Sunday, September 29, 2013

Exit: Sandman and Spiritual Southpaw Part 1

It doesn't happen often, but I love it when I read an article or a book and something prompts me to laugh out loud. Perhaps it is because the silence of reading isn't the medium by which I expect to find humor. I almost find myself looking around to see if people anyone else laughing too? Humor is social and needs to be shared. And as much as I love finding a good laugh in literature, a big part of me loves to be brought to tears, too. In this week alone, two tributes to two gentlemen in baseball has done just that.
I read the Sports Illustrated tribute to the great Mariano Rivera, "Exit Sandman" while on the plane coming home from Notre Dame. I couldn't turn off the waterworks. In this instance, I didn't look around to see if the man next to me was crying too. I was trying to dry my tears as quickly as possible and yet, I wanted to let them flood the cattle car. I wanted others to know about Mo. I hadn't thought that this tender emotion was social. In this instance, there's no question it was.

Tom Verducci, the author of "Exit Sandman" and one of my favorite writers, used the cover story to commence "the oral history" of the 43-year old pitcher (44 in just two months!). Joe Torre said "Probably not since Koufax have we seen anyone leave the game with so much respect." It captures why the son of a Panamanian fisherman is so beloved. And it illustrates  what I believe the motto AMDG—for the greater glory of God—means; a motto that is ascribed to the uniforms of all the athletes at St. Ignatius.

Mottos and acronyms are pointless unless they are connected with a person or an experience that gives flesh to the ideal. Rivera's former teammates, coaches and managers capture through personal testimony his talent and more importantly, his spirit. The two I have featured below reveal the very prayer of St. Ignatius, known as "The Prayer of Generosity." And, as we let the Sandman exit, we know what the greater glory of God can do—on a baseball diamond and beyond.

Enjoy...and although their egos would allow for both of them to appear on the same posting, this one will focus on #42. The Spiritual Southpaw: Barry Zito is tomorrow....

Both men debuted in 1995 and have remained teammates for 19 seasons!
Dr. Fran Pirozzolo, psychologist, Yankees mental-skills coach from 1996 to 2002: I have worked with elite performers ranging from Navy SEALs, U.S. Secret Service, NASA astronauts, to athletes. Mariano Rivera may be the single most impressive performer and leader I have ever known. He is the exemplar that I point to when I discuss the mental attributes of champions. If we accept that an operational definition of leadership is the effect you have on others around you, then Mo rates among the most powerful leaders in any domain.

Most of us have deployed all of our attention to ourselves and to our own needs, with little left over for the needs of others. Mo has a presence that creates an atmosphere of teamwork, of an impossibly high regard for the integrity and worth of the people around him.
Rivera has received retirement gifts from every MLB team. He has also given gifts to those in every park, beyond his gift of pitching.
Rivera thought about retiring last season, but when he blew out his knee shagging batting practice fly balls in Kansas City on May 3, 2012, he vowed he would not leave baseball on the back of a cart. Knowing this would be his final season, he approached Zillo with an idea: In each road city he wanted to personally meet "behind-the-scenes" people who had dedicated their lives to baseball or had known illness or tragedy. While baseball wanted to say goodbye to Rivera, with the attendant going-away gifts and photo ops, Rivera wanted to say goodbye to baseball, which for him meant all the people who toil in anonymity.

On May 11, Rivera met Ryan Bresette, his wife, Heather, and their three sons, Joe, 13, Sam, 9, and Tyler, 6, in the media room at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium. (The Bresettes' daughter, Anna, 14, was unable to attend the pregame gathering because of a soccer game.) Bresette worked as a clubhouse attendant for the Royals from 1982 to '94 and had never met Rivera.

On March 22 the Bresettes, while returning home from a vacation in Florida, had been standing next to a mammoth flight-status display board in the -Birmingham, Ala., airport when the board, estimated to weigh more than 300 pounds, fell on the family. Luke Bresette, their 10-year-old son, was killed. Heather suffered two broken legs. Sam suffered a broken leg and head injuries.

As evidenced by the Bresette family
baseball can bring joy to our lives.
Ryan Bresette: It was only seven or eight weeks out from the accident. My wife was in a wheelchair. Getting around was difficult. But we decided this would be a huge bright spot. It was an opportunity to put smiles on our kids' faces, which is the Number 1 priority in our lives. It was three or four hours before the game, and there were probably three or four other families there. Mariano came in and just lit up the room. That big smile, the bright eyes. . . .

People started talking and introducing themselves. I said, "We're the family involved in the Birmingham, Alabama, accident and lost our son."

He said, "I know. God bless you." I started to get emotional and couldn't talk anymore. My wife took over and said, "Luke would have loved this. Luke loved baseball. He loved all sports, but baseball was his very favorite sport." And then she started to get choked up.
Then our son Joe blurts out, "But Luke hated the Yankees!" The room erupted with laughter. Mariano just loved it. It broke the ice and the tension in the room.

Mariano addressed each one of our children and said, "Luke will always be with you. There is a plan for everything. We don't always know what it is, but we have to keep putting one step forward at a time. My situation is nowhere near what you are going through. I had an injury right here in Kansas City and overcame it to play again. My only message is you have to keep on trying and keep on giving effort."

I just asked my wife, "What would you want to say about what that day was like?" She said, "Mariano provided hope and inspiration at a time when they needed it the most." The best part, and it never made the papers, was after the meet and greet was over my nine-year-old said, "Mariano, if you pitch tonight, would you give me the ball from the last out?" Mariano looked at him and said, "You got it. It's yours."

Our seats were all the way in rightfield behind the foul pole, to accommodate the wheelchair. Mariano came in to pitch the ninth. By the time we packed up, with three kids and a wheelchair, I said, "We're never going to make it around the concourse [to the Yankees' dugout]. Let's just go home."

I'm literally pulling out of our parking spot when I get a call from the Royals. They ask, "Can you come back in?" I said, "Why?" They said, "As soon as Mariano got into the dugout his first question was, 'Where is the family I promised the ball to?' "

The Royals meet us, and they take us to the clubhouse level. Mariano comes out and says, "Sam, what did you ask me before the game?" Before he answered I said to myself, He remembers Sam's name!

Sam answers, "If you pitched would you give me the ball from the last out?"

Mariano says, "That's right." He opens up a bag and says, "Here it is." You could tell by the sticker on it. It had been authenticated by MLB. I just looked at Mariano and I said, "Thank you very much. You have no idea how much this means."

About six weeks later I got a call from [the Royals]. It had dawned on Mariano that he had not autographed the baseball. They put me in contact with a lady from his charitable foundation. Mariano wanted me to send the ball back to him so he could sign it and send it back.

This is something I haven't told too many people. When Mariano came over to me, I stuck out my hand to shake his hand, and he gave me a hug, pulled me close and whispered in my ear, "You're a stronger and braver man than I ever could be."

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous; 
teach me to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to seek reward,
except that of knowing that I do your will.

St. Ignatius--pray for us.
Mariano Rivera--Thank you.

Photo Credits
all from

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Game, Set, Match: Serena 32 Years in the Making

If you haven't watched it, stop reading
an add to your Netflix queue now
The documentary "Venus and Serena" states that "the great enemy of every athlete is age." The irony is that the subjects of the film defy that very truth.  Today, September 26, 2013 is Serena Williams 32nd birthday. She is the oldest woman number one player in the Women's Tennis Association's (WTA) history.

I don't need a reason to write or continue a conversation about Ms. Williams.  She is the subject of a story no one could contrive. Only one of two African American women to be number one in the world, she shares that title with no one else but her older sister, Venus. I celebrate her gift to tennis, the United States and athletics today.

Game: The impact she has had on the game is astounding. It's worth reading the introduction on her Wikipedia page as it captures the sheer magnitude of just how dominant a player she has been and remains (I will reference that here because it frames her success in a narrative; the WTA features listings of titles, by year, etc.)  
Williams holds the most Major singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles combined amongst active players, male or female. She is the only player to have achieved a Career Golden Slam in both singles and doubles. Her record of 32 Grand Slam titles ties her for eighth on the all-time list: 17 in singles, 13 in women's doubles, and 2 in mixed doubles. She is the most recent player, male or female, to have held all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously ('02–'03) and only the fifth woman ever to do so. Her total of 17 Grand Slam singles titles is sixth on the all-time list,[9] and fourth in the Open Era, behind Steffi Graf (22 titles) and Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova (18 titles each).[9] She has won 13 Grand Slam doubles titles with her sister Venus Williams and the pair are unbeaten in Grand Slam finals. She has four Olympic gold medals.
Honestly, I could include more information.  But for the purpose of this blog I simply want to reiterate (in addition to her manifold achievements listed above) the wonder of God's creation, I see in Serena Williams. The game is more exciting, more fun to watch and more athletic because of her. Her serve has been clocked at 125 mph. Although the average player on the women's tour is 24 (among women in the top 10), Serena has only gotten better, faster and stronger.  
Richard Williams: Genius or Madman?
Set: Before they were born, Serena's father and coach Richard Williams was set on one thing—his daughters would become number one in the world.  He wrote an 80-page "manifesto" if you will, outlining how he would raise his daughters—born just 15-months apart to dominate tennis.

Why tennis? Richard Williams, admitted it was because he wanted to make money. The prize money, salaries and earnings in other professional female sports pale in comparison to what tennis can provide. Vocal and unapologetic, Richard Williams is as complicated a character as Serena appears to be. In describing him to a friend, I could not help but wonder, Is he a genius or a madman?
I just love this photo
His daughters' success is because of that genius. They learned fundamentals of the game par excellance coupled with an unconventional training regime he created.  Venus and Serena took Jazz dance and boxed to develop fast footwork, they learned to throw the football because it simulates the service motion. Mr. Williams even went so far as to find players that another coach knew were cheaters; he knew that type of player would challenge their mental cool.

The Williams grew up on the public courts of Compton, CA. They were largely homeschooled and driven by their father to focus everything on tennis. Venus said "we never went to parties or did things that most children do." But their father's dream for his daughters came to fruition. Serena Williams net worth is now over $100 million dollars.  They have faced racial prejudice in their sport on the circuit and from tennis fans. Every step of the way, Richard Williams has been by his daughters side being Richard Williams. What he set out to achieve is what and who we watch today.
Joy in action.
Match: Venus is Serena's match. Serena says she played tennis because she wanted to be just like her older sister. Everything Venus did, she wanted to do. And yet, Serena never indicates, articulates or reveals that she wanted to do it "better." Today, Venus, who is currently ranked #63 in the world, if often sitting in the stands, cheering for Serena. And you know what? she looks as happy for her to win and when she won.  

In 2002, when Serena defeated her sister for her first Wimbledon title, Venus ran to a camera man to take a picture to capture the moment. She is the calm to Serena's chaos. She is a tall drink of water whereas Serena is a muscle machine. Her career has been affected by a rare auto-immune disease but she continues to participate in the game that she loves and can't want to imagine a life without tennis. She doesn't want to.

I make a point of looking for "joy in action." Watching those two sisters play doubles tennis together, one can't help but notice how much they love each other and the game that has defined them.

The number one and number two tennis players in the world (at the time of this photo!)
Serena: Serena Williams has overcome health issues, racial discrimination, poverty, and more. She has also allowed herself to be the subject of drama, discipline (or lack of it) and dynamism. I'm grateful she is on the tour and I hope she breaks the record as the all-time winningest female athlete.  Game, set, match: SERENA.

Photo Credits 
Young Venus and Serena
Double Win
Joy in action

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Report from an ND Home Game Part II

Whether or not it's your first visit back to campus in ten years or your third in five years, what Notre Dame alumni and fans should know that what they see today, will not be here tomorrow. The University's "Campus and Development"report states 
Never a campus to be accused of “dreaming too small,” Notre Dame has $300 million to $400 million of campus development projects in progress or on the horizon. They include a center for executive education, a social sciences building, a student activities building, two residence halls, a multi-disciplinary research building, and an art museum.

My immediate reaction says "that's a lot of money." My friend was right—the University is rolling in money these days. But I also believe after my visit this past weekend for the Michigan State game that it's soul is not for sale; it will not be bought or sold. If they do it right, and I think they will, Notre Dame can and will only get better. 

And yet, I say that with humility. My basis for judgement is not scientific. I hope that my experience as the co-leader of the Catholic Identity Accreditation for WASC qualifies for something--anyone? anyone? But I'll also be the first to admit, I am not a professional consultant. I did not work for Arthur Andersen as many of my classmates did upon graduation (remember the full page ad in The Observer they had congratulating their new ND hires?).  But everywhere I go, I wear the lens of sport and spirituality.  And ND is rife with growth in both domains.

State of the Holy Family
It's easy to report just how many new buildings and structures have sprung up on campus. And the athletic department has benefitted as much, if not more than others.  Although I have often heard about the new softball, soccer, track and hockey facilities, no one has once commented on the increased amount of religious art on display throughout Notre Dame's 1,250 acres.  

A sculpture of the Holy Family stands at a central intersection. A replica of The Visitation by Holy Cross priest and sculptor, Anthony J. Lauck, CSC is appropriately placed next to the Eck Visitor's Center.  Outside of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart stands a statue of Our Lady in remembrance of the unborn.  And a beautiful Sant'Egidio Icon hangs inside as a reminder of our call to ecumenism. In 2009, Pope Benedict met with artists to affirm their talents as gift from God and the importance of their trade. He said "Sacred art is a living catechesis. The richness of religious art, shows that the Church has always been a source of inspiration." Notre Dame has affirmed this sentiment.

And yet, what I love about Notre Dame is the integration of the holy or sacred into the ordinary.  Every classroom, every dining room and yes, even every athletic facility has a cross that hangs to bless the space and to identify what we believe.  God, Country, Notre Dame aren't just words on the north door of the Basilica, it is echoed in the signs and symbols that hang in every athletic facility.
One dedication that I found particularly intriguing is the "Homage of Holy Cross" placard that hangs in the Compton Family Ice Arena. Everyone who has been to this state of the art facility for the ND hockey team has told me I have to see it.  Even though I'm not a big hockey fan, I am glad I did. WOW.  Perhaps the appropriate word here is—legion?! It may serve as a different take on Mother Teresa's maxim "something beautiful for God" and yet, it certainly is. In a small way, I think it was made even more beautiful by the message of gratitude to the members of the Congregation of Holy Cross to foster the community that is Notre Dame.

The changes and growth at Notre Dame aren't without oversight.  For example, when I saw the newly constructed towers on the football practice fields, I knew why they were there. In 2010, Declan Sullivan tragically died when the cherry picker the team had used for taping practice collapsed in a wind storm. I wish the University had placed words in memoriam to Declan Sullivan outside of the football gate. I hope they will...
I hope someday these fields will be dedicated to Declan Sullivan

T.S. Elliot wrote "home is where we start from" and returning to Notre Dame reminded me of what started there. No matter how many new building or statues rise and fall, the spirit of Notre Dame is constant. Why? because of its roots.  I think my experience and the words of theologian Ron Rolheiser affirm that belief. He writes "The pain of transience and impermanence in our lives also helps point us toward the things that don’t change, namely, faith, hope and love. These can never be bulldozed under, replaced by grain fields, burnt down by fire, expropriated and knocked down to make way for a new freeway, or rendered obsolete by newer software. In this world, Scripture tells us, we have no lasting city, but we are already inextricably bound up with things that do last forever. No wonder we sing "and our hearts forever, love thee Notre Dame!"

Photo Credits

Monday, September 23, 2013

Report from an ND Home Game: Part I

I just came back from my first home football game at my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame since 2002.  It was a weekend I will never forget as I shared it with one of my closest friends and her wonderful, loving, enthusiastic, spirited and FUN family. Alumni who return to campus after an extended period of time are frequently overwhelmed with the amount of building and development. Dormitories, academic building, heck—entire quads exist where open space once loomed large.
"Friends are the jewel of life!" with the Davis & McGuire families
Occasionally, this change is met with suspicion. One friend quipped, the University (by the looks of the campus) seems to be rolling in cash these days.  Something bothered me about all of it.  Has ND sold its soul? I have been back to ND many times in the summer and on non-football weekends, so my experience of campus is less jarring than others who may have been away for ten, fifteen, even twenty years. And yet, I appreciated her question. In fact, it was one I took with me as I visited in both June and this past weekend. And for the purpose of this blog, I am happy to provide my all too biased report.
Great photo of this time period.  Notice the uneven bench and lack of shrubbery. No chance of that today
Notre Dame looks awesome. Make no mistake about it. There is no den of iniquity, no area of disorder to be found (remember that fountain behind Hayes Healy where Zahm's hazing, err "initiation" once took place? There stood weeds, uneven bricks, bad plaster. You won't find the likes of that anywhere today). Campus is alive and blooming.  Flowers, mulch, greenery, shrubs grow as they should in a place that gets that much rain. Life is about trade-offs, right?

The University has supported its claim of the importance of on-campus life with stay-halls (dormitories) that are beautiful and unique. In its Admissions report, it states

At Notre Dame we develop community in our every interaction. We come here to pursue truth and as we do so, we live in the process of building relationships.  Undergraduate students form strong bonds by sharing space within their residence hall communities, expressing themselves through an impressive network of student activities, playing together on a wide array of athletic teams and by supporting each other throughout the growth and change that occurs during their four years here.
One need not look far to see that each one seeks to promote community in invitational and creative ways. This is self-evident, even in a 48-hour visit when and where a football game is of the highest priority.
Carroll Hall: Home of the Vermin. One word: impressive.
Farley, Sorin, Duncan and Alumni. These places among others are where school spirit is alive and kicking. For example, Zahm hung a green and white banner that extended the entire length and height of the east side of the building. I marveled at how they were able to construct such a placard. And we thought we were talented when we used two bedsheets to promote Pop Farley. Indeed, I am not surprised that "80% of Notre Dame's 8,300 undergraduates choose to call the Notre Dame campus their home."  

On campus still stand a strong number of basketball courts above and beyond those at Stephan. I love to discover those that are tucked away in unlikely places (the half court next to St. Ed's and another close to Carroll Hall by the lake). There is an affordable a 9-hole golf course, a stone's throw from Pangborn and Fisher in addition to the championship Warren Golf course just a mile away. I smiled as I saw more sidewalk and trails for running than ever before. Variety is the spice of life! And in case you were worried, the fields for inter-hall football are still with us. Recreation at Notre Dame appears limitless as I gaped at the list of classes and intramural opportunities provided by RecSports.

And yet, the commitment to sport is matched by a commitment to spirituality.

Geddes is today's "Center for Social Concerns"
On Gameday, I attended a talk entitled "Saturdays with the Saints" with about 150 other people at Geddes Hall.  I learned ever more about the lives and significance of the four churchwomen who were martyred in El Salvador in 1980.  After the football game, I joined 200 others in Siegfried's chapel for Sunday mass.  Indeed, each hall has its own chapel dedicated to a different saint. Students serve as Eucharistic ministers, lectors, musicians and greeters.  It is a wonderful thing to pray with and for one's community.

And that is my report on the "stuff" that is easy to quantify. Tomorrow, I will conclude with the integration of sport and spirituality in an unlikely way—once again, as evidenced from an ND home game.  Go Irish.

Photo Credits
Carroll Hall
Outside Hayes Healy

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Why I Am Now Writing About Tim Tebow....

This book surpassed my expectations
One component of my students' final project in RS 475: Sports and Spirituality is for them to “name the athlete, a religious/spiritual person, author, or guest speaker you “met” in class who has inspired you most?” Manute Bol, the 7’7” Sudanese basketball player and devout Christian as well as Eric Liddell the Scottish runner and subject of Chariots of Fire are perennial favorites.  And to my surprise, so is Tim Tebow—but not because they “met” him…but rather, because we didn’t.

I thought including Tebow into the curriculum was unnecessary—his example too obvious, his faith too vocal. I believed that young people found his devotion too strong and un-relatable.  Instead, they were intrigued by his story and drawn to learning more about his beliefs and his life.  

Even though he has been cut from the New England Patriots, he will be included in the 2013-2014 school year curriculum. This year’s class will“meet” him. In 2011, I wrote a blog posting "Why I'm not writing about Tim Tebow" and now I am.  Here’s why.

Tebow’s autobiography “Through My Eyes” has made quite an impression on me. To be honest, my expectations were low. I have read some incredible biographies about athletes, most of which were written after their retirement from professional sports. I questioned what a high profile athlete in his early 20s could offer by way of wisdom, perspective, overcoming adversity and more. What the reader will not find in a typical biography is trumped by what you will find. For example, every chapter begins with a passage of scripture that is something much more than words he has memorized.  The fullness of his chosen passage serves as a testimony of his life. 
Words and numbers written in eyeblack are now forbidden, but prior to that Tebow would include a verse of Scripture. This is most likely a reference to Ephesians 2:8-10. Worth looking up and praying with! 
Here are but three examples that every athlete, their parents, coaches and administrators might consider.

Tim Tebow is the youngest of five children.  His two older brothers Paul and Robby were his first teammates and competitors. They also met athletic success at an early age.  Therefore, from the age of 5 on, his parents decided to institute a rule. 

Tebow writes, “we were forbidden from talking about our accomplishment, unless asked first by someone else.  If someone specifically asked us how the game went or how we played, we could answer, we couldn’t volunteer the information.  They based this new rule on the admonition found in Proverbs 27:2
            Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
            A stranger, not your own lips.
Superman from a young age on....
I think the Tebows are on to something.  Our society often defines us by what we accomplish; athletics puts our achievements on display like little else does.  But a humble spirit begets other virtues such as gratitude, kindness and joy.  Such virtues yield spiritual fruit—even when the shots don’t fall and the wins don’t come. 

Tebow admitted it was a lesson he had to learn and has continued to work on. 

It’s not a bad rule for parents either (to implement with regard to their own child’s athletic success).  

The Family that Plays Together Stays Together
It will serve as a surprise to no one that one of the greatest gifts a parent can give their son or daughter is time.  And Tebow is proof that it can not only strengthen the bond between parent and child, it can also help him or her in athletics.
his parents, Pamela and Bob Tebow
“My dad never coached us formally in a team setting because of international trips and his irregular schedule.  What he did was spend lots of time with us, teaching us not only to hit, but also to throw.”

Reading his words reminded me one of my former students, a two-year starter on the boys’ varsity basketball team.  Johnny didn’t play on an AAU traveling team, he wasn’t the tallest or even the strongest shooting guard but he earned all league honors and still holds a WCAL record (most free throw points in a game). A rare profile in today’s game, everyone wondered, “How did he do it?”

Every single night, Johnny would practice shooting with one person—his father.  His dad did the grunt work—rebounding and passing, advising and encouraging so his son could learn, improve and succeed. I like to think that their time together—strengthening the fundamentals—was a sacred time for they two.  And the beauty of this story is that when I last saw Johnny, he excitedly told me his brother was the best athlete.  When I asked “How’s that?” his response came as no surprise.  “My dad has more time to play with him now.”

For those parents who can—play with your son or daughter.  For those who cannot, maybe it’s another family member, like an aunt or uncle who can. Or, like Bob Tebow, perhaps there is some element of the game you can share.
Tim Tebow is the youngest of 5 children
I can do all things…
When life gets busy—and it does—it’s natural to consider What obligations can I eliminate?  Sunday mass (or services) shouldn’t be one of them, but unfortunately it is.

Tebow wrote, “Between football, homeschooling and farm labor, I was busy. And when I wasn’t doing any of those things, I was busy at our church. My family attends First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, and I was involved in their plays and youth meetings and activities whenever and as much as possible.  Every Sunday morning we were all there, and the other times in the week were a bit more sporadic, weaving things in with a regular schedule of sports, which was often easier said than done.  But, every Sunday—we were there.”
Always time for prayer and praise.
We are careful to calendar practice and game times, when to lift, team meetings and more.  The same should apply to our faith.  My parish offers Saturday and Sunday vigils.  There are four Sunday morning masses and even a “last chance” mass at 9:00 p.m. in the evening. I think it’s important to recognize how Catholic Church has made concerted efforts to accommodate the demands on our time; athletics is certainly one of them.

Sunday services are important because the spiritual journey isn’t one we walk alone.  We come together to remember Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In that gathering, we are called to deepen our relationship with the Lord. 

Tebow proclaims St. Paul’s words to the Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  And we need that strength—not only in sports, but also in life: relationships are demanding, humility doesn’t come easy.  We are make the team one year, we are cut the next.

And no one knows that like Tim Tebow. Through his eyes, our God is one who can be known in reading the Bible and seeking to truly live its teachings.  It is affirmed at home, on the field and within a faith community.  I challenge you in your role at school to do the same. 

Photo Credits
Through My Eyes

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

US Open 2013: Delight and Confusion

It may seem a little weird, but every time a player I really like takes the trophy at the finals of a Grand Slam, I get teary eyed.  I can't help but laugh and cry in delight; a satisfaction for a tourney well done. 

When Serena Williams won her second straight US Open (and fifth overall), it wasn't exactly waterworks, but I was relieved and thrilled that she regrouped and pulled off a definitive third set to secure the win.
Williams has earned over $9million in prize money this year alone.
As she held her trophy high, my tears were crowded by another emotion—confusion. Serena was awarded with a check of $2.6 million dollars for her feat. Her reaction was priceless. She gave a playful smile and eye roll that said "yeah, baby."  I'm glad she did. You can say that prize money is well-deserved, that she is the best of the best (and I hold no doubt that she is. I believe she is the best female athlete in the United States. I can't think of another woman who comes close. None. NB: this is fun to debate). But I also think that prize money is absurd.  

I know that sports is a multi-billion dollar business. I am aware that athletes in their own way are entertainers and they too receive millions for what they do.  I understand that her check from the United States Tennis Association is for winning the entire tourney, but it upsets me that we have this amount of money to award to someone who plays a game.
Williams is now tied with Everett with 18 Grand Slam titles.
That sounds like a cheap shot, no? In his autobiography "Open," Andre Agassi wrote "Part of my discomfort with tennis has always been a nagging sense that it's meaningless." His claim stayed with me because on some level it's true.  And yet, pursuing one's passion and striving for excellence is not without meaning.  Athletics is where I found my passion. It is where I see excellence on display in physical and mental contests, man against the game/ clock, skill versus talent, heart against head.  It keeps us awake at night. It is the "stuff" of great memories.  It has kept me smiling and heck, even crying for days. That is not meaningless.  

So why the confusion? Why the complaint about $2.6 million dollars. I just don't understand the law of economics.  Somewhere along the way, we decided it was okay to pay our athletes millions as prize money and exponentially more for branding.  I know I can't do a single thing about the fact that Tiger Woods makes more money in one round of golf than a worker in Jakarta who has been subcontracted by Nike will make in his or her entire life, but it still upsets me.  It blows my mind that there is that much money to extend and yet there is great need. Dire need.  It is my conscience qualm.  
I can hear the retorts now...he's the very best as what he does...but it still leaves me uncomfortable.  Fortunately, my question is not in vain. In the article, "Good Sport" Luke Hansen, SJ writes:
Maybe at one time sports fans could simply enjoy the helmet-smashing hits and record-breaking home runs and look the other way when our favorite team benefited. Those days are over. This raises important questions: Is it enough for me to be a passive consumer, simply looking for entertainment, with little concern for the internal business of these sports? Or must I now become a more conscientious and responsible consumer? Sports are big business, of course—the N.F.L. brings in more than $9 billion annually, and baseball is close behind ($7 billion)—and fans drive this machine by spending big bucks on game tickets and team apparel and by sending television ratings and advertising revenues through the roof. 
Do fans have the power to help shape professional sports? Remember the swift resolution of the labor dispute between the N.F.L. and its locked-out officials in September 2012. In a nationally televised “Monday Night Football” game, replacement referees affected the outcome with a botched call on the final play. Fans decided they had had enough. That night the league office reportedly received 70,000 voice mail messages demanding an end to the lockout. Within 48 hours, league officials and the referees reached a tentative agreement, and the regular referees were back on the field. 
This mass action makes me wonder what else might be possible if sports fans become genuinely concerned about player safety and are willing to do something about it or are able to channel their outrage constructively over the continued use of P.E.D.’s.
I have a hard time believing anyone is going to rally around paying professional athletes a just and fair wage.  I know it's market driven. But it's another question worth considering within the wide world of sports.

In the meantime, I hope Serena enjoys the $1 million dollar bonus she received for winning the US Open as Emirates Airline US Open Series champion.

Photo Credits
Williams wins

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Spiritual Spoils: The Face of Madrid

The poet Mary Oliver's first Instruction for Living a Life is "pay attention."  Every so often...I do.

Out of the corner of my eye, I overheard one teacher extend her sympathies to another. Sansei, our beloved Japanese teacher from outside of Tokyo, was discussing the 2020 Olympics with Carlos a Spanish teacher from Madrid.  Both teachers were aware of all that their respective motherlands had lost / gained.  I don't think I could have scripted this scene had I tried. 

As Carlos mentioned the high unemployment rate in Spain and how the Olympic games would have served as a moral and economic boost for their struggling economy, another colleague lifted his iPad to show me his lesson plan. In "El Deportes" section of "El Pais" Alvaro Garcia captured the same sentiment that Carlos was wearing thousands of miles from his home town.
"Madrid, Spain’s capital and largest city, now faces a new challenge, as it scrambles to reduce $9.2 billion in debt as it figures out what to do with some of its half-built or underused sports centers" (New York Times)
Indeed, spoils go to the victor! We sports fans love the glory, but with every win comes a loss. And as I looked at each photograph, I saw something much more than a group of disappointed Madrileos. The images created a photo-essay that speaks to theologian Ron Rolheiser's definition of spirituality.  

Spirituality does however admit of different moods and faces. Sometimes it hits us as pain-dissatisfaction, frustration, and aching. At other times its grip is not felt as painful at all, but as a deep energy, as something beautiful, as an inexorable pull, more important than anything else inside us, toward love, beauty, creativity, and a future beyond our limited present. Desire can show itself as aching pain or delicious hope.
Spirituality is, ultimately, about what we do with that desire. What we do with our longings, both in terms of handling the pain and the hope they bring us, that is our spirituality.

I have used his words before, but they go to show that one need not understand the text beneath each photo to recognize the hope they held (Madrid has lost the bid twice before) and the pain of the verdict (80% of the facilities have already been constructed).  What Madrid and its people do with that desire—that is their spirituality.  That is the story that is waiting to be told.  
For whatever reason, to me, this one says the most... 
My co-worker Ray thanked me for building a cross-curricular connection; I thank him for showing me another provocative, honest, colorful yet triste face of spirituality. Here's to 2024? And Rafa's second US Open win.  Vamos!

Photo Credits
all from El Pais

Monday, September 2, 2013

Food is Fuel: Don't Let it Go to Waste

For the past week, I have been on the high school version of "yard-duty."  Every teacher has a 3-week obligation that requires us to stand in an area where students eat their lunch. This year, I decided to complete the task early; it's proven to be a nice way to reconnect with students. That is, until I saw one of my former students putting her trash in the garbage can.  

This should have been something I was happy to see. Trash finding its way to its proper receptacle isn't a given. On one of the plates was a beautiful, fresh turkey, lettuce and tomato sandwich.  If it had a bite taken out of it, I didn't see it. In a firm but rather neutral tone, I  asked my student "whose sandwich is that?" Slightly startled, she looked at me in silence.  At long last, she said "I don't want to rat my friend out." I said "I don't want to know who threw it out. That's ok.  Let's talk about this."

I walked over to where her group of friends were sitting and I asked the same question. "Hey, who threw that sandwich out? Please don't answer. I don't want to know. But that sandwich looked delicious and I have a hard time seeing food go to waste, especially when there are so many people going hungry in the world. You throwing your sandwich out isn't going to solve hunger, but I think the issues are related. (At this point, they're most likely convinced I'm weird or mean...or both).  In the future, can we reconsider what to do with a sandwich like that?  Wrap it up and save it for later? Give it to a friend?  Thanks."

At this point two thoughts were burning my brain. The first was from an article I read entitled "Pope Francis says that wasting food is like stealing from the poor."  One need not read the article to understand its message, but Pope Francis stands firm.  
“This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition,” the Pope said. 
“Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times we are no longer able to give a just value. 
“Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry,” he said.
It haunted me because I see it everyday on a large scale and school and as much as I try not to, in my own home.  Am I called to evangelize while on yard duty?  I think so.  Part of me says "ugh" and the other part of me knows how I felt when I saw that sandwich go to waste. 

The other thought that haunted me was in regard to the Thursday Morning Comfort Run. How can I ask my athletes to make sandwiches when they can't even finish their own?

As mentioned in An Important Way to Think About Health: Caring for the Poor, my hope is that every sports team at SI will prepare sandwiches for our weekly food run that feeds the hungry. In that post, I quoted Rolheiser who writes "We need to give to the poor, not because they need it, though they do, but because we need to do that in order to be healthy."  Athletic training demands fitness and health.  We train and educate to ensure the best of both.  But the disconnect bothered me. We are making sandwiches and handing them out to people who line up for them and yet we turn a blind-eye to our own waste.  

I sat with this question in prayer.  I let it bother me.  I decided it was better to feel sad with this reality for a bit than shrug it off.  And in that prayer time, God did what God does. God kneaded, God prodded and created a simple and humble offering that I think I can only extend to my student athletes.

A good habit to form: not wasting food.
A nutritionist will once again speak to the cross country team and we will continue to stress the importance of eating right and hydrating with our athletes but this year I will extend the conversation to include gratitude.  More than thinking of food as fuel, can we think of it with thanks and appreciation. Can we say "I'm blessed to have so many fresh fruits and colorful vegetables."  Every time we eat a sandwich, can we remember to pray for the men and women who we give the sandwiches to?  Can we make more of an effort to finish what we have or share it with others so it doesn't go to waste?

A good time to have this conversation might be before a team makes the sandwiches.  We can pray over what we make in the same way that we pray a grace before meals.  And we can pray for the subtle reminder that in those moments we forget, or are tempted to just "throw it away" that we either find a solution or at least offer a prayer for someone else who goes hungry.

Photo Credits
Heart Potato
Food is Fuel