Sunday, May 26, 2019

Picture This: My Spirituality VI

The words of Richard Rohr, OFM serve as a foundation for understanding a Theology of Sport. He writes: Spirituality is about seeing. It's not about earning or achieving. It's about relationship rather than results or requirements. Once you see, the rest follows. My goal—as a teacher and as a coach—is to train eyes to see. 

A course like Sports and Spirituality aims to do what Ignatius of Loyola instructed the early Jesuits to do—to go out and "find God in all things." If by the end of the semester (or season) my students and athletes can say "in all things, I have found God" my work is done. However, it's not as easy as it sounds. Therefore, we start small. We begin with the familiar. We embrace what is personal. We behold what we are passionate about. We look and listen, practice and probe and by the conclusion of our time together, we have more insight. What you see below reflects what they have found. 

This is the sixth installment of this posting, and my final rendition of doing so from the students of St. Ignatius College Prep. Staring in August, I will be teaching and coaching at St. Francis High School in Mountain View. Founded by the Brothers of the Holy Cross, my future students do not speak Ignatian. However, as someone who loves words and language, I can assure you and them, together will be learning a new language and acquiring a new vision. I look forward to sharing how I will "faith train" in a new way, come August! In the meantime, here is the work of my seniors—a wonderful group of Wildcats. 
“The experience you are having cannot be reductively explained by the effect of a ball going through a hoop. No, something else, something beyond the material—dare I say, something transcendent—is at play.” —Vincent Strand, SJ
“Sport expresses the unity and harmony of the Creator, but it also expresses
the diversity of life experience through winning and losing.”   - Martin Siegel
“No… I have, of course, prayed about the athletic meetings, asking that in this, too,
God might be glorified.” -Eric Liddell
"God is not remote from us. He is at the point of my pen, my pick, my paintbrush,
my needle — and my heart and my thoughts." —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ
A lot of my spiritual life has to do with baseball. I often find myself praying for things related to me and succeeding with baseball. However, I make sure I always pray for something else in the world besides myself before I pray for myself. I was told this at a very a young age and it stuck with me. Baseball is the most lifelike sport because you are constantly failing. Before every game when I take the outfield I say a prayer for everyone’s safety and a fair game in which my team wins. After that I draw a CR9 which is a past coach who passed way two years ago. The baseball field has meant so much more to me now and I use it as a way to center my spirituality and competitiveness.
“the literal meaning of the word “competition.” It comes from the Latin competitionem, which
surprisingly means to strive with someone else” —Daniel A. Dombrowski
No caption required.
"I had no experience as a coach, but I knew how to be kind." —Coach Frank Allocco

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Overshare...The Undershare: A Case for Moderation

"I'm sorry. Was that too much? I tend to overshare."

It's not uncommon for people to overshare. I don't think I've ever said to someone "thanks for the great overshare." I'm not convinced anyone feels better for oversharing, either. Why, then might oversharing be problematic? Teaching ethics has offered me some insight into how we might think of this issue, in particular within an moral framework. A context  like this is worth considering.
In Catholic Ethics, Andrew Peach writes,
For Aristotle, the virtuous person strives for the middle course of what today we would speak of as "the golden mean." For nearly every person and action, the virtuous person will try to steer an intermediate or mean course between two extremes. This intermediate way of feeling and acting Aristotle calls a "virtue," and the two extremes that flank this intermediate way he calls "vices." One of the extremes is in excess or a "too much," and the other is a deficiency of a "too little." Virtuous people find the mean, the action that is appropriate for the situation, and avoid either excess; virtuous people will practice temperance, the virtue in regard to food. Virtuous people know with their reason that only so much food is necessary for a healthy body, and because they are virtuous, they only desire that amount of food.
The virtue (good moral habit) related to this issue or tendency is self-disclosure. We all benefit from learning the life lessons, wisdom and insights of others. Personal sharing involves the struggles and disappointments as well as the joy, accomplishments an accolades we endure and achieve. I truly believe "pain shared it pain divided." Love shared is love magnified.  And yet, it might be worth considering that too much isn't necessarily a good thing. Some of what is personal can and should stay personal. Though uncommon in today's world, it really is okay to keep some things private.
Thinking about today's society gave me to pause to consider the past. Has oversharing always been a problem? Was there a time when self-disclosure was limited? Or non-existent? Was the under-share something anyone apologized for? 

As written about in Personal Statement: One Medal—The People, Experiences and Events Behind It my maternal grandfather, Michael John Naughton was an All-Ireland champion distance runner in 1920. If it were not for the two medals he kept in his dresser drawer, I'm not sure I would ever know about his accomplishments. My mom and her sister discovered these now coveted family heirlooms after he died. My Grandpa never talked about his personal success. I have a hard time understanding why he never shared stories of his victory? I have wondered, many times, What possesses a person to withhold information of this nature? In short, Why the undershare?

I have also wondered had he been alive when the movie Chariots of Fire played in the theater, would he have told us about his glory? Would he tell tales of running in this golden age? 
though not in this photo, these Irishmen would have been contemporary athletes of my grandfather
I look forward to seeing my grandfather again one day. I sincerely hope that when it is time to leave this earth that he will greet me in heaven with open arms. I hope that Eric Liddell—the consummate sportsman and championship runner featured in the Academy Award winning film— will stand at his side; I want the full story. I'm not sure I will ask my Grandpa Naughton why he never shared his story....no, I'll be too eager to hear it all. 

In the same way that personal sharing can be too much, a lack of self-disclosure means that we—family, friends, believers, etc get too little. We miss out. When we undershare, we leave those we love without information for understanding, emotion for insight and wisdom for reflection. We are left to guess or conjecture, surmise or suggest. In short, we will just never know.

The poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde, had it right when he wrote: "all things in moderation, including moderation." Though we live in a time when the overshare is both a noun and a verb—it's just too much!—I don't want a world where we are governed by the undershare. Let us find the mean. Let us celebrate the virtue of self-disclosure. Keep it in moderation. 

Photo Credits
Awesomeness
Stop Oversharing

Thursday, May 16, 2019

What Sports Has Taught Me About Feminism

What is feminism really about? What is a feminist? Are you a feminist? Who are the feminists you know and admire? Who is a feminist that challenges you?

Feminism began long before Betty Friedan penned The Feminine Mystique and its roots are much deeper than those planted by Gloria Steinem. The history of feminism, especially in American life is rich. Though the suffragettes took action over a century prior, their work is indeed necessary today. Why? Because of what feminism calls for...because of what feminism is really about—a topic that remains provocative, timely and as important today as when it started.
I hope your life experience, education, and personal conversations have helped you develop answers to my questions. I found mine through Sports and Spirituality. In coming to terms with my understanding of feminism, I have come to believe it would behoove us in our society and local communities to continue asking these questions, and having this conversation. Here's how...here's why.

The Winter Issue of Notre Dame Magazine focused on "A Winning Tradition." My favorite article, The Competitor focuses on the two-time national champion winning women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw. Benjamin Hochman writes
Every summer, McGraw has her players and staff read a book. In 2017 it was Admiral William H. McRaven’s Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life . . . And Maybe The World. This year, it was a slim title by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists. 
“She’s a Nigerian woman,” McGraw says, “and she talks about how women are looked at, especially over there, and how it’s still a man’s world — and what we gotta fight for. Really, all we want is opportunity. Equal opportunity, equal pay, you know, we want to be treated the same. It’s all we want. 
“So I had the girls define feminism for what they thought it was. And then we just talked about — are you a feminist? I thought the best thing was that they all defined it in a really smart way. They’re smart kids. So they would explain it in their own words, and it basically comes down to equal opportunity. 
“‘Well, are you a feminist?’ ‘I don’t know,’ some would say. And I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, you just defined it, aren’t you that?’ They’d say, ‘Well, yeah — thaaaat.’ But there’s a very negative connotation of what a feminist is, and they’re like, ‘I don’t hate men.’ I was like, ‘Well I married one! I don’t hate men either.’”
She wants her players to think critically about stereotypes.
Coach McGraw's desire is a worthy one. Stereotypes, especially around this issue loom large. They are worth unpacking and examining. 

Just last week, I played in a member guest day hosted by the Women's Golf Network at my club. As written on our website, "With more than 150 members, the Women’s Golf Network (WGN) is a dynamic organization providing a strong competitive golf program attractive to experienced women golfers, competitive opportunities for more casual golfers and development programs for the novice golfer. There are a variety of activities in which to get involved, including: lessons and clinics, travel to golf destinations, competitive tournaments, casual golf and opportunities to play at other private clubs. Participation in these events encourages improvement, as well as fostering camaraderie and positive relationships." The WGN is responsible for helping me develop into the player I am today and for fostering personal and professional relationships like no other. Golf is a wonder game in that way.


Before the tourney, I asked the WGN President if I could bring a male guest. With the green light, I invited the junior varsity girls' golf coach at Presentation High School—an all girls' Catholic high school in San Jose. Charlie and I became fast friends thanks to our love of coaching and the game. When another member was in search of a guest, Charlie and I thought to invite Dave, who served as the assistant JV girls coach. Turns out they were the only two men who played. Didn't matter to me or my WGN friend...it was a great day.

During the reception however, I was shocked by the number of women who asked me why I brought a male guest. Some said "I can't believe you brought two men to play." Others wondered who they were and what they were doing there. I didn't know this would be an issue. I still don't understand why it was perceived in that way. 
Regardless, my response to those who asked was: I know Charlie and Dave because we coach together. Let me tell you something. In terms of high school sports, junior varsity girls' golf is the lowest man or woman on the totem pole. The fact that two men want to work with young women to develop their game and grow golf is a wonderful thing. Golf is a great sport for both men and women to play—alone or together. For work or for play. Most of my players don't have moms that play; they learned from their fathers. Imagine if these players one day teach their daughters and sons to play golf, too!
No other words were necessary.


Are Charlie and Dave feminists? I won't answer that question for them (although one of them did renounce his membership at a golf club because they did not allow for female memberships...therefore I would say, yes, he is). Are the women who looked at me with suspicion and some disdain for bringing male guests feminists? I won't answer that question for them either. The real question is do we want equal opportunity and equal treatment for all? If that is what feminism is really about, let us make it a goal to shatter the stereotypes and harbor no suspicion of us vs. them. Instead, let us embrace the words of Greg Boyle, SJ who wrote:
“No daylight to separate us. Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”
I think he's a feminist too....

Photo Credits
McGraw Competitor
The Team

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Power of a Logo: Whether We Know it or Not

With 20 minutes to spare before our tee time, my friends and I walked up to the snack bar, and stood behind a sea of Tar Heel blue. I took inventory: 6 young men were wearing the same collared zip sweatshirt and hat, replete with interlocking NC logos. To their right stood a man slightly older than them in the same Carolina blue. I smiled at him and said "Coach, are you playing in a tourney here today?" We talked and I came to learn they were practicing before the NCAA Men's Golf Regional at Stanford University. I looked at the ACC logo on his sleeve and asked "How many ACC teams will be there?" I paused and pointed to my own jacket and said, "For example, will Notre Dame be there?!" I smiled again.
We represent our schools, causes, country and state, sports teams and clubs, passions and people all the time in ways both big and small. From a logo on your favorite sweatshirt to a sticker on your car window, we do a lot of marketing without even knowing it! We promote and publicize our allegiances before and after game day. I love connecting with others in this way.

However, today I was reminded that representing our school, our place of work, our alma mater or a community of personal import with a hat or shirt, golf bag or jacket isn't something we should treat lightly. Why? Because whether we know it or not, we send messages to others all the time. We observe color and symbol. We take inventory and look up and down, far and wide, and we take notice. What do they say? How do they say it. Indeed, people infer and deduce quite a bit about who we are with words and perhaps more loudly without them. 


For example, from time to time, I can be an aggressive driver. I have cut other cars off or switched lanes at the last minute, holding other vehicles back. It's not ok—and I know this by an action I consciously and subconsciously take. On the driver side window of my Jeep is a sticker that reads "University of Notre Dame Alumni." This gold square has an interlocking ND in the middle of it. When I have been
 a selfish person behind the wheel, I roll down that window. I don't want anyone to see that I went to Notre Dame. I don't want them to associate this gesture with other alumni. To some people that might sound ridiculous but to me, it's how I feel. I want others to have respect for ND graduates rather than contempt. A tall order I know, but I look at others in a similar vein.

This truth was reflected back to me in an unusual experience when my friends and I went to tee off—post snack bar—for our round of golf. The two men in front of us were late and should have joined the twosome they were paired with. Rather than apologize or explain what went wrong, one man put the issue back on me. He was defensive and corrected me on the time (NB: it's a near cardinal sin to be late in golf....a 12:50 tee time means you should be in the tee box and ready to go ten minutes prior). I was shocked at how caustic and unfriendly he was in the circumstance. His arrogance did not just affect me and my friends, but the line of golfers after us. Everyone makes mistakes! This was not the end of the world, but a simple apology...a "my bad" or "we'll do what we can to catch up with the other two" would have been appropriate and appreciated. 

As I sought to make sense of what transpired, I looked at the bag of this golfer. On this faded red bag was the head of a Bronco; that meant he went to, and most likely played at Santa Clara University. I then caught sight of four letters embroidered on the side; it said AMDG. That was tough to see.
Students at Jesuit schools write AMDG at the top of a paper or beside their name as they begin an exam. Some place AMDG on their artwork; others let this motto serve as the header for an important essay. AMDG or “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam,” is the Latin motto for the Society of Jesus meaning "for the greater glory of God." 

AMDG is not meant to be another decoration. AMDG is far from a marketing tool; the spirit of this motto should never ring hollow or untrue. The athletic director has told me that his biggest fear is someone will come up to a student and ask them "What does AMDG stand for and they won't know the answer." Therefore, coaches are called to actively lead with AMDG in mind and teach what it means: athletes are instructed to compete in a way that gives glory to God. They are reminded that sports is another way we can use our gifts and talents not just for personal gain, but as part of something much bigger than ourselves. Those letters are printed on team jerseys lest anyone forget.....and as I saw on the course today, on golf bags.

I have wondered how today's encounter with these two golfers could have been different. Thinking about it now, I think I would let those four letters: AMDG factor into our exchange. I wish I had paused. I wish I had given some silence after I asked what was going on (they knew). I wish I had said "Did you play at Santa Clara? I see AMDG on your bag." I don't know that things would have been any different, but I think I would be. AMDG means something to me. I know what it is and what it is not. That was far from how that motto is and what it calls us to be.

Again, all stones are cast to the side. I own my limitations and failings—but I am also an ambassador of the the places that have formed me, the communities I represent, my schools and teams, families and friends whether I want to admit it or not. In other words, I will do better behind the wheel so I don't have to roll that window down. I hope you will consider what this means in your life...

Photo Credits
UNC Golf
ND Sticker

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Spirituality of Siblings in Sports

Today my mom reminded me—again— that she has already made a reservation for brunch on Mother's Day. This is not a day to miss....or else. In the United States both Mother's and Father's Day have cultural weight and I appreciate that it does. On the other hand, I was unsure of the significance of National Siblings' Day—that is, until I visited the National Day Calendar—a fun and festive resource. I found this day's history to be quite meaningful.

National Siblings Day was founded by native New Yorker, Claudia Evart in 1995 to honor and celebrate siblings.  After losing her two siblings early in life in separate accidents, she knew how important siblings could be in our lives. 

Good, bad or otherwise, this is so true! There is a spirituality of siblings; I have not thought enough about what that might be. Our brother(s) and sister(s) are sometimes our best friends or our worst enemies. At times, siblings will provide us with our biggest competition, strongest encouragement and remind us of our most embarrassing moments. No wonder sports is a paradigm where we can learn about, celebrate and appreciate siblings. 
Sports—every one of them—is peppered with stories of siblings to play against and with one another. Male or female, older and younger, twins, even mirror twins color the wide world of sport. Many athletes credit their success to the role their sibling has played in their life. I have often wondered if you have Serena without Venus and vice versa.

The National Day Calendar post offered creative ways to observe this non-holiday. It said,  "Spend some time with your sibling(s). Enjoy looking at photos and videos of time spent with them. Use #NationalSiblingsDay to post on social media." And if I can throw in my two cents, I would say teach about great ones in the history of the Church, the United States and sports. As a teacher, I figured why not bring the topic of siblings into the curriculum. No better place for that than in Sports and Spirituality.
Reggie and Cheryl Miller
Upon completing my lesson on "Biographical Theology: how God works through Humanity," I put the challenge toward my students to make a case for a dynamic duo: siblings in sports. Their presentation would be judged on 
  1. creativity 
  2. uniqueness of personal story
  3. degree of cultural and athletic significance
This criteria eliminated likely suspects including the Peyton and Eli Manning and Venus and Serena Williams. A number of other duos were considered—Jim and John Harbaugh, JJ, Derek and TJ Watt but the following six groupings were featured.
  • Reggie and Cheryl Miller
  • Lyle and Miles Thompson
  • Kevin Price and Jerome Boatang
  • Shaquem and Shaquill Griffin
  • The Morris Twins: Markieff and Marcus
  • Aaron and Jordan Rogers
Although my personal preference was for the brother and sister combo of Reggie and Cheryl Miller, the Rogers emerged as the winners. I think they excelled in the creative category.
Shaquem and Shaquill Griffin
Catholic Social Teaching proclaims the value of the human family. The "Call to Family Community and Participation" states
The person is not only sacred but also social. How we organize our society—in economics  and politics, in law and policy—directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community.  Marriage and the family are the central  social institutions that must be supported and strengthened, not undermined. We  believe people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking  together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and  vulnerable.   
I truly believe this key principle ought to name and recognize the significance of siblings and their measure on family life. Each one is a blessing. Many children do not have siblings; they are not to be taken for granted. The death of a sibling, at any age is a profound loss for they share so much more than a common gene pool. Each one is a reflection of the majesty of God's creation—both sacred and social.
Lyle and Miles Thompson
I hope to expand on this lesson next April when I will celebrate National Siblings Day with appreciation, gusto....a little sport and a lot of spirituality.

Photo Credits
Rogers
Griffins

Thompson
Millers

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Logan Effect: An Easter Story

My fourth grade teacher had a magnificent egg collection. I was reminded of it today as I looked at the collection of beautiful Easter eggs my mom placed in the living room. People have all sorts of collections and my childhood was characterized by some good ones. My brother collected baseball cards and bottle caps. My sister collected stickers and more stickers. I shared her fancy and have wondered from time to time whatever happened to those photo albums artfully arranged with rainbow, unicorn and scratch and sniff goodness. I am still a collector—only today I collect something that is hard to show, but easy to give away. I take this collection very seriously. New items are added, more or less weekly, if not daily! They cost little but are utterly priceless. Perhaps you have contributed to my collection and odds are if you read my blog, you have benefitted from it. What do I collect? Stories...and sports offers some of the best ones. 

Greg Boyle has said "good stories come to those who can tell them." I don't disagree but I don't need to be the subject or the object, for that matter of the stories I tell. I look and listen for good ones. I like to think of stories as seashells on the seashore—pick up the good ones, carry them with you. Some are fragile; many are holy.

I have but a few tips for finding good stories. I'd be interested in hearing yours. One of mine is to read the "Letters to the Editor" of a magazine you enjoy and read regularly. I think it's safe to assume you will know a story from a good one based people's responses and reactions. And, the missive by Jim De Brouwer from Blenheim, Ontario was all I needed to pick up the issue, two weeks prior to read "The Logan Effect." DeBrouwer wrote

I've been a subscriber to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED since 1979. I've played hockey my entire life. I'm a tough guy. Your story on Humboldt Broncos player Logan Boulet (March 11) brought me to tears. It will be with me for eternity. Bravo, Greg Bishop.
Unfortunately, I've head stories about sports team and bus crashes before. By no means should any of them be trivialized or reduced to a number or statistic. Each one is personal and painful. My own friend and fellow alumna, Haley Scott DeMaria chronicles her experience of surviving a fatal bus crash for two members of the Notre Dame women's swim team in her book "What Though the Odds." I had the honor and privilege of teaching this text to my seniors in Sports and Spirituality last Fall. Her story will stay with me, and my students, for eternity, too. I wondered how this one might be different.
I don't know that I would have read "Life and Legacy: The Logan Effect" were it not for that SI Letter to the Editor. I'm not a huge hockey fan and given the magnitude of the loss—16 Humboldt Bronco hockey players—I thought it might be too much. But I would like to share this story here and now because believe it or not, "The Logan Effect" is an Easter story. The world needs Easter stories.

I believe Bishop's piece is an Easter story because like Easter, this tale also involves a terminal death and a paschal death. What does that mean? Ron Rolheiser explains this well. 
First, regarding two kinds of death: there is terminal death and there is paschal death. Terminal death is a death that ends life and possibilities. Paschal death, like terminal death, is real. However, paschal death is a death that, while ending one kind of life, opens the person undergoing it to receive a deeper and richer form of life. The image of the grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying so as to produce new life is an image of paschal death.
Richard Gaillardetz adds, "The central challenge of Christian life is to internalize and make this spiritual rhythm of life-death-life our own. With Jesus we are to live out of the assurance that we are God's good creatures, die to any tendency to make ourselves the ultimate reality in the universe, and live anew in lives of loving attentiveness and service to others."
I urge you to read "Life and Legacy: The Logan Effect" for yourself. I can assure you that Logan lives on in six other people as they were able to harvest his heart, lungs, corneas, liver, kidney, and pancreas. The beauty of this gift is that it was made possible because of a former coach who decided to be a donor just a few weeks before his own terminal death. Logan's death started a national conversation and countless smaller ones in a country with a real organ donation crisis due to abysmally low donation rates. Since Logan's terminal death, tens of thousands of Canadians have signed up to become donors, too.

I arrived at this Easter Sunday with a little hesitation. It's not easy to turn the corner... to turn penance and sacrifice overnight to joy and delight. After all, we spent 40 days in the desert, we walked the road to Calvary, we cried at the foot of the cross. Terminal death is real. But as I look to the 50 days of Easter, the Easter lilies in full bloom and the promise of the Risen Lord, I know that a Paschal death yields new life....risen life. 


This is my hope and my prayer for the Boulet family, the people of Saskatchewan and those who have lost loved ones in this way. Please know we won't forget what is terminal; let us hope and pray for the love and light of what is paschal. Your story is one I will keep in my collection. It is sad, painful and tragic; it also miraculous and meaningful. Thank you.
BTW: the word "Easter" in Latin is "paschae." Make sense.

Photo Credits
Team

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Tiger in the Room

I usually waste no time in composing yet another ode to the Masters. Oh Augusta! How I love thee. Let me count the ways. This year's tourney—set on golf's most stunning stage (my bias)— offered another remarkable chapter to its own history book and the game of golf's as well. Minutes after Tiger Woods captured his 15th Grand Slam title and his fifth at Augusta, I posted a photo with the caption: "There are no words. Golf won today." It did. The win was stunning, dramatic and emotional—for good and for bad. So why the pause? Why has it taken me five days to write what I have thought, discussed, shared and believe? I suppose it's because there's a Tiger in the room. I hope you know what I mean. To me, that Tiger presents a challenge, a quandary—its own, unique type of question that people are not asking. And so I wonder, can we get answers without questions...the question? 
I have gone my mailbox since Tuesday in anticipation of what I knew would be the Sports Illustrated cover photo and story featuring their two-time Sportsman of the Year. I came home yesterday to the iconic image: Tiger with arms raised in his trademark red and black. No caption....no words. I read the article hoping that it would offer me answers to my question. Perhaps this is your question. It's hard to form and tough to ask. What to do?

Michael Rosenberg's piece "TIGER" framed what sports fans have been discussing all week and raising questions we love to debate: Is this the greatest comeback of all time? This question began percolating when Tiger captured his 81st PGA tour win at The Tour Championship in October 2018. His 2019 Masters championship advanced that same question full throttle. Since that time, so many others have followed.

In his address to those inducted into PHI EA SIGMA at Colgate University, Coleman Brown wrote "Questions, you know, are not only the problems or paragraphs or multiple-choices on mid-terms and finals. Questions can be teachers. Questions can be like enigmatic but enduring friends; like someone whom you know so well yet still do not know but are thankful for." Sports fans can't help but be excited about the questions that we are asking with more sincerity since Tiger won. Questions such as the following are some of the good ones. 
  • Will he surpass Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 Grand Slam victories? 
  • Is he deserving of the Presidential Medal of Freedom? (this was announced on Monday, April 15 by President Trump).
  • How happy Joe LaCava right now? (the man was hired to caddy for Woods in/around 2011 and has stayed with him). #risktaker
  • Was that man standing with Tiger's mom Tida, his daughter Sam (11), son Charlie (10) and his girlfriend on the 18th green his back surgeon? (based on Rosenberg's article, I think it was his friend and business partner, Rob McNamara). Whoever his surgeon is, he or she deserves to be in that inner circle! Athletes get this question...
Other questions invite us to consider his impact. Most folks are already familiar with the "Tiger Effect." Woods has done more to grow the game in popularity, in particular among men and women of color than any single golfer. Tony Finau, who played in Woods' grouping on Sunday admits that he started playing golf because Tiger looked like him. I played golf after breakfast at the Masters to see a father and son donning a red shirt and black pants—their own personal tribute. To not ask How will Tiger's comeback effect golf? is shortsighted. This question must be raised....and so should this one.

How can we speak of the Tiger in the room? How should we speak of this Tiger? From what I have read and heard, watched and learned, THIS Tiger is an athlete who has made an incredible comeback from injury, four surgeries and a life that he never thought would be pain free again. This Tiger struggled with dependence on pain medication in the form prescription drugs. This Tiger was arrested for a DUI. But what the ESPN program "Tiger Woods: Return of the Roar" skirted around and and others fail to address is that Tiger Woods has also returned from living a lie.

Tiger Woods presented himself to be one person for many years. He was married to Elin Woods. He was teflon. He was the best of the best. We loved what we saw on the course and from what we knew off of it, all good. Those in his inner circle knew otherwise.

I don't think there is any coincidence that his last Grand Slam win was in 2008 and a year and a half later, the fall began with leaked voicemails....a club through the windshield of his Escalade and a self-imposed six-moth hiatus from professional golf. Since that time, Woods has struggled personally and professionally. To me, he skirts around the issue of what living a life without integrity can cost an individual. Infidelity and dishonesty, perception against reality take an emotional, mental and spiritual toll. 


I do believe people can change. As a Christian, I sincerely believe that I must...though most people will advise us not to. Christians are constantly called to conversion. Too often we hear a call for forgiveness; I do not want to underestimate how truly difficult and yet important it is to forgive our enemies AND the ones we love the most. But in this case, I want to put the onus on conversion. The call to conversion means that we must turn toward the light. We must root out sin. We must rely on the love and support of community, as we can't do it alone. Ultimately, we must ask for God's mercy and grace. This is what makes us new.
THIS is Tiger in the room of which I speak. I want to know what he has done with his mind and his heart, in addition to his game to see what we all saw at the 83rd Masters. We saw a golfer who has focused, who was in the zone. He drew upon an inner calm and referenced that reservoir of notes he has taken over the years to master Augusta National. I feel lucky to have seen what I saw. That Tiger in the room is why we love sports—it's also why we debate, disagree and sometimes just don't know. Sunday at the Masters is always super special; Sunday April 14, 2019 was no exception. Congratulations Tiger Woods.

Photo Credits
with LaCava
that green jacket

his family
SI Cover

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Ecstasy and the Agony: Reflections on the Women's NCAA National Championship

6:00 a.m.
Monday morning 
Hour of Power class 
95% male, 5% female (on a good day). Sometimes 1% ;-(
Lot of sport, a little spirituality. I am greeted by my workout buddies to cheers, no jeers. Efforts toward consolation, amidst my desolation. "We're sorry about Notre Dame!" and "Great game for the Irish." I let their words comfort me. I needed them to.
I don't know that I have cried over a loss before. I know athletes do. I get it. And this fan shed a good solid few as the Notre Dame women's basketball team exited the court after a tough loss to Baylor 82-80 in the NCAA National Championship game. When the TV camera caught Arike Ogunbowale walking with her mom, face hidden in her jersey, crying—I lost it. Her tears sparked my own—tears for what could have been and what will be no more. Four of the starting five players are seniors and the one junior is pursuing the dream they each sharing of playing in the WNBA. I realized very quickly this era of Notre Dame women's hoops would be no more. That realization led to several others. Here are but a few worth reflecting upon...

The Ecstasy and the Agony
Because Easter Sunday is so late, our Spring break will take place during Holy Week. I told my students I will miss not being with them during the holiest of days for Christians. I hope they will avail themselves to services around the Triduum. I remind them that Good Friday is a day of fasting and abstinence; I tell them this is always a spiritually challenging day for me. However, come Easter Sunday, everything changes. We enter into the Joy of the Resurrection for 50 days! ....and you get an Easter basket! We shared stories of past Easter baskets, our favorite candy until I tell them that last year, I received the best Easter basket ever. It's known as the Miracle Easter Basket....and it was.....twice!

What Arike accomplished in the semi-final and championship games to help Notre Dame win in the final seconds of both games changed the trajectory of her life. Her favorite basketball player—the inspiration behind wearing #24—sent her a tweet before the game and after. A week later they were united on the Ellen DeGeneres show where he gave her two signed jerseys: one for her and one for her dog, Kobe. She appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the caption "Ice Twice" and was a guest on "Dancing with the Stars." Safe to say that she became a heroine, a social media sensation, not to mention a national champion overnight. Did I mention that she earned the Most Outstanding Player Award in the 2018 NCAA Women’s Basketball tournament, captured a single-season record for highest scoring average in school history during her junior season and contributed to some of the most successful seasons Notre Dame women’s basketball has ever seen?! If that's not ecstasy, what is?

One year later, we thought she might do it again. With 3.9 seconds left in the game, fans had to wonder if Arike could and would do it again. The inbound play was met with great defense by Baylor. Arike drove to the hoop and drew the foul down low. With a free-throw percentage of 81% and ice in her veins—she really could act like she had been there before—she missed the first foul shot. It rolled around the rim and hopped out. Our only hope was left in getting a rebound upon missing the free throw. From the sidelines, it was easy to see Coach McGraw say "miss it." Arike put up the ball only to have it sink in, and "swoosh." With but 0.4 seconds left and Baylor inbounding the ball, the fate was sealed. Baylor won the national championship. Agony. The Irish exited stage left.
Arike Ogunbowale did not lose the game for the Irish. Arike Ogunbowale did not win the game one year prior for the Irish. It's easy for me to say this, but we must remember that a game is won and lost by the collective effort of the team. Society will lead us to think otherwise, but it's too much responsibility, burden, agony, ecstasy, joy and celebration for one person to bear. 

From 3.21 to 0
Being a fan isn't without a cost, both literally and figuratively. Yes, I have paid exorbitant amounts of money on tickets, road trips, and sports ware. I have spent an obscene amount of time traveling for games, standing in lines and (fortunately) attending live sports events! I wouldn't have it any other way. The cost I mention—in light of the national championship game—is stress to my central nervous system...my heart...and some living room furniture.

The Irish came back from a 17-point deficit. With 3 minutes and 21 seconds they took the lead for the first time. They made a few mistakes and Baylor got the ball. Coach McGraw called a time out. I looked at the clock and thought to myself, we can't get to the trophy without going through this 3 full minutes. The pressure was so intense. The anxiety was super high....and I'm not even an athlete on the floor. I took a breath and realized in a few minutes time, there final score would stand. One team would win, the other would lose. I held hope in my heart, put on my seatbelt and said "let's do this." A sick part of me loved the adrenaline rush. That wouldn't exist if it weren't a battle....a great contest...and a match between equals. What a great game. Thank you, ladies.


Kim Mulkey
I have never seen a camera fixate on a single coach in the way it did during the women's national championship game. One could say that with the bright colors, big hair and bold eyelashes, Kim Mulkey is asking for it, but to me, this was egregious. This was 
a match up between two equally great coaches. Both entered into the arena with two championship titles to their names. Both are strong women at the helm. Both are willing to show their own flare (Irish green made for interesting nail color Coach!). It's too bad the camera didn't feature the all female coaching staff at Notre Dame, more than it did.

I did love the way the Baylor coaches took their time congratulating and talking to the ND women's team when the game was over. They were gracious in defeat and warm in their praise for living up to the billing of the Fightin' Irish. That being said, I never saw how the ND coaches interacted with the players form Baylor because the camera, once again, focused on one coach....

Looking ahead.
It's hard to believe but just three days later, this team made history once again. The Irish become the first program in which all five starters were selected within the top 20 picks. They also join the 2008 Tennessee squad as the only two instances in draft history in which all five starters were selected in a three-round draft. Junior guard, Jackie Young became the second Irish player in program history selected No. 1 overall, joining Jewell Loyd. I am certain their coaches, families, friends and fans couldn't be more proud.

Where do we go from here?
I asked my students what do you do after a brutal loss. "Where do you go from here?" I queried. A thoughtful student said, "you let yourself feel the pain. To get through the pain, you must feel the pain."
Loss takes many shapes and forms. It might be in a national championship title, letting go of a dream, or realizing things won't be the same...but I firmly believe the deeper the pain, the greater the love. That's the only place to go from there....standing in appreciation, in awe, gratitude and thanksgiving for that ride....both last year and this year. No either/or. Both/And. Thank you women of Notre Dame.

Photo Credits
5 Starters
Kim Mulkey

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Spirituality of March Madness: Grace and Dwayne Wade

Thanks to Vincent Strand, SJ the author of "A Jesuit Confesses His Love for March Madness and NCAA Basketball," I no longer feel the need to fend off questions like "Does God care who wins the Super Bowl?" No, I now have a valuable resource in my pocket, an ace in the hole. Not only is it a witty and yet meaningful reflection on the significance of the NCAA tourney, it captures what my class Sports and Spirituality is really about. Here's how, here's why.
Strand, an alum of Marquette University, begins the piece by quoting the legendary Al McGuire who won a national season while coaching his final year for the Eagles (1977). His words are confusing. He writes "Al had said 'God didn't miss any of us'." Not only did I not know who Al was, I had no idea why he—or anyone—would say that. As one of my colleagues says all the time, "Confusion is the first step toward real learning." I read on.

Strand's hook arrives early—as a student at Marquette who loved what he was studying, but loved the Golden Eagles even more (thank you, Dwayne Wade). He writes of the the conflict most sports fans can understand. "I wanted to set out on a contemplative journey to God and to watch March Madness, and I saw no way of doing both." The good news folks, is that through the lived example of his professor, "a paradigmatic old-school Jesuit" he realized he should, would and could.


His teacher decided to speak and teach about basketball in a new way. He said, "I remember something my old professor said to us the day after Marquette punched its ticket to the Final Four in 2003: “The experience you are having cannot be reductively explained by the effect of a ball going through a hoop. No, something else, something beyond the material—dare I say, something transcendent—is at play.” This experience offered Strand an understanding of grace, one that is not mystical, poetic or idyllic. He states "God is found in the interstices, I tell my spiritual directees. That is, in the nooks and crannies and the spaces between. In the gaps, the breaks, the areas where things just don’t line up." 

This grace accounts for the agony of defeat AND the thrill of victory. Not either/or. No, this Grace is both/and.  I get it when he states "(four game) losing streaks will cause you to question just about everything: pick-and-roll defense, your star guard's usage rate, the spiritual principles that orient your life." In those raw moments, the reality of sport and of spirituality are equal bedfellows. I too will have to speak to my maker about my inordinate attachments (all things ND). And, to read "the experience you are having cannot be reductively explained by the effect of a ball going through a hoop. No, something else, something beyond the material—dare I say, something transcendent—is at play" captures what the madness, the frenzy, and the fanaticism is all about. I really do believe on the seventh day, God said "let's play two!"


Strand reminds all of us who seek, that we shall find. He found a vocation with the Society of Jesus and a deeper understanding of what March Madness—and its spirituality—does to us and for us. It's a great insight into all we can learn from studying Sport AND Spirituality and the relationship between the two.....All sports fans can benefit from this reflection. Enjoy

Photo Credits
Golden Eagles
Dwayne Wade

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Legging Problem: the struggle IS real

Ah, the problem of leggings...or rather, The Legging Problem. I have been asked by fellow Notre Dame alumni and friends what I think about the letter to the editor bearing this name. Mary Ann White, wrote to the Observer, the student newspaper that she "thought about writing this letter for a long time. I waited, hoping that fashions would change and such a letter would be unnecessary — but that doesn’t seem to be happening. I’m not trying to insult anyone or infringe upon anyone’s rights. I’m just a Catholic mother of four sons with a problem that only girls can solve: leggings." Her piece has been met with backlash and protest, some applause, questions and over 700 comments. Here is mine. 
First, I would like to separate the letter from the problem. Why? Because I want White as well as all people from South Bend to San Francisco, Seattle to Savannah to know that the struggle is real. Leggings are a problem. Here's how. Here's why.

I teach at a Catholic high school that has a dress code. On a near daily basis, I give detention to students who choose to disregard it. Our students are prohibited from wearing jeans, leggings, and shirts without a collar. Skirts must be of a certain length. Faces must be cleanly shaven. Plunging necklines are unacceptable. I have not asked the deans for the numbers of students who violate our policy, but I am confident that not a day goes by where one of our 1400 students has not done so. Chief among the infractions are students in leggings.
However, when I talk to my students about the importance of following and being in dress code, I never do so because of the affect it will have on the opposite gender. Although that may or may not be true, such a principle will fall on deaf ears. My point will be lost. They won't have it. I'm not sure if that is "the nature of the teen" or "kids today." Regardless, we have a dress code because we have determined that it is important to hold one another up to certain standard. And if you care to re-read how I described the aforementioned dress code, not one rule applies to just girls or just boys. The standard is equal opportunity.

This standard—our dress code— is evaluated and reviewed every year. We have made changes and accommodations in the 16 years I have worked at St. Ignatius. In the classroom, leggings is not one we are willing to make. Yes, they are comfortable, yes, they are popular but we have decided they do not meet the criteria we have deemed fit for this particular environment. Conversely, students are free to wear leggings for athletic practices or fine arts performances; many wear them on retreats. 

Furthermore, I have accompanied many student groups on one or two week immersion/service trips. Some agencies have asked us not to wear leggings at their respective service cites or in their given communities. Others don't mind. We always default to the standard set by our host agency. I value these experiences for many reasons, but one is that students are reminded that school is not the only place that may ask something of them in how they present themselves. My golf team might be more aware of this reality than other athletes as it is not uncommon for clubs to uphold a dress code. Although many dress codes are more lax than they once were, they have not gone away entirely. Many jobs require uniforms, several for good reasons. Oh, and last time I checked, most athletes find putting on their uniform—as standard as it gets—to be an honor.  But I believe Ms. White's rationale misses the mark. I believe her letter was a missed opportunity. I would not be surprised if she disagrees. 

Rather than single out one gender versus the other, I wish the letter would raise a question. I believe asking "how ought men and women present themselves in a formal religious setting like the Basilica?" is a worthy question. I would like to hear from young people whether or not anything goes. Should it? Why or why not? I know that Sunday mass in most student dorms is very casual. My friends would wear sweats and even pajamas to the 10 pm mass in Farley Hall. Everyone was comfortable sitting on the floor, on pillows, on benches against the wall. No one was naked. I wouldn't give leggings a second thought. The Basilica however IS different to me. The liturgy is much more formal. The music and the atmosphere ask something of participants that is different than mass in the Crypt or in the dorm—perhaps that includes how we present ourselves. Maybe not. Regardless, I'm grateful we have so many different opportunities to come together for the Eucharist AND that people do!


I think it's okay to invite a community to consider how we relate to others and affect others in light of how we present ourselves—both for better or for worse. White leaves these words unsaid, but sexuality is indeed a powerful fire that everyone grapples with understanding, expressing, promoting and respecting.  How men and women choose to dress is an important component of wrestling with this fire. That struggle is real, too.

In about an hour from now, the Notre Dame women's basketball team will play Stanford University in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tourney. I have no doubt those women will be in uniform. They will wear blue and gold for Our Lady or green for the Irish and I will cheer for them with pride and the hope that we prevail. Should a male student or a female student for that matter be in the audience cheering without his or her shirt on, I will raise more questions. Time and place. Context. All of it matters. Should it?!

Photo Credits
Leggings at ND

ND Women
KeiVarae Russell