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
Winning

Friday, June 5, 2020

One Comment, One Question regarding our current climate

I aim to make social media a tool for constructive conversation and yes, criticism. I think I pen more questions than comments because I would rather unpack the ideas in person. From what I read and what I write, I hope to provide examples, stories and insights that assist you and me in a fruitful dialogue. I believe this is happening in our hearts, our homes and our nation now. It has to! But as we know, don't assume anything. However, with that framework in mind, I would like to offer one comment and one question regarding our current climate for you and for others to break open and share.
One comment
I am reading "Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success" by Hall of Fame coach and player Phil Jackson. In the chapter entitled "The Wisdom of Anger" Jackson states that managing this emotion is every coach's most difficult task." It is necessary to have aggressive intensity to win games and yet it can become destructive quite quickly. However, it must be channeled.

Though he was writing about coaching basketball, I found his insights on anger, as related to how we feel today to be helpful and hopeful. 

In Western culture we tend to view anger as a flaw that needs to be eliminated. That’s how I was raised. As devout Christians, my parents felt that anger was a sin and should be dispelled. But trying to eliminate anger never works. The more you try to suppress it, the more likely it is to erupt later in a more virulent form. A better approach is to become as intimate as possible with how anger works on your mind and body so that you can transform its underlying energy into something productive. As Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman writes, “our goal surely is to conquer anger, but not to destroy the fire it has misappropriated. We will wield that fire with wisdom and turn it to creative ends.” 
In fact, to recent studies published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology demonstrate a link between anger and creativity. In one study, researchers discovered that feelings of anger initially improved the participants’ ability to brainstorm creatively. In another study, the same researchers found that subjects who were prompted to feel angry generated more creative ideas than those who experienced sadness or a non-emotional state. The conclusion: Anger is an energizing emotion that enhances the sustained attention needed to solve problems and leads to more flexible “big picture” thinking.
Jackson concludes that it takes both practice and courage to be present with anger. Indeed. But when viewed this way, anger can be a powerful force for bringing about positive change. 
We need not pretend like our anger isn't real. We are angry that again, lives are lost at the hands of police brutality. We are angry that our problems with race still linger, fester, harm and hurt. We are angry that gun violence has taken so many innocent lives. We should not tell one another to "deal with it." Rather, let's harness our anger and brainstorm creatively. Why not link it to solutions that are fresh and new? I truly believe we need creativity now more than ever. 

One Question: 
I bring one suggestion to every conversation I have been having on racism. We need to talk about it. The question I have doesn't take away from my belief—but it's one I need to ask.

I want to talk about race and I want to listen to others talk about it. However, if we do talk about it, are we willing to listen—truly listen— to what others say when they talk about race? I firmly believe listening is an act of love. We see this modeled by God in Scripture. God hears the cries of the poor. God heard the Israelites who lived as slaves. 
It is not easy to do....it might take time, patience and practice as well.

And what if we do not agree with another person—how will we respond? How will you respond? (I say this assuming a person is NOT holding racist, dehumanizing or hateful points of view. There ought to be a no tolerance policy that...though you might contend, who decides). I want to know: Is it ok to be in different places? to have different points of view? Do we always need to agree? And what if we just don't know what to believe? 
For example, I am still very conflicted about my feelings toward Colin Kaepernick. I understand why he took a knee during the national anthem (rather than sit or not put his hand on his heart). I respect the intention behind his actions. I know about the relationship between the NFL and our military, the wealth of owners and how the league doesn't function without the players, which add to the complexity of responses and reactions. I wonder about options that could have been taken by Kaep as a member of a team. I also believe it's difficult to separate the message and the messenger. Kaepernick still raises questions for me. I really don't know that I have a full opinion. I have serious questions about the governance of the NFL, his employer a financial force. I question their message and their messnger too. I think that's ok. But is it? Some will say "yes" and some won't.

I believe in talking and in listening because I hope to learn from others and I hope others can learn from me. 
I enjoy raising questions. I do my best to listen with an open mind and heart. However, I have found that many of the questions I raise—sometimes simply for the sake of looking at an issue from another point of view—arouse hostility and anger. When I raise a question, I am not trying to undermine a person's point of view. I am not even endorsing another way. I am simply trying to have a discussion. Again, I don't always know. I don't assume another person does either. I love when together—a friend, a family member and me come to a new understanding. Maybe even a creative one! This isn't always easy.
In Closing:
How to root out racism isn't the job of teachers and parents, activists and athletes. It's work we all must do. Some people will have read more. Some will have been directly affected by racism in a way another has not. Some will want to ask questions. Some will want answers. Some of us might struggle with both. 

To me, racism is not just this country's original sin, it's one that humanity struggles with. That is precisely why I am a Christian. I am in need of a Redeemer. As a spiritual hymn proclaims "I know that my Redeemer lives." He does. I pray to him with my anger and with my questions....I do think HE has the answers. 

Photo Credits
Jesus 
CK
Wordle
PJ

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Sports isn't the answer, but it can serve as a way, a means and a platform for how far we come and how far we must go

With the citywide curfew in the back of my mind, I took to my phone and said I'll give myself a few minutes on Instagram. Perhaps you have been setting limits to your social media intake, as well. I pressed play and listened to the SportsCenter clip featuring Hannah Storm and former Irish forward Brianna Turner. Turner's message was one I needed to hear and wanted to hear. Sports is more often than not, my portal for processing our culture, our world, people and even politics. I would like Brianna Turner to know her words also led me to prayer.
Storm said "Among the many voices who have been very strong, Brianna Turner of the Phoenix Mercury joins us now. Brianna, we appreciate you for being here, a young female voice. As a Notre Dame grad and a fellow Houstonian, the hometown of George Floyd, I am grateful for your voice, for speaking out and for taking a leadership role in this regard."  Turner is the daughter of police officers; she is African American. 

Storm said, "So many people have been saying it is up to young people to push for meaningful change after generations of systemic racism. This racism has been called America's original sin. What can you and your contemporaries do so to make sure that this next generation,  that our children in the future aren't facing these same prejudices and dangers?"

Turner replied, "We need to be able to talk about race without making it uncomfortable. Talking about race should not make you feel like 'Oh! I don't know if I should talk about it or it's not my place!' It's everyone place.  It's everyone's place to talk about equality—it shouldn't make you uncomfortable to talk about what is equality." 
I agree. We need to read about race and we need to talk about it. We need to be patient and supportive with one another as we undertake those conversations. We ought to be able to share our feelings and raise our questions. Ultimately we should be ready to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I write what many people already know because i believe sports is a good place for these necessary conversations to start.

ESPN SportsDaily's podcast reminded me that two easiest topics for small talk are the weather and traffic. I have often thought sports can be included in this category. However,  the beauty of my favorite topic is that should you meet a person who speaks sport, the conversation can go much further and much deeper. With that platform in mind, I would like to offer a few thoughts on what I've learned reading and writing about race. 

I have often wondered what my own students see as my blind spots in terms of race. I want to own that I have them because I see them in two of the people I care about the most: my parents. They have instilled wonderful example and strong principles that I have taken as my own when it comes to this topic. And  yet every so often, I find myself correcting my Dad. You can't say that word, Dad! Or "Mom, that's not a fair assumption." I must be guilty too. 


That being said, I can't forget the time my dad and I talked about who is the G.O.A.T. in Major League Baseball. He said "Anne, people will tell you Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio. but I believe the greatest ballplayer was Willie Mays. What he did on offense and on defense is superlative. He doesn't get the credit he deserves because of the color of his skin, especially in that era."  On that day, I listened to my dad with an open heart. I learned a lot about his point of view and how he saw racism at that time and at work in society today. Sports served as the portal for what was and what remains a necessary conversation.  
Not only do sports provide an avenue for talking about race, they can also measure how far we have come and how far we need to go. This may come as a surprise, but I have come to the conclusion that sports are neutral. They CAN be one solution toward racist attitudes and beliefs. They certainly perpetuate them as well. They can build character and reveal it. They can destroy it too. Still, the potential within sport is why I give of my time, energy and attention to it.

In the essay "Success is a Journey" the Hall of Fame basketball player, William F. Russell speaks to this point. He writes
So much for the American Dream. It is, in fact, no more than a sugarcoated fantasy that sport has fundamentally improved or advanced any faster than the other components of society in the last two decades. I suspect because we elevate sport to a position of sanctity (witness the hysterical reaction to Curt Flood's suit against the reserve clause) that the falsehood is piously maintained that sport is out there in the forefront in the march of human rights. Sport brings a city together. You know that; you hear it all the time. A public hanging would achieve the same end. Sport reflects American life. Yes, it does. The fans bring their prejudices right along with them. 
Indeed, the belief that sport is so progressive probably manages to cause a great deal of harm by perpetuating corollary myths. How harsh it must be for some young athlete to trust that he will be judged only on his abilities and then find out that that ideal is administered by a coach who will bench a boy because his hair is too long or because his politics are too dovish or because it is long-standing policy to start two at home, three on the road and five when you get behind. Progress should be viewed from two standards—not just how far we have gone, but how far we still must go.
I don't want to lose sight of that point. The frustration and disappointment, the anger and outrage that millions of Americans hold today is understood. I believe it is justifiable. As Brianna Turner said "I'm 23 and this is normal?! it's another hashtag, another instance. It's just so frustrating. " AND and I don't want to forget that we have come a long way. We have so far to go, but to say we have NOT made some improvements to systems and structures to hearts and minds is errant. 
Bill Russell is an Oakland native, played at the University of San Francisco and was an 11 time champion with the Boston Celtics. What struck me most about his essay, which appeared in Sports Illustrated on June 8, 1970 was how it serves as bellwether for the times we live in. He had a lot to say. Much of it was not easy to hear. He is direct, he gives poignant examples that speak to the injustice of racism. I believe it is important to be open to the truth to which he has spoken. I want to discuss with others how far we have come from the examples he provides. And how far must we go?

I encourage you to read the entire essay for yourself. I will require my own students to read it this fall in Sports and Spirituality. Russell names names. He speaks about the privilege of white folks in a way that is provocative, disarming and on point. Furthermore, he doesn't speak about women whatsoever in sport which to me is a tremendously important example of how far things have come and again.....how far they have to go. He notes,
Basketball is clearly the most progressive sport now. Blacks have even reached a point in basketball where we have achieved the right to failure. That's very important, you know. It is just as important as the right to succeed. When John McLendon was fired as the coach of the Denver Rockets this winter, there was no fuss made about anybody picking on a black man, or anybody saying a black man couldn't coach. He got the ax, just like any coach, because the team was going bad. Now that is progress.
It is also isolated. Baseball front offices are whiter than anything but press boxes, and football has really looked out for itself. It has never needed a quota system. Football has a much better gimmick. It is called a quarterback. As long as quarterback can be a segregated position, football is protected. It can be assured of having one white star every game, who can get all the endorsements and win all the sports cars. At the same time, the all-white quarterbacks perpetuate the racist theme that no black man is smart enough to call signals. 
I can remember watching a game on TV a couple years ago, and I was moved to say something like: "Man, that Unitas is great." One of the black guys I was watching the game with, said: "Who knows?" A little bit stunned by that, I asked him what he meant, and he replied that he really could not evaluate Unitas or any other quarterback fairly since they had never faced a full range of competition. A Paul Hornung, Mickey Mantle, Jerry West—you cannot deny their greatness, because they have stood the test of time in a free market, so to speak. But no one can pretend to know how good our best white quarterbacks would be if the NFL permitted the development of black quarterbacks to compete with them. 
What makes a quarterback so very important is that he is consistently visible. Everyone else only comes and goes in the crunch. I don't think, for example, that the appeal of its violence has helped make football so popular. I think where it has the edge on basketball and where it has captured more public imagination is in the dead period between plays. At this point, the plays can be run over again and everybody can point out how smart the football players are. In basketball, you don't have time to talk about how smart the players are. 
I do think that basketball is the most graceful of all our major sports. It is not nearly so rough as it was when I came into the pros. The jump shot opened it up, made it more fluid. Today, I think it is close to an art form, with greater potential for growth than any other of the more popular games, because it is more appealing to women.
I referenced this piece of the essay in my blog reflection on Michael Vick. Vick was the first black quarterback chosen as the number one pick in the NFL draft. Since that time, athletes like Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Teddy Bridgewater and one Colin Kapernick have come forward and succeeded in this position. Second, basketball is indeed appealing to women but one reason might be because they play it professionally. The WNBA wasn't created until 26 years after this essay was written but one of its stars, Brianna Turner is using her voice and her platform to call us to talk about race. Progress noted.
Mahatma Gandhi said “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”  Well another measure might be how we talk about race, especially with people who don't look like us. Can we do that? Can we ask questions? Are we ok with saying "I don't know?" Do we have to stand or can we live in the complexity, listen, love and serve one another.

In the meantime, let us pray
God of Justice, God of Mercy, you created all people equally in your image and you call each of us to recognize your presence in every person we meet. Racism, inequality, and oppression are the fruits of our human sinfulness when we fail to uphold the dignity of our brothers and sisters, as you command. In every age, prophets cry out against these injustices and, in our own time, we hear the pain of your people who suffer. Heal the wounds of our division not only with the balm of your love but also with the strength of your Spirit to move us to action. Teach us to oppose racism in our culture, in our institutions, in our families, and even in our own thoughts. Give us the courage to examine our hearts, where every true transformation begins. Even if we should find our sinfulness, we shall also find your mercy. 
In the words of your prophet, Amos, we pray: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Amen.
Photo Credits
Willie Mays
Celtics Russell
Russell Success is a Journey
Floyd George Memorial

Turner and Storm