youngest son to Mount Saint Joseph. The Mario Amante Endowment Fund, established in April 2021, provides a scholarship to a student in a single-mother, Baltimore City household. Greg chose these criteria because he had a classmate who was brought up by a single mom, and when Mario met the student’s mother, he was so impressed with her and the work she put in to make sure her two children received a quality education.