Thursday, August 31, 2017

To Be Spiritual is to Be...

A friend sent a photo from last night's baseball game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, CA. The LA Angels beat the Oakland A's 10-8 in a game that was...well...meaningless. The Angels are 11 games out of first place in the AL West and the A's, a depressing 21.5. I won't waste anyone's time by calculating Wild Card potential here. There were a lot of empty seats, it's the middle of the week. school is back in session, and both teams are lack luster in star power and performance. A question can and should emerge: Why go to the yard? 

Any number of responses might suffice: free tickets, great give away, beautiful night, time with my cousin, fan loyalty and more. But when a colleague shared a quote by Abraham Joshua Heschel, I found my answer. Live sporting events are spiritual. Games and contests, even when the stakes are low, can offer feats that are amazing. To witness a web gem in person, a player hit for the cycle, throw a no hitter, or even a manager get tossed from a game. Wow! 
Earlier this summer, I caught word of incredible catch by Austin Jackson, one that was so remarkable, two great things happened. One, when the batter, Handley Ramierez saw it, his eyes nearly popped out of his head—which he swung in disbelief—as he said "Wow." Even the fans in Boston, of the opposing team, gave him a standing ovation. When I see a catch like this live...or over and over again on Sports Center, I can't help but get fired up. I feel a spark of joy. I can't help but smile.
Kevin Pillar's feat is no less impressive. Michael Wilbon must have talked about this web gem for about three minutes on Pardon the Interruption. He said, "Pillar is often running like Carl Lewis out there, but x, y and z." If I had been on the air with him, I would have told him how disappointed I am that more young people are unfamiliar with the term "web gem." What's that? They've asked. A great catch....a gem....the glove looks like a web. I think they got it. Regardless, the Pillar's team, the Blue Jays is 14 games out of first. Didn't stop him from doing something phenomenal. I'm amazed (and so are many others, there is a video clip of his Top 10 catches).
At work just yesterday, a friend recalled the first time he had really great seats at a major sporting event. Sitting just three rows behind home plate, he commented on how big and athletic the Yankees were, an attribute that may get lost on television. But he also said he noticed how bored a number of the players were. The baseball season is looooonnnng, and when the games are (also) meaningless, September can be a tough month. Still, I wonder if the players, and the fans, shifted their attitudes toward what Heschel has offered, September baseball might be different. 

Here's to more web gems and other amazing feats. Play Ball!

Photo Credits

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

My Latest Obsession: The Players' Tribune

My latest obsession is "The Players' Tribune." I think I could write a blog about this blog. I am fairly surprised I leave my desk in the morning as my daily e-mail from this website offers me no fewer than three stories I am hungry to read. I'm not joking—salivating might be more like it. Believe you me, I have looked at their website re: careers. If I see you walking down the hallway, you might want to walk the other way. Why? Odds are, I want to talk about what I've read in TPT.
For those unfamiliar with The Players' Tribune, their website states the following: 
Welcome to The Players’ Tribune, a new media company that provides athletes with a platform to connect directly with their fans, in their own words. Founded by Derek Jeter, The Players’ Tribune publishes first-person stories from athletes, providing unique insight into the daily sports conversation. Through impactful and powerful long- and short-form stories, video series and podcasts, The Players’ Tribune brings fans closer than ever to the games they love.
TPT: Mission accomplished. You achieve your goal. If I had to find a criticism, it would only be in the form of disclosing the names of the ghostwriters for each article. I won't complain; I'm too obsessed right now to have a more objective point of view; I may get some point...but what happened as I read today's posting leads me to believe it will be quite some time before that happens.

I have been reading here and there about Frances Tiafoe for the past year or so. His post "Something Bigger" was so moving to me, I had to tell my students in Sports and Spirituality about him. As I started to share his story, I realized they too were taken by it. They looked at me incredulously; they wanted to know more. I linked the article to our website and said: Read this and after you do, you can watch him play at the US Open tonight. This young America tennis player, the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, fought the King, Roger Federer in the first round of the US Open. Under the lights and the roof due to rain, he played the match of his life and one for all fans to savor. I think I enjoyed it that much more because I have read the words, know the dreams, and understand the struggles of the 20-year-old from College Park, MD. He went down in five. Federer is not unlike Steve Kerr; he has no enemies...but it wouldn't be a stretch to say that tonight, hearts were broken when Tiafoe lost (4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4).

The Players' Tribune brings me closer to much more than the games I love, it connects me to people I care about. For example, how could I not read "I Have to Tell You a Story About the Big Nude Cactus" when I saw the author was Leonardo Barbosa. A friend and former coworker loves this basketball player; it's posted on his Facebook page for all to read. And today, two days into Sports and Spirituality, I couldn't wait to share "A Letter to My Younger Self" with my student who told me she hopes we discuss the Brazilian forward in our class this semester. Done. And, I already know I will be reading My Way by Coco. She's my friend Haley's cousin.

Plato has said, "Those who tell stories, rule the world." TPT: right now, you rule mine. Thank you.

Photo Credits
US Open

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Different Kind of Back to School Photo for Coaches and Teachers

At this time of year, Facebook is littered with the obligatory Back to School photos. I do love this tradition. These snapshots serve as a benchmark for much more than one year to the next. In some cases, it's one era to another—preschool to grade school and elementary school to high school. I have my own as this will be my 15th year at St. Ignatius. I had to swallow hard when I realized the kids in my classroom were BORN the year I came to the Prep. Gulp. But I had an even more poignant realization as I shared a photo in my recent talks on Sports and Spirituality. As the teacher, not the student, the subject of this photo—me—reminds me of who I am working with and hoping to inform and inform. THAT is why I am headed Back to School. Here's more.
This photo was taken during my sophomore year at Carondelet High School. One of my closest and dearest friends, Mary Frances (visor on my right) and I were the two sophomores who made the varsity tennis team. Our squad practiced at Willow Pass Park every day after school, during the Fall sports season. Because we were 15 years old, neither of us had our driver's license so we got a ride from the beautiful Jackie, who was a senior. She was kind and generous, taking us under her wing. She stands to my left.

I don't remember the particular match or reason why this photo was taken. And, to be honest, it's not a good photo. Honestly, what's up with my bangs? I haven't had those since...well, maybe this era. Furthermore, I am drinking a Sprite, not exactly a reputable pre-game beverage. So much for hydration, electrolytes, etc. Sure this was a pre-Sports drink era, but my attitude isn't convincing anyone that I'm about to play in a competitive league match. But what is most emblematic and problematic is the t-shirt I am wearing: it's the shirt of Notre Dame Crew. On one hand, I suppose it is telling. I rowed for four years in college, but on the other, it is totally unacceptable. Why it is ok that I am wearing a shirt from another school and another sport, while my teammates are donning our uniform. It's not. 

I see this photo and I am (somewhat) disgusted with myself. I see a girl who has determined that her own interests are more important than representing the team or her school. I want to stand out; I want to be different. This is not the place. I hope my coach said something to me; I can't recall if she did.

But I also think it's important for me to remember that I made choices similar to the ones my athletes have made today and in seasons past. I can be fairly strict with the dress code, following the rules and making the right decisions so that individual girls learn how to put the team before themselves. This is not a given; it is a process. I have a role in leading and guiding them there, and it's important to remember I once traveled the same trail. 
What I did in this photo actually became a problem when I coached girls' cross country. Before and after races, a number of girls would put on an SI lacrosse or soccer t-shirt or sweatshirt, in spite of the SI XC gear they owned. We had to make a team announcement in response to this decision, one that too many girls overtly and inadvertently made. We reminded them that they are a member of  SI Cross Country and you represent the team before, during and after your race. There are a time and place to wear other SI gear. Yes, it's a good thing to be proud of your school, your team, etc. but when you are with your teammates, especially on race day, you are part of something that needs to be made whole. SI XC is not just the top seven varsity runners; we don't train, practice, run or travel that way. We never will.

For many kids and for teachers, going Back to School isn't easy. Many students have anxiety about their new classes, social environments, fitting in and the challenges that await. However, you won't see that photo posted up on Facebook. And as a teacher and a coach, I have a lot of students and athletes to get to know, oversee, lead and guide. I believe it takes a lot of effort to get that plane off the ground. I also think it's important that we educators remember that we aren't all that different than those entrusted to our care. This crazy, not so attractive and funny photo reminds me of that truth. Perhaps I'll be a little gentler with those who break the rules but, that doesn't mean I won't hold my students and athletes to them. To be honest, it's a lot easier not to, but that's not who I want to be or who I want my students and athletes to be. We're in this together....all year/all season long.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Remembering,,,and Walking with Sister Eleanor Eagan, CSJ

On Saturday, August 19, 2017, the school community of Carondelet High School held a Mass and Celebration of life for Sister Eleanor Eagan, CSJ. Nearly 300 people gathered to honor this peppery, shrewd, warm and visionary woman who served at my alma mater for 34 years.

Sister Eleanor lived a full and rich life. She died of cancer at the young age of 88 on June 22 with the former principal Sister Kathy Lang, CSJ telling her that it was her time to go—the Lord was waiting. 

Countless alumnae have shared their own stories and treasured memories of Sister Ellie. It was a blessing and a gift to hear them and share our own. Mine is simple, and one I think offers an important page to Sports and Spirituality.

Those who live their lives in service know the importance of the ministry of presence....showing up....tending to those you encounter in your daily life. Everyone's time and attention is a precious thing; a ministry of presence offers both. But for my family and me, Sister Eleanor's presence was found in an activity many people, including myself, do regularly: walking.

In the late afternoon/early evenings, at the conclusion of another school day and its many activities, Sister E and Sister Kathy head out and off campus to take a walk. They would walk from Carondelet through the neighborhoods adjacent to the school, along the Contra Costa Canal and occasionally into my neighborhood. My dad, once an active walker, himself, often crossed paths for a chat and conversation with both Sisters. 

Sister Eleanor called my dad "Stan the man." Yes, my dad is named Stan, but the nickname was first popularized for the baseball great: Stan the Man Musial. My dad loved any association with the St. Louis Cardinal legend and anyone who would call him by the same name. I think Sister Eleanor knew this; she always had a twinkle in her eye. Her ability to be present with people was a true gift. Through her presence, she made others feel welcome, included and even special; walking allowed her to bring these gifts to many others.
The prophet Micah answers what the Lord requires of us. In Chapter 6:8, he says "to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God." I have always loved his message, both the verbs and the adjectives. In Sister Eleanor, I have a role model for all three. In the 
 "Blueprint for Social Justice" Bill Quigley states.
Micah then counsels people to walk humbly with God. Not in front of, not behind, but with. That means we walk with God, but it also clearly says that God walks with us. The perspective that sees this world as evil and God as totally apart from the world would never have people walking with God. Walking with God rightly implies that we have an important and essential part to play in the transformation of this world, in partnership with God.
I'd like to think Sister Eleanor and Sister Kathy walked with God—and God with them. 

For those who can walk, enjoy. I hope some part of this exercise is spiritual. As a former runner, the transition to walking hasn't always been easy. But, I do appreciate how prayerful it can be. I like that I need not feel rushed. I love that it brings me outside, into my neighborhood and on the same path that Sister E once tread.

Sister Eleanor wrote her own funeral. She amended the first reading from the Book of Proverbs to reflect the message her vocation as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet offered to the world. I don't think anyone who knew her would be surprised. And so I found it even more fitting that she chose one final song to be played: Frank Sinatra's "My Way." This ballad happens to be my father's favorite song. Truly, we are more connected to others than we ever really know....or than I know. I have a sneaky suspicion that's what the twinkle in her eye was trying to teach me all along.

Lastly, Sister Eleanor's legacy lives on in many ways, but the book "Valiant Women" does so through her words, her writing. 

In honor of its 50th anniversary, Carondelet High School has published a book celebrating its history and the many religious and lay women and men who founded the school and have kept it thriving since 1965.

Written by Sister Eleanor Eagan, CSJ, and featuring nearly 300 photos, Valiant Women shares the history of Carondelet's founding and captures stories of sisterhood, faith, and community. The book also highlights the teachers, administrators, and students who have made Carondelet the vibrant learning environment that it is.

"This book has been a labor of love for our dear Sister Eleanor, who has been part of the Carondelet community for 34 years," said Carondelet President Bonnie Cotter. "We are so proud to share our rich history with the greater community and relive some of the poignant moments that shaped the school's identity."

I purchased "Valient Women" at the Celebration of Life for Sister Eleanor. The only cost for the book was a donation for student scholarships. I suppose when you spend your life walking with God, and God walking with you, you meet many valiant women and want to make it possible so others can walk, too. 

Carondelet has lost a valiant woman, but her spirit lives...and walks on. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Speaking Languages Like Sports....and Yiddish

Walking up the street from the Old City to my hotel in Jerusalem, I saw a man break into a mad sprint. His focus could not be diverted, his intent was fierce though his brief case slowed him down. I thought to myself—no matter where you go in the world, someone, somewhere is RUSHING to catch the bus (or the train). Culture, country, and city: each is irrelevant. I then realized Yiddish probably has a singular word for "that person." I would love to know what it is.
My interest in Yiddish, a Germanic language that uses the Hebrew alphabet was piqued this summer when I studied at Yad Vashem, the Israeli museum for Holocaust studies. Before World War II, I learned that nearly eleven million people, primarily Jews, spoke Yiddish. The language is not dead. No, according to a Rutgers University, "it is estimated that there are about a quarter million Yiddish speakers in the United States, about the same number in Israel and another 100,000 in the rest of the world." Most Americans, however, would be both familiar and unfamiliar with this language that was once the traditional vernacular of Ashkenazic Jews. 

Why might this be true? The Atlantic reports that in the US "the language is mostly spoken by Orthodox Jews who want to set themselves apart from the modern world." And yet, in popular culture thanks to comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and the late Joan Rivers, the English language was and remains peppered by Yiddish
vocabulary. This has been my entry point.

Language is a window into a culture, a people. To learn, study and speak another language is a true gift—something much more than an exercise for the mind, it awakens the soul.

Though I speak several languages—and I'm serious—I speak sports and I speak rock 'n' roll, in the literal sense, I know one: English. While many Americans criticize themselves for our limited world vocabularies, I don't. I wish I spoke Spanish with proficiency. I have tried and I've come close, but my ability is deficient. Nor do I disdain the family I lived with for six weeks in Guatemala for speaking one language but Spanish. My grandmother had maybe an 8th-grade education. She understood a few words in Irish,  taught me how to pray the "Our Father" in what too many Americans refer to as Gaelic, but she too only spoke English. To know and speak another language is important; I would never say that it is not. But to shun people for not knowing another is unfair. Education, opportunity, desire and skill all play a part in this gift.  Do you have an interest in another language? Have you made some efforts to study and learn another one? Engage in a conversation with a native speaker of another tongue? Invite him or her into your language? I hope so. This is what I deem valuable and worthwhile. Perhaps you disagree.
"Menashe" is a wonderful film worth seeing for much more than the fact they speak in Yiddish
I can, however, say with a strong degree of certainty that I will not be speaking Yiddish in my lifetime. No matter, I have delighted in the sound of it, the learning about the people who speak it (see the movie "Menashe" for more insight) and its ability to capture an idea in a single word. And there's no place like sports to recognize or name these ideas. Here are but two examples.

I attend a lot of high school basketball games, in particular, those at St. Ignatius College Prep, where I teach. In the past 15 years, I have seen remarkable athletes play been touched by the way a number of them come together to form a memorable team. Honestly, there are some groups you just never forget. But on every team—year after year—there is always this one particular type of athlete. Call him or her and archetype. This is a ballplayer I would describe as "inordinately confident." This athlete is not, however, in the starting line-up. No—he or she literally springs off the bench as if they were born to do so. They go after every loose ball with a near reckless abandon. They take a number of shots they have no business taking, but that's ok. You are grateful to have this player, for their heart and their hustle...and in their own unique way, they really do advance the cause. I don't know what to call this athlete....he or she is not a mensch, a Schmiel or a shlimazel ...but I wouldn't be surprised if my Yiddish speaking friends could tell me.

Or what is the word for man or woman who attends a rock 'n' roll concert, purchases the tour t-shirt and wears it immediately upon purchase. I usually wear this shirt different remember the talk to others who might be fans. Not this patron. He or she is enthusiastic to the core. The time is now—celebrate! I have a sneaky suspicion they also wear the race day shirt DURING the race. Many runners will understand what I am talking about. Certain races hand out shirts with the packet pick-up, a day or two before the event. Never mind that this runner has yet to complete the 5, 10 or 30K; they are ready to advertise and promote. God bless them. Yiddish would too by naming them.

At the first department meeting of the year, we have a wonderful tradition in the Religious Studies department of sharing a "moment of grace" from the summer. Some teachers share their challenges, others their joys, the gift of time away, travel and much more. The chair of my department asked me if I would be sharing mine in Yiddish. I wish I could...or maybe I'll look it up in their dictionary, searching for a singular term to describe a person who develops an interest and affection for another culture much different than his or her own. That's me.

Photo Credits
Joys of Yiddish

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Point: Maria Sharapova is....

Sometimes tweets can be misleading. For most people, that is not news—real or fake—but a Twitter review of "The Point," an IMG Film about Maria Sharapova had me excited to learn more about the life, suspension and return to tennis for the Russian star. Currently ranked as the 148th player in the world Sharapova felt no differently, as reported on IMDB. She wrote, 
Excited to share with you a documentary piece that was filmed about my 15-month journey to get my career back. It's a strange feeling having a crew follow you around—it's almost like your shadow. I opened up a lot on camera which is pretty scary.
I was curious as to how she would tell her side of the story. I wanted to know how she would explain her unknowing use of the banned substance—mephedrone. I was anxious to get a sense of why in 2016 and several years prior she was Forbes' highest paid female athlete in the world. I had my suspicions....and hoped for more. What did I find? Disappointment and and yet, a little more. In unexpected places and events, I encountered grace and beauty and in her written word, her confidence, class, and clarity. Thank you, Maria.

I wish I could blame jet lag as the reason I kept falling asleep during "The Point." But, considering how I blew through "The Keepers," I'm afraid my disinterest in the movie was due to a lack of meaningful content. As a sports fan and a former tennis player, it's no stretch for me to watch and enjoy a pro partake in his or her craft. Sharapova need be no exception. She is long and lean, strong and stalwart, but apart from her game, I found her to be distant and unrelatable. She attempts to humanize her plight...opening up to her struggle since failing the drug test after the Australian Open and yet, I was unable to muster much if any sympathy for her.
Sharapova literally has a team working for her: a coach, a physio, a personal assistant, agent, hitting partner and even a chef (you have no idea how much I would love one of these!). For Sharapova, let alone any one of her team members we see throughout the film to not know what she is taking and what is on the list of banned substances is unacceptable. She is not a victim. In the opening scene, she tells the camera "I am strong. I am going to prevail. I know that my honesty and my truth will get me through this." Through what remains unclear....being used as an example by the ITF of what can happen if any athlete does not comply? Through owning up to using PEDs? Please do. I do not recommend this movie; the trailer will suffice.

With her 15-month suspension underway, Sharapova must now apply for a wildcard entry into tennis tournaments. Both Wimbledon and the French Open denied her request. Bank of the West at Stanford University, however, did not. Good, bad or otherwise, I have to admit my curiosity was piqued. Ever the optimist, I wanted to discover for myself if I might find something charismatic or inspiring in her game. I wondered if what I saw in the film would prove to be ever more true to life. What I found was different.

I met Maria Sharapova on Sunday, July 30, the night before the tournament began. She had a small and personal press conference that I was able to attend. Just three hours earlier, I read "Into the Unknown" a piece she wrote for the Players' Tribune (and released just two days prior). My new favorite and not so guilty pleasure, The Player's Tribune offers first personal testimonials; think of it as an extended Tweet. In her writing, I found the same Maria that I encountered on the silver screen...but I so found keen insights and that depth, we hope all people have. I'm not interested in her interpretation or explanation of "her time away." I was however fascinated by how she describes the game. Why she loves tennis. What the tour has taught her. How she keeps in the fight. In fact, the conclusion of her article nearly took my breath away, it is so unconventionally spiritual. 
I realized that, as much as I yearned while I was gone for the comfort and routine of my old life as a tennis player — what I yearned for even more was the discomfort, I yearned for the feeling that tennis gives you, of … it’s hard for me here to think of just the right phrase. Maybe it’s tough love. How tennis will isolate you, and exhaust you, and wear you down, and test your resolve, in some of the most brutal ways possible. But if you can just make it through … then it will also reward you in ways that are beyond compare. If you love tennis enough, then at the end of the day, it will love you back.
In the few moments I had with Sharapova, I told her how much I enjoyed her writing. She stopped and looked me in the eye. We discussed the process of writing and why she enjoys it. I encouraged her to keep at it and she smiled. "My book is coming out this Fall," she said. "I know...I can't wait," I replied. I think I meant it.
And THAT is the real point. We all must find our own voice....if we can...and do....find the venue for it. For Maria Sharapova, modern media wants movies, photo shoots and glam shots. I hope she stays with the written word and of course, her game....which by the way, I never got to see in person. Sharapova withdrew from the tournament after the first round due to a forearm injury. Next year....

Photo Credits
The Point

Press conference

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sports and Our Identity: Thank you Zina Garrison

Every July, I head just 25 miles south of my home in San Francisco to watch the Bank of the West Tennis Classic at Stanford University. In fact, this event is the longest-running women-only professional tennis tournament in the world and the first stop of the US Open Series. The weather is great and the competition is even better. A walkway aligned with banners of past winners confirms my claim. Looking at some of the game's all times greats: Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert Serena and Venus, Monica Seles and Kim Clijsters made me wonder which one of today's competitors will we look back upon in 10, 20 or 50 years and say: Wow. I have a sneaky suspicion that the 2017 champion Madison Keys could be in the mix. And yet, before my imagination ran away from me, I paused at the banner of the two-time champion Zina Garrison. Much to my surprise, I saw a little bit of myself.
To wonder how that might be true is not an unfair question. Garrison is an African American professional tennis player from Houston, Texas. I remember her for her great athleticism, her strength, and her hustle. Hell yeah. She has not left my psyche because I know she is revered by my favorite female athlete—Serena Williams. I always want to know who my favorite athletes and coaches, saints and teachers, writers and musicians hold as their heroes. This fun fact made me appreciate both Zina and Serena that much more. But how might this image—this tribute to Zina Garrison teach me about myself? Look closely. 
Around her neck, Garrison is wearing a gold charm of a tennis racket. On one hand, her choice of jewelry strikes me as funny. Her fans already know who she is and what she does. But, on the other hand, it's not. We wear jewelry as a means of self-expression. Many Christians wear a cross and Jews wear a Star of David. Sure, a tennis player can and might wear a tennis racket—but most don't. So what gives? I would love to ask Ms. Garrison to hear her response. Until then, I can only answer from what I know about myself and what I saw in myself. I believe Zina Garrison wants people to know she is a tennis player who loves the game.

Tennis was my first love of in all of sports. I loved it so much that I too, wore tennis jewelry. Far beyond the tennis bracelet, I had the gold tennis racket charm. I carried a fuzzy tennis ball keychain. I wanted everyone to know that I was a tennis player, especially among my other students in my high school. Outside of school, I wanted the world to know that I played tennis at Carondelet. Tennis was an important part of my identity. The sport and its attributes—both good and bad—shaped me into who I am. My coaches, my teammates, and the pros taught me much more than how to compete. How they played, won and lost, trained and mentally prepared for the game shaped me in ways I appreciate even to this day.

As much as tennis shaped my emerging, adolescent self, so did another sport: running. My parents encouraged me to run in order to become a better tennis player, and they were right. They knew I was only interested doing whatever it took to get better at what I loved, but something unexpected happened along the way. I met success. I earned my varsity letter my freshman year as a 2-mile runner even though I didn't see myself as a runner (at this time). From my point of view, I didn't look like a runner. I knew that some of my teammates who ran cross country and track. They were the runners. I was the girl who ran. However, running also shaped me into who I am. My teammates, especially those seniors I ran beside mentored me; I looked up to them. In fact, I still remember a lot of what we shared...the stories we told...the races, the workouts, our coaches and so much more.
Golfers and Girls who Golf
I have reflected upon these two contrasting components of my identity because as I enter into my third season of coaching golf, I want to pay attention to the fact that I have a variety of athletes on my team. Many of the girls are golfers. They love golf and want to be known inside SI as golfers. Others are girls who play golf. The game is fun and challenging, but their aspirations with the sport are different. And, there are others who are emerging golfers...girls who might fall in love with the game...those who may play golf today and become golfers tomorrow. I hope they will love golf as much as I do.

When I first started running, I never could have anticipated how much I would love the sport. Though I ran varsity track for four years, I never could have predicted how running would become such a significant part of my identity in the years long after high school. 

I don't know if it's funny, or if it's sad, but I no longer play tennis or run. However, what I learned from both sports has stayed with me, forging part of my identity that I appreciate...and cherish. So, I've been wearing the Bank of the West baseball cap with a little pride. I still want a good looking pair of running shoes to keep me light on my feet. And, I will look at athletes through a different lens and trust they are getting exactly what they need and hopefully even more of what I can give.

Photo Credits
Zina G

Monday, August 7, 2017

Usain Bolt: Catholic Athlete

At the conclusion of Sports and Spirituality, I ask my students to name an athlete they wished we had discussed, read about and studied in class. Their responses are interesting, creative and quite often—not surprising. One name that has popped up with some regularity is Usain Bolt. I am almost embarrassed to admit that he was absent from the curriculum, and not because he holds world records in the 100 and 200 meters, with eight Olympic golds to his name. Or that he has "become a living legend in a track event that is known for creating superstars." No, I should have been teaching about Bolt all these years because as the article in America magazine states: "Usain Bolt is the Greatest Catholic Athlete in the World."
One might think Nick Ripatrazone's article caught my attention because it makes a bold claim. Greatest the world?! Again, no. Rather, I had no idea Bolt was and is Catholic.

To be fair, Bolt isn't unlike other "Christian" athletes. Their PDF: Public Displays of Faith can be off-putting. When the public sees an athlete point to the sky, bless himself—in this case with the sign of the Cross—and seconds later shake the alleged dust off shoulders or bust into his signature "bolt" posture it's hard to gauge sincerity about what is sacred and what's for show. Is it all a performance or do these athletes hold a mindset that can move fluidly from one domain to the other? And how do we know? Should we?

When I first read Ripatrazone's piece, I wanted to cringe. When people hear that I teach and write about Sports and Spirituality, they make assumptions that class lectures and articles pertain to only to athletes who give it up to God. How can that be? There's so much more to what we study, pray over and pursue. I figured this article would only add fuel to the fire. I took a deep breath, calmed down and read more. Instead, I discovered that this tribute to Bolt—who ran his final race just two days ago—is actually the perfect way to begin my class.
Like Catholicism, it offers a "both/and" perspective. Bolt wears BOTH a Miraculous Medal AND he is open to interviews about his faith in God. The Jamaican sprinter BOTH remembers to pray after his race—regardless of the outcome AND he took the middle name of St. Leo. Raised in a Seventh Day Adventist Home, Bolt converted to Catholicism, Whereas many Protestant traditions are more dialectic, Catholic embraces the reality that faith can be practiced both on the track AND in the Church. We will miss both his incredible talent and his witness....and his Catholic spirituality.

Something we do study in Sports and Spirituality is why rituals are important in both faith and athletics. "God Moments" by Andy Otto offers some insight. He writes 
a recent study showed that those who engage in rituals find their experiences enhanced. Participants were asked to eat a chocolate bar, but those who engaged in a prescribed ritual of breaking the bar, unwrapping it, eating half, and then unwrapping and eating the other half reported that the chocolate tasted better than those who simply ate the chocolate without a ritual.
No one would deny that competition is a source of joy for Usain Bolt. To what degree might this arena where he has integrated rituals to express his faith and use his gifts enhance his experience? I would love to know....

I recommend reading the article for yourself for it's important to understand more about his identity as a sprinter. his humanity even as one of the greatest athletes of all time and what he offers us as the viewer. It's so beautiful, I'll include it here: the belief that we can achieve amazing things and transcend our everyday selves—or at least live through the transformation of others.

Thank you to my students in the past who made this request. Thank you to Usain Bolt for your performance in Sydney, Beijing and Rio. You will be missed in Tokyo, but not forgotten. No, you will be remembered and prayed for. Pray for us, your fans, too.

Photo Credits
Bolt in prayer

Bolt Bolt