Saturday, November 30, 2013

Getting in Shape: Spiritually

The people I know who are the most committed to their faith have one thing in common—they pray in the morning. It sets the tone for their day and frames the impending tasks, challenges and inevitable surprises in another context. Everyday is a gift; thank you Lord!

Some pray the hours, others from Living with Christ or Magnificat which features the daily readings, and another simply sits in silence. I appreciate the "trigger" that one priest uses. He pours two tall glasses of orange juice, sits down and then he intentionally turns his heart and mind to Christ for the next twenty minutes.

I have always wished I were this disciplined in prayer. I know too well how busy the day can get and how hard it can be just to carve out some time for silence and time with God. Mother Teresa said "if you pray, don't worry. If you worry, don't pray." I do both. 

A big part of me believes the same it true for staying in shape. I love working out in the morning because I know the rest of the day is mine. All too often "life gets in the way" and that run or workout I had every great intention of completing gets compromised or worse, eliminated.

I'm grateful that this school year has been a little different. Due to a new gym and a great friend who I enjoy working out with, I lift weights two mornings every week. Two other days of the week, I run along Crissy Field. It starts my day off right; I love knowing that no matter what comes my way the rest of the day, I have already logged in a few miles or pressed a few pounds. 
This is where I run 2-3 mornings a week. Ridiculous.
At some point I decided to stop putting pressure on myself to pray in the morning. As soon as I did, I realized that prayer and exercise need not be mutually exclusive disciplines. I work out as much for physical health as I do to maintain mental health. I started to pay attention to the way it determines my spiritual health. I encourage you to do the same.

When I run outside, I can't help but raise my mind and heart to God. In 2008, I "gave up" listening to my iPod while I run for Lent. It was the best thing I've ever done. I turned off the music and turned on the silence. What I have heard over the miles I have logged since is what the Lord has called me to do...who He is calling me to God loves and knows me. 

I believe I pray best when I run. My initial prayer is one to my Guardian Angel to protect me while I jog. My next prayer is always one of gratitude. Father Jack of "Franciscan Media" writes "Scientists have done research that shows grateful people sleep better, are healthier, less depressed, less stressed and have more positive ways of coping with difficulties." Sounds a lot like the benefits of exercise to me! Why not combine the two?
I'd like to tell this bad boy I run at a place as great as this ;-)
I feel so blessed that I am even able to run. I look in wonder as the sun rises. I am grateful that I live in a place where the climate allows me to exercise outside as comfortably as I do (NB: I used to run outside when I was a student at Notre Dame all the time...I've gotten soft...I need to toughen up—it's only weather! I know this). I have been blessed with access to some of the most incredible places to run. When I lived on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, I ran the National Mall regularly. I can't think of a better five-mile loop. Today, I run beside the Golden Gate Bridge. NBD.

The most grateful people I know say that "everyday is a gift." I believe every run is too. Every opportunity to physical stretch ourselves, increase our heartrates and release those endorphins can boost your spiritual self. Give it a try, and give thanks to God.

Photo Credits
My Morning Prayer

National Mall Runner

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sports Mentoring Provides Lessons for Spiritual Mentoring

A woman once approached my brother at the end of mass and said to him "Thank you for your prayerful presence. I was a better pray-er today because of you." What a wonderful compliment. I don't know if I ever would have thought of saying that to someone else; I don't know that anyone would ever say that to me... I wish that same woman had been sitting next to me at tonight's Sunday mass. I'm sure she would have known exactly what to say. I didn't.

Disclaimer: I am always happy to see families at 5:30 pm mass. Unfortunately, I know that's not a given in today's world. Furthermore, the crowd at that mass is typically young adult heavy. But this family was mulit-generational—a 9-year old boy and his 11-year old sister were accompanied by their mother and grandmother. What I saw in this family was a striking contrast to the example my brother set as well as my experience on the golf course just eight hours earlier. 
Phil with one of his three children, Sophia
I joined a friend and colleague at a public course to play nine holes early this morning. Because they don't take tee times, it's first come, first serve. We were paired with a father and his 10-year old daughter. Often times when this happens, a duo of that nature prefers to play by themselves. They would rather not slow the play and hold anyone back. But the course was so busy, they had no choice but to play with us. I'm glad they did.

The father, Sonny, was a solid golfer and an excellent teacher/coach. His daughter Kate had good fundamentals and was very disciplined. For example, every time she went to putt, she took time to align herself with the hole by placing her putter parallel with her knees (so she could find the line!). Her father kept her focused and he had her laughing. He would quietly advise her on what to do and he encouraged after she mishit balls (we all need that!). They never took a shot out of turn. When Kate's mind was elsewhere and daydreaming, her dad brought her back gently but firmly. He raked behind her in the bunker and she did the same for him. He reminded her of the rules, and they played by them. Together, they made me a better golfer as they were respectful of the game, other players and one another. In that sense, everybody won! 

Kate wasn't laughing and smiling the entire two hours we were together. Her dad didn't even buy anything from the snack cart as it drove by, but I know they enjoyed being able to play golf together. She smiled. She made herself laugh a few times. She hugged her dad several times. And I know she not only knows how to play golf, but she enjoys it because her dad has been a mentor all along. Expectations are understood. Respecting the rules, the game and others is a given. Joy and enjoyment—the byproduct.

This is a striking contrast to what I saw at mass this evening—or rather, what I did not see at mass i.e. the mass itself, (sounds really negative, doesn't it). The girl in front of me was on her iPad and her brother was playing a video game on his iPhone for 85% of the service. Fortunately, each device was on mute, but neither child stood during the Gospel, during the kiss or peace or reached to put the family donation in the basket. 
I agree.

When it was time for the consecration, the mother had both children turn off their electronic devices and place them in her bag. Her son was unwilling to do so. He turned the iPhone off, but held it for three minutes until the temptation to play the game again was too great. Fortunately, when it was time to receive the Holy Eucharist, he put the phone in his pocket, but when he returned to his seat, he started to play his video game again.

I do not believe in determining who "should and should not receive the Eucharist," but I was genuinely saddened to see that these children were formed in a way that says receive communion but spend the rest of your time doing what you want.

I write this not to vent—okay, maybe—but in the same spirit of Sonny and Kate, I wish this family had mindfully mentored their children to participate in the great mystery of the Holy Mass. This is no easy task. It will require "quiet voices" in explanation of what's taking place. For children who can read, it may involve providing your son or daughter with an age appropriate missal so they can follow along. The power of example can never be underestimated—sing and encourage others to do so! Listen to the homily in such a way that demonstrates active listening—maybe a simple nod, a pensive gaze, even an occasional laugh (only if merited!). Explain "the rules" and respect them; they are not open for interpretation (see the USGA rule book for non-religious evidence). 

What I believe is most important to remember however is that we bring ourselves and one another to Sunday worship to give thanks. We are members of a community of faith and our presence matters! We come in joy and in sorrow, with hope and with fear. At our best, we help others become better pray-ers. At our worst, well, we provide an invitation for others to pray for us (not bad, eh?...this was the only thing I could do I was so frustrated. Remember—I am not a good person). 
I was thinking of why Sonny golfs with his daughter on a regular basis. For one, he enjoys the time with her, but I also know that he hopes she will one day become a golfer and play on her own. Maybe Miss Kate will make her own friends playing golf and travel to places far and wide to do so. Who knows, she could even play with her own spouse or children one day. I think the analogy stands firm. We take our children to mass because we enjoy praying with them (invaluable for families!). And the great hope is that our children are formed by their parents, teachers, grandparents and mentors in faith in such a way that it becomes something they do on their own... and ultimately who they become. God bless it.

Photo Credits
Dad and Daughter in discussion
Phillie with his daughter Sophia

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How Does One Get in the Running to be a Saint: Look to Jake Olson...

We are now reading "My Life with the Saints" by James Martin; year after year students are curious about one thing: how a man or woman becomes one. They are versed in the distinction between lower case "s" saints and those with the capital "s." They know the difference between one who is "Blessed" and those who are officially canonized. They've heard a thing or two about miracles, but want to learn: How does one's name get in the running?
Saints are among us, here's one that shines for his cross and his goodness.
I'm glad they ask. It's not a question to underestimate; with over 6 billion people in the world, how does the universal church recognize but one individual? I'll leave that to the experts like Martin, but from what I have read and studied, this man or woman is known for their heroic sanctity. The community recognizes them for their outstanding virtue. Their goodness precedes their reputation (this is then taken to the local Bishop, etc).

With my students, I aim to put this in context. Is there someone in your class, or at this school who is widely recognized because they put others before themselves? They are loving, generous and give of themselves?  They aren't perfect but we all know that this community is better because he or she is here. I pause and look around the room. I'm hoping they understand what I'm talking about, or more importantly that but one of their peers stands out. The good news is usually, one or two people do. 
Jake Olson, one of the most inspiring lives I know.
In this spirit that I felt the need to show a video clip about Jake Olson. His story was featured this past weekend during College Gameday—set at USC for their homecoming game against Stanford. Jake, a lifelong fan of the Trojans, has had some "up close and personal" contact with the former head coach, Pete Carroll as well as players on the field, the team bus and in the locker room. Not bad for a boy who is but a junior in high school. The sad part of this story, however, is the reason why Jake was privy to such intimate gatherings.

At 10 months, Jake lost his left eye to cancer. For the next 10 years, he fought to keep his sight, but cancer kept coming back. At the age of 11, he was blind. I watched and my immediate reaction was angered disbelief. Eye cancer? Who gets that? And then Jake shares his reaction to his fate. I won't put it in print—see for yourself. If you're like me, you will find yourself asking the question: Who reacts in like that? 
His responses to losing his vision are other-worldly. It reflects a wisdom and maturity beyond his years. It is not forced; it is not lip service. It is totally authentic. It is—saintlike.

Sometimes it's best not to tell anyone who or what a saint is, but rather just point to him or her and let them figure it out. And for the process? Who knew College Gameday could possibly play a part in that.... 

A big thank you to one of my students Alex for sharing this with me. He inspires me daily by his presence, sense of humor and gentle spirit in class. He has been through a lot in his young life, but he's also been richly blessed. As a Michigan fan, he knows my feeling toward ND rivals. It was very hard for me to like USC for something...I shed my bias!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

In Support of the Divisive Athlete: One Yasiel Puig

I'm starting to realize just how much I appreciate the divisive player. 

In the wake of the Incognito-Martin case, you may wonder how that is possible. Athletics provides a very public platform and case study for us to raise questions, challenge assumptions, and discuss moral issues. Although I wish racial slurs, bullying and hazing were not part of our world, we know the sad truth is they occur more than we want to admit. Enter in the controversial athlete. In addition to serving as a model of what not to do or who not to become, they can also teach us a lot about who we are and what we value. Case in point: one Yasiel Puig.
Most people hated this move--I loved it.
Puig is a 22-year old outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers who defected from Cuba in 2012. To the delight of San Francisco Giants fans and many others, he was NOT the National League Rookie of the Year. He is loved and loathed. His $42 million dollar seven-year contract is but one of the many reasons this athlete is hotly contested. My social experiments continue and this is what I have learned about my colleagues and myself from "el cubano."

Respondent #1
This teacher comes to school every Sunday to plan for the week. Despite the fact he has taught for over 20 years, he continues to thoughtfully prepare his classes, quizzes and exams on his day off. I have often wondered if Coach John Wooden mentored him. Furthermore, he is never late; he never leaves school early.  

When Puig's name came up at the lunch table, he immediately cited the incident in August, when Dodgers manager Don Mattingly benched him during the fifth inning for reasons he wished to keep "in house." Local sportswriters and fans guess it was for not hustling to his position in right field. That was an unofficial disciplinary measure, but he was officially benched eight days prior when arrived 35 minutes late for pre-game activities.  

Translation: Colleague #1 could never support a player with a lax work ethic or a professional who does not give their best. I am so glad that he holds his students to a high standard, one which he meets as well.
Respondent #2
This co-worker works in the finance office. He is a great at what he does but I know his true passion is serving as an assistant coach for our boys' basketball team as well as his own daughters' softball team and his son's little league team.

When asked about Puig, my friend said "I know he's a great athlete but boys and girls see what he does and they imitate it. You just can't have that attitude on the field." He's referring what happened in post season play. Dodgers were down to the St. Louis Cardinals 0-2 in the series. Mike Wise of the Washington Post captures the charade.
Puig twirled his bat and tossed it at home plate in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, raising his arms and celebrating a long drive he thought was a home run. Realizing the ball didn’t clear the wall, he burst into a dead sprint and legged out a standup triple, celebrating further by raising both arms. Dodger Stadium fell into delirium. 

Puig is the first baseball player I can recall to wildly celebrate a home run and a triple in the same at-bat, and the fact that he made it to third base without sliding was all the more reason to be in awe.
Translation: Colleague #2 likes to point to professional athletes for who they are and how they play the game. My recommendation? Consider using Puig as an example of how he does not want his players to act. More importantly however, explain why. Perhaps it has something to do with sportsmanship.
What an incredible documentary; "From Ghost town to Havana" 
Respondent #3
This person traveled to Cuba in March 2012. She learned a lot about this rich culture, namely how little and yet how much the people have. They have a deep love of baseball and the way they play the game is dramatically different. Players and fans are vocal. They live and die with their teams, wearing their heart on both sleeves. She knows that Puig responded the way every other player would in his homeland and started to wonder why American's don't celebrate wins with more joy and losses with more disgust.

Translation: In the study of ethics, we are always invited to consider motivation, history, cultural influence, background and more. For the record, I am #3 (and felt weird writing about myself in the third person). I saw what many criticized as an invitation to learn more about baseball in Cuba. If you would like to see for yourself, check out this brief clip "From Ghost town to Havana." In doing so, you'll learn what Cuba can offer for each one of us and what we can offer for Cuba.

Yasiel Puig, you are just one of many professional athletes who offer us something to consider. I hope you have a terrible season next year ;-) 

Photo Credits
Excessive Celebration

Documentary Photo

Friday, November 15, 2013

My Social Experiment: Andrew McCutchen NL MVP

From time to time I enjoy conducting my own informal social experiment.  It's fun to "mix things up." That is, do things differently to see how people will react. You just don't know what people will say, do, or not do! 

I live in a town that has had two World Series Championship titles in the last three years (okay, it's now four years...dang). It's hard to go anywhere for very long without seeing the orange and black and I love that! We are proud of our Giants and we should be. So why would a locally born and bred Giants fan wear a black and gold Pittsburgh Pirates tee with #22 McCutchen on the back? Because he's the 2013 MVP, that's why.  
Cutch won the honor in a landslide victory 28-2 first place votes!
I have worn this jersey t-shirt since I purchased it in June. It quickly became one of my favorite shirts because it is both comfortable and its unique. My quest was to find out how many comments and questions that shirt might spawn. What would people say?! It's been an interesting experience. And with the deluge of comments I got this morning at my 6:00 a.m. "hour of power" class, it's time that I broadcast some answers and share why he's a jersey worth wearing.

Question: Why Cutch? 
Answer: In addition to being named the 2009 Rookie of the Year, the three-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger is outstanding on defense too. He holds the glove behind countless web gems and the 2012 Gold Glove award. I keep waiting for him to climb the wall to make a play in deep center in the way that Bo Jackson once did.  

When I read that he played football in high school, I immediately thought "cornerback." Knowing Cutch, he probably played wide receiver as well. I don't care that he's only 5'10" —Have you seen his vertical? He was a top recruit in the state of Florida for football but opted to pursue a career in baseball. Florida is home to many great and fast athletes. The fact that he was a part of a state title-winning 4x100m relay his freshman year of high school says a lot. If you are a fan of great athletes in baseball, he's one to note.
The relay stat says it all...
Comment: Wow...Pirates. What's up with that team?
Answer: I love baseball. I try not to. But every year some story, some player, some experience draws me back to it. The Pirates are just another example of how and why that continues to happen.

This small market team hadn't had a winning team in 20 years. I tried to explain this reality to my 17 and 18 year old students. "We're not even talking about going to a World Series or a divisional playoff. Fans haven't even seen a winning season in what is your entire life" I cried. "Why Everyone Should Root for the Pittsburgh Pirates" captures just how bad it was.
In the course of two decades, the team lost more than a hundred games twice, and never won more than seventy-nine. Baseball seasons are long enough in the best of times. In the worst of them, when a team reveals itself to be unworthy of the playoffs by May, they are really long, hopeless affairs. 
Fortunately, the 2013 season—thanks in large part to Andrew McCutchen—kept fans' eyes on the scoreboard all through the month of September. 
“It’s great to go to Pittsburgh and feel the excitement in the air. And winning that eighty-second game was a palpable relief,” he wrote in an e-mail. “But I think my happiness or unhappiness is mostly predicated on more personal things, like what I’m doing for work, or my relationships with other people…. I like feeling excitement over a big win, but it’s bad to let a sport you watch affect your day-to-day mood too much. As a Pirates fan, that’s a lesson I’ve learned over twenty years. I’m thirty-three, and being a Pirates fan has, on some level, been miserable since I was in middle school. If I couldn’t compartmentalize my feelings about the Pirates, I would have spent a quarter of my life being a miserable person.”
Nothing beats feeling excited over a big win. The Buccos had a lot of them!
I can't wait to finally visit PNC Park. Hopefully during Easter Week of 2014!
Question: Pittsburgh? Do you have some sort of connection to the 'burgh?
Answer: I wasn't able to travel home for Thanksgiving and Easter when I was a student at Notre Dame. My parents generously paid for my college tuition, but there were limits. Traveling was one of them. To fly home to the Bay Area only to return three weeks later was both too costly and not practical; I would spend as much time in the air as I would at home.

My freshman year, I went to my roommate's home in South Bend. I was with her for the meal only; I spent the rest of the time in Farley (my dorm) by myself. It was incredibly lonely, but I also know I'm a better person for having had that experience (still, I wouldn't wish it one anyone). That spring, a friend from crew invited me to her home in Mt. Lebanon a suburb of Pittsburgh. I loved the city—its hills, the convergence of three rivers, Pyrmanti Brothers. It surpassed any of my expectations. I returned there for those two holidays the next three years as well as to row in the Head of the Ohio.  Yay Pittsburgh!

Comment: I can't wear the jersey of an athlete from another team.
Answer: I get that. I think it might be easier for a woman to get away with this than a man. This t-shirt is a woman's cut. It's perfect for working out!

But the reason I enjoy wearing it so much is also because Cutch is a devout Christian. His father is a Pastor and he's been outspoken with his faith in Fellowship of Christian Athletes. His words were both powerful and prayerful. The interview with Clay Meyer for "Sharing the Victory" gave me much to consider. I hope they inspire you.

What does it mean to you to be in the zone spiritually?
AM: I feel like it means doing God’s work—doing what He’s called me to do and using the gifts and talents He’s given me. In my life, I want people to see that I’m not just a baseball player. I want them to know me as a Christian and as someone who is not afraid to make God’s name known. There are sure to be difficult times. God said it wasn’t always going to be easy, but Luke 12:48 says, “…Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more.” I feel like that verse applies to me in more than just giving. It involves doing what’s right, doing what God expects me to do on and off the field. When I am doing that, I feel very connected to God.
The 2013 MLB Most Valuable Players.
STV: Does living in the zone spiritually translate into how you play and how you help lead your team?
AM: When I’m living in the zone spiritually it definitely helps me as a baseball player. It keeps me positive, believing in the abilities God has given me. As Luke 17:6 says, if we have faith just the size of a mustard seed, we’ll be able to do amazing things.

My dad is a pastor, and growing up he instilled Romans 8:28 in me: “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose." That applies so much to us playing for the Pirates. We’ve had 19-straight losing seasons, but I know and I believe that all things will work out for the good. That’s what keeps me positive, and that’s what keeps us going.

My colleague, one of the first to inquire about the Cutch jersey tee, was also the first to tell me my guy won the NL MVP. I was smiling and rocking all day. This social experiment yielded more joy than I expected. And the best part is that each passage of Scripture Andrew McCutchen mentions speaks to why. Congrats on a great season and a great honor #22!

Photo Credits
iron City

Making the Catch

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Jimmy Connors: Some of What We Want....

Today at school, I wandered the halls looking for my colleagues with whom I knew I could discuss the "30 for 30: This is What They Want." My criteria? Sometimes it's their age, other times its their personality or where they grew up, but I always have a sense of who I can unpack the questions and ideas that these ESPN films raise for me. This one was no different.
I sniffed them out. I found my friends who "get" tennis. I hunted down the men and women with a good sense of humor and a thick skin for strong personalities. Why? because the subject of the latest "30 for 30" is none other than the star/villain—James Scott Connors, and he left me with more questions than answers.
Connors today at 61 years of age.
ESPN's website states: 
"This is What They Want" is an examination of Jimmy Connors' career told through the lens of the 1991 U.S. Open, when Connors so famously played at the age of 39 past five challengers, through an epic contest with Aaron Krickstein, and all the way to the semi-finals before being stopped by Jim Courier. 
But it's not just an examination of that tournament: it's a look at how Connors and the colleagues/adversaries of his heyday re-invented tennis in the first decade of the Open era to be a high-octane spectator sport for the whole country, colored by intense competitors with strong personalities and towering, well-matched talents. And it's an exploration of the way "character" players like Connors changed the game and carved out legacies through their careers on the court.
Taught by his mom to play the game!
I laughed out loud several times in the first half of the program. Connors' character in this sense was positive—he had a lot of it! Not many people would revel in being known as tennis' Pete Rose. His response? "Anytime you compare me to Pete Rose—that's an honor." No one say that. But Jimmy? He meant it. 
Connors is remarkably competitive, to the point that he is unapologetic about winning and how he does it. "What am I supposed to do? I could only give my blood" he cried. Despite the number of former players and writers who admit to disliking Jimmy (one even goes so far as to admit he hated him) slowly but surely I found his ways to be fairly convincing if not attractive.
He saw no point in being a gentleman. He didn't play by the antiquated rules of the blue blood sport. Born in East St. Louis, he had no reason do so. I started to think to myself, yeah, I guess you don't have to. And he didn't change in 20 years he played on the circuit  

Watching his career 22 years later, I wanted to laud "him." I wanted to promote the best of the American lefty—an athlete who made every single fan in the audience believe they helped him win, a tennis player who got 20,000 fans sounding like 60,000 and a legend that had his rival question, "Did I try as hard as I could? Did I give as much as he did?" (John McEnroe)

But an unforgettable match revealed the biggest lesson that Connors can teach us: judge a man by the way he treats those to whom me owes little. "This is What They Want" reveals this lesson in the tennis player Aaron Krickstein and USTA chair umpire, David Littlefield. 
Krickstein said this match was shown for years whenever there was a rain delay at the US Open.
Labor Day fourth-rounder -- on Connors 39th birthday -- against Aaron Krickstein. By this time, his feats were the subject of a "Nightline" feature by ABC's Ted Koppel, and the tennis community was standing at full attention. "What Jimmy has," said Ilie Nastase, "is what we would all kill for: Just one more time." 
The Krickstein match now stands as a curiosity, a kaleidoscope of chaos, a Barnum & Bailey act that could not be replicated today -- and in many ways, that's a shame. Poor David Littlefield, the chair umpire, looked as if he was about to become ill under the withering barrage of Connors' rants, but he just sat there calmly, issuing no penalties, letting the show go on. By the referees' modern-day handbook, perhaps Littlefield's inaction would be viewed as inexcusable. At the time, it was crucial. 
How bad did it get? 
"Bullcrap!" Connors yelled at Littlefield after he'd overruled a call in Krickstein's favor during the second-set tiebreaker. "Get out of the chair. Get your ass out of the chair! You're a bum! I'm out here playing my butt off at 39 years old and you're doing that?" 
At one point in the fourth set: "Kiss me before you do anything! Just kiss me!"With Krickstein serving at 4-2 in the fifth, after a Connors approach was called long on break point and Littlefield refused to overrule: "You are an abortion! Do you know that? ... Get the f***out of there!" 
It came to pass that Connors, trailing 5-2 in that final set, came all the way back to win, 3-6, 7-6, 1-6, 6-3, 7-6.
At this point in the program, I was no longer laughing. I've never heard a human being refer to another as an "abortion." I watched in quiet disgust and began to wonder, Would I be one of those fans that "helped him win?" I continued to watch because I wanted to see where this story would go. 

I didn't remember the outcome of the 1991 US Open nor do most people (Stefan Edberg was the victor). For me, the real outcome of this tourney was what this "30 for 30" reveals: the fruit of ugly competition. It can stilt, damage and even end a relationship.
Aaron Krickstein, the "Marathon Man." What a beautiful spirit.
In a moment of total honesty, Krickstein says "maybe another reason I could never beat Jimmy Connors is because I never like playing my friends." He looks away from the camera for a moment and said "we were pretty close. We hung out a lot. I even shot my first gun at his ranch." He laughed as he recalled the story and then he paused. "I never heard from him in any way, shape or form after that match." 

Wait..what? Every respondent in the show reacts to this truth in disbelief. Connors won! It was an epic match. What happened?

Connors said "I keep going back to the fact there was nothing personal. It was business and my business was winning. Because of that I got criticized for that too." A sportswriter chimes in and says"he'll do anything to win" to which Connors replies, "you're damn right I will. Of course I will."

You may disagree, but I believe Connors is wrong. While the match isn't personal, living with the outcome is. Both parties live with it. Sometimes our opponent is a rival, often it is a friend. This wasn't an ordinary match; it was extraordinary. Why Connors could not have reached out and said "We did this...thank you." is something I am convinced he was an is unable to do. And that's not because of what he did but how he did it. 
Brian Koppelman of "Grantland" summarizes it perfectly.
So as you’re watching Connors stomp on another opponent’s throat, almost threaten to rip an ump out of his chair, or refuse to speak to a fellow player years later, maybe it’s worth folding all of it in, not to excuse him, not to glorify him, but to recognize that Jimmy Connors is one of the giants and an original in a game that rarely produces them. Or not. Either way, believe me. Connors doesn’t give a fuck.
The sad truth however is...I do. Of course I do.

Photo Credits
Grantland Photo
Labor Day Match
Aaron Krickstein

Friday, November 8, 2013

Stanford Football: No Compromise

Perhaps it was last night after their 26-20 upset of the #2 ranked team in the country. Maybe it was this morning when you heard your colleagues spending an inordinate amount of time talking not about Oregon's uniforms but the system that David Shaw put in place. At some point in the last 7 years (when the Cardinal won 1 single game) sports fans everywhere have confronted the question: What's up with Stanford football?
In 2006, Stanford was 1-10
Sportswriters, coaches, sports fans and pundits each have their take. Rather than wade through them, I exercised my academic training and went to a primary source for the answer. I decided I should hear it from the man who can tell me about Stanford football with more authority than any other—Coach David Shaw. The Ted X talk "Can Football Change the World?" was my resource (with a thank you to head football coach at St. Ignatius, John Regalia for the tip). And what I learned from it is worth viewing above and beyond my question as well as his own.  Can Football Change the World? Watch and decide! 

Shaw, an alum and former player, informs the audience that Stanford was unwilling to compromise its standards. They would not be a school that took the word "student" out of "student-athletes." They were not willing to sell-out in order to compete. One need not be at the cost of the other. 
Head Coach, David Shaw knows Stanford Football
I immediately thought of a poignant conversation from "Chariots of Fire." Eric Liddell, the Christian runner, training for the Olympics confronts a conscience qualm; competing on the sabbath would be a violation of God's commandment.  His father told him "you can praise God by peeling a spud if you peel if to perfection. Don't compromise. Compromise is the language of the devil. Run in God's name and let the world stand back in wonder."

Make no mistake about it. Compromise in some realms is absolutely necessary—in a marriage, in our government and more. But the compromise of which both Liddell and Shaw speak is of that of upholding a standard you set and maintaining it with integrity. What is the principle by which you live your life? What is the foundation that grounds your decisions and governs your work?

That standard set by Stanford University is one of excellence. Finding a great student athlete requires nothing less than what excellence demands—hard work, patience, wisdom and insight. Shaw and his staff committed to traveling far and wide, high and low to find the athlete who is as competitive on the football field and he is in the classroom. He reveals that the type of student who is interested in Stanford is inherently competitive and the best way to motivate him is to tell him he can't do it. He believes Stanford can. They have. 
Shaw gives credit to Dennis Green and Jim Harbaugh for the program of success down at the Farm.
Football is under a lot of scrutiny right now—from questions of concussion, to the culture of bullying, and more. But Shaw offers us another perspective. Football players from Stanford know one thing—the importance of teamwork, responsibility and the pursuit of excellence. Not only that, 100% of them graduate; two first round draft choices graduated with a degree in engineering. Not bad. In fact, that's excellent!

The world will tell you to compromise, but we need to see the examples that will help us to consider otherwise. Thank you David Shaw. Go Cardinal (except for on November 30 vs. ND!)

Photo Credits
Coach Shaw

Stanford Football

Monday, November 4, 2013

When Awards Get It Right...A Case for Hunter Pence

Whenever I hear one line of the popular Frank Sinatra song, "My Way," I can't help but think of end of the season/year awards. Old Blue Eyes says "Regrets, I've had a few..."  How true that is...

Naming and recognizing one student as outstanding among so many others can be a painful process. Some of my colleagues just don't see the point—when you award one, you deny the others. Furthermore, I have been wrong about some nominees; after all, coaches and teachers invariably have different experiences with a young man or woman. I have advocated for a young person with gusto, only to be semi-disappointed by him or her the next year. With a ringing endorsement like that, you're probably wondering Why I remain passionate about giving awards? Because when you get it right, its sends a resounding message. One that speaks for itself.
Past winners of the Willie Mac Award
The award of which I speak is not one that boils down to "x"s and "o"s. Who wins the batting title, Gold Glove, or even the Cy Young. I never lose sleep over who is the Most Valuable Player—usually, although not always, his or her accomplishments make that clear. No, I am most interested in the spirit awards—Most Inspirational, Coaches' Award, Enter-in-your-mascot here Award. Said awards recognize the impact an individual can have on a community. Which is why one of my favorite days of the year is when the Giants announce the Willie McCovey Award. 

As listed on the Giants website, "The award, named for Giants legend Willie McCovey, is given annually to the club's most inspirational player. The winner is primarily determined by a vote among players. Coaches, members of the athletic training staff, fans and McCovey himself also cast ballots."
Hard NOT to love you Hunter.
It is given on an Orange Friday night, during the final home stand of the season. The yard is filled with a special charge; this award is one that thanks the player who was selfless, who shared his mojo with the larger group, who knows what St. Ignatius asked for God's grace to do: "to give and not count the cost." 

It should never be a surprise who wins the Willie Mac award. Why? His service to the team and to others usually speaks for itself. And this year was no exception. Hunter Pence, the NL Player of the Month (for September) fired up his teammates in such a way that the 2012 World Series became our own (again). That energy and enthusiasm did not wane. Although the Giants lacked a lot of luster this past year, Pence did not.
But he captured the Willie Mac Award for reasons that transcend statistics. "I don't know of another player I've ever had who played every game -- not just played, but the way he plays and the intensity that he plays with. He's so popular in that clubhouse. He's full of energy. He's a baseball player. He just loves the game. The passion's there every day. He doesn't back off. ... This is a well-deserved award." 
What I celebrated most about Pence's honor was his speech to his teammates and fans. He said: 
"To be voted in by your teammates is the ultimate honor as a player, I think the smile on my face shows what's going on inside. I love every minute with you guys, and Buster, I know you don't like it when I say 'I love you.' You think it's soft, but it's the strongest thing we got."
"And I'm going to talk to God for a second. God you didn't bless me with grace. You didn't bless me with very much style. But thank you for giving me heart, and a chance. Thank you God for that.
Hunter Pence—thank you for your courage to say what is the most important thing we can say to those we care about "I love you." Thank you for recognizing the power in those words...and not just for saying them, but for doing what they imply. We see it on the field, in the clubhouse, in the community and on the road. The Willie Mac award could not have gone to a more deserving player this year, and every one of your teammates knows it. Thank you too for your prayer. I was thrilled when the Giants got you from the Phillies. I love your heart.
The award was established in 1980, in honor of former legend and Hall of Famer Willie McCovey. Pence will receive a plaque prior to tonight's game. Engraved on the plaque are the words "Competitive Spirit, Ability and Leadership" to characterize the qualities both McCovey and Pence exemplify.

Photo Credits
Past winners