Sunday, January 27, 2013

Manti Te'o: The Morality of Lying

I lied. I claimed that "Manti Te'o: Why I Care" would be the last reflection but here we go again.  I suppose this puts me in an ever growing camp of human beings that span the ages—from St. Peter to Pinocchio, or Benedict Arnold to Bernie Madoff.  If you find my actions unforgivable, stop reading here.  Otherwise, I would like to share a correlation between what I have taught the past ten years--morality and ethics and the crux of the problem most people still hold with Manti Te'o. He lied. 
My friends have told me that I use "for example" in most of our conversations. Any idea or claim I make, I substantiate with something I have read, heard or learned to verify or analogize. They find this mildly entertaining.  I'm glad!  In turn, I often ask "Can you give me an example?" I hope they don't feel like they are in my class... but with ethics and morality, the world--everyday human life--is the classroom. So yet again, Manti Te'o serves as a good example.

The biggest issue most folks hold against Manti is the belief that when he found out on December 6, 2012 Lennay Kekua died, he didn't inform the public. He continued to use the tragedy of her death from cancer for self-promotion. This 21-year old football player was able to play in spite of his grief; in fact he channeled it in on the field and off of it.

Katie Couric went after Manti for this as we knew she would.  She showed the video clip of Manti speaking after the Heisman trophy award ceremony and said "your repeated the story that your girlfriend had in fact died of cancer.  Let's listen..."

Manti: I don't like Cancer at all.  I lost both my grandparent and my girlfriend to it.

Katie: That's a lie, why did you say that?

Manti: At that time, I didn't know. To be honest, I didn't know that.

Katie: C'mon. This person calls and says it's Lennay. (With a very strong tone of voice) You stuck to the script. You know something was amiss Manti. Why?

Manti:  Put yourself in my situation. My whole world told me that she died on September 12th. Everyone knew that; this girl I committed myself to died. Now I get a phone call on December 6 from her and I'm going to be put on national TVand asked the same question--what would you do?

Katie: I think on December 6 or December 7, I would have gone to my coaches or someone and said "this situation is so messed up." I would have said "I have been the victim of a cruel prank. This person is changing her story, she's messing with me. It's not holding up. It's not right--we've got to get to the bottom of this right now. That's what I would have done."

Manti: That's not what I did.

It is very easy for anyone, especially Katie Couric to say what they would have done in any challenging, awkward situation, especially after it has passed.  But I want to pause right here to consider the morality of this situation.
A key component of what makes an issue a moral one is freedom.  

Moral Issues involve questions of right and wrong, or good and evil.  What ought I to do or what should I not do are questions associated with moral issues, and necessitate a reflection upon situation (what choices are available, how much freedom does the person have), principles (values, moral rules or duties) and intention (what is the motive or intention).  If a person is not free, a moral issue is not present for that person.  If a person has a motive of exemplary quality, but does something morally questionable as a result, this does not remove moral culpability.  And even if someone follows what morality might say one ought to do, but does so with questionable motive, this raises the question of what is right or wrong.  Thus, moral issues always involve free, principled action with intention for what is right or good.  

If an individual is not free to make a choice, it diminishes his/her culpability and the morality of the issue.  If there is a gun pointed to your head, and you are asked a question you are not free to not answer it.  People rally against this with the belief we are always free!  It's not that simplistic.  Furthermore, societal factors can prohibit freedom. For example, most people would agree that being a member of a gang is bad.  After spending time at Dolores Mission parish in Boyle Heights (East LA), I confronted a real question--How free is a young man or woman not to be in a gang. Again, you may say they are always free not to be in one—that is true. But the reality is different.  
Manti was not free to tell the truth on December 7 or 8 for that matter. You may disagree with me, but as he requested, I will put myself in his situation. Had I received that phone call, I would have had to do a whole lot of fact-finding, reflection, inquiry and more. To believe that this was possible while he was in New York City awaiting the decision of the Heisman trophy is unrealistic. His time in Manhattan was characterized by a number of ceremonies and meetings with various athletic celebrities. He was conducting interviews in response to six national awards he already won. Getting the information I need while feeling totally lost and confused, let alone wondering if not hoping a person I cared about is really alive—that's no small task.

What people are seeking from Manti at this point is the virtue of honesty. The expectation is that a man of his character could and should have exercised honesty, especially when he was interviewed rather than continue to tell a lie. But virtues like honesty always work in concert (or harmony) with others and must be used in moderation.

For example, I say to my students--you pick up your date for prom. She walks down the stairs and you can't stand her dress. It is an ugly color and it doesn't fit right. Do you honestly tell her how she looks?

In this instance, you may default to another virtue like kindness rather than honesty and say "I'm so happy to see you tonight." They get it.

For Manti to reveal to the public that he had been duped or explain that a woman he had been exclusively involved with from April 26-September 12 (we are talking about a 4-month relationship people) was now alive would not have been prudent.  To take away from the actual winner of the Heisman with his weird and unbelievable story would not have been wise. He could speak in the way he did with integrity--which was his defense. Their deaths to cancer were real to me, Katie.
Virtue works in moderation. Therefore, it can be difficult to know how to exercise one.  For example, if you are so completely generous with your money, you may never have any savings.  Determining what is a good percentage to give and to who is both generous and wise.   Again, they work in harmony.

For Manti to be totally honest about what he was hearing from the resurrected Lennay is unrealistic.  He was probably putting the pieces together.  He had to figure out what was really going on and where he went wrong.  

Manti admitted that he got caught up in being an inspiration to people.  His ego got in the way.  And yet, his fault is consistent with his dream--to affect as many people as he can (in a good way).  Whether he knows it or not, I believe he is still serving as a moral example--the need for freedom and how to exercise virtue.  If you think I'm making excuses for what he did or consider me a relativist, so be it.  But the moral life, the virtuous one is a challenge. It always invites reflection and compassion.  My biggest fault against Katie Couric is her lack of it.  My biggest fault against Manti is he showed too much.  Again, the need for moderation....Can you give me another example?!

Photo Credits
Excerpt from Some Help in Analyzing Morality: RS 300 Course Reader, St. Ignatius College Prep

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Manti Te'o: Why I Care

I enter my third and final reflection (for now, right?) about Manti Te’o knowing that many people have grown weary of the “weird,” albeit sad details of the “catfish” hoax. In the past week I have noticed a large camp has raised the question “Why does anyone care?”  People often ask this with an air of disgust mixed with self-righteousness. However, it’s not a question I’m afraid to answer; in fact, I think it’s a brilliant question—it’s the question. Manti’s own words serve as my reason I care.  

In the video “Strong of Heart,“ Manti said “any athlete who thinks he’s not a role model is very mistaken.” I care because I still view Manti as an excellent role model.

The current debate—hero or anti-hero?—called me to consider whether Deadspin is a reliable, credible resource. The day after I read his two and a half hour interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap, I heard “today we have athletes like Manti Te’o and Lance Armstrong, but 50 years ago we had athletes like Stan Musial who died at 92 years of age.” To put those two men in the same camp was unfair and unfounded. A week after Ronaiah confessed to duping Manti, I opened Sports Illustrated to see Manti Te’o and Lance Armstrong featured in the same article (about their catfish tales). The truth of the matter is, I still see Manti as a role model. Many people will find that hard to believe. But I hold that belief because that’s Manti. He’s always been beyond belief from the moment he committed to Notre Dame through Katie Couric’s interview today. Here are but a few thoughts about why I believe what I do.

It doesn’t take much research to recognize Manti’s story (long before January 16, 2013) was unlike any other. Why a Mormon from Hawaii would travel to South Bend, Indiana, to play football for a program that had more downs that ups in recent years was beyond me. He made his official visit wearing shorts and flip-flops. Manti saw a 24-23 loss to a 2-9 team. Syracuse. It was cold and gray in November 2008. He had no business committing to ND, but he did.  

In the interview “Committed to Excellence: Manti and Skylar” Te’o told Kate Sullivan why: 
To be honest, I had to pray about it. I grew up a USC fan—a die-hard USC fan.  All the way up to the day before signing day I was going to go to with USC.  But I sat down and I prayed about it.  Things just started to happen and everything started to point to ND.  I learned being young and from my parents that whenever you are looking for an answer to a question, and you ask the Lord—the hardest part is not praying, the hardest part is taking whatever answer He gives you…and going through with it. Obviously going to Notre Dame wasn’t the answer I wanted but it was the answer that I was given. It was a leap of faith for me.  

It’s hard to believe that Manti would turn down a successful program—the alma mater of fellow Samoan linebacker Junior Seau—because of an answer he received in his prayer.  But, proclaims that his faith is important to him. If true, we have a role model in what listening to the Lord can do.  That is always a scary proposition, but his impact on and off the field point to fact he is achieving his dream, magnifying God’s goodness. He said, “My dream is not to play in the NFL--that’s my goal.  My dream is to have the most impact on the most people as possible.”

Great role models do this in big and small ways. I love Thérèse of Lisieux’s spirituality: The Little Way, and I see that in Manti. As reported in “The Full Manti” he is personable. For example, he greets everyone—cooks, walk-ons, and dorm neighbors by name. He said, “You never know what kind of impact you can have on someone by just saying hello.” Who knew others would abuse a virtue like this?

Perhaps it is his Hawaiian (and part Samoan) heritage, but hospitality supersedes his reputation. With his teammates, he sought to create a culture of uso, a Samoan word for brotherhood and with his peers he created one of consideration. He never lets another student sit alone. When you’re larger than life—people watch. This is what his peers have noticed.

He said, “the hardest thing for me is to know that it’s not my first name I care about, it’s my last name. And to see that being tossed around, because there’s many people who carry the same last name as me. Given his culture and values, his comment should not be surprising, but I was. Not only has this role model built a culture of uso, he lives it and defends it. Way to go Manti.

Do you find it hard to believe he’s an Eagle Scout? Probably not...that one’s easy!

I think it’s important that we see our role models fail. We can learn from their mistakes. Manti said that his biggest regret was that he lied to his father about “meeting” Lennay. I would like someone who has never lied to their parents about a relationship to cast the first stone here. In his interview with Katie Couric, Manti speaks to what he learned: the greatest joy in any child’s life is to make your parents proud. The greatest pain is to know they’re experiencing pain because of you. As someone unwilling to cast that first stone, I couldn’t agree more. Thank you Manti for naming that sentiment so beautifully.

The rest of Manti’s story will unfold with time. To me, Manti is “just a kid trying to become a man.” He was a victim of deception; he cared too much. When I meet my maker, I hope He will convict me of caring too much. People may ask how he could care about someone who didn’t exist, but to Manti she was “real.” I know we live in a world where it is much more difficult to distinguish between what is real and not real—literally and figuratively. In the meantime, I’m grateful so many care about him—a role model who will always raise the question: hero or anti-hero?

Photo Credits
Role Model|

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Manti Te'o: What Fame Does...

I thought it poignant that Manti Te'o story broke one day before the much anticipated Oprah Winfrey interview of Lance Armstrong.  If you had asked me at the beginning of the week to compare and contrast them, I would say as far as athletic heroes are concerned, they fall on totally opposite ends of the spectrum.  One's character is virtuous, inspiring and as good as I've ever seen; the other's is flawed and inauthentic.  At the end of the week, I still hold the same beliefs.
An hour into the interview, Oprah said to Lance "You and I both know that fame magnifies who you really are."  This truth is why I believe, and still believe Manti Te'o is a living legend, a hero.  For me, he is far from the anti-hero many deemed him to be. 

Why is Manti a hero?  First, I wanted him to be a hero.  Putting my cards on the table, Notre Dame is core to who I am.  I love and am grateful for my alma mater in the way that I am for my Catholic faith and citizenship in this country.  I know their strengths and concede their weaknesses.  Each is far from perfect, but I believe they have done more good for the world and humanity than not.  When people tell me things like "I won't be rooting for the Irish because I can't stand Notre Dame," I feel wounded.  I think: Why couldn't you have said I’m not an ND fan?  Said remarks come with the territory and extend to those associated with it.  As a captain of the football team, Manti Te'o is as good as target as any. If my allegiance discredits my claims about his heroism, so be it.  My intent however is simply to relay a few examples of what fame has magnified.

Manti as Hero
I have read great things about Manti, that I have only prompted me to tell my students and friends. This one however beat all.
On Oct. 27, 2010, Declan Sullivan a 20 year-old junior died at a Notre Dame football practice, atop a 40-foot aerial lift that collapsed when winds gusted up to 53 miles an hour. A crowd watched the fall, heard the thud, went silent. Pure, utter tragedy.In Manti Te'o Notre Dame's 'special son' I came to learn "when tragedy struck the Notre Dame practice field, it was Manti who charged across the field and climbed over the wreckage? He went to Declan Sullivan and put his arm on him and whispered a prayer in his ear." That's what heroes do.

Manti has said great things about his experience at Notre Dame and in playing football. This one however, beat all.

In the Strong of Heart video series Manti's parents admit that they encouraged their son to turn pro before graduation. His father Brian Te'o said "He was torn between his idea of duty and loyalty to family versus what he truly wanted to do in his heart.  Every year he would say "Mom and Dad, the earliest chance I get, I'm going to get into the NFL and buy you a home." We would say Great! Good job son!  Thank you--just get your education.  
"Well the chance came.  We flew out to Newport Beach for the Lott awards to be with him and support him.  The night before the event we sat down as a family and we talked about his decision, and I said my recommendation was to leave.  If I was your age, in my circumstance  I would leave."

Offilia Te'o added, "We've always encouraged him to take advantage of opportunities that come before you and definitely on paper, the decision should have been for Manti to enter the draft."

When it was time for Manti to speak, he told the audience "I was talking to my sister one time and I asked her what I should do.  She said Manti isn't that your dream to go into the NFL?  Since that's your dream, you should leave.   And I thought about it. And you know what? The NFL is my goal.  My dream is to have the most impact on the most people as possible and I've found I can do that at Notre Dame so I'll be coming back my senior year."  

I heard his words and thought to myself: Who says that?  

Teaching teenagers for 13 years now, I know exactly who says that.  The young man or woman who says that is a gift.  They are heroic in their virtue. They make everyone around them better.  They are exceptionally rare--and yes, they are human....they have their moments!  But without a doubt, they are recognized for who they truly are.  Fame, tragedy, trials, victory and triumph don't change it--only magnifies it.

Looks like there's enough for Part III tomorrow.  It will include his human side....

Photo Credits
Lance and Manti

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Manti Te'o & Our Society: Life Lessons on what it means to be a Hero and Anti-Hero

I believe humanity needs heroes. We need men and women to serve as role models for their virtue, selflessness and reactions to setbacks. I also believe in the power of anti-heroes. I have learned as much from them as my heroes. How NOT to be is sometimes an easier thing for me to see. In 2012, we are all too aware that athletes serve as both.

Sports Illustrated ‘s cover story, “In My Tribe“ by Terry McDowell states “IT’S NOT ABOUT SCORES and stats, it’s about the stories. The players’ skill and athleticism can be mind-blowing, but without the backstories, there is no connection. The excitement comes from knowing enough about the athletes to care who makes the shot and who misses.” And for Notre Dame fans or “the Notre Dame family” as members refer to it, Manti Te’o was a living legend for what he did both on and off the field. 

A friend once said, I can’t read anything about him without being moved to tears. I was so glad to hear him say this; I felt the same way. But in the past week, that story has changed, hasn’t it? People who knew little to nothing about the man have very strong, passionate feelings about him and what has proven to be a hoax. The world divided into two camps—Manti: a naïve hero and Manti: the self-inflating anti-hero.

McDowell also states, “But if we are who we say we are, if we believe in courage and integrity and fair play, then we define ourselves in our sports.” And this claim speaks to what has upset me most about Deadspin’s revelation. It’s not Manti that I am worried about, it’s the society I live in. People are asking questions like “how was he stupid enough to get duped?” rather than “why did someone—and in this case, it was three people—think it funny, to mislead another human being?”   Rather than look at who Manti is and has always presented himself to be, people have made accusations of what they believe he did. Why he is weird? How he misled us.

The ratio of stories presenting his testimony, which was given to ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap in a two and a half hour to interview to those stories written by people not involved, is a gross injustice. His words filled in the blanks, admitted to mistakes, and clarified many questions. The lack of press and attention to his perspective has only raised more questions for me. Do we want a hero who cares too much? Or are we seeking one who is evil... or gullible?  

Manti knows who he is. If his faith is what he claims it to be, I know he is drawing from that reservoir today, tomorrow and in the months to come. But again, my bigger question is: Do we as a society know who we are? Do we know who we want to be?

I wanted to write about the reason my jaw first dropped when I visited Miami's Belen Jesuit high school.  I was hoping to share a story of what I have learned from those who are blind--including a junior who spoke to a group of teachers and me when we visited.  But the next posting will be about Manti as a hero and because he is human--our heroes always are--those parts of him that served as the anti-hero.  In a small way, I suppose I can tell that story because of that student at Belen.  The blind have taught me how to see in ways I never knew.... 

Photo Credits
Manti ESPN interview
Time to Rally

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The "Real" Sportsmen of the Year...

I am a horrible person.  After reading What Identifying Your Favorite Image of LeBron Can Lead To... a friend sent me a link to the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award ceremony where LeBron was the 2012 honoree. Unbeknownst to me, the event also recognizes a "Sportskid of the Year" (featured in Sports Illustrated Kids).  This year's winner was a team of two: Conner and Cayden Long.  Cayden is a 6-year old boy who has cerebral palsy; his older brother Conner competes in triathlons with Cayden in tow.  I watched the video and thought Oh--another athlete inspired by an individual with a disability. AND Another story where parents are honest about their struggles in having/accepting a child with a disability.  I feel like we've covered those... Like I said, I'm a horrible person.

But, I kept watching because I was unsure how this related to King James.  And, I have to admit it was slightly different--I had never heard a 9-year old that articulate and driven.  I hung in there because this was a far cry from a tale of sibling rivalry.  This story was different.  Adults have maturity; parents are continually asked to be selfless and giving.  I started to wonder How is this 9-year old boy that loving? 

The power in this story isn't just the video that was shared with athletes and coaches present at the event.  No, it was the words of two of the Sportsmen of the Year--both Conner Long and LeBron James.  I am grateful it was included for this clip.  See for yourself.
LeBron, a father of two boys--ages 8 and 5 said he will be sharing the Long brothers' story.  In doing so he won't have the preach about how we should serve, love and support one another.  And Cayden affirms how sports can connect us to one another, lifting the human spirit.
An idea born out of a desire to connect with Cayden.  To become not just brothers or playmates, but teammates.  Though they finished last, they finished together--as one.
It never fails. At the very moment I get overly frustrated by the world of sports--a story about Manti Te'o is going viral as I type or the cheapest ticket for tonight's Warriors vs. Heat game is $38 for seats that demand an oxygen tank, I am reminded of the others....that teach me something about myself, surprise and inspire me.

Photo Credits
Sportskids of the Year

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What Identifying Your Favorite Image of LeBron Can Lead to....

My jaw dropped for the second time that day.  Standing in the chapel at Belen Jesuit, an all boys Catholic high school in Miami, a 6'4" senior dressed in shirt and tie encouraged every person in the chapel to look up.  He averted our eyes to the Christ on the Cross and said with total reverence and sincerity "this is my favorite Christological symbol in the school."  I know this young man's intention wasn't for the crowd to look at him, but at Jesus...but it was hard not to.  I gazed at the handsome captain of the Wolverine's football team (committed to the University of Georgia) and thought Could my students articulate to a stranger their favorite image of Christ?  Could I?
I love that somewhere in his faith formation this student learned to know and appreciate a Christological image...enough to identify one as his favorite.  I encourage my students to choose one for Jesus in the same way they might have a beloved image of their preferred athlete.  Asking a young person to identify why a certain poster or picture of a football player, runner or swimmer is their favorite is a no-brainer.   I love this image of LeBron because it reveals what a craftsman he is. OR  It captures how dominant he is on the court.  To think of Jesus in such a personal, unique and real way may be a challenge--but no less important.
One way to begin this process might be to see religious imagery in a new way.  In my Sports and Spirituality course, I intentionally use a provocative image-- a black and white photo that features LeBron James underneath the words "We Are All Witnesses."  It is actually an ad that was run by Nike; part of the "Believe" campaign.  On the first day of class I ask several questions: Is it is spiritual? Why or Why not.  Describe the religious symbolism.   

Those who know and love King James probably see it for what it is; it is but a snapshot of his pre-game ritual.  He places chalk dust in his hands and releases it with open arms above and beyond. But with the light shining down on him highlighting his physical strength in near majesty, it's not a quantum leap to recognize there is something spiritual about it.  I believe if we start to see the spiritual in the everyday, we can approach the overly or obviously spiritual more often.  We can make it our own.  We can keep it at less of a distance and integrate into our everyday lives.  The here and now becomes the now and here.

An integration of the spiritual life into our everyday life may usher more comfort and familiarity with religious imagery. language and information.  Give it a shot.  Let me know what you the mean time, I encouarge you to share with others your favorite image of Jesus. It's a powerful form of evangelization.

My next posting will feature the reason my jaw dropped for the first time that day at Belen Jesuit....

Photo Credits
Dominant James
We Are All Witnesses
Rembrandt's Jesus

Friday, January 11, 2013

Coach Ladouceur Retires: We Have Seen Good Deeds

I arrived at the University of Notre Dame in the fall of 1992 sight unseen.  The first time I saw the Golden Dome was when I looked out of my dorm room window; the view from Farley Hall of Our Lady was exceptional. I traveled 2,000 miles from home, the first in my family to attend ND.  I must have had hundreds of expectations and preconceptions about all I would see, do and learn.  However, one thing took me by surprise--football players drank during season.

One of my two roommates, a volleyball player arrived on campus a month before I did for in-season training.  She quickly became friends with a number of football players.  I remember that first weekend they went to CJ's pub, an underage friendly bar.  I was shocked.

Sure, several players are of legal drinking age and the consumption of alcohol is a near collegiate past time, but let me provide some context.  I saw one loss during high school.  De La Salle lost to Pittsburgh in the Nor-Cal finals, my senior year ending a 4+ year winning streak (and a 151 game winning streak followed!).  I thought making choices and commitments to certain behaviors was indicative of all winning programs.  Call me naive;  I was.  But I also know what football players at De La Salle were committed to.  And that commitment and sacrifice fueled hard work and a strife for excellence.  That journey cannot be separated from Coach Bob Ladouceur, the winningest coach in California high school football who resigned from his position after 34 years on Friday, January 4.

Teaching and coaching high school athletes today, I stand in awe of what he created--a program of sheer excellence.  Everyone has asked how "Lad" did it.  I believe his essay "What is a Spartan" reveals how.

Now this may sound odd to you, but the reason we win and what beats at the heart of our neighborhood is love. Yes, we win because our players love each other. They are not afraid to say it or embrace each other as a sign of that affection. This is just an outward sign. To love someone, words are nice but insufficient - actions speak volumes. And that's not too easy. Put simply, love means I can count on you and you can count on me. This translates into being responsible. Responsibility is learned and not inherited. Being responsible to 45 teammates is not so simple. It means following team rules and knowing that my attitudes and actions have a profound effect on the success of the whole. We pride ourselves on that exact accountability. We recommit to each other on a weekly basis before games. We commit that my contributions to the team will be my best self. This commitment extends to all facets of my life. It's how I conduct myself as a person - from the classroom to the field, to the outside community. Wherever I go or whatever I do, I carry my team with me, knowing full well that I am connected to a group that loves, accepts and respects me. We try to make our football team a safe place to be. Safe to be ourself. There is nowhere to hide on a football field. Teammates know each other, coaches know the players, and the players know the coaches. All attempts at not being yourself fail miserably. The key is to be the best self you were created to be. We work hard at breaking down the walls that separate us called race, status, religion, jealousy, hate and culture - and truly experience each other on a purely human level.
There are voices much more knowledgeable and wise than mine to speak on behalf of Coach Ladouceur. There certainly isn't a shortage of media attention to his story (his story will be made into a movie)--and I'm glad there isn't.  His is a worthy, noble one.
De La Salle held a press conference in the school theater for Coach Ladouceur share his decision and to announce his successor, Justin Alumbaugh.  Upon hearing the news, a colleague asked Isn't that a bit much?  Do you really need more than a press release?  My response to him was the words of Matthew 5:14-16
You are the light of the world.  A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.
A man, a coach, a Christian like Coach Ladouceur has let that light shine before others--in his players, in his program and what he's given in the classroom and on the gridiron.  This is a life and legacy of 34 years in the making.  I know "Lad" is the last person to want such attention, the De La Salle high school community knows it must say "thank you" for such good deeds and ultimately letting glorifying God in the young men who become Spartans.

Photo Credits
With Players 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Advice from Dan Fouts...Beat Your Rival

I got a chance to talk to NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts after his talk entitled "Quarterback Trauma: Injuries in the NFL" at the Commonwealth Club in August.  I was one of several attendees affiliated with his high school alma mater, St. Ignatius College Prep.  As a sports writer for the alumni magazine Genesis I asked him "What advice do you have for a student-athlete at SI?" His response was: "Beat SH."

I shared with my students that Fouts could have imparted a great many words of wisdom—how to play through injury, how to work with demanding coaches but, no, his message directed against the cross town rival.  They loved it.

A rival—a true rival—is a special thing.  It is not to be taken for granted.  I should know, my high school(s), Carondelet (and De La Salle) never had one. Even at Notre Dame, it was unclear to me who was our true nemesis. Michigan?  USC? During my tenure at ND, the once prominent "University of Spoiled Children" didn't measure on our radar screen thanks to a "Decade of Dominance" by the Irish. Boston College emerged as a new one after they ruined our undefeated season (in 1993) and continued to shatter many dreams in later years.... yet nothing compared to the Bruce Mahoney rivalry, 64 years in the making.

A rivalry signifies allegiance and loyalty.  Paradoxically, it divides as it unites. Ideally, it makes one better, dig deeper, and stand taller.  The Broadway play "Magic-Bird" reveals how Earvin "Magic" Johnson needed Larry Bird and the Celtic needed the Laker.  At its best, a rival can help one understand and express his or her spirituality.

I look forward to what I will see at USF's War Memorial Gym tonight.  Thanks Dan!

Photo Credits
Dan Fouts
Magic Bird

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A New Year's Gift: The Gift of Kidneys

On New Year's Day--The Feast of the Solemnity of Mary--I reluctantly left my warm bed for what I consider the easiest of the Holy Days of obligation to miss or er...forget about.  I was however impressed by the number of people who didn't.  When mass ended, I exited the church thinking I wasn't up for saying "hello" to the folks I knew in the congregation.  I admit, I felt strange leaving without making a personal connection until I remembered there was a special one I wanted to make. I wanted to visit the Christ child.  

I wish I could say I approached the beautiful creche at St. Dominic's Church because I was inspired by the parable that reminded me how important it is to be like a child.  I love seeing young children approach the manger with awe and wonder.  I know I felt that way many years ago. No, I went to the nativity scene after Mass because I wanted to see this infamous Baby Jesus.  
Last year, this Jesus was stolen from the manger and returned several months later on Good Friday.  He was found in the toilet of the church bathroom.  The pastor informed the community about His disappearance and return one week after Easter.  I was truly saddened by this occurrence, so it shouldn't surprise me that I was excited to see Him on this first day of 2013.

I said a prayer for peace for the new year, gazed at the Holy Family and surreptitiously took a photo.  Is this weird? I thought.  I took a few steps back quietly from the creche and saw a student's parent waiting to say "hello."  After a warm hug and holiday greeting, I asked the most generic of all questions: How are you?  Her response was none of what I expected.  

I came to learn she had a kidney transplant one month ago.  I stood in utter disbelief as she shared with me she now has two kidneys from a 5-month old child who had died (after which we shared a moment of silence).  The two, although small can act as one adult kidney.  She added that the likelihood of her body accepting the organs was low because of a pre-existing condition, but this was a perfect match.  She looked healthy and happy. What a miracle!  

I was both overwhelmed and humbled by her news. I can only imagine if I received the gift of two new kidneys after waiting on a list, after making peace with the fact that my family members were unacceptable donors and after having my body accept them, that I too would proclaim such news with equal joy.  Another miracle of health struggles and issues is that once you have one, you discover how many other people do too.  My immediate response to her was the story of another student's parent who had not received a kidney, but given one of his own.

In mid-December, USF baseball coach Nino Giarrantano spoke to my students about the need for discipline in both in the spiritual and sporting life.  It must be that discipline of selflessness that enabled Nino not only to give one of his two kidneys to his father, but to not tell any of his athletes about the impending surgery until after their championship run was complete.   I saw Nino but a month after his surgery and he too radiated joy.  A gift of life--whether given or received is like no other.
But I think of the symbolism of today.  Had I not gone to see the Christ child, I would not know her story.  This message of joy and of life was His gift to me.  And it is proclaimed in the Scriptures,  The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.  The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.   

Emmanuel. Indeed, God is with us.

Photo Credits
Nino Giarratano

Coach and Dad 
Empty Manger