Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Question: Smile or Mugshot?

Like you, COVID-19 prompted me to organize files I didn't know I had. When I decided against tossing the one labeled "future blog postings," I paused. Was that a bad idea? I asked. The interior debate raged on. To keep or not to keep, that is the question. Well, this posting reveals the answer. It shouldn't have taken eight years to write and yet, it doesn't matter. The topic is timeless. It's one every athlete must choose on picture day: smile or mug it?
very happy to see so many smiles among student athletes

Although a relic by today's standards, I still have a penchant for a sports program. To this day, I purchase them at sports contests if they are available and I loved that the Athletic Department of St. Ignatius College Prep created one for fall, winter and spring sports. As an upper division teacher, I would look at each varsity team to find out (in case I missed it) what sports my students played.

I saved part of the Spring 2010 program because the baseball squad caught my eye and prompted my question. Every single player opted to mug it, except one boy. I knew him well and wasn't surprised he flashed a warm, good looking smile. I did however begin to wonder from whence the serious shots hath come. I know I am not the only person who wants to know.
A friend and regular reader confirmed my suspicion when he wrote to me about the shot featured in my bi-weekly newsletter: Sports and Spirituality Synopsis. Via e-mail he wrote:
Whether the kids decided it or were directed to it, they're all giving the "serious, competitive look."  With individual and team photos (in sports and in families), many people choose various different "looks."  Some smile, some serious, etc.  I wonder,  when everyone is giving the "competitive look," what positives does that convey about sports and what does it miss?  While the competitor in me loves the photo, the educator in me wonders, Where's the joy? the fun of sport?  I'm sure these kids, in this photo, love and enjoy their sport and their teammates.  I'm not worried about them. It just struck me when looking at these kids (14-18 year olds) that they seemed awful serious in the photo.  Would love to hear what you think.
I thanked him for framing my questions and concerns so well. I wonder, Are student athletes imitating what they see? Is that a good thing?  The students with whom I have discussed this photo love it. Several have indicated that the athletic department at St. Francis should update it every year. They want to be the model athlete of their sport. I get it.  Knowing their appreciation of this poster, would they hold back their excitement? Would they Smile or mug it?!

In my last blog posting, I noted that when I did a mental inventory of how many athletes have a great smile, I realized just how many do not smile, period! Most are very serious. I get it; competition is serious. But athletes are gifted with amazing talents, beautiful bodies and artistic abilities.  They ought to reflect what St. Iranaeus believes: the glory of God is the human person fully alive. I hope that participating in sports, playing on a team, engaging in recreation, learning from mistakes and achieving victory does amount to a person fully alive!

As you prepare for your next season, encourage your athletes to smile. And when you are confronted with the question: Smile or Mug it? let it not be a question.

Here are but five passages of Scripture that speak to the spirituality of a smile!
Proverbs 31:25
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future.

Proverbs 15:30
Bright eyes gladden the heart;
Good news puts fat on the bones.

Job 29:24
“I smiled on them when they did not believe,
And the light of my face they did not cast down.

Psalm 34:5
They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces will never be ashamed.

Numbers 6:25
The Lord make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you

Photo Credits
Mother Teresa

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Best Smiles in Sports

Sitting in the dental chair, I tried to remain positive about the work being done on my pearly white as possible. Out of no where, my front tooth chipped and decay set in. I needed that enamel back. Like the little orphan Annie, I believe I am never fully dressed without my smile. That front tooth is an essential element of that wardrobe. 

I let the dentist and her assistant do the work and when they showed me the finished product, I smiled. I thanked them they asked how I was doing. Feeling both relieved and grateful I said, "Do either of you like soccer?" Surprised by my question I said "the reason I ask is because the coach of the Liverpool Reds, Jurgen Klopp has these majestic teeth. A sports writer described them as 'the Hoover Dam.' As you were working, I channeled my inner Jurgen." The assistant went to the computer in the office and pulled up his smile. "Is this him?" she asked. "Yes!" I said, "I think he has one of the most remarkable smiles in sports." And with that comment, the idea for this blog was born. 
NB: I figured it had been written about before,
but I was curious to see how my list would compare.

I did a mental inventory of athletes and their smiles. I invite you to do the same before you look at my list. I realized, it's not something a lot of athletes do; they're quite serious. But, a great smile lights up a room. It is tough to extinguish. 

We love smiles because, like the eyes, they reveal something about our soul. They can be forced, they can be fake, but we know....you know....when it's not. Furthermore, smiles emanate from a reservoir of joy, which makes them all the more interesting to me. What makes a person more joyful than another? And how can "bad" people still be joyful? Can I become more joyful? Can I smile more often? These are worthy, universal questions!

I invite you to consider your own and please share them with me, post on this blog. For example: Whereas I wouldn't write about the best legs in sports (or buttocks, other body parts) I can write about the best smiles (or eyes...or hair) and no one is offended? What makes them so different? 

I received a postcard that says: "Your day will go the way the corners of your mouth turn." Smiles might be contagious....so look at these athletes and coaches and let me know if it makes you smile, too. Undoubtedly, I will forget more people than not. In the interim, here's a list.
1. Jurgen Klopp: As the inspiration for this post, I had to start with the German coach. Much to my disappointment (not sure why) my dentist revealed to me what is probably obvious to you. Klopp has veneers. I would contend that smile is much more than the teeth, it speaks to one's spirit. But I would be incredibly naive to think that's all it is. Together we looked at the before and after photos. It's hard to deny his smile is not of epic, megawatt proportions now without those teeth. Still, knowing his persona, he and his smile still make this list.
2. Cam Newton: I wonder if Patriots' fans were smiling when the Carolina Panther's quarterback signed with New England in a one year deal. They lost one NFL MVP when Tom Brady took his talent to Tampa Bay but managed to pick up another Newton. He is still smiling.
3. Mary Lou Retton: Retton appeared on the cover of the Wheaties Box in 1984 because she was the first-ever American woman to win the all-around gold medal at the Olympics. I'd like to think her great smile had something to do with it too. I write that because Retton reminds me we can also smile with our eyes. She competed with joy, which is just one reason the Olympic Games in Los Angeles were so memorable.
4. Carl Lewis: While on the topic of the 1984 Olympic Games, I think I would be smiling too if I won four golf medals in track and field. This historic feat matched the achievement of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Games in Berlin. I mention Lewis, because he has had me smiling in his willingness to put himself out there. His ceremonial first pitch is one of the worst I have seen as is his rendition of the national anthem at the 1993 NBA Finals is horrible. Smiling and laughing go hand in hand.
5. Chris Webber: I am certainly missing my annual sojourn to Lake Tahoe for the Celebrity Golf Classic. A group of friends and I travel to casually watch golf and the many athletes who participate in the tourney. They are fun to talk to, giving autographs and posing for photographs. In search of a way to connect with C-Webb, my friend said "I will say Go Blue!" I looked at him and said "Why not tell him he has a great smile." It's true. She did and the result? a fantastic photo. Smile included. 
6. Tiger Woods: This is more than great orthodontia. Woods' smile is one of the best.  For a long time Tiger didn't smile. We get it. And even now, when he does, I know a lot of people who can't even look at him. However, his smile—which is often quite authentic—reveals something about his humanity. Yes? No?
7, Megan Rapinoe: When I picture the US Women's National soccer team captain, I see a woman who is pensive and serious. She is often caught in a moment where it appears as though she is looking off in the distance. But quite often she smiles beautifully—laugh lines and all. She's an important face—and smile—for the game!

Many athletes give their mug shot, instead of a smile. This is also a fun topic to debate with other coaches. Why are our athletes NOT smiling? Aren't sports a source of joy in their lives? Should they be serious? Next time you're in the dental chair, talk to your hygienist and dentist and get their thoughts. 

Photo Credits

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A Poem for Women's Crew: Demanding and Beautiful

The era of COVID has been characterized by tons of numbers, stats, polls and more. Some require critical interpretation and others, well—not so much. I would like to read one that reports the number of Americans who have organized and reorganized their closets, desks and drawers. Is it nine out of ten? Ten out of ten?!
The varsity program at ND is for women's crew only. They are outstanding athletes.

A friend shared an article—clever title and of little surprise. SF Gate reports, One of the hottest reservations you can get right now isn't for a restaurant. Where might that be? Goodwill, Salvation Army and so forth. Tessa Mclean writes, "The last time David Watterson saw people donating this much clothing was in the heyday of Marie Kondo. Driven by the Japanese organizer's message to only keep the items that spark joy in your life (first with her book in 2014, then a Netflix show in 2019), thrift stores across the country saw a huge uptick in donations." I dropped off a box of housewares yesterday. 

I took a fairly fine tooth comb through my files and came across a file labeled "ND Crew." A four year rower at the University of Notre Dame, I loved my experience as a (club) student athlete. My affection for the sport was made visible in what I read and what I wore. One of my most cherished awards is the "Most Improved Oarswoman" from my sophomore year on the varsity squad. Through crew, I made lifelong friendships. I am so grateful for the opportunity afforded by rowing to travel throughout the eastern and southeastern United States. Ah the stories.... Thanks to rowing, I was hired to work at St. Ignatius College Prep where I coached girls' crew for two years (which made me appreciate my rowing coaches that much more....not easy!!). It seems that a lot of college students give rowing a shot—and I'm glad they do. 
Some stay, more leave. It's a demanding sport but it's a beautiful one. 

And if I had to describe rowing in two words it would be: demanding and beautiful. I suppose that is why I wrote this poem. Scratched onto a large Post-In Note (2 pages), I wish I had taken a photo of this ode to Women's Crew. Instead, I captured the text for this blog. All the rowers out there will understand the language I speak. Those of you who were my teammates, this was our vernacular. I would like one more 7:00 a.m. breakfast together at the head table in South Dining hall to share these memories. I don't feel like thanking COVID for anything right now, but the time and space to organize, read and reflect, how can I not say that is a most (un)welcome grace. Enjoy

Poem for Notre Dame Women's Crew
Ready all…row!…Ringing alarm clock at 5:00 a.m….Run to the parking lot and back…R-u warm yet?...Row huge…Row like this is your last piece of the day…Row like HELL…Row easy…Relax… Run it out….Rivalries…Requirements: dedication and determination….Rigorous workouts…Rock solid…Raw power: Women’s Crew.

Ongoing commitment…On the water…Open blister…On this one….One seat up, let’s go for two seat….One more, you know you’ve got it in your, now let me see it. On fire with primal power. Out of our puddles….off the water. Women’s Crew.

What a feeling….Wonder….Wow! What a rush! Wake off bow…What a row! Willpower…Weights…Working together—all eight as one….Waiting for results of a race…Who are our biggest competitors? Which schools are we going after in this race? That a glorious morning to be out on the water…Willingness to give it your all…Wanting it more than other crews….  Women’s Crew.

Intensity….In two and one on this one....In our puddles, give me more. I want to see more! Internal struggles…Injuries…Internal concern….In your head picture victory….Into the last 500 we’re going up for 10….In your face…Inspiration….Intelligence… Insanity? If it is as easy everybody would do it…In your legs, feel the burn….Women’s Crew.

No holding back—give it all you’ve got. Nerves of steel…Not tonight, I have crew in the morning. Nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide. Never took back…Noticeable…Nobody does it better….No one person is the team….Not one bad stroke…No dipping at the catch….Never before have you seen such power….Women’s Crew.

Going for more….Getting up in time to see the sun get up. Gearing up for races—carbo loading…Give me bow woman in three….Getting stroke rate up…giving 110%…GUTS, Glory, goin the extra mile, get tough, get crewed. Women’s Crew.

Photo Credits
ND Women's Rowing

Sunday, June 28, 2020

On Being a Sports Fan, The World Needs Connection

A funny thing happened today. I sat in my living room and yelled at the television. If you were down the hall you would have heard me whistling and clapping. My cell phone was blowing up with text messages from friends who were watching what I was. Excited. Observant. Hopeful. Sound familiar? Maybe you are thinking "I can relate to that...but it's been a while." When this event came to an end, I turned off my TV and took a deep breath and basked in a familiar satisfaction. Ah....to be a sports fan. 
Johnson won the tournament by shooting a 61 on Saturday. Way to go low.

I enjoyed watching Dustin Johnson win the Traveler's Championship (-19), his 21st PGA title. For 13 straight years DJ has earned a trophy on the tour, which is no small accomplishment. He has certainly had his share of personal and professional highs and lows. Today was a great win (and how awesome was that power drive on 18 today?!).

Golf is but one sport that has resumed play in a modified fashion in the era of COVID. Though it's much more exciting to have my reactions amplified by all those in the gallery, I'm grateful the game has moved on from "Best of the Masters" and other tourneys from 30 years prior. Today's match reminded of how much joy sports bring to my life. I don't apologize for this truth and I don't want to. They connect me to others in a delightful, sometimes cursory/other times meaningful and memorable way. If there's one thing we need in our world right now, it's connection.

I am not a soccer (football) fan. I don't apologize for this and yet I often feel I may be missing out because I don't share others' passion for it. That being said, some of the people who I care about the most love the "beautiful game." Therefore, I have found that part of the way I show them how much I care is take an interest in what matters to them. 
My favorite podcast, ESPN Daily had an excellent interview with Roger Bennet (Men in Blazers) about the return of  the world's most popular sports league, the English Premier League. I listened to it because I knew my Dad would be excited about the return of the other football.

As written by ESPN, "Roger and Mina discuss Liverpool's remarkable season thus far in their quest to win their first league championship in 30 years. The two also explore the slew of health and safety protocols that have been put in place for the Premier League to return to action, as well as the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that are expected across the matches in England. And in this mad dash to finish the season, who will qualify for Champions League and Europa League? Is Son Hueng-min the greatest Korean soccer player ever or just the greatest soccer player ever? Rog has all the answers." They also discussed the team's manager, now in his fifth season at Liverpool, Mr. Jurgen Klopp.
I was so thoroughly entertained by this podcast that I talked to my dad about the Premier League and about the Liverpool team. The fact that I was surprised that they had a German head coach reflects just how little I know about professional soccer. My dad's enthusiasm for Klopp and the Premier League led me to read a piece about him in the February 2020 issue of Sports Illustrated. Shelter in Place has not only allowed me to catch up on old journals, it has expanded my imagination and interests. And, that personal growth, when channeled for good can only deepen my connections with others and forge new ones in the future. 

The Sports Illustrated article J├╝rgen Klopp's Authentic, Infectious Aura and Ultimate Mission leads me to believe, I am not alone. Grant Wahl writes
Klopp rarely idles his drive to forge human connections. When 750,000 Liverpool fans turned out for the parade celebrating the Champions League triumph last June, Klopp swears he tried to hold eye contact for at least a fraction of a second with each person he saw from his perch atop the team bus.

“How much it meant to the people? I thought I knew, but seeing it is completely different,” he says. “You had 60-, 70-, 80-year-old men and women punching their chests, screaming, ‘I! LOVE! YOU!’ Life is all about having that kind of relationship.”

That worldview is reflected on the field, where the key to Klopp’s high-pressing style is to combine the collective talents, desires and energies of players from a wide range of nations into a unit that is greater than the sum of its parts.

So explains Klopp, legs crossed on a white-leather office couch, speaking between puffs on a vape. He’s dressed a bit like a dad going to his kid’s weekend soccer game: black sweatshirt, windpants, white running shoes, no socks. But what stands out above all else in person are his teeth. They’re majestic, like a human Hoover Dam, and they can express multitudes, whether it’s the pleasure of a radiant smile or the “Let’s go!” urging of a sideline gnash or the cackling cocksureness of the cartoon-villain laugh he emits when his team concedes.
Wahl's piece affirmed why I am a sports fan. To read that the head coach of a great team sought to hold eye contact with fans reminds me that being sports fan is not something to discount. There is a connection between coaches and fans, athletes and followers.  They feel it, we feel it, I feel it. Energy is a powerful force....one that is often difficult to contain. And I hate to say it, but what I find most challenging about wearing a mask is that I miss people's smiles. I too communicate with my teeth....they aren't majestic...they are far from the Hoover Dam but without them I am inhibited in my communication with others. These are challenging times, but there are so many ways to connect with others. Taking an interest in their favorite sport is just one way to do that.

The writer Muriel Spark said, "I became a Catholic because it explained me." I get that....I share her sentiment. Being a Catholic Christian explains me. But, so does being a sports fan. 

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Remembering Pastor. Preacher and Forty-Niner Faithful: Father Ken Westray

About five years ago, I stumbled upon a great gift: the 8:00 a.m. Mass at St. Vincent de Paul Church in San Francisco. I had been a long time parishioner at the much beloved St. Dominic's Church on Bush and Steiner; the 5:30 p.m. Sunday mass is known for its wonderful music and a vibrant faith community full of young adults. I had a home at St. Dom's; nothing was broken or remiss, but I needed to account for a change in my life. I started playing golf on most Sundays. Evening mass was too late; their 7:30 a.m. mass was a little too early. Fortunately, I found a solution.  SVdP offered an 8:00 a.m. service. With my clubs in the back of my car, I headed down the hill to Green and Steiner Streets. I found a church full of young families, tons of kids, elderly folks and a warm, gentle and energetic pastor, Father Ken Westray. 

I have grown to love my parish, so much that when people ask me why I don't move closer to where I work, I list SVdP and the Olympic Club as two primary reasons I do not want to leave. Sports and Spirituality isn't just the name of this blog, it's a metaphor for my life, and the life of Father Ken. He died in his sleep on June 24, 2020.

Father Ken never said a homily that lasted more than five minutes. Much to my surprise, I infrequently wished he would preach a little longer. He had a deep, resonate and cheerful voice. Truly, he proclaimed the Gospel. Like a father, he spoke from the heart on how we could live it. I can see him now, pointing his finger and shaking his head, smile on his face, telling us what we needed to hear. Thank you, Father!

After Mass, whether he was the presider or not Father Ken always stood outside the church to greet the congregation. Over 75% of the time, he did so wearing his clerics and an old school Forty Niners jacket. One couldn't see this near maroon and gold thread jacket and not know he wasn't a fan; this served him well in ministry. Talking football was often the pathway for beginning a conversation he was willing to take elsewhere. And, it should come as no surprise that on Super Bowl Sunday 2020, he put smiles on everyone's face when he offered a prayer at the end of Mass for the Niners to bring home the win. 
At this time last year, Father Ken was on sabbatical. An interim pastor was put in place who helped me appreciate the warmth and inclusivity of Father Ken and his leadership. This other priest was judgmental and never looked me in the eye. On a regular basis, I left mass legitimately affected by his homilies and insensitive remarks (and as a high school teacher, I'd like to believe I have a fairly high and wide tolerance). I have never been a person to base my experience of parish life on the priest alone, but this experience certainly challenged that reality like no other. I gained an understanding for those who may live in places with a priest who difficult. I hope you stay and keep your faith; I know how hard that can be. I don't often write about something that negative, but it can't be swept under the rug. We were lucky. Father Ken returned and when he did, it was with arms wide open. The warmth that had been frozen filled the hearts and halls of SVdP again. Father Ken's care, his smile and his presence made us come back to life. We say all the time that leadership makes a difference. This is but another example of that truth.

I have written about why being a parishioner means something to me, in a reflection on the late Coach Moran Wootten. Feeling the loss of a priest like Father Ken in the way I do, has me thinking it means more than we might ever know. 

The Notre Dame Book of Prayers says, "As much as we experience God in the everyday moments of our lives, we also encounter God in a special way in our Church. The parish is where Catholics gather regularly to praise God and to seek support from others in living the Christian life. It's also where we celebrate significant milestones: new life, life-time commitments, and death. Lots of other things happen at parishes, from Bible study to Bingo. But the most important event is the liturgy, where we encounter God in the Eucharist and in the People of God."

Thank you Father Ken for sharing those everyday moments with us—at the Cioppino dinner, donuts on First Sundays, our annual picnic, the Women's Club and breakfast after Thanksgiving Day mass. Thank you for witnessing the big events in our life and sharing the sacraments. I hope you spirit will stay with us for years to come. You left us and this world too soon. I will miss that jacket and your short homilies, life lessons and love of the Lord God you gave to all of us.

Let us pray for Father Ken's family and the work of pastors.

Prayer for Parishes
We thank you now for this house of prayer
In which you bless your family
As we come to you on pilgrimage.

Here you reveal your presence by sacramental signs, and make us one with you through the unseen bond of grace.

Here you build your temple of living stones, and bring the Church to its full stature as the body of Christ throughout the world, to reach its perfection at last in the heavenly city of Jerusalem., which is the vision of your peace. 

In communion with all the angels and saints we bless and praise your greatness in the temple of your glory. —Sacramentary.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Maya Moore: Just Mercy 2.0

In the wake of George Floyd's murder, the number of Americans reading, talking and learning about systemic racism, how to become anti-racist, and what policies and procedures hold people of color behind is significant. "Just Mercy" is a popular book included in that conversation and was made into a movie, released last Fall. It written by one of my personal heroes. Bryan Stevenson. If you feel like I do, allow me to make a recommendation along a similar story line. I invite to read and learn about of one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Maya Moore. 
At first glance, one might wonder what Moore and Stevenson have in common. I have no idea if Stevenson, an American attorney who founded the Equal Justice Initiative plays hoops. And prior to her announcement in The Player's Tribune to leave the game, I don't know that many people considered Moore to be a social justice activist. Yet, as written in "How Golf Can Root Out Racism" assume nothing. Let people tell their own story. I encourage you to read "Just Mercy"  as you will learn Stevenson's. In the meantime, here's Maya Moore's..it's a good!

ESPN reports, "At 29 years old, she'd already won four WNBA championships and a league MVP award. She was the 2011 WNBA Rookie of the Year. She was a six-time WNBA All-Star and a five-time All-WNBA first-team honoree. She had won three consecutive championships with her club in China, Shanxi Flame, as well as a EuroLeague Championship with Russian powerhouse UMMC Ekaterinburg. She had won two Olympic gold medals with Team USA. At the University of Connecticut, she'd won two national championships and was a four-time consensus All-American and the only player in women's college basketball history to win the Wade Trophy three times." ESPN's Katie Barnes said, "She is so versatile: she can play four positions and guard four positions.  She's so fluid. Her jump shot is truly magnificent. As someone who grew up in Indiana, I know a good jump shot when I see one." Her game is a beautiful thing to watch. 
On February 5, 2019, Moore announced in an article entitled The Shift that "I will not be playing professional basketball this year." It was sudden. It was unexpected. Some have said it's the equivalent of Michael Jordan leaving in 1993. Why did Moore do this? She writes: 
There are different ways to measure success.

The success that I’ve been a part of in basketball truly blows my mind every time I think about it. But the main way I measure success in life is something I don’t often get to emphasize explicitly through pro ball.

I measure success by asking, “Am I living out my purpose?”

I learned a long time ago that my purpose is to know Jesus and to make Him known.

Some of you may know about the verse from the Bible that I include in my autographs: Colossians 3:23.

I take the time to leave people with a little insight into who is the foundation of my approach, passion and motivation.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord….”

My announcement is about how I’m shifting the focus to the whatever.

My focus in 2019 will not be on professional basketball, but will instead be on the people in my family, as well as on investing my time in some ministry dreams that have been stirring in my heart for many years.

I will certainly miss the day-to-day relationships with my teammates and basketball family this season, but my no for the 2019 pro season allows me to say yes to my family and faith family like I never have before.

I’m sure this year will be hard in ways that I don’t even know yet, but it will also be rewarding in ways I’ve yet to see, too.

I’m thankful to my Lynx family and others close to me who have been walking with me during this shift, and I’m excited to see what the future holds.
Moore believes that success and her purpose in life is to live the Gospel. She has heard the cry of the poor. She wants to be a voice for the voiceless. She said, "we need to look at what matters most— which is each other, humanity. Protecting people and loving one another."  to me, Moore embodies a popular song from my childhood church choir: They will know we are Christians by our love." 

Moore explained her departure from basketball through her actions., her sacrifice, and her love. Before stepping away, she regularly flew "between her Atlanta home and Jefferson City, fully committed to a singular cause: supporting the effort of Jonathan Irons to regain his freedom -- because she believes he was innocent."
Irons has already spent 22 years in prison. A friend of her Godfather's, Moore is convinced that Irons was wrongfully convicted and is trying to get him out." Her efforts are akin to those of the Equal Justice Initiative. Her days aren't much different than those of Bryan Stevenson's.

There is much to learn about the American justice system through reading "Just Mercy." There is even more to gain through lived examples of Bryan Stevenson and Maya Moore. Their principled, selfless, and loving efforts serve as examples to me of two people who ARE answering a question we all should ask ourselves. "Am I living out my purpose?" What a success story....

Listen to the ESPN Daily Podcast here
For those interested in the discussion questions for Just Mercy used by the Notre Dame Women Connect Shared Read, I have linked them here

Thursday, June 18, 2020

What Do You Miss About Sports that Surprises You?

As you know all too well, "The coronavirus pandemic has meant that people all over the Unite States have been unable to gather for worship for months." Consequently America magazine asked readers if they "found themselves surprised by what they missed about Mass or their faith community." Their answers were beautiful. They illuminated the power of Tradition, the sacraments and a community of faith. Here are but three responses, that moved me:
  • It surprises me how much I miss all of it. Even trying to find a seat, crying babies, unexciting homilies…. Of course I miss the Mass and the Eucharist, but the others surprise me. —Patty Amato Claremont, Calif. 

  • Everything I took for granted. Daily Mass after I drop my daughter off at school. Lighting candles for the sick (and sometimes paying for them!). Hearing a favorite hymn, and trying to sing it. Hearing Fathers Vince, Junior or Adam nailing a homily. Seeing the same 99-year-old man, with cane, genuflecting until his right knee hits the floor—and seeing him painfully getting up. Going out of my way to shake a hand at the sign of peace. Seeing others at Mass, whether 20 or 300, and knowing that despite our doubts...we are part of a 2,000-year tradition. The taste of a Communion wafer. Criticizing, in my head, the dude who leaves after Communion...and then feeling like a jerk because I don’t know his story. —Thomas Brzozowski Somerdale, N.J.

  • The being together...not only with my dear friends, but also with those I know only by sight, or recognize by where they sit or what they do. —Jennifer Anderson Astoria, N.Y.
What might you say? And since this is a blog about Sports and Spirituality, I'd like to pose the same question: What do YOU miss about sports that surprises you?

Perhaps you want to speak about professional sports hockey or basketball—which would otherwise be in not ordinary, but extraordinary time right now. Who would still standing in the playoff run? Or maybe you love the Olympics. Are you missing the opening ceremony? the torch? and that regal theme? The good news is that you only have to wait one year instead of four more to watch the games in Tokyo.
While watching the latest "30 for 30" entitled "Long Gone Summer," I realized I missed the unique story lines that emerge during every season. I love when an athlete, a team, a quest/challenge/feat creates enough of a buzz that it catches my frequency, leads me to seek the opinions of others and so forth. For example, were it 1998 all over again, I would ask my Cardinals' fans their thoughts on Mark McGwire and Cubs fans who do they love more: Kerry Wood or Sammy Sosa?

One aspect of this story line that surprised me was just how many OTHER fans got behind their quest to break Roger Maris' record. When the Cardinals traveled to Miami to play the Marlins, fans were so excited about McGwire's long ball, they gave him a standing ovation. They made so much nose on top of the visitor's dugout that he ran out to tip his cap and acknowledge their enthusiasm. 

This is what I miss about sports that surprises me. I miss being a fan, and believe it or not there is an art to being a good fan. A good fan pays attention. He is or she is not vulgar are rude. They realize they are a part of something bigger, something that can in fact be spirituality. I delight in those moments when an emotion catches fire inside a stadium not by the athletes but by those there to support them. This feeling is so strong, it can't be ignored by fans or the players. There is a call and there is a response as I saw with McGwire and baseball fans. We all say the struggle is real....well so is the symbiosis.
Sports are inching back. Matches in the Premier League commence June 19. The PGA has resumed play and high school sports everywhere are practicing in pods. The accommodations, the modifications, new time lines, and the absence of fans will remind us we are not in the clear....but it's something. So before this next chapter begins, please share your response to the question: What do you miss about sports that surprises you?

Thanks for reading and responding!

Photo Credits

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Power of Poetry

We are living through a worldwide pandemic, a social movement, economic challenges and personal crisis. It is a time for prayer and for poetry, especially for our youth.

Poetry ought to be like a fish to water for teenagers. Any form of literature that is short passes their muster. Poetry is highly symbolic and open to interpretation. A lot of kids like it when there are no *right* answers. There are certainly better ones, I contend. Analysis aside, I believe now might is the time to write and read, savor and share poetry. 
Poetry allows a person to express how they feel directly or indirectly. It can be a safe way to share one's fragility, anger, disappointment...even rage. Poetry opens a window to the heart and the soul for it asks something of the person behind the pen. A poet is tasked with imparting belief, expectation, hope and fear. Love and loss are no strangers to poetry for good reason! 

I have long believed that poetry and music, poetry and painting and poetry and prayer go hand in hand. It should come as no surprise that six books in the Bible are known as books of poetry: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Lamentations. These books are almost entirely made up of poems, songs, and wise sayings that the ancient Jews (and the Christians who followed) used to make wise decisions and worship God. Indeed poetry is integral to many faith traditions, cultures and ages. 
The hall of fame basketball coach, Phil Jackson used literature as a way to reach his players. In the book "Eleven Rings" he said, "
Getting the players to turn inword wasn’t always easy. Not everyone on the bus was interested in “spiritual” realization. But I didn’t hit them over the head with it. My approach with subtle. Every year the team went on a long West Coast trip in November when the circus took over the stadium for a few weeks. Before the trip I would select a book for each of the players to read, based on what I knew about them. Here’s a typical list: Song of Solomon for Michael Jordan, Things Fall Apart for Bill Cartwright and Zen and the Art of motorcycle Maintenance for John Paxson." I have long wondered if any coach has even given every player a poem. How might our athletes be different if we did? Or if we shared one of their poems with one another?!

I believe poetry is a privileged place for a young person to share who they are and what matters to them. Why not encourage their voice to be heard? For example, I am confident many athletes would write a poem about their sport right now. They miss the competition, the team and the memories that are made. Others may speak to the struggles people of color face in the US. Perhaps one of our own students, through poetry, would have the courage to share a difficult experience of racism or witnessing hate. 

Opening our athletes and teams up to poetry might need to be modeled by coaches and captains. It can start with the sharing of a favorite poem, or one that resonates with your sport. Perhaps you can read a poem from a student publication or even write your own. Like prayer, it need not be perfect. Poetry is self-disclosure, it is communication and it talking and it is listening. And no pressure—you GET to keep it short!
I will close with a poem from the literary student magazine out of St. Ignatius College Prep: "The Quill: 2015." 

I Hear SI's Tennis Courts Singing
I hear SI's tennis courts signing, a cacophony that rings in my ears;
Thundering thuds of bouncing balls.
Constant clamor of the coach's correction,
And incessant moans and groans of players' triumph and despair,
Coalesce into a melody without compare.
As the server swings swiftly under the grueling sun's heat.
I remind myself to inhale and exhale.,
For now marks my time to truly prevail.
Although my heightening nerves nearly immobilize me,
My teammates' love empowers me with glee.
As they passionately scream, "You can do this, B!"
My soul then inspires me to play truly free—
Free to exhibit confidence and self-assurance,
Since with my girls by my side, I possess endless endurance.
I turn to my left and see the luminous green balls beside the net,
Then I turn to my right and see the support in my teammates' eye
gleam as bright as a starry night.
I hear SI's tennis courts singing a commanding symphony.
A tribute to community and to family.
A song for the ones who love me for me:
The girl who aims to dictate her own destiny.
Beata Vayngortin '16

Sunday, June 14, 2020

How Golf Can Help Root Out Racism

This will come as a surprise to no one. Diversity remains golf's biggest challenge. This message however is not one I share without hope. In the five years, I have coached high school golf, friends have referred to my team as "United Nations." Last week, I learned that the number of female golfers is on the rise, especially among new golfers. Yay! Furthermore, diversity manifests itself in many ways e.g. race, ethnicity, religion, belief, gender, orientation, and age. Golf is truly a multi-general sport. That truth might be one of golf's primary virtues. There aren't many physical, outdoor activities that young, middle aged and elderly people can enjoy together. Golf is one of them. I defer to the governing bodies (USGA etc) on the why racial diversity among golfers is lacking. I will let you read more on systems and structures that are working to make golf more accessible and inclusive elsewhere. What I would like to offer are three attributes of this game that I believe carry over into the personal life and are necessary for rooting out the sin of racism.

1. Don't Assume Anything
One need not play golf to learn you should not assume anything about anyone. Life will teach you that principle. However, golf reveals this truth to me time and again. Furthermore, I think this is an important mindset to have about others and as we aim to root out racism.

The game will find ways to humble you (yet another attribute!). I have played against women 30 years my senior whose second shot doesn't land as far as my drive. One might assume it is going to be a long round, but as with most things in life—slow, steady, consistent and remaining on line—yields good results. 

If you had to guess the nationality of Tiger Woods, could you do it? He self-identifies as `Cablinasian.″ a word he feels best describes his background:  a blend of Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian. And what about Jhonattan Vegas?

One of my friends said that he loves when his competition watches him warm up on the range. "Out there my index is a 40." Don't assume anything....once he's on the course, you can drop the zero off of forty.

The bottom line: let people share their own story. Abandon stereotypes, carry no prejudice. Easier said than done but totally necessary. And, in the words of Maya Angelou "When people show you who they are, believe them."
Woods and Vegas...what a great last name

2. Awareness of Others
There is a huge "I" in describing golf as an individual sport. Yes, one can participate in match play or be a member of their school's team, but in golf the team is you. There are no assists in this game. You will never take a charge or box out for the good of another. Sounds pretty selfish, right? Yes and no.

On the course, a player must be aware of where another player lies at all times. One should not hit when they want to or when they feel like it. The rules of the game prescribe who, what, where, why and you determine how. During a round, I have to look at where my playing partners stand. Are they away? Am I? Is there a chance I could hit into the group in front of me? Should I wait? 

It helps to have another set of eyes on the ball. After contact, should the ball go in the rough, or bounce off a sprinkler head, it's so helpful to have those you are playing with (and against) help you find the ball. Some have eagles eyes. Others have that sixth sense. Occasionally it really does take a village!

On the putting green, it is important to vocalize who ought to go next. This formality is a sign of good sportsmanship and helps all players. 

When a player comes close to hitting another, they ought to apologize. Nine times out of ten they do. Usually, it's not a problem but when it is, tempers can rise. Some folks take things personally. Conflict management is part of life. 

According to the ASCD (an organization that aims to empower educators to achieve excellence in learning, teaching, and leading so that every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged) the first of five actions for teaching for an antiracist future is to Engage in Vigilant Self-Awarenesss. Golf cultivates this practice!

3. Pay Attention/Notice the Details
The invitation/command to "pay attention" is fundamental if one is to develop a spiritual life. The same is true in the game of golf.

Adjusting my swing one-eighth of an inch makes a significant difference as does how fast or slow I swing the club. Where I aim, from which direction the wind is blowing, and what is the right line upon which to putt (uphill or down?) require a lot of focus and attention. I believe that rooting out racism does too. 

Racism is often insidious. It hides in jokes or subtle comments. People want to believe "Americans in that state" or "that region" have the problem. Such is dangerous thinking. 
Pay attention to what people say and how they say it. If a comment is offensive or inappropriate, talk it out. 

Last week, a friend told a joke to the other golfers in my foursome and it didn't sit well with me. He knew he shouldn't have said it because he prefaced his remarks with "if Anne wasn't here, I would say..." and then the joke was shared. It was a sexist remark and it wasn't that funny. Though I should have recognized this earlier, it wasn't until I paid attention to my feelings and my body language that I realized it wasn't ok. My friend does a lot to support girls golf. He also invited me to play and we will again. When we do, if such jokes continue, I will talk it out and I hope that when/if I make comments to my team, they will have the courage and respect to do the same with me.
Pretty Hard NOT to see the logo on HVIII
I would like to add that what we need to pay attention to and notice is not all bad. Did you catch any of the Charles Schwab Challenge June 11-14, 2020? This was the first PGA tourney that returned to action since March. If you did, perhaps you noticed the caddies wore two names on their bibs: one for the player whose bag they carried and the other for a first responder—a man or woman in the Dallas/Fort Worth area serving on the front lines. The tee time at 8:46 a.m. was left empty. The PGA Tour issued this statement, “As the PGA Tour commits to amplifying the voices and efforts underway to end systemic issues of racial and social injustices impacting our country, we have reserved the 8:46 a.m. tee time to pay our respects to the memory of George Floyd. We will pause at 8:46 a.m. during each round for a moment of silence, prayer and reflection.” What an important moment to pay attention to!

In Conclusion
In the wake of George Floyd's murder, many people have learned and grow familiar with terms and concepts that will behoove us in building a better America. Anti-racism, systemic racism, bias, equity and inclusion are but a few. All are important. As I read and have more discussions with other educators, I hope to offer some insight into the paradigm with which I most familiar: Sports and Spirituality for adding to this noble quest. Golf has a rich and vibrant language and its lessons are many. As the it aims to become more inclusive, I hope that golfers everywhere will use some of the game's attributes OFF of the course as well.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

30 for 30 LANCE: "My Truth"

While I do love a good "Letter to the Editor" very seldom do I read the editor's letter in any magazine. It's all too easy for me to pass up. However, Matt Malone, SJ the editor of America had me at hello...or rather kept my attention as he spoke to life in prolonged quarantine. He wrote
The world is an awfully tough place to call home right now. In addition to the economic and public health crises, there is the general desolation that pervades the public discourse. Every time we turn on the television, there is one group of people, who believe the world is ending, yelling at another group of people, who believe that it’s just beginning. 
But both groups of people have something in common: They are joyless. There is a serious joy deficit in both the church and the world these days. Some of the most visible Christians, for example, look as if they haven’t had a joyful thought in 10 years. That’s a big problem, for them certainly, but also because joy is what makes our witness truly credible, what changes the mode of the giver and the receiver. Joy is what makes our faith attractive, even what makes it intelligible. Without joy, to paraphrase St.Paul, we are just clanging cymbals.
And this, my friends is precisely the difference between the five-part 30 for 30 docu-series: "The Last Dance" and the two part 30 for 30: "Lance."

What I found so compelling about "The Last Dance" and why it captured the attention of so many sports fans and those who aren't is because of joy. Joy cannot be faked. It is not a virtue that is "on demand." To me, it is even elusive in that one can be going through hardship and grief, loss and frustration and STILL find joy! Steve Kerr has claimed joy as essential to his coaching philosophy with the Warriors. "The Last Dance" shows from whence that came.

To watch the three hour program on Lance isn't devoid of joy, but I challenge you to find much of it.

The work of film maker Marina Zenovich, the first episode chronicles the rise of Lance Armstrong and the second shows the fall. In an interview with Mina Kimes on ESPN Sports Daily, Zenovich admits "The fall is much harder." 

People are quick to draw comparisons between Michael Jordan and Lance Armstrong—two of the all time greatest athletes in their respective sports. Though there are similarities, I find that claim to be very limited and over-simplified. However, one similarity worth noting is that both men had creative license over their films. Neither one of them had a single interview or respondent eliminated. Both directors emphatically verified this as true. 

To me, this is important because the primary question of myself I asked while watching "Lance" was Is he telling the truth? For example, the opening story is simply fantastic. I love the way Zenovich cut up the dialogue with introductory credits. She strings the viewer along, only to have this dramatic incident, rife with yelling and shouting obscenities end in a way totally unexpected. I shared this story with a friend from Texas. He didn't laugh, he didn't smile. I looked at him totally confused. He immediately responded, "that story has been told so many times and not once has it ever been verified as true. It is a complete urban legend. No one can confirm who, where or when it happened." I wanted to retort and then I recalled my primary question: Is he telling the truth? 
Tough to hear what Lance said about Kristn, his wife and the mother of their 3 children.
"I take full responsibility for saying “I’m out.” 
I struggle with those who conflate honesty with "my truth." In Episode One, he vows "I will tell my truth....my truth as I remember it."  Given that he withheld the truth—his truth/your truth/my truth/.any truth for years—I don't know why I should believe him now. Zenovich asked him, "When you were lying, what was it like looking at yourself in the mirror?" He immediately responded  "No problem. It was no problem. I’m not denying it or defending it, but I’m telling you it was not problem. I was so used to it.  You become so immune to it." I'm considering showing this scene in class for it presents a conscience qualm. What else should we call it? Lance is being honest about his dishonesty.

Some have asked if this program reveals anything new about Armstrong. Why does it need to be told? I suppose because of the tension we can so readily see in Lance is one we most likely have to reconcile in ourselves, too.
Lance says, "Nobody dopes and is honest. You’re not. The only way you can dope and be honest is if nobody ever asks you, which is not realistic. The second somebody asks you? You lie." When I heard that confession, I said "I believe that's true." Minutes later he adds "I could never be honest about this because all this momentum, profitability and goodness would come crashing down." I said "that might be true, but it's not."

The dance of telling the truth/not telling the truth, living the truth/not living the truth in Armstrong is hard to see. For example, after Lance speaks to the Rice University football team where his eldest son Luke (who wears #35, not #48) plays, Zenovich asks "What would you say to your son if he wanted to use PEDs?" he says, "Not now. Not at this level. No. If it’s the NFL that’s another thing, but not now." Perhaps Armstrong is unaware that PEDs are unsanctioned in the NFL. Players are tested regularly, fined and punished for violations, too.

I have often thought that the more I read and learn about great athletes, the more sympathetic I become toward them and their cause. I generally find the good and want to believe in them. However, Lance Armstrong challenges my concern.

One cyclist says  "there are good people who do bad things and bad people who do good things." I agree. His work with the LIVESTRONG foundation and how he spoke openly about testicular cancer—a disease most men were unwilling to address is legion. One respondent said" I truly believe if you are diagnosed with cancer today, your experience is better than it was pre-Lance and pre-Livestrong. Irrefutably better." Thank you Lance.

American cyclist Bobby Julich said, "thirty years of knowing a person, you either love them or hate them. I still can’t decide." The missed opportunities, the selfishness, the lack of respect for teammates, the moratorium on one of the greatest comebacks stories of all time—seven Tour de France trophies in tow—is why "joyful" is not a word I can use to describe this program.

At the beginning of Episode Two, Zenovich uses the same director's cut. She asks,
"Do you feel like you want to be relevant again?"  to which he responds "This is going to sound terrible but I am relevant."
I narrowed my eyes.I asked myself how that is true. Seems like a fitting question....Joy is always relevant. Lying is not.

Photo Credits
Stats page
Lance and Kristin