Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My Shark Week

In his June 5, 2013 address for World Environment Day, Pope Francis said "We are losing the attitude of wonder, contemplation, listening to creation..." I hate to disagree with the Holy Father, but is does he know about Shark Week?

Now in its 26th year, the Discovery Channel's week-long celebration of "t
he cartilaginous fish that have been around for more than 420 million years" was seen by 21.4 million viewers last year. In "It’s Time for Shark Week to Get Bigger — And Less BloodthirstyDevon Maloney  reports that Shark Week "dominates 35 percent of the social media posts made about television during those seven days" and has made "Discovery the number one cable network for the much-desired 18-34 range, during the sharks’ weeklong reign."  It is broadcast in over 72 countries!

Indeed, we do have an attitude of wonder about a creature that has been around 2,100 times longer than we have. My friend Kevin wrote that "the Great White is nature's most impressive, irrational fear inducing, killing machine." We do contemplate if the Megalodon shark that has been extinct for more than a million years is still out there. And I hope we listen to creation. Sharks “Like most predators, help keep their ecosystem in balance,” Shiffman told WIRED. “When top predator populations decline, it can throw off the whole food chain through a process called a ‘trophic cascade." 

Yet Pope Francis' words are not in vain.  "We kill 100 million sharks each year, which breaks down to 3.17 sharks per second. Those statistics concern many scientists and conservationists."  Shark Week was originally developed to raise awareness and respect for sharks. I hope it is more than entertainment or fodder for twitter.  And yet in his speech, the Pope linked the importance of environmental ecology to human ecology.  All of God's creation stand in relationship to the other.  To respect for one is to respect for the other.  

Enter in what I have been wanting to write about for some time now....the "other" Shark in my Shark Week.  
About two weeks ago, my classmate and friend Alex Montoya posted a great photo of Jeff Samardzija with the caption "Shark Week."  I loved it.  I still do.

I think about the Chicago Cubs starting pitcher with the same sense of wonder that many of you give to the Hammerhead.  Drafted in the fifth round of the 2006 MLB draft, Samardzija was a two-sport athlete at the University of Notre Dame. To commit to and play any sport on the D-1 level is awesome, let alone two; specialization be damned! He said, "Playing both is pretty hectic, but overall being able to compete in any sport helps you get better at other sports. You'll always find that. I'm always competing, so even though they aren't really the same, that aspect carries over between the two." 

A three-sport athlete in high school, Samardzija also played hockey and wrestled as a youngster. In "A Man for All Seasons," Katie Stuhldreher writes "At 12 years of age, Samardzija added wrestling to his list of activities, earning Indiana state runner-up in his weight class." When I read that  Samardzija teamed up with former Irish football players Carlyle Holiday and D.J. Fitzpatrick to win a championship in Bookstore Basketball, I threw the magazine article down. Sense of wonder? Contemplation?Understatement of my year.
I already knew of his success in both football and baseball at Notre Dame. In football, he set "single-season records for catches (77 - tied with Tom Gatewood's 1970 total), yards (1,249) and touchdowns (15) to take consensus All-American honors and was selected team MVP along with quarterback Brady Quinn."  I knew he had to choose between which of the two sports to pursue professionally.  An incredible problem to have.

His teammates at Notre Dame were the first to call him, with affectionation, "The Shark." Some say its because he has a big head (literally, not metaphorically). Others claim is is because there is something fierce on the field when he comes to play.  I think its because he inspires the same sense of wonder and awe that those powerful fish do in our oceans and seas. 

A friend once asked what kind of name is "Samardzija."  I said, it's Serbian—Serb for "Shark."  "Tiburon," Spanish for shark is already a pretty cool word for a fascinating creature. I think Samardzija just adds to the mystique.  For more of that, you have 5 more days on the Discovery Channel of Shark Week 2013.  Enjoy

Photo Credits
ND Shark
Shark Week Logo

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