Saturday, November 11, 2017

Catholics vs. Convicts: Yet Another Story Behind the Shirt of the Century

In the back of my classroom, next to iconic the album cover, Springsteen's "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and a framed portrait of Payne Stewart hung a worn out t-shirt that read: Catholics vs. Convicts. Taken out of context—or rather with no context, that shirt may have alluded to the conflict in Northern Ireland. Though this shirt was meant to represent the school colors of two storied football programs, some unsuspecting vistors—or students—might read it as the green of the Republic vs. the Protestants of the North. Rather, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (the Catholics) and the Hurricanes of Miami (the Convicts) had their own battle. And today these two top ten ranked teams will play one another....but before they do, that story must be (re)told.
A final picture of what once hung in my classroom
The "30 for 30: Catholics vs. Convicts" is one of the most popular in ESPN's video series. I had no idea this episode, in which my alma mater prevails, would catch fire the way it did. I should have known better....good stories do. However, my story has a twist.  About six months before that show was aired, I took down the shirt and I gave it away. I had no idea how lucky I was to have one of the original 2000 shirts that were made in the fall of 1988, but my students also had no idea what those words—labels that carry some weight—were about. 

At that time, I had to confront one of my students about some language and ideas he had written in a paper that was both problematic and inaccurate. I don't remember the exact issue, but it wasn't an easy conversation. Some consider these to be "teachable moments," but his response was meant to offer me one as well. The next day, he turned in a rewrite and said: "What is that shirt Catholics vs. Convicts about?" I wasn't entirely sure how to address his question. I could sense he was challenging me, he was retaliating and he was truth-telling all in one. I taught him about the Notre Dame vs. Miami rivalry in the late '80s. I didn't say "well, this is different," though I wanted to! I addressed how that might be interpreted and about two weeks later, I quietly took it down. I still think that was the right thing to do.
This is actually the FRONT of the shirt. The back reads C vs. C
Given the number of my students who have seen the "30 for 30" I think they would love to see that shirt as it's the portal to one of college football's greatest stories. Instead, I'll let Tony Rice, Lou Holtz, Jimmy Johnson, Joe Frederick, Chris Zorich, Steve Walsh, Andre Brown, and this blog posting: Catholics vs. Convicts: The Story Behind ESPN's "Shirt of the Century"—the most widely read posting I have written do that.

And today, yet another chapter will be written....I'll let you name the story.
Go Irish.



Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Three Prayers for Roy Halladay

Silence has two faces. One is golden. The other? it is deafening. Too often in the classroom, I hear a silence that is unwelcome. Questions go unanswered. Comments are left unsaid. Prayers remain unspoken. But not today.  No, today's silence was punctuated by something beautiful and unexpected: today, in all three of my classes, my students offered prayers for the family of Roy Halladay. "Doc" Halladay died yesterday, November 7, 2017.
Just two postings ago, I wrote in praise of silence. Quiet spaces? We need more. I now believe making time for silence, in a communal setting, is a necessary good. Hollywood agrees. An ad pronouncing silence as golden reminds patrons to turn off their cell phones and keep conversations to a minimum, proving that silence isn't always a welcome thing. 

Every class I teach begins with prayer, which is student led about 75% of the time. 100% of the time our communal prayer begins by remembering "we are in the holy presence of God." We stop for at least 30 seconds of silence and then a read prayer in unison, out loud. The student prayer leader is responsible for sharing special intentions that they have written before class.  We pray for those who have been affected by the shooting in Las Vegas and in Texas. That our country can know peace and a better tomorrow. After offering those prayers, the class is free to name people or places for whom they feel called to pray. This isn't easy for a lot of students. Perhaps they do not want to risk feeling vulnerable. Others are shy; offering a prayer for some, feels like a risk. Each day, I sit silently with the hope that someone will pray for someone. There is no shortage of people and places in need of our prayers. I ask myself time and again, How do we not have anything to pray for?
However, today was different. In each of my classes when a student asked if there were any special intentions, a hand was raised. Each petition was for Roy Halladay who died yesterday in a plane crash. "Doc" Halladay, a Major League pitcher with both the Toronto Blue Jays and most notably—the Philadelphia Phillies—was a husband, father and just 40 years old.


Part of me was surprised that my students, none of whom are Phillies fans said this prayer. I looked at the 15-year-olds and wondered if they could remember the NLCS series in 2010 when the Giants miraculously defeated the Phils. In that six-game series, Halladay was 1-1. 

I thanked the students who offered prayers. Others nodded in agreement. For those students who might not know the subject of our intentions, I said this loss would be like San Francisco Giants fans losing Tim Lincecum. Halladay was a two-time Cy Young award winner, as well. Halladay's career, however, was decorated by a no-hitter in the post-season and one of the rarest of feats, a true gem: a perfect game.


Lately, I've been hearing too much about the athletes that do wrong or cause division. This viewpoint is so unfair for there are far more men and women—great athletes and outstanding competitors—that honor the game. We are wowed by their physical gifts and talents, their chutzpah, their heart. Some are close to home and others are as far away as the City of Brotherly Love is from the Bay.  But their impact is real....memorable...notable and noble...dominant and dramatic...all of that is worth praying for—in thanksgiving and in memory of....

Thank you to my students for having the courage and the heart to offer a prayer worth saying out loud.

Photo Credits
Smiling

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

True Story

I think the best stories end in two words I am sure you have heard before: true story.

A storyteller only uses those words when something fantastic or incredible has been shared. And if you pay attention, the likelihood of repeating those words is high. True story....(people laugh)....true story. For someone to share this type of story and for me to hear it, is a gift. So here is my thank you note to those who have told me great stories, true stories and those that might be well, not so true.
Plato said, "those who tell stories rule the world." At one point in time, I loved this quote. I agreed. Those who can tell the stories—good ones— have a certain power. I've been mesmerized by both story and storyteller. Why? A good story nourishes my soul; a good story comes in unexpected places, from unsuspecting people at unpredictable times. But not always! Greg Boyle, SJ the founder of Homeboy Industries has said: "good stories come to those who tell them." Well, as a priest and a prophet, I find him deserving of the many stories he tells both from the pulpit on Sundays, in print through stories about his homies and now as a public speaker who travels nationwide to raise funds for what is the largest gang prevention service in the United States. I am, however, not interested in ruling the world. I'll leave that responsibility to someone else. I do however want to be a person who offers good stories. So I look and listen, pay attention and pray. I ask questions and search for answers—all with the hope of finding a good story. 

A person who finds a great story ought to share them. With social media, there are many ways to I also believe storytelling can be a ritual integrated into the classroom and with sports teams.


My friend Chrissa & I had a chance to tell
our stories of writing a book.
In "Pray and Practice with Purpose: A Playbook for the Spiritual Development of Athletes" I advise coaches to make time during the season for athletes, especially the seniors or the older members of the team to tell their story. Giving student-athletes the time and space to share their story is an important "team building activity." As seen in Chapter 4: Practice with Purpose, the context for this exercise is as f I never said it had to be a true one. Written as a "Team Building Activity" in the section on Team Building,

“Those who tell stories rule the world.”
                                              —Plato


In “31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator,” Jared Dees offers—you guessed it—31 different and practical ways an educator in the faith can both improve their teaching skills and grow closer to Christ. Many of his suggestions work for coaches too. On Day 24, Dees writes
“Jesus had a preferred style of teaching: He told stories. Like Christ, you can use stories to provide your athletes with a deeper understanding of the important topics or concepts of what you want them to learn, appreciate and emulate. The more descriptive and engaging the story, the more memorable and meaningful it will be. You do not have to be a talented storyteller for your stories to make an impact on students. Simply the presence of verbal imagery connected with the real application will make a notable impact.”
I think one of the best stories an athlete can tell is their own story. They need a place to do it and a willing audience to hear it. Team gatherings can be a safe, supportive and important place to do that. 

In his book “A Teen’s Game Plan for Life,” former head football Lou Hotlz explains why (and how). He writes
“I feel that it is important for our football players to get to know each other better. Each night during two-a-day practices that are held before the season begins, I ask different players to get up and talk to the team about their backgrounds. It is unbelievable how the players come together when they understand what a person has gone through in their life. I can tell you that these meetings have moved me as deeply as they have the players.
This type of sharing is not all that uncommon on retreat. By why should it be limited to a time and space that is so different than our day-to-day reality? And why, given the amount of time athletes spend with one another each week during the season, shouldn’t they be privy to learn more about the story behind the position.

A wise colleague once told me “once you know, you cannot not know.” Giving teammates the opportunity to share who they are—where they came from, what that have overcome and what they hope for will certainly have an impact on the relationships and bonds that develop over the course of a season.

I had one junior on the junior varsity golf squad this season. Before our final match, she shared her golf story: how she started playing, what golf has taught her and what being a member of the golf team at St. Ignatius has meant to her. Her story was the ideal way to conclude our season. True story.

I've started to realize a significant reason I am both a Catholic Christian and a sports fan is because I love stories. Jesus used stories to preach and teach. His story, the story of his life, love, death, and resurrection is the greatest story ever told. And I sincerely believe he would appreciate many of the stories that come from sports. In "Carry On: A Story of Resilience, Redemption and an Unlikely Family," Lisa Fenn writes, 
I learned that sports shouldn’t be reduced to questions and answers. Sports can serve as a backup of resilience and a field of redemption, giving us a vehicle to move from who we are to who we wish to become. Sports are treasure troves of the heart’s greatest stories, some of which need to be held. 
Yes, they do. True story, implied.

Photo Credits

True Story


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sound in Sports: The Silent 10

I haven't thought about using C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters in Sports and Spirituality, but maybe I should. As written on Amazon, this 
classic masterpiece of religious satire that entertains readers with its sly and ironic portrayal of human life and foibles from the vantage point of Screwtape, a highly placed assistant to "Our Father Below." At once wildly comic, deadly serious, and strikingly original, C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters is the most engaging account of temptation—and triumph over it—ever written. 
Sports—athletic contests—are fertile ground for temptation. Every athlete can speak to the unique challenges their sport presents in this fight between good and evil. Opportunities to mock authority, cheat, lie and even steal abound, especially during competition. But today, the occasion to resist may be even more difficult than it was in 1942 when Lewis first prophesized against the work of the devil. And still, the antidote isn't any more challenging or difficult. In fact, one response has caught on in the popularity of the mindfulness movement. It's something you and I have in fleeting moments throughout our day. We find it in nature and at Mass. We take a moment of it in public gatherings and if you play for Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors you get ten minutes of it at every practice. It's silence.
Lewis wrote that "Noise is the music of the devil." If that is true, the devil has a lot of power; Satan gets great airtime. When is the last time you found yourself free from noise? Where do you encounter silence?

Silence shouldn't be something we must "find." However, I do believe silence is increasingly more difficult to grasp. How so? In one way silence is counter-intuitive for silence is not the absence of all sound. For example, the runner who removes his or her headphones is now open to other noises—
the sound of crashing waves, birds chirping, a baby crying or even panting and shoes hit concrete one step after another. And, a runner may also hear honking horns, the crack of the Muni bus line or a car alarm that won't shut off. No longer is it just my playlist that I hace to turn off; it seems that everywhere I go, music is playing in the background. Is it just me or did Nordstrom and Macys' REALLY turn up the volume inside their stores in the past two to three years? Furthermore, large flat screen monitors can be found in most restaurants and the majority all bars. These are the distractions, the noise that Lewis warned against. 

Sports is the domain I have encountered even more noise. As mentioned in my posting "Notre Dame, You've Change But....," I don't think the band of the Fighting Irish should have to compete with Ozzy Osbourne for attention....nor should the team on the field. In MLB, I have had a hard time hearing who is batting next because the players' signature walk-up song is so loud. At NBA basketball games, popular, hip-hop music now plays on both offense and defense. The irony is that the music is only echoing the inherent rhythm of the game. Why can't we hear those notes? Golf is one of the few places that I truly get to disconnect from noise in its many guises. No cell phone, no texting, no music. Just the sound of the game, nature around us and the conversation that unfolds. This reality was under attack a few weeks ago, when a friend asked, "Do you mind if I play music from our iPhone?" Yes I do. He turned it down, but played his music anyway (NB: Johnny Cash and 18 holes of golf...not a great pairing).
I think it's important that coaches and athletes find space for silence in their training. One of my favorite coaches, Steve Kerr, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors agrees. As written in "The Little-Known book that shaped the minds of Steve Kerr and Pete Carroll" Chris Ballard writes
Sitting courtside after practice, Kerr provided an example called “the silent 10”, an exercise he happened to use that day. He instructs Warriors players to run the team’s plays for 10 minutes, five-on-zero, going up and down the court. The catch: no talking allowed. Hand signals only. “It’s bizarre, because usually there’s chatter, everyone yelling on the floor, people off the court talking,” says Kerr. “Now, players have no choice but to be fully engaged.” To call out a play called “Strong Elbow”, Curry needs to flex, then point to his elbow. Everyone must pay attention. “It’s incredible the level of focus you achieve,” says Kerr. “By the end, it’s like this Zen moment. It’s the most we’ve gotten out of practice in the last month, really.”
The beauty of this spiritual discipline is that it costs nothing and is not difficult to do. Silence might be difficult for some to endure (?) or enjoy at first, but silence is also something that an athlete can ease into. For example, many rowers erg with music. Erging is challenging and far from what any athlete would consider fun. However, erging is essential for success in crew. Rather than conducting an entire workout with the varsity team's mix, opt for a set in silence. This exercise can be incorporated into a routine—one that is both mindful and necessary. A coach can ask their athletes what they hear in the silence. A rower may hear the sound of her breath, the speed of the slide or the pull of the chain. Every sound can be an invitation to learn more about rowing form and function. Every sport can incorportate 10 minutes of silence....
It might be a stretch to state the silence will allow students to hear the voice of God, but it might be a portal....a gateway....an invitation to how God is always to trying to reach us, teach us and speak to us...in our hearts and our deep desires.


Photo Credits
Kerr and Carroll 
Mother Teresa Quote
Silent Ten

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

World Series 2017: My Dog in the Fight Is Pantone 294

It is no stretch for me to report that all is not right with the world. In some very serious matters, the world and our country, are on edge—politically. socially, etc. I am, too. My issue, though not serious, is still problematic—personally, emotionally, even spiritually. I have looked at myself in the mirror and now is the time to come clean. I cannot hide the truth any longer: I have a growing interest in... the enemy....a team I loathe, an organization represented by a color I should refuse to wear, but must admit I like. I even know its Pantone number. If you are an Angelino—the coolest name for an American city dweller—you do too. Pantone 294 aka "Dodger Blue" is a color no self-respecting San Francisco Giants fan should include in their personal color spectrum. Ever. I have. I am. Hear me out. 
If you are a baseball fan, it's been hard not to avert your gaze this year from the Los Angeles Dodgers. For the near entirety of the season (minus August) this team refused to lose. Due to their ardent success and a prediction they might win as many as 120 games, the Dodgers appeared in, on and across all sports media more than ever before. Any appearance for this lifelong Giants fan, was one showing too many unless of course, it was the Sports Center reel of the 64-98 Giants beating LA (which we did eight times). Or, watching those pesky Dodgers crash and burn as they have many times in post-season baseball. Not this year...or maybe....Game Six awaits.

I have tried to tell friends that I have no dog in the fight...that watching this year's World Series has been easy, but that's not entirely honest. I wouldn't say that I am actively cheering for the Dodgers, but I can't say I have been cheering against them like I thought I would. Like I should.

Part of me is relieved that the Giants no longer have to go to bat against this star-studded lineup. The fact that Enrique "Kike" Hernandez was batting ninth in WS Games 1-4 is all the evidence you need to realize that it's more than America that's got talent, it's a ball club in LA.
  • I wish I could hate Clayton Kershaw. I don't, primarily because of our shared love for Will Clark #22. It would be so much easier if I never knew why Kershaw, also a leftie, wore the double deuce, but in reading about one of the greatest pitchers of this era, I had to face the facts—or rather the number. He needs to prove himself in the post-season. Game 5 wasn't enough. Will there be a chance in Game 7? He hopes so...
  • Chase Utley: I swear his heart rate is 12 when he enters the batter's box. I need his beta blocker.
  • Yasiel Puig: the Cuban baller I have delighted in loathing the most. The showboat, the trash talker, the one who must have gone up to a graffiti artist and said "tag this" to his hair. I actually like that he got that mad at himself for not making the catch against Bergman.
  • There are other Dodgers: Kenley Jansen, Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor, Justin Turner, Corey Seager...I need to stop right there.
    How annoying is it thta Puig always struts after he goes Yard...and yet that needs to happen in the WS
Though Giants fans make fun of Dodger fans for showing up late and leaving early, these post-season games have revealed a face of Chavez Ravine, worth envying. Tucked south of the San Gabrial Mountains, with the beauty of Southern California landscape surrounding the stadium, the field starts at ground level. The seats are perched just above, creating an atmosphere of fan involvement. I am sure fans could feel the heat coming off of Yasiel Puig has he tried to track down Alex Bregman's ground rule double to right field, in the eighth inning (Game 4). They were entreated to two very warm nights, t-shirt weather and great baseball. Sounds like paradise. I should say, "but it's LA." I can't. #jealous.

This October the Dodgers and the Astros have each contributed outstanding lyrics to this musical score that is playoff baseball. Every logical argument points to the fact I should cheer for Houston. The Astros have never won a World Series. This team has made a significant turn and worked hard to be where they are today. The world knows what the city they represent has been through. But, fandom never works like that. It can surprise you, catch you off guard. I wouldn't say my love for this game has turned my brown eyes Dodger Blue, but Pantone 294, those classic uniforms, and an exciting team have me quietly not cheering for them but, appreciating America's past time that much more. 
Photo Credits

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Notre Dame: You've Changed But....

Football offers a reason for alumni to make the pilgrimage and return to the motherland, every fall. When they/we do, the topic of discussion inevitably focuses on how much the campus has changed. This is however not new. David Marsh '82, Vice President for Facilities and Design reports, "The thing to remember is that Notre Dame has always been growing. We're always building Notre Dame." Still, as reported in the Notre Dame's 21st Century Building Boom, "the current building boom is the biggest in its 175-year history. By decade's end, 20 new buildings totaling $2,487, 715 square feet with a cost of $1.1 billion will have been completed. In just the three new buildings around the stadium, they have laid more than 1,650,000 bricks." Wow. 

Figures such as these suggest Notre Dame's participation in some sort of an arms race. Furthermore, "People have enormous passion for this place, and in people's minds, we represent a certain ideal. It's hard because everybody's perception of ideal is slightly different." We want tradition, yet we ought to welcome modernity. We want Notre Dame to keep what we hold as dear and yet we must change. And, I believe we must consider these tensions in light of one other truth: it's not just Notre Dame who has changed, we have too. 

It's not easy to measure how a person has grown in—ideally—wisdom or compassion. Some of us have become cynical or despondent, others more resilient and kind. We return to the Grotto with new prayers—differnt prayers. We walk the quads with new friends and family as well as old ones; family too. Yes, the students look young because when you are 18, 19 and 20, you are young. As an adult, a teacher and a coach I see Notre Dame through a much different lens today than when I was running out of Farley Hall. I like much of what I see. So here are but a few of my observations from South Bend, Indiana. Some are reflections on the change and growth on campus and other insights are how I understand what Notre Dame is and who it is to me, my classmates, friends, fellow alumni, and the world.
The New Scoreboard
In what was considered an ardent break from tradition, Notre Dame added a video scoreboard on the south end of the stadium. This digital signage offers all fans a chance to see the game itself, replays, messages from former players, information about events and programs on campus e.g. Mass times after the game. Video shorts tell the story of the teams honored on the field. (the USC game recognized the 1977 National Championship football team and the Fencing Team). In addition to what you do see, I want to be very clear about what you do not. 

After a football player makes an impressive tackle or catch you will not see his player profile on the screen. One will not see a still shot of Brandon Wimbush next to his percentage of passes completed or total yards passing. No highlight reel of Josh Adam's running game will be found. Unlike some venues in college football, the individual achievements of the home team are not promoted during the game, though I am sure many fans would love to see them.  
The decision by Notre Dame to not wear last names on the back of the jersey has been extended to the video screen; the focus is the team. Therefore, yes, you will see the O-line. This group of guys stands as one unit, but what team captain Mike McGlinchey has done can only be found through a different media.

Advertising
Notre Dame stadium is a sacred space to many people. Alumni have been ever proud that the University has sought to keep this one space pure—meaning unadulterated by public ads. In a world driven by a dollar sign, one would naturally conclude the addition of a digital scoreboard would lead to public advertising. Truth be told, there is adverstising—a lot of it, but it has one focus. 

Every message during a Notre Dame football game is supporting the same company, the same cause: the University of Notre Dame. There's a lot happening at ND. Keep your Irish eyes on the scoreboard, and you'll learn about the history and tradition of the University, the football program, and its greatest assets: students, faculty, and alumni. Go Irish!

How Catholic is Notre Dame?
This is not one of my favorite questions. I find it polarizing. However, I know it's an important question, one that administrators at Notre Dame take very seriously. I would rather discuss the Catholic character of ND. That I can do. In fact, I can point to some signs I encountered during a football weekend to answer that...
I took a photo of the information given by the Office of Campus ministry because I had to wonder how many other college campuses readily avail the Sacraments to faithful fans. 

I would add that for the first time, fans were able to join the team in a pre-game prayer. The Our Father was simulcast and featured on the new scoreboard. Though new and perhaps a bit strange—Should this moment be reserved for just those on the team?—ultimately it brought the crowd of 80,795 to pray as Jesus taught us.

I love that the entire team runs through the tunnel to the south end zone where each person takes a knee, bowing their head while offering in their own individual prayer. I was happy to see several USC players did the same. 

Notre Dame is unsurpassed in its beauty (in October) and its integration Sports and Spirituality. It's everywhere.

In Stereo
There is a lot more noise inside Notre Dame stadium. The world at large is no different, but I believe it can and should be at ND. I love the band of the Fightin' Irish. Their songs, especially those ditties from the drum line that inspire student invovlement, have been compromised by the addition of popular music. Fans will now hear Ozzie Osbourne's "Crazy Train" as well as newer hits such as "Can't Feel My Face" by The Weekend. I truly believe music adds to any atmosphere, but so does its absence. 
Football games have their own sound. Cheers, yelling, jeers, hitting, tackling, the whistle of the ref and more. The Marching Band offers a wonderful cacophony. The addition of both the scoreboard and popular music is too much. I'm fine with the band playing "Safe and Sound." I can hear Capital Cities' rendition anytime.

BTW: Who knew that when I bought my tickets for the USC, I would attend a football game and a rock concert broke out?! The band Chicago played with the marching band at halftime.

Coach Brian Kelly
I have been psychoanalyzing Coach Kelly, intensely, since the airing of "A Season with Notre Dame Football." He's been the head coach of the Fightin' Irish for 8 seasons now. He's been under an intense spotlight, he's taken hits and he's deserved quite a few. I have written about him before and been wanting to write about him for again because so many people have such strong opinions on the 29th coach of the University of Notre Dame.


At the Pep Rally, under glorious Indiana skies with Touchdown Jesus as the backdrop, Coach Kelly and the team took center stage. Unlike his players, BK was wearing sunglasses. This annoyed the living daylights out of me. Wearing sunglasses at this late hour, indicated to me that Coach Kelly cared a little too much about his appearance. Most people look better with sunglasses on. As one of those people, I know that trick, but I also know that sunglasses can serve as a barrier. "Eyes are the window to the soul." To shut someone out from our eyes and our line of vision creates a disconnect. Certainly, Coach Kelly ought to be connecting with the audience at a Pep Rally. Fortunately, he removed his shades in time to introduce the speaker for the evening: Sam Bush, the head of WOPU nation. Bush a senior offensive lineman is also captain of those players who are walk-ons. He offered a spirited and thoughtful speech; it was gracious, loud, proud and strong but he also concluded his speech by yelling "Let's kick some Trojan ass."

As a free and open event the Pep Rally is a family friendly....until you hear those words.

Coach Kelly immediately responded by saying "Thank you Sam, and let's remember we can kick some Trojan butt tomorrow too." I yelled out "Thanks, Coach."

Brian Kelly is many things to many people, but his role at Notre Dame is as a coach, and as a fellow coach, I understand how often part of our work is correcting, teaching and reminding those entrusted to our care how they can be better. BK does this on the field and as witnessed at the Pep Rally, off of it too.

The Beauty of Notre Dame du Lac
I cannot count the number of times I have looked at the Word of Life, the mural that adorns the front of Hesburgh Library. To most people, including students, this mosaic is affectionately called "Touchdown Jesus". No explanation is necessary. Created in its modern art, as a student I recognized its majesty. Its prominence cannot be understated, and yet I let it remain a near afterthought of the campus. Visiting Notre Dame for the USC game weekend this past weekend, however, I found myself gazing at it with a new appreciation. The Word of Life was radiating in its beauty, a vision that Father Hesburgh forever held in his sight.
Yes, it was the backdrop for the Friday night pep rally or the exit point from the stadium after an epic victory, but this work of art signified something more. Now 21 years out of Notre Dame, I return to alma mater and I continue to understand the power of this place with new eyes. 

My friend Jason was the first person who told me "Notre Dame isn't a four-year decision, it's a 40-year decision." I may have graduated in May 1996, but part of me never left. When I return to campus, the changes abound, and I love discovering them. Next time I return to Notre Dame, perhaps I can entertain what changes I carry with me, too.

Photo Credits
Crossroads
Scoreboard
BK Hug

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

From the Nicest Place in America to the Nicest Team...

Gallatin, Tennesse a town of grit and grace just 30 miles outside of Nashville is the 2017 winner of the "Nicest Place in America." I have often thought that "nice" is trés generic...tan vanilla. (tan is Spanish for "rather'). I believed people who use the adjective "nice" need to develop a better vocabulary or study character education. In fact, I used to consider "being nice" an insult. The last thing I wanted to be described as is "a nice person." However, in recent months, I have come to value people who are well....nice...Places too. The world can be a callous and cruel place. Many people are out for themselves; they are rude, inconsiderate and not too nice. America needs Gallatin. We need to know there are communities (like the runners-up) that thrive on serving one another, extending hospitality, and celebrating our past, present, and future. 
According to Readers' Digest,
Gallatin, a farm-community-turned-suburb nestled against Old Hickory Lake in the Cumberland River valley was founded in 1802. Subdivisions now bloom where crops once grew, ringing an old town square dignified by stately brick buildings and a regal county courthouse. Twenty years ago, it was a sleepy community of under 10,000 residents and downtown businesses worked hard to stay afloat. Now, nearing 40,000, Gallatin’s 30-minute proximity to booming Nashville has given the town new life. Investors have moved in to develop downtown commercial real estate. Houses are springing up almost as fast as people from all over the country can move into them, and a hip new coffee shop in one of the town square’s premier buildings, just renovated to accommodate a wide range of new commercial enterprises, is a symbol of what’s become of this former small town. 
Gallatin earned this distinguished award for three important qualities: its emphasis on charity, its ethnic diversity, and the kindness of the community. 
When I learned what made Gallatin so special, I started to think about the school community where I work. In the fifteen years I have taught at St. Ignatius, we have only grown increasingly more diverse. As a Jesuit school, we are committed to a "faith that does justice." Serving others through acts of charity is much more than a graduation requirement. Charity is practiced regularly in our classrooms and as an institution. We have been richly blessed, we ought to give to those in need, and we do. But, I believe we could be a kinder community. In the same way we need nice, we need kindness....maybe...even more. 

Naturally, I shared the story of Gallatin, TN with my Sophomore students, but I also thought to share it with another group—the JV girls golf team. A friend looked at a picture of my team and said: "you resemble the United Nations." I smiled; I am grateful that I have the chance to work with such a diverse group of female athletes. We too practice acts of charity. Our team has grown closer in making sandwiches for the Thursday Morning Comfort Run. We are giving a donation to the Cancer Awareness club in gratitude for their gift of pink ribbons which will accompany our "pink match." I would like to do more and I will keep that desire as a challenge for the future. Lastly, with my team, I see acts of kindness every day. When a golfer fixes her divot, picks up a club a teammate has left behind, remembers to rake a bunker, or goes out of her way to rake it for another golfer, kindness is at play. Gestures such as these bring a different vibe to the game. It's nice! But the more I thought about our acts of kindness, the more I realized in the same way we challenge ourselves to improve in our sport, we ought to encourage one another to become kinder. What might that mean?

Level 1 kindness is not to be underestimated. No act of kindness is a given, but actions on this Level don't require much effort or sacrifice and yet they are critically important because one is not likely to extend Level 2 kindness if Level 1 kindness is missing.

Level 2 demands paying attention, noticing and really caring about another's feelings, stretching oneself and a strong moral fiber. On my golf team, I see Level 2 kindness in action when one playing partner complains about an opponent. It's natural to vent, it's kind to forgo fueling the fire. Level 2 kindness may be something as basic, but annoying, as cleaning out the van when you know the wrappers, Cheetos and other trash aren't your own. I saw Level 2 kindness at work just yesterday when a golfer carried my bag down in addition to her own down the Par 5 fairway so I wouldn't have to go back. I'm thinking more about Level 2 kindness and want my athletes too as well. Perhaps we'll discover and experience Level 3 as the season winds down.


Whether it's the community you live in, the place where you work our the team you are a member of, it's worth considering three outstanding qualities that characterize what makes you special...excuse me, nice.

Photo Credits
Mayor
Gallatin

Monday, October 9, 2017

Thank you Cam Newton

While sports talk radio, social media and the Twittersphere has condemned Cam Newton for his comment directed at Jourdan Rodrigue a female sports reporter, I want to thank him. In a postgame interview, Rodrigue said,  “I know you take a lot of pride in seeing your receivers play well. Devin Funchess has really seemed to embrace the physicality of his routes and getting those extra yards. Does that give you a little bit of enjoyment to see him kind of truck-sticking people out there?” Rather than answer the question, the Carolina Panthers' starting QB  responded with a comment that it not only offensive and off-putting, it cost him a number of sponsorships (Dannon yogurt). Newton, a former league MVP smiled and said, "It's funny to hear a female talk about routes. It's funny." It's not funny....but I'm still glad he said it. 
The public's response has been one of disgust and disappointment. Rodrighe said that Newton "not only belittled me but countless other women before me and beside me who work in similar jobs." She is right. If one is unsure whether or not a comment is "sexist," this qualifies. Whether or not a person can and does talk about routes does should not be equated with whether or not they are male or female. Though Newton's intention was to compliment Ms. Rodrigue, his missive fell flat. His words were short-sighted and preumptuous. He regrets saying them and he should....but...what he said needed to be said and heard. Why? Because they have afforded the public with an important lesson. 

I believe a lot of men agree with what Cam Newton said. I also think a lot of women do too. I believe a lot of women think it's funny or weird when other women talk about sports. I know because I hear those responses at varying degrees quite often, the worst of which is when friends advise me not to talk about sports on a date. They have said, "Men don't like it when women talk about sports." to which I can only respond, "so you're telling me to talk about something I really care about. I can't do that." Assuming good will, they have probably met men that feel this way! Newton's offensive comment has allowed women who love sports to share similar experiences. 
However, just as a society should not judge a woman who wants to talk about pass protection, the I-formation on the field and physicality, so too should we not shun a man who doesn't. If a man doesn't like sports, and I know plenty of them, I hope others would not find that "funny" either. 
We all carry presumptions—to say otherwise is misguided. I don't think all assumptions are meant to be mean-spirited, sexist or inappropriate. For example, if you were to look at the principal of the school where I teach, you would never guess he speaks Mandarin. When he joined my class on our Urban Plunge to St. Anthony's in the Tenderloin a number of my students heard for themselves what Mr. Ruff studied in college. As they were giving out canned goods to seniors, he greeted a number of these patrons in their native tongue. All parties were nourished in the giving....and I dare say, surprised too. Yes, we ought to be cautious and consider what we assume to be true about anyone. When we do, we must share our thoughts with discretion, kindness, and respect. At our best, perhaps we can seek to open ourselves to the unique gifts and abilities of each individual person.
49ers WR coach Katie Sowers
The movie "Battle of the Sexes" aimed to teach the public about how far women have come. Football is no exception. Today, women are members of ownership groups (take for example the Williams sisters. Venus and Serena are partial owners of the Miami Dolphins). Women are very popular as side-line reporters. The NFL now has female referees. The 49ers even have a female Wide Receivers coach; it's her JOB to talk about routes. No longer are women confined to the sidelines as cheerleaders (why are there male cheerleaders in college but not in the pros?), but they are contributing as faithful fans and followers and some are even playing the game. And this month you'll see a lot of men and women on the field wearing pink, and that's not funny either. The League's support of Breast Cancer awareness is remarkable. They're working on other issues too....

Photo Credits
Female Ref
49ers Coach

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Grit Factor

I have yet to meet someone who—upon revisiting their high school or college—says something other than, "I hardly recognize the place. That's not the school I went to." Or, "It is so much nicer than when I was a student. I can't believe the facilities!" Capital campaigns have certainly been more successful than hindsight being 20x20. I'm sure there are schools that haven't gotten bigger, better or more beautiful. They must be out there—or maybe they've closed—but, I'd like to find them. Why? I want to know if they have held on to a singular quality that might get lost when we re-d0, remodel and expand.  It's a quality that comes at a cost—abeit one that is not necessarily financial. No, this quality requires patience, hard work, and perseverance. It's free and yet it comes at a price. It's a very popular four-letter word. Grit.
My beloved alma mater, the University of Notre Dame could have easily been the poster child for grit. Nestled in the ever-exotic South Bend, IN students woke up every morning to the fresh smell of...ethanol (gas made from corn). Students lived like sardines in their four-year stay halls, most of which don't have air conditioning. Given that the temperatures fall below the legal drinking age from November through May, one might be surprised to learn that the campus feels like a resident swamp June through mid-September. And when you have four to six men assigned to a room the size of a meat locker, fans can only help so much. But something else can: grit. I have to wonder, as the University has gotten nicer and the Dome even shinier, do any places like "Dirty Thirty" remain? (DT was the home to 30 men in the basement of Morrissey Manor, a men's dorm at Notre Dame. I have always loved knowing that NBA Coach and former player Monty Williams opted to stay/live in this section of Morrissey despite his height of 6'8" matching the ceiling).

Part of me believes ND will always have grit—a byproduct of its location, but it's not a given. Walk around the campus today and you'll see no stone unturned, no pathway that needs to be paved (across a quad), no item that hasn't been marketed with an interlocking ND. Undergraduates: are you still met by every third person with the words: Excuse me, where's the Bookstore? I can't imagine you are. Why? Hand cut wooden signs line every inch of campus. If one gets lost from God Quad to Mod Quad, that's their fault. The flora is always in bloom and the fauna springs eternal. The dens of iniquity are no longer. Is the grit factor, too? 
Though there are hundreds more walk and pathways, I do love the aerial view of God Quad
The heart that you see symbolizes the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Grit is a hot word, a buzz term in education and child-rearing. We want young people to have grit—also known as resolve, One can watch any number of Ted Talks about grit's importance and read Forbes' five steps for getting grit. I'm on board....but I believe that's missing the point. Grit comes from grime (not literally, just figuratively). Think gritty. I'll default to an un-sports and spirituality like resource here, the Urban Dictionary. It states
Gritty: harsh, coarse, rough and unrefined, as in film depictions that portray life as it truly is, without false distortions, stylizations, or idealizations. Often, the realism is exaggerated such that the culture or society being portrayed appears more coarse than it really is.
We want grit.  Or, maybe we think we do. What athlete doesn't want to be considered "tough" or what person wouldn't want to be known as "real." Yet, we've handled the harsh, eased that which is course, and made smooth a lot of the rough. Grit comes at a cost. The field has too many gopher holes, the weight room is sweatbox, the tennis courts have a crack or three, the gym is dank,  dead spots on the floor abound, and the differentiation between the fairway and the rough? there is none. Grit means that an athlete makes due with what he or she has. Grit is another reason we love sports. The team with the most toys or even the best ones doesn't always win the title. But many times the teams with grit—those do.
And what of a fan base that shows some grit? Do they enjoy the wins more? Take the losses harder? I'd like to think so, but maybe not. Just this week, I gazed at a banner celebrating the three World Series championships by the San Francisco Giants; I am still awestruck by that feat. We did it. AT&T Park doesn't have the same grit factor as Candlestick...but it has more than the new Yankee Stadium, which according to Brian Murphy has "Zero percent." 

I've asked myself the hard question: Would I have enjoyed the titles more if the Giants had earned them in Candlestick? Tough to say. In that way, I think Urban Dictionary is right—we exaggerate, we tell our tales of frostbite and fight nights in the Bleachers with a reckless aplomb. And yet my appreciation for AT&T, which does not diminish, must be more than those fans who grew up the most beautiful diamond in MLB. Why? Because I know from whence we came—a place that former 49er Wide Receiver Dwight Clark referred to as a "dump." He said, "it was a dump. But, it was our dump s0 we could talk badly about it. But we didn't want anybody else to talk badly about it." Fans were there for one reason: the product on the field. Not for the garlic fries, the give-aways, the vistas or the Splash Hits. We brought our blankets (I still do), drank our domestic beer and hoped for a win. We made due with what we had...and got a lot. Sounds like grit 101 to me.

I can't imagine the President or Principal of a school opting out of improving the plant for the sake of the grit factor. But it is an interesting idea.What can we leave much of what we have "as is"—even just "good enough?" Time and grime, sun and seasons will make things worse for ware, but maybe not for the grit factor. I'd talk more about it...

  • Five Grittiest Ballparks in MLB
  • Sports that require the most grit
  • Poster Children for grit (in sports)
  • Grit and Spirituality?!

Photo Credits
Yankee Stadium
Grit Girl

ND

Monday, October 2, 2017

Are Sports Meaningless? Look to Matt Cain

At the conclusion of every baseball season, Major League teams make an effort to thank their patrons with Fan Appreciation Day. If you'd like to make an argument for San Francisco Giants fans "earning" such accolades, this would be the year. After an abysmal season—one that was met with high expectations only to be concluded with 98 losses—the Giants managed to leave their faithful with bright smiles and hearts full of gratitude. Despite being in last place in the NL West all season, the Orange and Black never stopped coming out to the Yard (take that Yogi Berra!). For those who did, they were able to honor the 1987 squad, allow Ryan Vogelsong to retire as a Giant and as witnessed on Saturday, September 30 bid farewell to three-time All-Star and World Series champion, Matt Cain. In the Player's Tribune "Forever a Giant," Cain wrote, 
I think it’s the routine that gets you. All those years of routine, all those years of waking up on my start day and going through the same set of pregame habits. There’s a real comfort in routine — I think that’s probably why we do it. But when it comes time for that last time … man, there’s nothing “routine” about it.
If I had served as his ghost-writer, I would add but one word: meaningless. That's right. When it comes time for the last time....man, there's nothing "routine" or "meaningless" about it.
As Cain was working through that routine, I undertook my own: sitting in my sacred space—which is, believe it or not—my desk. From this perch nestled inside a bay window, I overlook Fillmore Street in San Francisco. I open up my laptop to read the news, e-mails, and articles never without a fresh, hot cup of joe in hand. Though I seldom get through all I would like to read and respond to, the opinion piece in the Washington Post "The Whole Point of Sports is their Meaningless" gave me an added jolt, sans caffeine. 


Abernathy's reflection does not propose anything my students and I haven't discussed before. On the first day of Sports and Spirituality, I share what retired professional tennis player and former world number one Andre Agassi wrote in his autobiography, "Open." He said, "Part of my discomfort with tennis has always been a nagging sense that it's meaningless." Recent events in the NFL have invited this country to revisit the same concern, the same question with yet another dimension, another angle, a worthy nuance, and thoughtful voices. 

Abernathy quotes NBA Hall of Fame basketball legend Bill Russell who said, at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, "I don't consider anything I have done as contributing to society. I consider playing professional basketball as marking time, the most shallow thing in the world." His words are biting. They reek of truth and yet, I wonder—I have to ask: Does he still believe that to be true?

And it's not just the athletes who hold this conscience qualm. The late sportswriter Frank DeFord admits, that he only got advice from Andre Laguerre, the managing editor at Sports Illustrated but one time. DeFord said "the time he gave me advice was when I wondered whether writing about sports was really substantial. Laguerre simply said Frankie, it doesn't matter what you write about. All that matters is how well you write. I suppose that has helped sustain me all these years." What if we were all to do what we do well (Age Quod Agis). Would we question its meaning? To what degree does the quest for excellence give a sport, a game, or a contest meaning?

I appreciate the voices that ask us to question our values and priorities. I understand their claims. On one level I agree. In the wake of several natural disasters, gun violence and threats of nuclear war, who wins the AL Wild Card isn't keeping the President up at night...until maybe it is. But to deem sports as shallow, hollow and a waste of time is more than a reductional mistake. Why? Because sports can and always will involve matters of the heart...the stuff that makes us human...passionate and joyful...and yes—at times irrational. But when sports involves beauty, excellence, joy and triumph—the spirit can soar. It's a powerful force. This is what fans were privy to with Matt Cain's retirement.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy emerged from the dugout after Cain threw his final out to be the first to greet and honor this Giant workhorse. However, all of AT&T Park beat him to it as all 42,000 on hand rose to their feet, to a thunderous applause. The cheering, clapping, whistling, did not dwindle. Cain raised his arms to recognize the fans...to celebrate a remarkable career...to take in one last time a perch that is the stuff of childhood dreams. The energy was electric...pulsating. Loyal fans and even the announcers got a little choked up. 

Cain exited the mound to then meet the Skipper and greet every single one of his teammates with his thanks. Those who know baseball and those who love it, know that much like a great concert, an encore must follow. Cain came back on the field. San Francisco in all of its mad beauty looked at one man. We looked back at what he did: the perfect game, the start in the 2012 All-Star game, Game 3 against the Phillies in the 2010 NLCS (we were underdogs—I STILL can't believe we won that game in Philly) and considered all that we learned from him. Cain will retire with a win-loss stat this is in no way reflective of how dominant he was on the mound. In 2010-2012, Giants fans would complain of getting #Cained. Matty would throw for seven or eight innings and give up but one or two runs. Another loss for #18 but an ERA that remained consistently low. His work ethic was admirable and impressive; he never complained. Ever. 
Injuries hastened his retirement and when he made the announcement the week before last, Giants fans—though sad to see him go—could not help but be happy for all that he has given. Named as the starter for Saturday's game, everyone knew this day would be the perfect occasion to remember and to celebrate. He wrote
That was the moment, I think, when I finally answered the question — of why it meant so much to me to play my entire career as a Giant. It wasn’t the first World Series, or the second, or the third, or the LCS against the Cardinals, or the LDS against the Reds, or one of the hundreds of Dodgers games, or the perfect game … or any other moment in between. It was the reaction that I got from those fans, on that afternoon, on my last day as a starter.  
It was a reaction that said, Hey — we know what you’re going through. And guess what: We’re going through the exact same thing. It was a reaction that said, You’re going to miss this? Well, guess what: We’re going to miss this — we’re going to miss you — just the same.  
It was a reaction that said, When you’re in this ballpark, you’re not just “Matt Cain, Pitcher.” You’re “Matt Cain, Pitcher, San Francisco Giants” — and you’re not on your own. We’re right here, with you, and we’re going to do this together.  
And that’s what happened. I walked out of the bullpen, and I took the mound — and I didn’t feel alone the entire time.
One can say that sports are meaningless, but we know that's simply not true.

We can say that sports are meant to be a distraction, but that's not true either. Our concerns, our challenges, our tears our losses emerge on the field...inside the stadium...in the locker room....and they are celebrated. And no one can do any of those things alone.

People are beloved and honored—many during their career others long after, some....Forever Giant. 


Photo Credits
Forever Giant
Perfect
Thank you