Saturday, November 26, 2016

Top Moments in Sports History are...MAGNIFICENT

This week, "Rocky"—the first of three sports movies to have earned the Academy Award for Film of the Year—turned 40. My dad was lucky enough to see it at the theater. Asking him about it at Thanksgiving, he said, "Rocky grew in popularity. I went and saw it solo, I guess because your sister was a newborn. As the training montage was unfolding, I realized I was seeing something very special. I remember exiting the theater and thinking—Wow, I just saw something great." 
Happy 40th
Perhaps you have had a similar realization. Sometimes, we are lucky enough to grasp that something remarkable is unfolding in the moment. Other times, we understand—after the fact—that we were a witness to excellence. Such events are why we are drawn to live performances—a concert, a play, a speech, or an athletic contest. We are hoping to get a taste of greatness. It is's tremendously gratifying. It sustains us long after; its memory is sweet.

On Tuesday, November 22 sitting in McCullough Gymnasium at St. Ignatius College Prep, I felt as though I were a part of one of the top moments in SI sports history, both during the game itself and thereafter. The varsity girls volleyball team defeated Campolindo in the Nor-Cal semifinals on Drucker Court (3-1). Though these girls have played in many exciting games, the energy of this particular match-up was unlike others. I give credit to a loud and proud student section, the timing of the game—the night before a holiday break, the winter temperatures outside offset by the warmth of the gym and the SI family and most importantly: the sheer talent, raw athleticism, strength, power, agility and grace of the volleyball teams. The sum of these parts made for an incredible contest. 

I remember looking at the girls on the court and thinking St Irenaeus had it right:
The glory of God is the human person fully alive. 
Those athletes—using their gifts and talents, battling back from a deficit in the lynchpin game (#3), their coaches, their spirit, their hops—they are a manifestation of that great glory. They have never been so alive...and we were too as we witnessed their feat.
I believe the best word to describe such moments in sports, cinematic, theatrical or music history, is "magnificent."  I attribute that realization to Richard Gaillardetz who described what we see, feel and know in his essay "For the Love of the Game." In it, he writes:
The ability of the dedicated athletes to develop and pursue excellence through training and commitment is not unrelated to the larger call to growth as human persons. Let us return, to Thomas Aquinas who described the virtue of magnificence. Magnificence refers to the accomplishment of greatness. It is realized whenever a person makes the most of their God-given gifts. According to Thomas the opposite of magnificence is the vice of parvificence, often rendered in English as meanness. Meanness here does not convey the contemporary sense of the word, suggesting some malicious action, but rather it refers to one who makes too little use of their gifts or abilities. Through the pursuit of excellence in any and every sphere of life, we strive to become the person God invites us to be. Andrew Cooper reflects on the connection between the pursuit of excellence and the appreciation of sports as a craft:
By investing an activity with one's dedication, aspiration, discipline, skill and knowledge, one's identity is linked to it. In some indefinable way, part of one's self is in the work. Through craftsmanship, a sport becomes an expression of the athlete's total self and the means by which the self recognizes its own excellence.

I dare say, we need these moments, for they connect us to one another and something much larger...the source of it all. When we are a witness to magnificence, we can't hold it for ourselves. We have to share it. Excellence begets excellence....magnificence begets magnificence.

My favorite part of this past Thanksgiving was after the meal, my mom, dad, sister and I sat down to play a game called "Sequence." My sister put down a marker and I said "take it back." The next thing I know she sings "Take You Back" and without missing a beat I said "do-do-do-do Take You back." It's the ditty that some of Rocky's friends sing on a down and out street corner in South Philly. They are gathered around the fire, they have a great voices, it's got good beat...and it's why we started discussing my dad's experience of seeing the movie 40 years prior. 

It's just one small part of what makes "Rocky" great...the magnificence of the musical score by Bill Conti punctuated by do-wop on the street corner. During the volleyball game on Tuesday, I looked at the coach, standing alone...standing quietly as his athletes did all the work. It's noticing the big moments and the small ones along the way but make a good contest, much more than's magnificent.

Photo Credits
Girls VB: Thank you Paul Totah!

Rocky and Adrian

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

An Award Worth Discussing at your Thanksgiving Table

With Thanksgiving less than 24 hours away, last minute preparations for libations and a tryptophan treat are well underway...or better be. Perhaps you were told you don't need to bring anything to the table...but no good guest comes empty handed, right? Why not bring something that is low in calories, costs little and yet makes a good meal taste even better? This housewarming gift is one for all to enjoy: it's good conversation. 

A sparkling conversation requires a few key ingredients. You probably have your own recipe, but consider these fundamentals and contribute your own.
Should a delightful discussion be your Thanksgiving contribution, preparation is advised. I personally recommend completing some research on your topic of choice. Read an article that demands your attention, follow up with ideas on NPR, surf for a video clip on Youtube. They say "the devil is in the details," but I believe the more information you know, the more interesting the exchange of ideas can be. Clarify as needed but ideally your topic is easy for others to follow. 

Meaningful conversation refrains from boxing people in or labeling others. It inspires and raises spirits; it is naturally inclusive and beacons an audience to consider why and what can be. Questions that spring forth from these conversations might begin with "How.' Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I would like to begin a conversation over my mashed potatoes, sourdough stuffing and gravy about the 2016 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
As written by my friend Eileen, 
If you haven't already taken the hour to watch this ceremony, it's worth it! Great wit and wisdom in the opening speech and the crisp citations. Such a diversity of talent that has shaped our culture and remind us what indeed makes America great: committed individuals who use their gifts to build up the common good of our country. Grateful for their recognition!
The White House announced this year's recipients on November 16. Their website reported
President Barack Obama named 21 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards will be presented at the White House on November 22nd.
When the names were released the award hound in me felt a sense of elation. Two basketball legends: Kareem Abdul-Jabar and Michael Jordan, a man who dedicated his life to broadcasting America's past time: Vin Scully and a musician from Freehold, NJ: Bruce Springsteen were standouts to me. Though few will argue about The Boss' contribution to America's cultural endeavors—his album "The Rising" is considered to be the greatest and most poignant response to the events of 9/11—others might raises questions about the role and significance of an athlete in this domain. 

Is it appropriate to honor a person who plays a game for a living? Do sports really matter? If so, why? And unlike Abdul-Jabar who has contributed to American life beyond the game—his writing is prolific and his political activism is renown—why is Michael Jordan deserving? I have ead that Jordan put his endorsements and ties to corporations above all else. Is that fair? How important is that to consider?

Thinking more intentionally about the Presidential Medal of Freedom reminded me that David Zirin sought to answer similar questions in the 2010 documentary, Not Just a Game: Politics and American Sports. The media guide, a resource for teachers states:

In his book “What’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States,"Dave Zirin quotes M.I.T. Professor Noam Chomsky saying:
Sports keep people from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about.  And in fact it’s striking to see the intelligence that’s used by ordinary people in sports [as opposed to political and social issues].  I mean, you listen to radio stations where people call in—they have the most exotic information and understanding about all kinds of arcane issues. And the press undoubtedly does a lot with this... Sports are a major factor in controlling people. Workers have minds; they have to be involved in something and it’s important to make sure they’re involved in things that have absolutely no significance. So professional sports is perfect. It instills total passivity.
Zirin then writes, “The weakness in Chomskyʼs argument, however, is that it disregards how the very passion we invest in sports can transform it from a kind of mindless escape into a site of resistance.  It can become an arena where the ideas of our society are not only present but also challenged.  Just as sports can reflect the dominant ideas of our society, they can also reflect struggle.  The story of the women’s movement is incomplete without mention of Billie Jean King’s match against Bobby Riggs.” He then references the contributions of Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Martina Navratilova, Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

Zirin also points to this quote from Lester “Red” Rodney, the editor of the Daily Workersports section from 1934-1958:
Of course there is exploitation but there is also fun and beauty too. I mean, what’s more beautiful than a 6-4-3 double play perfectly executed where the shortstop fields a ground ball and flips it toward second base in one motion, the second baseman takes the throw in stride, pivots, avoids the base runner, and fires it to first on time. That’s not a put-on on. That’s not fake. Thatʼs beyond all social analysis of the game. The idea of people coming together and amazing the rest of us.
His questions, might be ideal for conversation. 
  • Whatʼs your take on all of this? 
  • Which viewpoint most closely matches up with your own? 
  • Is Chomsky right that sports only offer mindless distraction from the larger issues and problems we should be addressing, and in this way instills a politically damaging passivity in a population? Or is there value beyond the entertainment? 
  • Are there elements of truth in both of these perspectives? 
My thoughts and responses to these questions are probably obvious. I hold a spirituality that believes we can "find God in all things." Lately I have be praying with and holding this idea that God and Beauty (capital "B") are one in the same. So just as I believe we can find God in all things...we can find Beauty in all things. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder....and I find beauty on a baseball diamond. I find beauty in an 86 year old man calling a game that has no real time limit on a warm August night. I actually believe he sings his own song; those who love the voice of the Dodgers will agree. 
Sports do matter to America and American life. Though we can be divided in our loyalties to athletes and to teams, we ought to agree this Thanksgiving that some are worth celebrating as one country, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Probably not wise to discuss to whether or not you should be standing or kneeling on that least not tomorrow. Enjoy the holiday! 

Photo Credits
KAJ and MJ
Not Just a Game

Vin Scully

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Few Thoughts on Sports Awards...

As written before, I'm a glutton for awards. At the end of every season, I look forward to reading which athletes earned first, second, third team all-league as well as honorable mention. #Proud. I am often excited for the World Series to end because I want to know who will be named the AL and NL MVP, manager of the year, Cy Young winner, and what Giant earned a Golden Glove. I agree with the masses who believe the Heisman award is overhyped, but I still make a point of catching the ceremony. Sports Illustrated's Sportsperson of the Year is but a few weeks away. This Thanksgiving holiday, instead of politics, consider talking to friends and family about athletic awards...who got what...deserved and undeserved. It might be safer....then again, maybe not.
As a coach, I have had to designate and administer my fair share of awards over the years. At their best, an award—in its many iterations—serves as the shining example of the intersection of objective and subjective truth. The athlete who truly deserves the highest award in a program: most improved, the coaches' award, etc can and should be self-evident. And, I would like to believe more often than not, the honorees are deserving. Over the years, I have made mistakes and strange as it sounds, this type of error haunts me. But, I have taken great delight in "getting it right." So, this blog will serve as a few thoughts on giving and receiving awards and a shout out to one of my favorite awards.

How you know you've got it right
I believe there are a few ways a coach knows that he or she has recognized the right athlete for an award. 

It starts with a gut reaction. Typically, you will visualize the intended winner right away. Stay with the hunch...follow up on it. For example, this year one of my two honorees, was slightly unconventional. I thought she deserved one of the two coaches' award for numerous reasons. In following up on my suspicion, I confirmed that she was the medalist (first place finisher) in four of our ten league matches. A lot of girls on the team might have been surprised by that stat because she was quiet in victory. Regardless, her successes and her spirit made her one of the two ideal choices. 
Girls' Golf Banquet
Second, the speech a coach must write to accompany a given award should come easily. If a coach works hard to justify their choice or there's a trace of defense in supporting the decision, it's worth reconsidering. While researching times, stats, points etc is always a discipline, it's necessary to support the narrative—one that with the objective and subjective material, should be easy to sing.

Third, the reaction of the team is audio and visual confirmation that you got it right. When you do, teammates are just as excited if not more than the honoree; this fact is hard to hide. Young people aren't the best at hiding their emotions. In this instance, I am always glad they're not!

Fourth, though not always a given, when the truly deserving athlete wins the highest award in a program, the conversation is far from over. These athletes have written e-mails, letters and had conversations with my fellow coaches and me to tell us how much the award means to them. They say "thank you;" they mean it. 
Awards invite inspiration, respect, honor, and glory. They are accompanied by memories and stories. An athlete earns an award because their achievements over a season create a story that needs to be articulated and shared. Their story needs to be heard and remembered. One of my favorite stories involves our boys' volleyball team.

Too often the low sport on the totem pole of spring sports, the boys' varsity team beat their league rival in the Central Coast Section championship game. In a true David beat Goliath moment, this team won because, as Aristotle wrote,  "the whole was greater than the sum of its parts." When it came time for the coaches' award (usually two for a team this size), the coaches could not decide. They turned to our principal and said, they sincerely believed every player on the team deserved the award. Our principal, in all of his true generosity, said, then let's award the team. Every boy received the handsome plaque that said St. Ignatius Varsity Boys' Volleyball Coaches Award. Their feat and that award have not happened since. What a great story to tell the team at the beginning of each season.

How you might get it wrong
First, I do not advise giving an award for the sake of tradition or formality. If there is no deserving party, why give it? I am more and more convinced that the adage "less is more" is both a subjective and objective truth.

Quite often, people often complain that we live in a day and an age when everyone wins an award. Awards have significance because the honoree is deserving, not because everybody is deserving. As written about above, there may be times when the entire team does deserve the award, but I think it smart to let superlatives be well... superlative. 

Second, criteria for an award exists for a reason. Use it wisely....but to disregard it entirely compromises the award. For example, some awards call into consideration both athletic performance and character. To turn a blind eye to character because an athletes accomplishments were extraordinary is more than unfortunate, it's wrong.

Lastly, admit that you might get it wrong. I have made choices with the best of intentions. I aim to get to the center of the x and y-axis of awardage....but we all miss the mark. Please share your thoughts on the matter with me!

Tomorrow, I will post on one of the greatest awards...and award I think you SHOULD discuss at the Thanksgiving meal. 

Recent Awardees
MLB List is here
West Catholic Athletic League 2016-2017 All-League Athletes

MY pick for Sports Illustrated's Sportsperson of the Year
The 2016 Chicago Cubs

Photo Credits

Hank Aaron Award
Bryce Harper

Monday, November 14, 2016

See the Good: The 49ers, Levi's Stadium & My Friend Alex

My friend and Notre Dame classmate Alex Montoya lives by a motto that is now the title of his third book: See the Good. For Alex— an activist, author, business owner, and motivational speaker —those words are far from a cliche. To me, the best part about his personal credo is that if you spend enough time with him, you will find yourself doing the same....Attending the Forty-Niners game against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, November 6 enabled me to do that, and much more.

Ask any Niner fan how you might See the Good right now and that's tough. Really tough. They are 1-8, just one game away from their all-time worst record (of 9 losses). With no roster depth, it's tough to convince even the Forty-Niner Faithful why they should travel 49 miles south of the city to pay big money to watch a game at a corporate and sterile stadium. Needless to say, I went to my first Niner game in probably 10 years with low to no expectations. I didn't know I would be tasked with Seeing the Good, as well.

I have tried to keep my expectations low before—maybe you understand. I don't want to get too excited about a vacation or build up an event so much that those expectations get in the way of appreciating what will be. I've lived long enough to know flights get delayed, games are played in horrible weather, meeting up with friends doesn't happen. Considering that I was never supposed to be at the game and that I'm not a huge NFL fan made a policy of no expectations quite easy.

The plan that given morning was to pick up Alex to drive him to St. John Vianney parish in the East Bay where he would speak after a Notre Dame alumni club mass. Due to fog in his hometown of San Diego and a similar cloud cover throughout the Bay Area, his flight was delayed. Unfortunately, we had to cancel the first part of his two-fold speaking engagement. I was devastated.
view from our seats. easy to see good here...
With nearly the full day ahead of us, I asked Alex what he wanted to do. I told him, "My Dad suggested that we go to the Niner game...What do you think?" Ever the sports fan, Alex jumped at the chance to see another stadium and two professional teams (and a few of his fantasy players live). Thanks to a losing record, the cost of our tickets was incredibly low. Alex cried out See the Good! as I purchased our tickets via StubHub on my cell phone; we rallied from SFO south.

As his profile will attest, Alex is unique in many ways, but one important part of his identity is that he is a triple amputee. Born with a rare birth defect, Alex came from his native Colombia to the US thanks to Shriners and the promise of prosthetics. Alex lives an independent and full life. At first glance, people may see what Alex does not have, but as his friend, I know all that he has and holds. It might be his sense of humor...or his ability to See the Good. 
In his book, Montoya explains that:
You are the sum of your experiences and ambitions. Where others see adversity or impossibility, you must see opportunity. Where others see hopelessness, you must see hopefulness. See the good in all situations and people, not as a sugarcoated, unrealistic, rose-colored view of the world but as an empowering way of life where you take the bad and turn it into victory.
We pulled into the front lot, thanks to his hang tag, and I was never so appreciative of the many services for those with disabilities. Though Alex has run a marathon and danced at every Notre Dame SYR dance, the reality of life is that walking far and walking stairs does take its toll on his body. While part of me was challenged to See the Good in the able-bodied people who spryly jumped out of their vehicles in the spots next to us—looks like a misuse of that blue badge—the Niners event staff could not have been more helpful. They generously offered a golf cart shuttle to the stadium and informed us where we could catch an elevator (I had no idea that Alex is unable to use an escalator...but it makes sense). 
Alex's friends get a copy of the book after the game
Once inside the stadium, Alex approached an usher and asked if there were any seats for those with disabilities that were not in use. Moments later, he returned and walked us to our chairs. It was so encouraging to know the accommodations for those with disabilities are generous and sincerely appreciated by all.

As the game unfolded I could not help but See the Good of the talents and abilities of these professional athletes. Given that I was at the Cal vs. Washington game just the night before, I was struck by how much better—significantly better these athletes were. I have always marveled at these modern day gladiators but to see these wide receivers and tight ends pull the pigskin down from the sky, hold on to it and land with not one but two feet inside the field is remarkable. I knew that players hit hard, but to witness their hitting in person makes you realize just how hard. And I don't know if this is good or not, but I liked it. The primal instinct in me, couldn't help but watch and marvel at the attack. #adrenaline. Alex declared Drew Brees to be a surgeon. The precision of his hands passing the ball literally onto the numbers of his intended receivers? Miraculous! And when the Saints ran off the field, I got to see up close and personal just how excited they were about the win. I guess I didn't expect two sub .500 teams would care that much. They did.
I really liked what I saw from DeJuan Harris, RB
I thought the fan experience inside of Levi's stadium was outstanding. I know it's not Candlestick...a dump...our dump, but wow, the scoreboard and big screen made for great replay and statistical information. The crowd was spirited and honestly, they were faithful.

One question I will ask of Alex is this: Does Seeing the Good, mean that you acquire an equal vision for seeing the bad? I ask because the starting quarterback, Colin Kaepernick had an outstanding first half. During the second half, however, he didn't have it. Though he made better efforts that earlier games in the season, I didn't see that fire or that stamina during the fourth quarter. And upon completion of the game, I saw something in Kap that did not sit well with me.

I don't know how football players do it. The game is long and it is a battle. Their bodies must ache. Many are sweating profusely, though the outside temperatures were cool and breezy. Their eye black bleeds down their faces and they pant in exhaustion. Alex and I decided to stay until the very end of the game; I was privy to such sights on the field. However, my eye looked over at Kaepernick who was laughing, talking, and unbelievably at ease...if not downright chill. I left the stadium resentful of him. Not for his political stance, or his refusal to vote, but because he didn't give it all. He was almost cavalier about what he has the ability to do...lead a team, rally a community and win a game.
I want to see my starting quarterback spent. I want him to have literally nothing left in the tank. If he hugs the opponent, it should be because he can barely stand and he thanks the other for getting him there. I was surprised by the passion of my conviction. I had no idea that my quest to See the Goodenabled me to see a whole lot more.

The world will look at the Forty-Niners and see a terrible team. They will raise questions about the leadership of Chip Kelly, they will see their best player Navarro Bowman on the sidelines with a torn Achilles (out for the season). They will see the empty seats inside of Levi's Stadium, a contrast to the high tech that runs efficiently and effectively as the game is played on. They will see players who give a lot and others...not as much. But I believe that deficiency freed me to see the bigger picture with more accuracy. Winning and the ardent quest for it can cloud our vision. But another way of looking at life, aiming to See the Good reminded me that football is more than a mindless, violent's Shakespeare.

Alex, your disability has nothing to do with how you are choosing to See the God and then again, it has everything to do with it. Thank you for sharing your vision—for living it and giving it to all those you meet. Let's do it again.

Photo Credits
Kap and DB

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Thoughts on a Coach for President of the United States

For much of the past two years when the question about voting for President of the United States came into the conversation, I found myself redirecting the topic toward sports. I would tell folks that I was considering writing in the name of Steve Kerr as my candidate of choice. Though largely joking about believing an NBA coach ought to serve as our commander in chief, the more I thought about the qualities that make Kerr an excellent leader, the more I almost started to believe...well, maybe I was on to something. A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle "Warriors' Steve Kerr is Presidential Material," confirmed my suspicion and yet it helped me realize something more....that you need not be female to understand. Before you continue reading, I recommend reading this piece linked above.
Kerr is extremely likable. And if there's one thing I know about Americans, it's that they want, and almost need to like their President. No wonder this year has been such a challenge. Kerr has an incredibly personal story—from his family background to his self-made career that began at Arizona, continued with the historic Chicago Bulls, extended beyond the broadcast booth onto the hardwood at Oracle Arena, where he now leads the Golden State Warriors. Moreover, it's no secret that Coach Kerr surrounds himself with good people. He is an excellent communicator, known to go the distance (literally, not just metaphorically) to help those in his care understand how important they are. I love his four tenants of coaching and that square jawline— does that account for much?

So, it should be no surprise that when one of my favorite sports writers, Scott Ostler mused about Kerr in the same way I have, I took notice. Ostler got all of San Francisco to start thinking in a fun and playful way about some of our favorite leaders. These men are on the front lines night after night, so naturally, we evaluate their skill set....the way they inspire...we praise them for the great decisions they make and ridicule them for those they don't. Coaches invite us to consider different styles of leadership, they prove that preparation is paramount and we have to come to grips with the fact that some want it more...while others have the ability to transform a group to something much greater than the sum of its parts. Many invite magnanimity and encourage us to do the same.  
I excitedly shared his words in my Sports and Spirituality class with my seniors, half of whom are able to vote. I asked them to respond and react, hoping they might enjoy his insights, "get" his humor and yet catch a glaring oversight. With their silence, I realized that another teachable moment came to be. 

Ostler knows his sports, sports personalities and he writes well, but I find it unfortunate (if not unforgivable) that he failed to name a single female coach—or with a nod to Stephen A. Smith—reference a female announcer. One student shrewdly replied that the now deceased Pat Summit would have been a logical choice. I concur. And though it may be difficult to rally around a stoic personality like Stanford women's basketball coach, Tara VanDerveer, it's not a stretch to cite a woman like Muffet McGraw. 

Yes, I have an equally unforgivable Notre Dame bias, but she is also the winningest coach in all of ND sports. Considering that football, built, sustained and the school and that women have comprised the student body for just a little over 40 years, that is quite an accomplishment. Did I mention she has over 700 wins?  Or, if college women's basketball is a stretch, the long-standing and highly respected Hannah Storm is a worthy nominee. In reality, I don't need Hannah for President...I love having her on SportsCenter where she is a great stateswoman and orator for athletics. Regardless, history was made when the Democratic nominee for President was for the first time in the history of this country, a woman—a mother, a grandmother, a wife and a bit of an athlete herself (Hillary played baseball and was a swimmer). It's time that we have more female leaders and that's not just in politics...but in coaching as well.
I know at the school where I teach, all but three of our girls' varsity sports have a male head coach. As the salaries for women's coaching positions at the collegiate level increased, so did the number of male applicants for those positions. One of the winningest coaches in female athletics, Geno Auriemma also served as the head coach of the USA women's basketball team for the Rio Games. He had one male assistant and two female assistant coaches. No woman, however, served on the men's basketball Olympic team staff.

The way I see things, we need to continue to encourage girls to not only play sports but seek leadership positions in sports and beyond sports.

The Case of Athletes in Office states that "women make up more than 50% of the population but only 19% of Congress, and according to a number of studies cited in a recent story in The New York Times, a large part of that disparity occurs because women are far less likely to run. An exception is emerging however: athletics. A 2013 study from the Women & Politics Institute found that women who played sports were 25% more likely to express political aspirations than those who did not. 
I'm sure Scott Ostler he was just having fun with a timely topic. After all, we love our coaches and we should. I credit that future Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy as a key reason—if not THE reason—that there are three World Series trophies in San Francisco. His leadership forever changed the narrative of Giants baseball and colored some of my most cherished of memories with family, friends and my students. I hope he never pays for a drink or a meal as long as he lives in the Bay Area....and I'll throw Steve Kerr in that mix too. I just wonder if there could ever be a time that I could rally around a female leader with that same enthusiasm and gratitude. For many Americans, tomorrow may be the day....

Thank you Lord, for the ability to use our voice and exercise a great freedom: the right to vote. We pray for a safe and peaceful transition of power. Bless our leaders—those who serve and feel called to do so on the local, state and national level. In our schools—with students and athletes too.

Photo Credits
with 44

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Three Faces of Fan Loyalty

The Romans had it right with Janus, their two-faced god. As written in "Looking Back and Looking Ahead: Checking in on Resolutions for 2016," Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions, thence also of gates, doors, doorways, endings and time. He is usually a two-faced god since he looks to the future and the past. The Romans dedicated the month of January to Janus. His most apparent remnant in modern culture is his namesake, the month of January. Quite often in my own life, I spend too much time looking back or seeking the future. How I wish I could just stay in the present. Perhaps the Romans sought a three-faced god, too. 
As a sports fan, I am in search of a deity that embodies three different approaches toward fan loyalty. This god does something other than look past, present and future. Perhaps you two have already met. Maybe it has more than three faces, but a few recent experiences have revealed its attributes. Here's a snapshot of what I have seen. Please share with me what else you know.

Face #1 is short-sighted, possibly blind. 
People keep asking me if I'm rooting for the Cubs. Most of the time, I don't give much of an answer, but in the last few days, my response has changed. In fact, it's rather emphatic. "No, I'm not cheering for the Cubbies." I'm not even much of a Cleveland Indians fan. Cleveland already got its spoils this year. #stillhurts.

I think Joe Madden is a great skipper. I loved seeing "Rizzo and Bryant" for President t-shirts in the stands and that's one catchy jingle: "Go Cubs Go!." Believe me, were I a fan of the lovable losers, I would sing that ditty loud and proud. I think the "W" and even the "L" that flies outside of Wrigley is a worthy tradition. Bartman doesn't really factor in because whether or not his Cubs win, the man will stay the honorable course. So what gives, why not root for the National League team. The great American city in search of it's first World Series trophy in 108 years?!

what a great match-up. 1-0 loss
I am a die-hard San Francisco Giants fan. Though I did not subscribe to the even year theory aka #Believen and spent the time since the All-Star break in a state of perpetual frustration (worst record in baseball), I still held up hope against hope. It wasn't a blind hope....and yet, it was.

Half way through the World Series, I realized my problem. With the Cubs' weaknesses exposed, I came to believe that if the Giants had won Game 1 (that 1-0 loss in Chicago), I truly think the NLDS series would have been different. I was in attendance at AT&T Park in San Francisco for Game 4. We could have and should have won that game. If the Giants had just done a few things differently, I honestly believe we would have had more October baseball in the Bay. Given that the Giants swept the Dodgers during the final three games of the season, I am convinced we would have won in the NLCS series. All that being said, I do think the Giants would succumb to The Tribe. I just think they are the best team in baseball. Tonight will tell.

I've run my theory by other Giants faithful and every single one objectively agrees ;-). Though an even year is not a birthright for a World Series win, it sure makes for good times. The Giants should be there. I hope Bochy and the Boys are cheering for the Indians in the same way I am.

Face #2 shows up in good times and in bad
Married couples take this vow for a reason. When every last fiber of your being may claim it's not practical or necessary to stay, that's when loyalty must be exercised. A fan is born when he or she remains, when they show up, give and don't count the cost; NOT when the gettin' is good, but when times are lean and mean. Dear students of Notre Dame du Lac, this message is directed at you.
My friend James took this sad photo, including the caption:
The students probably figured more tailgating was a better use of their time.
I can't believe the number of people who asked me why the student section had empty seats (not sure how or why I might have the answer). The television cameras could not hide this truth. With a 2-5 record going into the game against Miami, a once intense rivalry that has limited, if much significance to today's students, it's easy to guess why much of the student body was M.I.A. But, I think it's unacceptable. Seeking answers, I reached out to a current sophomore, who informed me:
I think it mainly had to do with the amount of exams and projects coming up. A lot of people went out this weekend because of Halloween and then didn't really want to go to the game so instead did homework. Many people have been selling or giving away their tickets because of school related stress as well as the fact that this year hasn't been the best for football. Most people I know went to the game for at least the first half. 
I should be proud of current students for being responsible...well, students. But, I also want them to know some of the best memories are born when there's less to gain...when you are a part of something without any expectations, when you remain through the demise and await the rise....and when it comes, you can look back with the full picture in mind. There are but six home games this season. I don't get them very often because it's hard to get to South Bend, it's expensive and the month of November can be frightfully cold. Enjoy every minute you can Domer nation...Notre Dame Stadium is but a few steps away. Oh any by the way, I wasn't the least bit surprised that Erin (who shared that message) a. was in attendance for the game and b. stayed for all of it. #MoreProud
I've never been so excited for a team that's  2-5
Face #3 confirms that our roots run deep
My friends Mike and Kealy Murray have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 15 years. All three of their children have been born on the west coast, in San Francisco to be exact. Mike a true Philly native, an alum of St. Joe's Prep and Penn, and even though he lives 3,000 miles from the City of Brotherly Love, remains a Eagles season ticket holder. And, he's doing all that he can to make sure his children will be too.

A mutual friend—a St. Louis native and Cardinals fan—confessed to Mike and I that he was okay with his children being raised as Giants fans. Given the success of the Orange and Black, considering where their family lives today, with regular access to AT&T Park, Matt's argument is quite reasonable. As a Giants fan (see Face #1), I needed little to no convincing to take his side. Mike however, looked at him...and then at me and said..."Yeah....I can't do that." Mike is already one of my favorite people, in that moment, I think he reached a top 10. 

Every single year, I have a student in my class who is a die-hard Patriots fan. When I ask them why, inevitably I hear, "my dad is from Boston," or my own personal favorite from my student Ethan was "you gotta meet my Grandma. She raised me to be a Pats fan." All good. I get it.
no we don't....
Fan is short for fanatic. We love sports because they demand us to show our true colors or in this case our team colors—Colors that paint a portrait of what loyalty looks like. To remain a fan of your favorite team...your home team in another a generation removed...when everyone around you isn't, requires pluck and resilience. It's what make sports rivalries great and some sports fans better than others. You need not be short sighted or blind for that matter to realize that truth.

Photo Credits
Baseball face
Empty Seats: James C
Pats fans