Monday, February 21, 2011

A Loss in the (Notre Dame) Family: Dave Duerson


Sitting at the busy lunch counter inside Saul’s, a Jewish deli in Berkeley, my friend and classmate from Notre Dame asked if I had heard about the Chicago Bear who committed suicide. Dave Duerson, a native of Muncie, IN was a third-round draft pick by the Bears in 1983 and became a key figure on one of the greatest defenses ever assembled. He struggled with depression for years and it was purported the depth of his mental illness was exacerbated by head injury and trauma to the brain. She looked down and despite the kibitzing from all around, I could sense her sadness; I knew she felt a loss. “I read that he went to Notre Dame” she said. A death in the family....

I work at an institution that is over 150 years old; it has a tremendous sense of pride, power and influence. Tradition and family ties run strong, but we do not describe ourselves as a "family." I don’t say that to disparage the community I have been part of for the last eight years. I say it because the Notre Dame family, a term that is never used lightly, is true. In our crazy world, it is a blessed reality.
At freshman orientation, students and parents from all 50 states and several foreign countries are welcomed into the Notre Dame family. Notre Dame remains our mother, tender, strong and true even after four years in South Bend. Like all families, ND has its share of dysfunction, but in times of trial and tragedy, it provides support that is unmatched and strength that is beyond price.

This past fall, the Notre Dame family grieved the untimely death of Declan Sullivan. He died due to the collapse and fall of hydraulic scissor lift in winds that were 50 mph where he stood filming football practice. I read the tribute him “No Ordinary Life” in Notre Dame Magazine and felt as though I had been kicked in the stomach.

I stared at his 20 year old face. I thought of his sister, just a freshman who was able to go to school with her older brother for only one semester. I stood awestruck, as I read the words from his parents, three days after his death. They said, “Declan loved Notre Dame. The grief we feel is tempered by the knowledge that Dec was doing what he loved in the place he most wanted to be. Declan leaves the world a better place for having been to Notre Dame.” Notre Dame was responsible for his death and yet I know the Christian paradox holds true. In death, there is life. Declan lives in the hearts of a great many people on campus and mine, 2000 miles from campus.

And the same is true of Dave
Duerson. In a text message to loved ones, Duerson asked that his brain be left for NFL research, emphasizing he wanted the "left side" checked out in particular. 
His death has raised questions about the safety of the sport, especially with regard to repeated head trauma. Duerson’s brain matter will be tested for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease football players are at high risk for, some as young as 18 years of age.

Dave Duerson is not a family member without controversy.
A two time All-American at Notre Dame, he was football team captain and later became president of the Monogram Club. He received the Notre Dame Alumni Association's Sorin Award, and also served as a leading member of the athletic department's mentoring program. After serving for four years on the Board of Trustees however, he voluntarily resigned after he was charged with assaulting his wife at The Morris Inn, a hotel on campus. He was honest about the charge and asked the Notre Dame family for his prayers.
In the years after, his marriage and his businesses fell upon hard times. And yet, upon his death, his former wife Alicia said "Our family asks that you please remember Dave as a good, kind and caring man. He loved and cherished his family and friends and was extremely proud of his beloved Notre Dame and ... Chicago Bears. Please keep Dave and our family in your prayers."

I hope the Duerson family knows that many candles are lit at the Grotto for Dave, for Declan and for so many others who have comprised and characterized the Notre Dame Family.

Photo Credits
Dave Duerson: Chicago Bear
Notre Dame Grotto
Declan Sullivan: No Ordinary Life
Grotto Candles

Monday, February 14, 2011

Not My Valentine: Tiger Woods Revisited

On this Valentine’s Day, Tiger Woods is the last person I should write about. But considering today is also “Single Awareness Day” or “Black Monday,” it may be time to follow up on Tiger Woods: Where is the (word) Love?
On February 19, 2010 Woods made his first public appearance following the full disclosure of his “transgressions” when he delivered a prepared, public statement. I listened to all 14 minutes; he never once said the word “love.“ Tiger apologized and vowed to change his ways—yet he did so without informing his fans, sponsors and the media that he loves his wife, loves his family, or loves the game of golf. I walked away from his talk and thought not about what he said, but what he didn't say....and that says a lot.

Tiger completed the press conference and we waited with baited breath—how would he perform at the Masters? Would he continue to dominate the sport as he had in the previous decade?

I admit, I cheered for him at the Masters out of desire to know as an athlete, was he that good that he could put his personal life aside. The mental demands of golf are tremendous. Did Tiger have command of the sport in such a way that he could check his personal problems at the door? Inquiring minds—or at least mine—wanted to know.The irony of the 2010 Masters could not have been scripted better. Golf and sports fans alike watched as Phil Mickelson captured his third title. His wife and the mother of his three children met him at the 18th hole to congratulate him. Amy Mickelson had done that many times—only not previously as a woman who was fighting breast cancer. Due to chemotherapy, she wasn’t even strong enough to watch him most days of the tournament. Amy mustered the strength to do so on that fateful Sunday. We are all glad she did. For once the gods got it right.

Tiger fared well—maybe better than many expected with his fourth place finish. And from that day forward, I was no longer interested in his accomplishments.

At the US Open in Pebble Beach in June, I was completely disgusted when he received a standing ovation at this first tee. This is not a man who overcame the death or a child or beaten cancer. Why we in the sports world should support and rally behind Tiger is unclear to me.
Infidelity, deceit and divorce hurts all of us whether we know it or not.

And it has obviously taken its toll on the former number one player in the world. Just this past weekend, Tiger was one stroke off the lead going into the final round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. When he shot a 75 on Sunday, he finished 7 strokes behind the leader.

Golf is physical—it demands great hand-eye coordination. It involves skill for the long and short game, strength, and flexibility. But it is obviously just as mentally demanding. Analysts recognize that Tiger’s swing is off. He needs to adjust and make changes. As physical as that sounds—it’s 80% mental.

Golf is tremendously mental…and so is love. And what human does not want to love and be loved. Even before the "fall," Tiger was human, right? We treated him for a long time like he wasn’t. Perhaps that is what we see today on the golf course—a human being named Tiger Woods, extremely talented at the game of golf. Working on his mental game….and love.

Photo Credits
Elin & Tiger
Mickelson Family
Lone Tiger

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Steve Nash: Making Everyone Better

Anyone who knows NBA basketball understands that players don’t so much as break a sweat until (best case scenario) late in the second quarter. Last night’s Golden State Warriors vs. the Phoenix Suns was no exception. Unfortunately for Warriors fans, it was no contest. The Suns led most of the game by 20+ points. Consequently, I did what any basketball fan should do: watch one player and one player only—Steve Nash.

Along with my former colleague and friend Kevin, I joined the Santa Clara Alumni Association before the game to sit courtside. Nash is SCU’s most successful athletic alum. He came out to hear 50+ people sing "Happy Birthday" as he completed his pregame warm-up.

As we celebrated Nash’s special day, I realized he is 8 days older than me. I stared at the two-time MVP, in total awe. At 6’3” and with little to no body fat, his size is far from intimidating. His 37 years of age have by no means slowed him down. Despite the Suns’ significant lead, Nash didn’t have a sub until late in the fourth quarter. And when he finally came out of the game, he must lie on his back—because of spondylolisthesis. It would seem likely that this medical condition, which causes muscle tightness and back pain, would prevent Nash from returning to the game or regular play. Not true. When the Warriors finally brought the game within 10 points in the fourth quarter, Nash stretched and was ready to return.

Fans know that he has led the league in assists, that his free throw percentage is in the 90s, that his work ethic is insane and that he truly is a great point guard, but if there is one thing I think everyone should know about this future Hall of Famer, it’s this: Steve Nash makes everyone on his team better.
Nash has incredible vision. Nash gets the ball to his teammates with precise passing and accurate timing. Little flash and lots of hustle, he sees the hole, he finds the gap to move the ball to his teammates first and to himself second. I must say, I haven’t seen that many bounce passes in a game since I coached a sixth-grade girls’ team in South Louisiana. But Nash is a master of the fundamentals--he executes, he lets his teammates play to their gifts and their position. I won’t say he’s selfless—he takes his fair share of shots—and I still don’t think he’s God (see my least favorite posting of all time) but I realized as I saw him play, I was a witness to greatness.

For all intensive purposes, last night’s game at Oracle Arena was a sleeper. But watching Steve Nash as intentionally as I did make me wonder—are there people in our community, family, or workplaces who, like Steve Nash, make everyone better? I am surrounded by people I look up to and admire. Others inspire me. I even know folks who challenge my way of thinking and my lifestyle for the better. But can I identify a person who makes everyone around them better? Can you? I have coached enough teams and taught enough students to know, albeit rare when you meet a person who makes everyone better, you never forget them nor their impact. Watch them, see what they do, learn from them. They make the game of life so much more interesting.
Steve Nash, you inspire me as a teacher to work hard, to use my off-season to improve. Your discipline on and off the court has reaped rewards. I want to find a way to make others around me their very best by your example. This is what Jesus did. Maybe you are God…

Photo CreditsWarriors vs. Suns
With Hill and Carter
Nashty Smiles

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Family That Plays Together...

Patrick Peyton, CSC, a Holy Cross priest, founder of the post-World War II prayer movement called, "Family Rosary Crusade" made famous the slogan “the family that prays together stays together.” I believe in the power of prayer. Even in today’s fast paced world, it is tremendously accessible for families—from grace before meals, nighttime prayers and weekly Mass to the rosary. I also believe in the power of play. I don’t think it’s sacrilegious for me to say “the family that plays together stays together.”
And by play, I may play sports. Sports at any level can build community, and the family is by no means an exception. Shared athletic endeavors from an annual Thanksgiving Turkey Trot or Turkey Bowl (shout out to the Davis-McLaughlin clan!) to a summer vacation that includes water skiing, snorkeling or river rafting creates lasting memories, a lot of laughs and a healthy endorphin release.

Fortunately our society places great emphasis on the value of physical fitness at every life stage! Never before have men and women, boys and girls have had so many opportunities for organized play. Women and men’s soccer, volleyball and basketball leagues, single sex and co-ed abound. One cannot pass through Golden Gate Park without notice of a running group or training group for a charitable cause. But my hope is that families rather than a collection of individuals could form their own team, find their own way to play sports—from competitive to recreational, parent to child, or a healthy sibling rivalry.Fortunately, one need not look far to find role models in this capacity. The recently appointed head coach of the San Francisco Forty-Niners, Jim Harbaugh can and should consult his older brother John, head coach of the Baltimore Ravens for advice about how to succeed in the NFL. They are the first pair of brothers to serve as head coaches during the same season in NFL history, but they aren’t the only brothers who face one another on the gridiron.

I look at Peyton and Eli Manning and wonder how those two spent their days as kids. When the Colts and Giants played each other during the regular season, the media had a heyday promoting a “Manning showdown.” As exciting as it was to watch brother versus brother, Peyton’s refusal to be interviewed after the game made quite an impression. His team, the Colts won. He knew what the press wanted to talk about, yet it did not trump his love and respect for Eli. You should always respect your opponent and when the enemy is your sibling, winning and losing although important, is different.

I think back to my own childhood. My sister and I swam on the same swim team for 6 years. We both hold fond memories of summers at the pool. At the age of 13 my dad signed me up for tennis lessons. He says my love for the game brought him out of “tennis retirement.” I saw my dad in an entirely new way when I played tennis with him. He was a great sportsman. He helped me improve and yet he stayed true to his game when we sparred. My parents continually told me “tennis is a sport of a lifetime.” I’m grateful it is, like golf or bowling. I know I can look forward to playing the game in new and different capacities as I age, hopefully with children of my own.

A blog, writes, “I believe families who pray with each other stay together because there is unity happening. God is being glorified and recognized. Not only is there a bonding time with your family, but I believe a spiritual covering as well. I believe the same can be said of families who play together.”

Pope Benedict XVI said “Sport, especially for the young, and when practiced with passion and within careful ethical boundaries, becomes a training ground for sound physical development, a school of both human and spiritual values, and a privileged means of personal growth and interaction with society.” What better way than sports for parents to model virtue? Recreation can be a precious bonding time. And when we succeed, meet our goals and have fun unity happens. What better way to glorify and recognize God? Parents and children, brothers and sisters—play ball!

Photo Credits
Manning Family
3 Harbaughs
Manning Boys
Peyton and Eli
Pope Plays Like a Champion

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Like Kim Clijsters, What Do We Inherit From Our Parents?

I have to admit I am slightly fascinated by Kim Clijsters, the 2011 female winner of the Australian Open. For one she is professional tennis player and the fact that she is also a mother makes her story that much more compelling. She joins a slim demographic—women who have met athletic success after pregnancy. This year, Kim wore a green dress to honor Evonne Goolagong Cawley—an Australian Aboriginal woman who also won the Open as a mom. Considering Goolagong’s roots and what she overcame, her story rivals Kim’s.
And yet, the Aussies love Clijsters as if she were their own. She is still affectionately nicknamed “Aussie Kim.” She almost was! Clijsters lived in Australia when was engaged to fellow tennis pro, Lleyton Hewitt. When their relationship ended, she returned home where she met professional basketball player, Brian Lynch. Lynch, an American by way the Jersey Shore (my Jersey Shore—Belmar!) played hoops at Villanova before playing for many teams in several European countries.

I won’t mince words here. Lleyton Hewitt is one good-looking guy. Good for her and yet Clijsters ended up with a great guy; a man who was willing to renounce his career so their family could be together. It is both unusual and understandable. Furthermore, in her post match interview, she said her nanny would have to work later that night because she had to rest for her championship match. Awesome.

And as interesting as her story is today, so is her background. Kim Clijsters is the daughter of a international soccer star, Lei Clijsters, and Els Vandecaetsbeek, a former Belgian gymnastics champion. Clijsters’ performance on the tennis court reveals those roots. She has incredible strength and endurance; the shots she reaches is amazing. Clijsters says that she inherited a soccer player’s legs from her father and a gymnast's flexibility from her mother. Watch for no less than five minutes and she will nearly do the splits to return a ball. She recovers with ease.

I hope we all recognize what gifts we have received from our parents. I have my dad’s acute memory and my mother’s ability to actively listen. I would like to suggest however that the greatest gift a parent can give their child isn’t only their virtues, an education, athletic opportunities, or music, art, or dance classes. It is their witness of faith, a community of faith and roots in a faith tradition. What greater gift than to raise one’s child with faith.

It has been an awesome privilege to see my friends become parents; what makes an individual more selfless? And yet a number have decided not to have their children baptized. Others have opted not to raise their child in the Catholic Church or any other religious community. They do not want to force their beliefs on their children. They want their son or daughter to choose faith for themselves.

Such logic is unclear to me. Parents choose just about everything for their kids—schools, extracurricular activities, neighborhoods, opportunities and more. Why wouldn’t they choose to cultivate and nurture relationship with God in a formal, intentional way?

In his book “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything,” James Martin says “the benefits of walking along the path of belief are clear: faith gives meaning to both the joys and struggles of life. Faith in God means that you know you are never alone. You know and are known. Life in a worshiping community provides companionship. During times of hardship, faith is an anchor. And Christianity holds out the promise of life beyond this earthly one.” What a beautiful way to think of our journey. Indeed, parents are with their children at the start of this journey, yet no one but God alone can accompany us every step of the way.

The recent feast day of Saints Timothy and Titus reminded me of the role of not only our parents, but our ancestors and those in our Christian family have in forming our faith. The three New Testament pastoral letters attributed to Paul—Titus, 1 Timothy, and 2 Timothy reveal a close, mentor-like relationship between these men. Titus and Timothy are portrayed as recipients of the Gospel through Paul's preaching. Because of their relationship with St. Paul and the way the Gospel took root in their hearts, they too spread the “good news.”

But Paul alone did not shape Timothy’s great faith. Timothy's mother Eunice and grandmother Lois, converts to Christianity long before him, are praised for the sincerity of their faith that now lives on in their grandson and son. 2 Timothy 1:5, reminds us that the most valuable gift we can pass on to the next generation is our witness of faith.

Timothy grew to become one of Paul's dearest friends and collaborators in mission, as would Titus, whom Paul refers to as “my true son in our common faith” (Titus 1:4). In his “Ignatian Thought of the Day” Sean Lynch writes, “Both became bishops of the early Church, and both shared the gospel with the next generation of Christians, who labored to keep the vision and message of the Lord Jesus Christ alive.”

The Church teaches that every generation needs to be evangelized and that Christian parents are the primary educators in faith. Moms and dads, grandparents, uncles and aunts, have their role in leading the next generation to discover the richness and vitality of faith. And what an awesome responsibility that is. Love and life, soul and salvation are the very stuff we seek to model, share and discover with the young.

Clijsters ended up pursuing a sport that neither or her parents played professionally, but the obviously exposed their daughter to the wide world of sports. She wouldn’t be where she is today had they not
And as for her own family, whether they know it or not, Kim Clijsters and her husband Brian Lynch have already given their daughter Jada so much. The have given the example in their commitment to family. Clijsters has proven that a female athlete can remain competitive after pregnancy. She has won three grand slam titles since Jada was born, she is tied with Margaret Smith Court for the most titles by a mother on tour. I hope all of these great gifts are underscored by the gift of faith.

Photo Credits
Clijsters with Jada
Clijsters a gymnast
Sts. Timothy & Titus
Clijsters-Lynch Family