Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Something to Wear: My Cause, My Cleats

This Advent, I have enjoyed framing "Holy Cross Family Time" around the "Four Gift Christmas Challenge." A close cousin or kindred spirit to the Advent Conspiracy, the Four Gift Christmas Challenge has gained traction thanks to social media. In fact, I heard a DJ recommending it on the radio today as an alternative approach toward holiday shopping.  Limiting what we receive to just four gifts, may still be a sign of abundance for many people in the world, but for so many others, it's a thoughtful way to frame how, what and why we give. 
When I shared this challenge with my students, they fell silent and then laughed when I revealed the fourth and final gift: something to read. All but a few admitted that they would be disappointed if they received a book. More on this: my personal diatribe and manifesto later...

I asked them what happened. I said, "How did we go from the joy of Scholastic book orders and book fairs, and the nightly ritual of reading with your parents to disdain for the gift of a book?

As I am often reminded, things change. When I was young, I would have been disappointed with a gift of something to wear. Today, receiving new clothing, shoes and accessories is a treat. And what might be even better is something you may have seen on the gridiron this past weekend: My Cause, My Cleats.

Now in third consecutive season, the NFL in collaboration with its players represent hundreds of charitable organizations that may be near and dear to them or one for which they want to raise awareness and support.


As written on NFL.com, "The league will post videos and profile cards to tell the stories behind the cleats. Many players have worked directly with Nike, Under Armour and adidas to design their cleats. Other teams worked with an independent designer to create cleats for participating players." Even better, all week 14 games feature players on the field wearing their cleat of cause. Most of the cleats are auctioned off or sold and all the money goes to the designated charitable organization. 

I suppose bidding on Jimmy Garappalo's cleats wouldn't necessarily fall under "something to wear" or "something I need" but it just might under "something I want." I love this tradition and sharing with my students how we can all be creative in our efforts to support organizations that serve others.  Why not?!

What might be the best part of this sharing is how my students took the cause and cleat one step further. Today, two seniors integrated its history and founding into our class prayer. Please read the background information they have provided and the video link to hear from the founder, Brandon Wanton....Christian, athlete, husband, brother, and activist.



Monday, December 9, 2019

Unboxing Day: #MyCauseMyCleats

December 26, in certain parts of the world is known as Boxing Day. Boxing Day is a secular holiday—a bank holiday— that originated in the United Kingdom and is celebrated throughout Great Britain and Canada. Thanks to the NFL, in the United States we now have Unboxing Day! If you are an American, you may need a definition, and an explanation of both.
The roots of Boxing Day—a day that has nothing to do with the combat/contact sport—are unknown. According to History.com, "One idea is that December 26 was the day centuries ago when lords of the manor and aristocrats typically distributed “Christmas boxes” often filled with small gifts, money and leftovers from Christmas dinner to their household servants and employees, who were required to work on December 25, in recognition of good service throughout the year. These boxes were, in essence, holiday bonuses. Another popular theory is that the Boxing Day moniker arose from the alms boxes that were placed in churches during the Advent season for the collection of monetary donations from parishioners. Clergy members distributed the contents of the boxes to the poor on December 26, which is also the feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr and a figure known for acts of charity."

Imagine if we all received but one box for Christmas? Would we be be more or less grateful? Would the season of Christmas feel differently? What would you put into that box for a loved one? What might you hope for?

Though unrelated, "Unboxing Day" is a creative play on words and the concept. As written on NFL.com, "For the third consecutive season, the NFL will celebrate Unboxing Day, a league-wide unveiling of the players’ custom cleats. Players will unbox their cleats in hospital visits, classrooms, locker rooms and on stadium fields on Giving Tuesday, Dec. 3. Through Week 14, players will share images of their cleats and the stories behind them on social media, using the hashtag #mycausemycleats."


I have written about My Cause, My Cleats and have shared this collaborative effort between the players and the league with my students, since one of my own students first taught the class and me about it. 

As a creative assignment, I had my students design their own cleat. Many of them used an online template/outline of a cleat, decorated the shoe with colors and symbols of an organization that they appreciate and value. They were asked to include the website and a short summary, in their own words of the cause. One student went so far as to draw upon his own track cleats. As I opened the box to share these shoes with my new students, I felt the same energy and excitement shown by many of the athletes in the video (link below).

I love that every team has their own, personalized video of certain players "unboxing" or unveiling their cleats. To hear from your local heroes about the organizations that matter to them can deepen your connection and appreciation to the team and the cause. 

It can be challenging at times to applaud the NFL as an organization. #MyCauseMyCleats is one however toward which I am more than will to extend much more than a golf clap.
Unboxing Day and Boxing Day—two festive ways to celebrate the season. Enjoy

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Sacred Places, Sacred Spaces: Football Field in Notre Dame Stadium

When asked What do you do? or  How so you serve? Mother Teresa responded with three simple words: Come and see. She never explained anything about her ministry. Rather, she let the work speak for itself. I like that approach.
I am often asked what a class like Sports and Spirituality is all about. Perhaps I should take a tip from Mother Teresa and offer my own three simple words: Look and listen. Viewing "Sacred Places of Notre Dame: A Daily Advent Journey—Football Field in Notre Dame Stadium" serves as the perfect answer. I hope you will watch it here.

The grabber on the PrayND webpage states: Follow senior football player Daelin Hayes onto the field at Notre Dame Stadium as he reflects on how that place draws him closer to God. I think people should know his testimonial speaks to how sports are spiritual. He thoughtfully and earnestly articulates his belief in God, what God has given to him and what he gives back to God.. He says
I believe that when you are born, God gives you a unique set of gifts and what you do with those gifts is completely predicated on you. My gift was football and I used the game to give that glory back to God. 
Even after I leave Notre Dame I know I’ll feel connected to that field, not just because of big plays I made there, but because of the many times I knelt down, prayed, and committed myself to use my gifts to serve God and serve the world.
Hayes professes his connection to the field. This is the very space where I do not doubt he feels connection to his teammates, coaches, and to his school. This space, these people and this place connect him to God.
If I proclaim one thing over and over again in Sports and Spirituality it's this: connection serves a portal for understanding spirituality. Connection is a much more than a feeling—it is a recognition, an understanding and realization in one. All humans long for connection. It speaks to our nature—who we are and what we long for. God longs to connect with us; connection is the spark of a relationship. It feeds my soul.

While the field is where the athlete finds connection, how fitting—and beautiful— that a Notre Dame usher finds the student section, inside the very same stadium is a place of sanctity for him. You can watch that here. 
So this Advent, I hope you will enjoy the entire series from the ND Alumni Association. I know I anticipate the text I receive each evening that invites me to watch and pray. It serves as an opportunity to "quiet my heart and still my minds to prepare for the coming of the Lord." I prayerfully consider the questions I am being asked. For example, Daelin Hayes concludes by reflection by stating "This Advent, let us all consider what gifts has God given to us and how we can use them to serve others."

Thank you Daelin for raising questions that are at the heart of my curriculum. Sports and Spirituality has found another great teacher in your testimony. We, your fans and teammates are all witnesses.

Photo Credits
see Faith ND, Advent 2019

Monday, December 2, 2019

30 Minutes with Coach Lou Holtz

Coach Lou Holtz was the head football coach at the University of Notre Dame my entire time as an undergraduate student. During his eleven year tenure, Holtz had a win loss record of 100-30-2 and  took the Irish to bowl games for nine consecutive seasons—which remains a Notre Dame record. In 1988, the Irish had an undefeated season and earned the University's eleventh and most recent national championship title* On Friday, November 30, 2019 I sat next to Lou for 30 minutes as my friend Don--the mayor of insert your American city here— drove him to SFO for his red eye flight back to his home in Orlando, Florida. I have a feeling all of us in the car, would have driven him 3,000 miles if he had let us. His stories, his spirit and his wisdom will stay with each of us...forever.
Coach Holtz with ND Alumni and Classmates Jim and Don
At 82 years old, he was as peppery and vivacious as ever. He flew to San Francisco to serve as the keynote speaker for the Legends Lunch. Out of sheer generosity, his love for Notre Dame and the magic of Don Smail, Lou arrived late Thanksgiving night and left 24 hours later. At the lunch, several former players: Ricky Watters, Reggie Brooks, Junior Bryant and Oscar McBride shared their memories of playing for Coach Holtz. Their love and respect for him was real. And those in attendance will affirm: those sentiments were mutual. Holtz gained more and more energy with each of their stories and recollections. He laughed loud and hard. We all did.

By the time we took him to the airport, his cup was full. I aimed to lay low, knowing that a whole lot of people had demanded his attention. I immediately climbed into the back seat expecting the guest of honor sit in the front. Lou climbed in next to me and said he hates wearing a seat belt and wasn't planning on wearing one. Before any of us could chide him or laugh nervously, he went into coaching and preacher mode. "This is the risk I take. I grew up never wearing a helmet on a bicycle and came out okay. I don't ride motorcycles and so I get away with this by not sitting in the front." As he spoke, I figured that if we were in an accident, I would lean over and potentially lose my life for Coach. What die hard ND fan wouldn't?  Fortunately, no life insurance was needed.
Lou sitting with long time Stanford AD Ted Leland
He asked me to tell him a little bit about myself. I said I graduated in 1996 and lived in Farley Hall. I said I taught in the ACE program and he immediately smiled and said "Ah! The good work of Father Scully and Father Lou.!" I knew those ties were strong. I said I now coach varsity girls golf and teach theology. In fact, one of my classes is called Sports and Spirituality and I love to show the "30 for 30" film, "Student/Athlete" about Reggie Ho. Again he smiled and told me that Reggie has gone on to do great things as a cardiologist. I responded by sharing Ho's story speaks to me personally because he is an electrophysiologist and I have an ICD. If I lived in Philly, I would want Reggie to be my doctor. Lou looked at me incredulously. 

He said, "How's your health now? I haven't had any health problems. I've been blessed. No strokes, no heart issues. I have a terrible diet and I eat a lot of junk food. I can't explain it." 

Given his quick wit and sense of humor, I told him "Coach, I think I have a harder job as a coach than you did. Trying to get athletes who play an individual sport to think as a team isn't easy." Without missing a beat—or laughing for that matter—he went into coaching mode once again. He said "what is so challenging about golf is that you can only focus on the moment. Players have a tendency to think ahead, or when they have messed up—hang on to that. With golf as a team sport, every hole counts. You really need to stay in the moment."
Holtz was wearing a Masters sweater and I knew he was a member of Augusta National. I should have been more excited to ask him about football, but I have only met a few people who are members of Augusta and Holtz was was eager to share. He spoke about the history and tradition of the golf club. and what he does when he hosts other golfers. He told me he reads the greens better than a lot of the caddies. I assured him that is a good thing when he lamented how much speed he has lost on his swing. In our discussion of his green jacket, I asked him if the attendants call him Mr. Holtz or Coach Holtz. He paused and smiled. "They call me Mr. Holtz." Augusta does it right. So does Lou.

Our thoughts returned to how special the day had been. Holtz was laughing at these grown men recalling how intimidated they were by Coach. In response, I referenced an article from Notre Dame Magazine, that asked the question why more women don't coach men's sports. I paraphrased what you can read hear from the article "Calling the Shots"
John Soares has posed the question "Will women ever coach men? to his “Sport in American History” course at Notre Dame for the past five years. Until last autumn he had always received the conventional wisdom: No. 
In a commentary the assistant professor of history delivered this spring on Michiana’s National Public Radio affiliate, Soares outlined common reasons his predominantly male classes of 35 students had given for dismissing the idea: differences in the rules between men’s and women’s games, possible locker room awkwardness and, finally, most women’s lack of what male athletes might consider an imposing physical presence. 
Counterarguments offered by Soares and dissenting students included the fact that male U.S. coaches have won at the Olympics under international rules, that men coach women’s sports and that Lou Holtz, as one example, is less than physically imposing. These had failed to persuade the majority.
I said see Coach, as you have said, "attitude is everything. I think presence is too."

To be in Holtz's presence was a true honor. I had difficulty wrapping my mind around all that he has done, experienced and shared but I was grateful to share but a half hour only to be reminded that the Notre Dame is special is two-fold.  

One: it's the people. People like Don who go out of their way to bring the Notre Dame family together. Who wrote a personal and compelling letter to Coach Holtz, convincing him to show up and make the Legends Lunch live up to its name. And of course people like Lou Holtz who have it in them to respond and say "yes"—by the sheer fact that its Notre Dame. 


Two: it's Our Lady's University. We say this often, but the graces that flow from the wisdom, vision and love of Mary are worth considering ever more....in particular during this Advent season.


As he exited the car, Coach Holtz gave each of us a gift: a gold keychain. He said he likes to give these to special people. He certainly made each of us feel that way....which is exactly what he speaks about: Great people make others feel valued and important. What that we all did no less.

Photo Credits
Lou at Augusta

Friday, November 29, 2019

Our Shared Religion: More to Read...More for Feed

If you read but one section of Notre Dame Magazine, let it be "CrossCurrents." Formerly known as "Perspectives," these essays, often written in the first person, are is in the back of the publication. Written by alumni, CrossCurrents deal with a wide array of issues — some topical, some personal, some serious, some light. The writing is just so good. The voices are so strong. The lessons are valuable. One article, "Our National Religion" prompted me to write my last blog posting: Have a Good Read...And a Good Feed: Stories from ND Magazine. I meant to place it in the lead off position. Since I forgot, let's have it stand solo. It shouldn't get lost in the shuffle. 
In "Our National Religion" Father Jud Weiksnar, OFM addresses a truth we are already familiar with, but need to reconcile. He points no fingers, nor takes any names. Rather he raises some important questions that our society must consider; he owns his part. He writes
Growing up loving both sports and church, I’ve noted a seismic shift in how society prioritizes the two, measured in time, money and energy expended. As a youth, I tuned in to the Major League Baseball Game of the Week every Saturday afternoon on NBC. Now, with cable, satellite and the internet, I have access to more games in one day than I once would have watched in an entire summer. Technology drove part of that change, but so did our priorities. 
In the 1970s a Sports Illustrated essayist questioned how we could justify the average professional athlete’s salary being four times greater than a teacher’s. Today it’s 50 times greater. If you’re lucky enough to be Mike Trout, the multiplier jumps to 570. It’s impossible to imagine the trend in sports salaries and stadiums continuing at this rate. 
In 2069, will average athletes make 625 times as much as teachers? In 2119, will we be spending 150,000 times more on new stadiums than on new churches?
Weisknar invites the reader to consider issues of access, priorities, payment, values, and resources—in particular those precious two: time and money. I recommend reading the entire piece.

George Orwell wrote 
“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle." Weisknar offers this reminder in the context of Sports and Spirituality, for those who love both. 

The word "religion" comes from the root "religio" Latin for binding. To think of religion is to consider what we are bound to? What grounds us? What are your roots? I think it is important to consider our priorities in light of this term and all that comes with it.

  • What do believe are America's priorities? 
  • Coaches, how often do you speak about team, community, school and societal priorities? What do we want them to know?
  • How realistic is it for us to expect our priorities to change?

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Have a good read...and a good feed: Stories from ND Magazine

The menus for Notre Dame's
Thanksgiving meals in 1939 and 1941
In "Philosophy that Feeds the Soul" Allan LaReau '70 (father of my classmate Renee!) recalls that the late Joseph Evans, Notre Dame professor of philosophy "commissioned us to return home for the holiday and have a good read...and a good feed." He adds, "It seemed like more than a clever farewell rather a reminder to nourish our minds, bodies and souls—the whole person." What a great message to give to students before the Thanksgiving break! I'd like to tuck this away for future use and in the meantime offer a morsels of food for thought, Sports and Spirituality style.

Notre Dame Magazine is fortified with stories, essays and updates that are full of fiber, high in Vitamin C and D and worth integrating into my literary diet. Occasionally it can be overwhelming to choose what to ingest and digest. Hoping that you might have time for a good read in the next few days, I would like to recommend the following updates from the magazine that serve as Chicken Soup for the Sports and Spirituality soul. Enjoy.

Ivey to Grow in Memphis: (good fun with that headline!) For Irish Women's basketball fans, Niele Ivey '00 is a Hall of Fame name. As a player on the 2001 National Championship team and as a coach for the 2015 National Championship team, Ivey has been a part of the program from 17 years combined. 

"Now she’s blazing a new trail, becoming the first female assistant coach for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies and just the ninth woman to coach in the league."

The Irish loss is the Grizzlies' gain. And yet, it's a win for both programs.


Pardon the Disruption. "The Athletic was born as many business ventures are: in an attempt to fill a void. In Hansmann’s and Mather’s case, that meant figuring out a way to monetize first-rate digital sports journalism — inside information and analysis from reporters who have the sources and insights that only come from experience on the beat."

When I first learned about this upstart sports news outlet, I was skeptical. As a sports fan, I hear and read ever more from "The Athletic" and others who reference it nearly every day. I had no idea the co-founder is a Notre Dame grad, but since he is I now know his story. It's a good one. 
First Steps to Fitness: Friendship "The most indicative facet of gauging a person’s overall well-being: relationships." Here's what happens when you combine THAT with fitness. 

Not sure I needed a professor of computer science and engineering to convince me otherwise, but it never hurts to get that reminder...oh, and back it with research. Good stuff.

ACC jumps into the revenue stream. A little more context and insight for why we were prevented from seeing Notre Dame beat Duke 38-7.  Meh.
Read about Chris fromThe Observer here
Deaths in the Family: It is rare to see a current student profiled in this section. Though I did not know Chris Westdyk ’19, the photograph used in the magazine (not available online) captures a his spirit and makes me feel like I do. 

Throughout the month of November, we remember those who have died. I am grateful for the Catholic tradition, the Communion of saints. As Ginny Kubitz Moyer writes "it’s the belief that there’s a family bond, a communion, between all believers in Christ – those who have died, as well as those of us who are still alive." Such bonds are strengthened when we share the stories—the life and legacy of those we love and have lost. Here is one worth reading (in full, below) and sharing.

"Chris Westdyk ’19 suffered from melanoma in high school and college, battling the disease with quiet dignity while pursuing his passions with unstinting enthusiasm. He devoted himself to Stanford Hall, where he spent his senior year as a resident assistant, had served as a Welcome Weekend ambassador and designed the dorm flag.

The pre-med and economics double major, who received his degree in a South Bend hospital room during a special ceremony with University President Rev. John I. Jenkins ’76, ’78M.A., was also active in the Alliance for Catholic Education and the Center for Social Concerns’ Appalachia program.


An avid runner, Westdyk completed the New York City Marathon in November 2018, running to raise money for research and treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. His friend Lydia Piendel ’18 recalled in The Observer how he urged her on during their runs together.


“It felt like it should have been the other way around, like I should be the one encouraging him,” Piendel said, “but it didn’t go that way.”


To those in the Notre Dame community who knew Westdyk best, such inspiration will be his enduring legacy. He died June 3 at age 22."

Happy Thanksgiving to all. To give thanks is a privilege. Notre Dame, the Notre Dame family and all the nourishment it has and continues to offer me are among my greatest blessings.

Photo Credits
All from ND Magazine

Sunday, November 24, 2019

One Approach Toward Meeting Your Favorite Athletes: Thank You, Chris Mullin

Like most sports fans, there are athletes I respect, admire and adore. I have my own Mount Rushmore, my favorite male and female athletes, those who are my heroes and my G.O.A.T.s I have had the opportunity to meet a few of them—Will Clark and Joe Montana and coaches such as Muffet McGraw and Brian Kelly. With each encounter, I offer a warm smile and what I think is a good lead—either a personalized question or insider's connection. I am happy to share that this preparation has paid off. Last week, however, I was proven otherwise. Here's the story. 
I attended KNBR's Evening with a Legend with my good friend Kevin at the San Francisco City Club. The honoree was none other than the Golden State Warriors' Hall of Fame shooting guard,  Chris Mullin. I have known Mully since I was in grade school. My Dad, like many other sports fans loved Big East basketball in its prime. And Chris one of its leading men, a shining star, not to mention an Irish Catholic emerged as my Dad's favorite. Needless to say, in 1985 when the Dubs selected this Irish Catholic as the seventh overall pick in the draft, my dad and I— could hardly believe our fate. The lefty out of St. John's was coming to the Bay Area? Lucky us. I can say with confidence that thousands of other sports fans felt no differently.

In the years after, I saw Chris play many times. At one game, he saw me sitting a few rows behind him, wearing a red St. John's University sweatshirt. My Dad said "Anne, look!" Chris gave me a thumbs up. I have seen him with his wife Liz and their kids at Christmas Mass.  And, on January 12, 2012, I was at Oracle Arena with my dad for the retirement of his jersey. In theory, I had so many angles from which to launch a question or share a story. However, his hour plus Q &A with Tom Tolbert filled my cup. He told so many personal stories, he spoke with such authenticity that I wasn't sure I needed to make a personal connection beyond what has already transpired. That upshot from that evening is my next post.

However, at the end of the night, I turned to Kevin and said "let's go up and shake his hand." Again, I had no agenda....no nervous energy or anticipation. I had no need to find an angle or seek a story. I guess I just wanted to say "thank you."

We waited in a short line and when the time came, I asked Mully for a photo. I noticed that his shirt remained untucked. I turned to him and said "Do you still go to Valley Medlyn's for breakfast?" I have no idea why I said that other than I love one of their egg specials and had read years ago he was a regular. I don't know where one expects the conversation to go from there....but it did. 


I told Chris that I have taught about Manute Bol for years. He had spent a good portion of the evening talking about their friendship, so I was happy to share the impact Bol's life story has on young people. Kevin told him that I teach a course called Sports and Spirituality and he said "Where? That sounds great!." I then asked him if people really call him "Chalk." He said emphatically "that's what Manute called me!" I wanted to tell him that I thought it was hilarious that Mark Jackson once said "he is the whitest black man in the NBA" but others were waiting. To write about our conversation here feels disjointed and strange. However, I left it feeling like I had spent time with an old friend.

It can be strange for sports fans to meet their heroes, their favorites for an imbalance naturally characterizes the encounter. We know about their passions and joys, their struggles and their faults. We know what gets them out of bed in the morning....and yet, we don't. 
To meet a person you've "known" your whole life can't help but be disappointing...that is, until it is not. And in this example, I give all the credit to Chris Mullin. His authenticity—a byproduct of the tremendous interior work he has done break the selfishness of addiction, to maintain sobriety and continually give it over to God—has allowed people like me....an everyday fan, a teacher, a coach to share what we know with gratitude and the small hope that maybe we can give back just a tiny fraction of all the joy they have given to us. I'd like to think THAT is what made this evening so special.