Monday, July 31, 2017

Yes, Matt Kuchar lost at The Open, but WE won...

Every author knows there are articles and posts we could never write, no matter how badly we want to pen them. Every teacher knows there are students he or she can't reach. All coaches are aware that there are athletes we can't help. As much as I would like...wish...hope and pray that certain stories are mine for the telling, they are given to the one who can...who should tell them. Time and time again, I wish things were different. Reading the Daily Mail article, "Yes, Matt Kuchar lost at The Open, but he won something far more preciousreminded me of this beautiful and humbling truth.
As I have written before in"My Love Language: Reading More Sports and Spirituality," receiving and reading a good article—like a good homily on Sunday—can sustain me spiritually for days at a time. I hope my friends, colleagues, students, and athletes—past and present—know how much this simple act of giving means to me. Whether or not the material is in print or via e-mail, on paper or through a link, the gesture never gets tiresome or tedious. I want you to know an e-mail like "you've probably already seen this, but thought you might appreciate the article y" is received as a gift, a thoughtful gift. So it should go without saying that a "thank you" is in order. Mateo, please know of my gratitude for reading my writing, making it better and sharing great information. Gracias! 

I love everything about this article by Oliver Holt—the thesis, the examples, and of course the subject: golf and Kooch. I wish I had written it, or been let in on the process. Instead, I'll make edits and because this is my blog, I get to do so. I would add but two strokes to this masterpiece.

Point one. On Sunday at the 2017 Masters Kooch made the best shot of the tourney. With his 7-iron he hit 170 yards for a hole in one. What a shot of adrenaline for the gallery—he hugged and high fived most people standing close to him on the tee box on this 16th hole. Golf isn't the friendliest or best in spectator sports, but when you witness a gem like Kooch's "eagle," it's hard not to feel pure elation. Kooch, being Kooch smiled, removed his cap, made eye contact with fans as he walked toward the pin and best of all, gave the ball to a young fan. The gesture was so joy-filled, it's worth mentioning again.
Point two. The article suggests that Matt Kuchar gained something more precious than a win. I disagree. I don't know at what point in his career this became apparent, but Kuchar won long ago. The person he already is, made the final round possible—one characterized by great sportsmanship, the highest road one can take, class and excellent golf. Yes, Matt Kuchar lost but we won. Sports fans received an affirmation that there are athletes out there who still choose to do it right....that's simply their modus operandum. Kooch is exemplary, a fan favorite for a reason yes...but an ambassador for the game, the United States and sportsmanship too. 

Those of us who love golf, who love sports, who long for great sportsmanship and raising the level of the game, Jordan Spieth won—and that was awesome in its own right—but we did too. Thanks to both men for that gift.

Photo Credits
Kuchar and Spieth

Friday, July 28, 2017

Beyond Jet Lag: The Keepers is the Story of Three Deaths, Not Two

One of the first questions people ask me about my three weeks in Jerusalem is, "Was it safe?" I asked the very same question to nearly everyone I know who has been to Israel. I was, however, much more afraid of something else....a concern worth having, for it affects so many people in different ways: jet lag. 
Why jet lag? I came to Israel to study for 3 weeks with other educators at Yad Vashem, Israel Holocaust Memorial Museum and this part of the Middle East is 10 hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time. I wanted to be a good student, to represent my school community well, to make the most of my time in the Holy Land; I was afraid jet lag would get in the way.  I'll leave it to the experts to advise you on how to best "beat" it, but, I found my own answer in The Netflix TV Series: "The Keepers."

When I travel, I take a stack of magazines with me. I aim to leave as many on the plane as I can—meaning I have plowed through them and what they have to offer. However, I don't leave the entire periodical beyond. No, I rip out articles (even though I can still find them on line) for class, for writing, for this very blog. One such article, "In Netflix's 'The Keepers,' a nun's unsolved murder tears apart a Catholic community," prompted me to check it out. I did and a near binge watching experience in my hotel room followed. If you have seen this Netflix original, you might understand.
Founded in 1965, Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore seemed like the ideal place for post-Vatican II optimism to blossom. The School Sisters of Notre Dame ran the all-girls school with a strict sense of order, but students were excited and proud to be there. It was a place of empowerment and hope, where the phrase “Women of a New Age” was not merely a line in the school song but a rallying cry. 
“It was supposed to be women reaching their full potential,” one graduate says. “It was supposed to be a safe place.” Behind the campy black-and-white yearbook photos of laughing students carrying piles of books and racing up stairways brewed a campus scandal and a horrifying crime. Sister Cathy Cesnik, one of the most beloved teachers in the school, went missing one night in 1969. When her body was found two months later in a garbage dump, the students and community were torn apart. The case remains unsolved.
As a Nancy Drew fan, a faithful Catholic who had committed my life to Catholic education, a person who lived close enough to Baltimore to have a sense of its culture and Catholicism and a traveler wide awake with jet lag at 1:0o a.m. I was hooked. 
Abbie and Gemma
I too was drawn to the beautiful spirit of Sister Cathy Cesnick, SSND. I was impressed by the chutzpah and tenacity of "Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub, two of Sister Cathy's former students turn amateur muckrakers." Though they "emerge as the heroes of the series," so do Jane Doe and Jane Roe, two women who had the courage to speak out against the abuse by Father Maskell.

I do not know how someone unfamiliar sex abuse crisis in the Church might view this program. Unfortunately, it is a topic I have studied in sad and great detail (watching "Spotlight" does not qualify). I have read the John Jay Report as well as lengthy articles by survivors and bipartisan reporters, but "The Keepers" gave faces to the names and stories beyond the numbers. To me, Church has always extended beyond the confines of the parish and those who are clergy. Sister Cathy is Church, and so is who taught catechism and offered spiritual direction in spite of the abuse. For others, these testimonies might be too much.
One of the survivors, Jean.

In episode 7, Abbie Schaub shares that Seton-Keough high school would be closing its doors at the conclusion of the 2017 school year. While I won't spoil the ending, I would like to offer one insight I still hold as the program came to a close and my jet lag lessened. 

"The Keepers" begins with a report on the death of two women: Cathy Cesnik and Joyce Maleki, but I believe it concludes with another. The closing of a Catholic school is also a death. When the doors of our campuses are shut, the signs are taken down, the statues removed and the halls are left empty—truly—there is a loss. 

I write about "The Keepers" in Sports and Spirituality because closing Seton-Keough or any Catholic school ends the traditions, practices, and gifts of a given community. Seton-Keough carries wounds, deep ones, in that too many young women were abused by the hands of those who should offer to heal. One case is one too many. I do not want to make light of any person who was subjected to sexual assault. The Church both capital "C" and lower "c" must continue to seek forgiveness and reconciliation for these sins. A zero tolerance policy is non-negotiable.

But Seton-Keough is much more than its failings and this tragedy. Before its closure, it was one of the most diverse Catholic girls' schools in the Archdiocese. In 2012 alone, five of their twelve sports teams captured championships in their league. To honor Meghan Puls, a three-sport student athlete who was killed in a car accident, SK hung her jersey in their gym and her number adorned the scoreboard. For Meghan's friends and family, her legacy will live on but other three sport-athletes in other schools will not learn about her life. And most impressively, the numerous testimonials given throughout the series feature SK graduates. These women truly embody what the school set out to form when it opened its doors in 1965. In spite of the abuse, these women have persevered and paved a path for others with a similar fate may follow, God willing.
Nothing can bring back the dreams deferred and the lives lost by the "stomach-turning, anger inducing stories of sexual assault." America magazine's review had it right, I did wonder several times how this could be possible. The viewer will see the power that evil has as well as the corruption in the Church and among the Baltimore police. But they will also get a glimpse many sacraments—visible signs of God's invisible grace. Indeed Jean's husband, Sister Cathy, and many other alumnae from Seton Keogh who emerge as lights in the darkness; they are sacraments for all to receive. 

When Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis visited the United States, they each met with abuse survivors. Their calendars allotted for a given, and generous amount of time to listen and pray with them and for them. Both men extended their meetings, which must have been heavy and from what I read, they cried with them too. I don't know if they met anyone from Seton Keough, but through this series, anyone can gain a sense of who they are and what made them special. Though the doors of SK have closed, I hope that spirit lives on. 

I didn't need jet lag to appreciate their fortitude, grace and spirit, but if you find yourself crossing a few time zones, you know what to watch....and who to pray for. 

Photo Credits
Gemma and Abbie

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Running as a Spiritual Practice Deconstructed

In the 10 years I coached cross country, a season never went by without a runner asking why she was not allowed to wear headphones with the team. As someone who gave up listening to music while running over 15 years ago, I understood why any runner might ask as much as I understood why we prohibited this practice. And so, I found it ironic to listen to the "On Being" podcast "Running as a Spiritual Practice." While it affirmed the power of unplugging while running, I realized the show itself might offer an exception to the rule. Cross country and track coaches, runners both casual and competitive— give it a listen. Here's how...and here's why.
Cross country coaches know the importance of the three words June, July, and August also known as summer running (why hasn't anyone done a parody on this with the hit from "Grease," yet). 

Those coaches who are smart, lucky or both are able to take their team to (ideally) a rural location for three to five days for a running retreat—a euphemism for two-a days in locations so beautiful that your runners complain much less about the demanding trails, workouts, hill repeats and mileage. The days are short, the runs are long. The experience—the struggle, the exhaustion, the runners' highs and lows—it's real. However, this time away and yet together, pays dividends when runners must dig deep...when the state championship is on the line, or a runner stands at that line. A running camp that also serves as a retreat shapes makes its possible for individual runners to compete with one another, instead of against each other. 
Because this time is sacred, it ought to account for something more than an impressive running log. Teams can pray together, a coach can lead guided meditations. One or two runs can be taken in silence and by way of suggestion: take a run listening to this very podcast. Runners will have the chance to plug in and learn from adult runners, who are thoughtful, articulate, wise, some religious, many spiritual and honest.

Each respondent offers insights from their own unique and diverse experiences. Though I could not relate to every story, I appreciated learning more about the people with whom I might share the road.  And among those who offered ideas similar to the one I have, I gained a better sense of self...something Thomas Merton would approve, for the introduction of the podcast reveals his words.
"It is true that we are called to create a better world. But we are first of all called to a more immediate and exalted task: that of creating our own lives." 
Running helped me create my own life in ways I never could have imagined. Perhaps you understand.
I find it both ironic and fitting that one of the mottos of the cross country team I coached was "We run because we can." Though I can no longer run, I was able to listen with an honest appreciation for the great gift that running was in my life. Any of the following words from the On Being podcast could suffice as a motto for your team. These words still resonate with me.
  • Running as a passionate force in our lives and a powerful connector across all kinds of boundaries in American culture.
  • Running as not just a form of exercise or as a merely physical pursuit.
  • Running as a source of bonding between parents, children and friends.
  • Running as an interplay between competition and contemplation.  
  • Running, and body image and survival.
Krista Tippit concluded the program in saying, "Some people turn to prayer, mediation or yoga as a way to slow down and make sense of their lives, many find that through running." Below are questions that you can have your team discuss, or if you are a runner yourself, I hope you enjoy...or share with a friend who runs. So plug in, put on your shoes, break a sweat, enjoy the respite at the stoplights, make sure you pant, sweat, burn and breathe. That's what I miss about running....and the spirituality of it all.

  • Running is a moving meditation. What does that mean?
  • What stereotypes has running shattered for you?
  • What has running taught you about your body?
  • In order to finish the LA Marathon, Torres took the advice given to her when she hit the wall: find a mantra in your head and say it over and over. Her mantra became I am strong, I am powerful, I can do this. Do you have one?
JOHN CARY minute 8
  • What is your ideal running? Alone? With a group? With a partner?
  • Have you had some great conversations with other runners? What is it about running that allows this to occur?
  • What senses awaken when you run?
ASHLEY HICKS minute 12
  • Don’t run with music, headphones…”I call myself a true minimalist runner.” What does that mean to you?
  • Hicks noticed there were very few people of color at road races in her community. Who might be underrepresented on your team?
  • How has running help you become more spiritual—Has it?
  • The best thing for you to remember is that: The blessing is outside of your comfort zone. Meditate on this.
  • If you stay with what you’re comfortable with, you’ll never experience something new and incredible. What have you done that has taken you outside of your comfort zone, recently?
ROGER JOSLIN minute 16
  • Joslin shares that running was a distraction from the pain I was feeling. He said, “I ran to feel different…to escape from the pain.” What does running allow you to escape from?
  • Learned about meditation through running instead of learning about meditation through reading about meditation. Do you consider running a form of meditation? 
  • Stvavlund describes the Instrumental and Inherent goods of running. Which one do you value more? Explain. 
  • Kasawinah states that "My faith improves my running and running improves my faith." Can you relate?
  • When I’m running I’m actively expressing that gratitude. How?
  • Kasawinah also shares that, "A run feels truly spiritual after that first hour. There’s a period in between when I’m thinking of nothing, I’m receiving what is around me." How is this an example of spirituality? Is it?
MALLARY TENORE (minute 29)
  • Many people claim that runners are running away from something, but Tanori always viewed herself as running toward her mom. Which perspective do you hold?
    • What have you run away from?
    • What have you run to?
  • Tenore found that training for a marathon was her way of staying strong and remaining healthy. In fact, running was positive as it helped her let go of perfectionism. Do you struggle with perfectionism?
  • Who gave you the gift of running?
  • How can running be service? Community service?
  • What is the most unexpected way that running has formed you?
  • Singh states that running is responsible for the "shaping of my discipline. Engaging in something every single day—a ritual shapes someone." What personal and spiritual disciplines do you have/hold?
  • Running has contributed to my ethical formation? How? Is this true for you?
  • Marvin has made "faith and prayer into an extreme sport." She said, "my running time is my alone time….time to rejuvenate mind and body. I get a runner's high AND a spiritual high." Respond.
  • Do you have any power verses....passages of scripture or a holy text that you look at before you run?
Photo Credits
On Being
Red Shoes

Monday, July 24, 2017

Spieth be with you: Pithy & Playful Insights from the 2017 Open

I turned around to extend the sign of peace to my friend Matt and instead of saying "Peace be with you," he said, "Jordan Spieth." 

His words brought something other than the peace of Christ—they brought joy. I'm a Spieth fan and ten hours earlier, Spieth won his first British Open title as well as his first major since his championship at the 2015 US Open, Chambers Bay. His fans and followers have been wondering when—or if— the former number one player in the world would shake off his epic collapse at the 2016 Masters and win his third major. Today was the day. 
So what does the 2017 Open Championship offer us? Unfortunately, I can't say as much as I would like. The time difference and my return travel from Israel prevented the screen time I prefer for the majors. However, what I did see and have discussed with friends helped me to develop a few pithy and playful insights. Enjoy!

1. It's "The Open Championship"
There is no need to use the adjective "British" to describe the third major of the year. The Open Championship or "The Open" is the oldest and many believe the most prestigious of the four major championships in golf. 

I write this fact for purposes of clarification and because the simplicity of this title has given me pause to think what other events in sports or music need no descriptor. We don't say "The Series" or "The Cup" or "The Finals." There must be some parallel. Any thoughts?
2. Why should you care what anyone thinks?
My mom has often told my sister and me "you care way too much what other people think." She has urged us to let go of what we cannot control, and ultimately what is none of our business: That is, what other people of you.

Spieth's victory is a shining example of the benefits of not caring what other people think.
Golf fans were abhorred by the delay he caused. His deliberation that lasted well over 2o minutes was deemed by some sports fans as unacceptable, but that is only in a social context. How Spieth executed the rules on the 13th hole was masterful. Though he got two significant breaks in the process, he gained these so called "advantages" in a way that did not compromise anything. Some say he "took advantge of the rules." Yes, he did, but that statement need not be pejorative. For more information, this article from sums it up well. 

3. Everyone has a doppelganger.
One of the best compliments I have ever received was a college professor who praised me for being very observant. He told me why this is an important quality, especially in a young person. Twenty years later, my observation skills have taken on a life and mind of their own and transpired into a seemingly harmless habit. I study people and their mannerisms intently until I can name their doppelganger. I am rarely afraid to tell people who they remind me of, and when I find a good match, the feeling rivals holding 21 in Blackjack.
Is it Matt Kuchar? No, it's the principal of SI....his doppelganger 
The principal of the school where I teach has a doppelganger in Matt Kuchar. I have a cousin who is a dead ringer for Zach Johnson. Someone once mistook me for Paula Kramer. Kidding. But as I was watching Kooch on Saturday, I couldn't help but think of my boss and their similarities. I already have a lot of fun watching golf, this habit makes it that much more enjoyable. Watch out friends....

4. There's no Booing in Golf.
Go to a Springsteen concert and you will hear what sounds like a long and extended Boo. You hear this guttural exhortation both before and after most songs and even when the Boss is talking. The unsuspecting Springsteen fan or Bruce neophyte looks around with one eyebrow raised. He or she is glancing over their shoulder with a furrowed brow... until there's some sort of intervention. "They're yelling Bruce." I'm not sure if Springsteen likes it or not, but it's the "Bruuuuce" cheer is nearly a verb. 

I share this story because it prepared me for what golf fans, typically known for their ability to keep quiet, lay low and clap appropriately, yell when Matt Kuchar comes around. Kooooooch. Again, the unsuspecting fan will certainly be taken by surprise, but for those who follow the tour, it's no surprise that Matt Kuchar is a fan favorite. And why shouldn't he be? His broad smile, the hole in one at the Masters, the Sketchers, the gait, putting stance and hair color that makes him look 20 years older than he actually is?! Matt Kuchar is America's sweetheart. Kooch your heart out golf fans....
5. Championships/Sports Events can also serve as Benchmarks 
Last year, I was invited by a dear friend to join him and his family for a round of golf at their remarkably beautiful club. We watched the epic 2016 showdown between Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson over breakfast before we played 18. It was an idyllic day: great company, gorgeous weather, and fantastic sport—peronally and professionally. 

On Saturday—known as "Moving Day" at the Open, I reached out to him to recall the memories from the year prior. I said we were due to play golf again at our club here in San Francisco. As fate would have it, he had an opening for a fourth player on the same day, same location one year later! I raised my Claret jug (kidding) and jumped at the chance.

Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are natural and important times to reach out to family and friends but as I realized this past weekend, sporting events and championships can too. I can tell you exactly where I was and who I was with watching the 2015 NBA Finals. I love recalling those memories and am convinced it's worth doing when the event occurs the year after, and more.

In conclusionI can't give you an exact percentage, but I can say with confidence that the major championships in golf live up to their hype. Golf on its greatest stages offers much more to celebrate than the excellent competition and incredible feats. I love what the four days of the tourney reveal about humanity, the challenging importance of the rules and what we think of it all, especially...the victor. Spieth be with you, my friends.

Photo Credits

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Life After Football...or the School Year: What I Have Learned from AJ Hawk

Though I have been teaching for nearly 20 years, people still ask me about summer vacation. They want to know how that works...What's like to have that much time off? they query. I want to know: Did they miss the memo? Is there something I know that they don't? "Yes, I get June, July and most of August off," I say. I will not apologize for this. I don't know another teacher who resents this benefit, but I have to let you in on a secret. As much as I love the freedom and well-earned break, the time away brings great joy and subtle challenges. Reading "Life After Football" by AJ Hawk made me think that retirement might hold a few similarities. Let me walk you through how that works, not in the NFL, but among educators. 
The first week of summer break is the honeymoon period. Everything about the world is right. I walk on Cloud Nine 24/7.  I am convinced I will read every book on my shelf and article in that stash near my desk. I intend to work at the Food Bank every week and attend Daily Mass every other. I cook, I bake, I clean and I paint. I am teacher, here me roar.

By week two, however, normalcy creeps in....and teachers are largely unfamiliar with anything normal. I don't know what to do without a bell or a meeting with a student, colleague or parent. I miss the eye rolls, the snarky comments as much as the laughs, the learning, the hugs and the tears. Those 120 young people entrusted to my care are at their camps and in their cabins. They're waking up late and growing big and growing up. I, however, don't change....but I do, it's just not easy to figure out how when you don't have papers to grade and lessons to plan.

By July 4, fear begins to creep in. I realize that a month of summer and the solstice has passed. An imaginary countdown has begun; I am in denial. I recommit to waking up early and working out, reading my second book for the summer and saving some money...maybe....well, at least for Tahoe.
Steph and Justin Timberlake: These two are so fun to watch.
After Independence Day, I turn my sights to my salvation: Lake Tahoe. Tahoe is the site of some of my greatest childhood memories. My family went to Incline Village during the first or second week of August every summer. The natural beauty, fresh mountain air, the crisp water, and massive non-sequitur: Harrah's video arcade, made for the vacation of our dreams. My brother, sister and I loved playing Ms. Pac Man, Centipede and watching "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" in this den of iniquity. Today, I still return to Tahoe, for many of those same reasons...minus the arcade, plus the casino AND most importantly, the American Century Celebrity Golf Classic. 

For the past four summers, I have traveled with a group of friends known by many of the athletes and celebrities. Team Taboo is there for the golf, the view, the personalities, Fireball and the memories. The tourney will be taking place starting tomorrow and I will be missing out. I earned the Tauber Fellowship for a 3-week program in Jerusalem and though I was thrilled to have this once in a lifetime opportunity, I knew I would miss this annual event in Tahoe. Team Taboo said they would represent; I know they will AJ Hawk.
I now receive daily e-mails from "The Players' Tribune," a website founded by Derek Jeter that publishes first-person narratives from (popular) athletes. Having seen Hawk at the Tahoe tourney the past four years is why I decided to read his piece.  Reading his words made me realize that I too have always had a problem saying "no." I absolutely love that this championship linebacker has decided to make something that many people see as a negative into a positive. Though not a "glue guy" I do think it's safe to say his desire to have fun, be there for others, and make a difference in ways big and small make him a mensch.

I invite not only those who face retirement to consider what he has written but teachers, as well. What can we say "yes" to during our time off? Who needs us to give and not count the cost? How can we make the most of our summer break? And help ourselves, and others have more fun?

I look forward to hearing from Team Taboo about Hawk's antics at this year's tourney and I can't wait to say "yes," to what else summer 2017 brings...I already have American Century Golf Classic 2018 on the Calendar. Yes, yes, yes....

Be sure to at least check out the video of AJ saying yes to these fans' request. ENJOY

Monday, July 10, 2017

More than a Mensch: A Case for the Glue Guy/Glue Girl

I have been in Jerusalem, the Holy City for over a week know. One of the first questions I get asked from folks back in the US, especially my foodie friends is: How's the food?! I wouldn't say that I have eaten my way through the Middle East, but I've certainly enjoyed trying and tasting Israeli food. I'm intrigued by the rich and contrasting spices they use on meat, in salads, etc. I believe my culinary experiences serve as a metaphor for what I have learned as well.

I am at Yad Vashem for an 18-day seminar for 30 teachers from the US, Canada, Italy, and Serbia. We are studying the Holocaust—known here as the Shoah—and how the events before, during and after relate to the world and our classrooms today. Our days are long, as we have professors from all over the world giving lectures on historical, sociological, religious and ethical matters. 

I am learning about The Final Solution and its Implementation on one day and the history of the state of Israel on the next. During our breaks, I am having conversations about the roots of Anti-Semitism only to be lightened by debates over my super team, the Golden State Warriors...AND they just signed Israeli star Omri Casspi! I have learned about the Maccabiah games and the Palmach. I came to Israel knowing that my time here would be very spiritual. I had no idea or expectation for what I might learn about sports. I needed little time to make a connection.

Welcome Omri!

One of my favorite lectures was "Antecedents to Holocaust Writing in Eastern European Jewish Culture." In order for us to understand this topic, we had to learn about Jewish life and the use of Yiddish. I love language and the origin of words. Yiddish colors the vernacular of many Americans today but before the war was spoken among eight to nine million Jews. Today, Yiddish expressions pepper our conversations but this language—a combination of German and Hebrew, continually offers me new and deeper insights about people and personalities. 

For example, In this afternoon's session: An Introduction to Jewish Leadership during the Shoah, I came to learn about Rabbi Leo beach, a German theologian and scholar. He served as the president of a German organization that united Jews from 1933-1938. The rabbi teaching the class said "he was a real mensch." Familiar and yet unfamiliar with this word, I inquired further. According to Leo Rosten, the Yiddish maven and author of The Joys of Yiddish, a "mensch" is "someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being 'a real mensch' is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous." The term is used as a high compliment, implying the rarity and value of that individual's qualities.

I started to wonder if this is a term I should be using more often with my students or athletes.

I have written about awards in athletics many times: my favorite (Defensive Player of the Year), who deserves what, mistakes we have made, and a case for others. I'm not convinced the Mensch Award could work. To me, the word sounds derogatory (it shouldn't) and kitschy. I believe awards can serve as a teaching opportunity, so honor with this title could be bashert, but during my lunch break, I discovered another palette encountered a new flavor. I finished my Chicken Pomegranate Shawarma and read a great piece by Shane Battier in The Players' Tribune: Elite 'Glue Guys' 101.

I'll let Part Two of this article unpack what it means to be the glue guy or the glue girl: A player who makes everything work when they're on the court. I've encountered her as an athlete and a coach. They are different than Steve Nash, who makes everyone better. They are, exactly what the word suggests.

Enjoy—he's got an incredible personal story, and he is a good writer. He's observant, thoughtful and I think it's safe to say, a mensch. And, I have to admit, LeBron is a decent surprise, a good dancer. Check out the video in the story! #Battioke2017
Photo Credits

Saturday, July 1, 2017

In Preparation for our 241st Birthday: Who is the Greatest American Athlete?

My fellow Americans,
at the Smithsonian, this iteration of
the Statue of Liberty is entirely
made of Legos
Sitting in a coffee shop in Capitol Hill (Washington, DC), three people have already said "Happy 4th of July to you" and it's not even 8:00 a.m. This is music to my ears. Independence Day is my favorite holiday. I love summer, a red-white-and blue color scheme, the traditions and what this day honors. Celebrating America hasn't been easy in recent times, but walking through the Smithsonian Museum of American History yesterday, I was reminded there is just too much about us as a people—a nation still emerging and past we are still reconciling—to not light some fireworks, take a slice of the Uncle Sam cake and don your favorite old school NBA jersey for your local 4th of July parade. Odds are you will attend an Independence Day BBQ. As a sign of hospitality perhaps you can bring something other than baked beans or potato salad. Why not bring a topic of conversation, one that kids should hear, teens will enjoy and adults will defend: Who is the greatest American athlete?

The newest exhibit at my favorite of the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall, The Nation We Build Together, may give you an advantage in this conversation. As stated on the Smithsonian website, one display
Many Voices, One Nation, takes visitors on a chronological and thematic journey that maps the cultural geography of the unique and complex stories that animate the Latin emblem on the country’s Great Seal and the national ideal: E pluribus unum, Out of many, one.  
Through almost 200 museum artifacts and about 100 loan objects, this exhibition shows how the many voices of the American people have contributed to and continue to shape the nation and its communities, from its earliest beginnings to the present. Through objects such as a painted elk hide from the Southwest, circa 1693, a Norwegian bowl brought by 19th-century immigrants, a gold miner’s trunk, symbols of union and liberty such as Uncle Sam and Columbia, and a baseball helmet used by Boston Red Sox player Carl Yastrzemski in the 1970s, the exhibition explores the never-ending process of becoming one nation.
I have to admit, I went looking at this exhibit for Colin Kaepernick's jersey. I had heard that the Smithsonian has requested one for posterity: his decision to kneel during the National Anthem throughout the 2016 NFL season offered a new verse to our country's narrative. I came to learn it will be on display in the Smithsonian's Museum of African American history.

Instead, what I found was a multi-media stand that honored the subject of this possible 4th of July conversation. The names and images of each athlete gave me pause to think about their contribution to sport, their personal story and what they reveal about America. You can probably guess who was featured: Billie Jean King, Tiger Woods, Jim Brown, Serena Williams, Mariano Rivera, Mia Hamm, and Carl Lewis among others. I'd like to make a case for Bo Jackson (watch "You Don't Know Bo" my favorite 30 for 30 if you're skeptical).

I made note of how many other exhibits include a reference to sports and was delighted—not disappointed. I gained a deeper appreciation (and hope that my nieces did too) for how sports have served as a vehicle for social and personal change in the USA. Yes, sports are a business (Wow, Steph Curry and 5 years for $201 million) and they are an art form. They allow for self expression and communal representation on stages big and small. They can lead us to to discover our best and worst selves, E pluribus unum.

Last fall, I heard the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Kareem Abdul Jabaar speak at a City Arts and Lecture series about his book, "Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White." I leaned much and laughed often. And, one of my favorite moments was when an audience member asked the leading question that delights all sports fans: "Who is the greatest Laker?" Ever serious, Abdul-Jabbar went through the list of who could be number one. He said, "it's a tough question. You can make an argument for Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson...some say me...others Kobe...."  With his pause, there were both cheers and jeers until he said "but this is why they have sports bars! You get a beer and some wings and can debate this question for hours." Amen.

No sports bar necessary on this 4th. Enjoy your BBQ, red, white and blue sparklers, watermelon, and the question Who is the greatest American athlete? Please post your answers here. 

Photo Credits
Yaz's helmet
CK Kneeling