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

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