Wednesday, November 29, 2017

In the Spirit of Thanksgiving: A National Day of Service

I have been noticeably silent on the NFL this fall. The week after President Trump reignited the debate over the national anthem, I wanted to write a post entitled "The NFL is stressing me out." For one, I didn't even know how to name the issue. Second, I couldn't keep up with team responses and reactions, views of the fans, the owners, Republicans, and Democrats, so on and so forth. I have my students to thank for navigating me through those rough waters. We elected to have a class period to openly discuss the issue with some guidance from an article of their choosing. We raised questions, shared different viewpoints, considered nuances and we laughed. Our discussion felt very different than the ones we were hearing on the national stage.
Whether or not my students, their parents, my colleagues, friends, and family are football fans, what Colin Kapernick did—when he decided to sit and not stand during the national anthem—has launched a national conversation about race, patriotism, police brutality, free speech, honor and respect, tradition and much more. I hope conversations such as the one I was privy to in my Sports and Spirituality class are taking place in schools and at home. I'm not sure it has.

Our country is divided, but we have been there before. As bad as it sometimes feels, the Civil War must be the apex. With history as our teacher, I have asked myself: How did the American people respond? Fortunately, one woman, Sarah Josepha Hale found power in the pen. Known as the "Mother of Thanksgiving," Hale wrote to the 16th President of the United States, Mr. Abraham Lincoln and urged him to take action: make Thanksgiving a national holiday.
According to the History Channel's History Stories
While at “Godey’s,” Hale often wrote editorials and articles about the holiday and she lobbied state and federal officials to pass legislation creating a fixed, national day of thanks on the last Thursday of November—a unifying measure, she believed that could help ease growing tensions and divisions between the northern and southern parts of the country. Her efforts paid off: By 1854, more than 30 states and U.S. territories had a Thanksgiving celebration on the books, but Hale’s vision of a national holiday remained unfulfilled.  
The outbreak of war in April 1861 did little to stop Sarah Josepha Hale’s efforts to create such a holiday, however. She continued to write editorials on the subject, urging Americans to “put aside sectional feelings and local incidents” and rally around the unifying cause of Thanksgiving. And the holiday had continued, despite hostilities, in both the Union and the Confederacy. In 1861 and 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis had issued Thanksgiving Day proclamations following Southern victories. Abraham Lincoln himself called for a day of thanks in April 1862, following Union victories at Fort Donelson, Fort Henry and at Shiloh, and again in the summer of 1863 after the Battle of Gettysburg.
Shortly after Lincoln’s summer proclamation, Hale wrote to both the president and Secretary of State William Seward, once again urging them to declare a national Thanksgiving, stating that only the chief executive had the power to make the holiday, “permanently, an American custom and institution.” Whether Lincoln was already predisposed to issue such a proclamation before receiving Hale’s letter of September 28 remains unclear. What is certain is that within a week, Seward had drafted Lincoln’s official proclamation fixing the national observation of Thanksgiving on the final Thursday in November, a move the two men hoped would help “heal the wounds of the nation.”
Hale's efforts remind me that change is possible and perhaps that much more necessary in times of strife, division, and disharmony. Complaining, worrying, and brooding about the state of the union—literally‚—can only extend so far. Thoughtful action, persistence, and support for a cause or a goal can yield, the horn of plenty.

Today, many people and organizations have taken action. Glory be. I told my students that I need to do the same. Here is my plea: I believe steps should be taken by both the President and the NFL to do what Sarah Hale once did in creating Thanksgiving. Today, I believe that the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday should be a national day of service. This federal holiday, observed on the third January of the month, should not be a day off, but rather, a day on. A day for justice, for service for outreach to our local communities. I believe the President should declare this initiative and I think every NFL team across the country should model and lead efforts to serve. The timing is perfect, as all but two teams have completed their seasons. As fans await the Super Bowl, why not gather one more time, in service to one another?!
Can you imagine a singular day, or perhaps the entire 3-day weekend dedicated to service? All of America would serve as the labor force, as volunteers, for the needs of their local communities. Even those running the programs would offer their time and energy for free. People would be free to choose where and how to serve. Some might be joined by NFL players, others by their coaching staff, and still others by their cheerleaders or best of all, their fellow fans. For those folks who live in places without a home NFL team or those who do not like football, no problem. The goal is to change a national conversation from what to do? to what CAN we do.

Dr. King said "Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love." This Thanksgiving, I gave thanks for our freedoms and our challenges—after all, they have shaped who we are. Let's see what more we can become.

Dear Mr. Trump....

Photo Credits
Pats on T-giving

Cowboy Service

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Fan Experience: Worth Considering

I take fandom seriously. If fans could take vows, I would probably offer mine to Notre Dame athletics: in good times and in bad, in sickness (or injury) and in health. You get the point.

I realize that being a fan means different things to different people, but I demonstrate mine by showing up when the Irish come to town. Hence, I am always a little surprised when people ask me if I am going to see the football team play when they come to town every other Thanksgiving weekend. I live 2500 miles from campus and 25 from Stanford's; I can't imagine not going to the game. On one level, the question is a non-question; my answer never varies. Yes, I will be there. For the first time in my 20+ year loyalty, I'm not so sure. 
The Stanford Cardinal defeated Notre Dame 38-20 on Saturday, November 25  in what was the final regular season game of the 2017 season. I left upset about the loss, but probably, even more disappointed? troubled? disturbed by the fan experience inside Stanford stadium. I can't say what I experienced was offensive, disrespectful or rude. In fact, nothing a Stanford fan or the Univesity did was inconsiderate or inappropriate (which, given the history of their band has not always been true). No, it's what Stanford didn't do that raised questions, has given me pause for consideration of how to express my loyalty to the Irish in the future.

In his book "The Joy of Sports" Michael Novak has described football as one of the three great American public liturgies (baseball and basketball are the other two). Liturgy in a religious sense gathers a community for the purpose of public worship that invokes participation, call and response, watching, listening, making time for silence, praise, worship, and song. Liturgy is framed by ritual and tradition; it is a celebration and it is timely. It's not difficult to understand how this concept applies to sport. 
Finishing the season 9-3, fans continue to raise questions about Coach Kelly
Collegiate and professional sports are orchestrated by ritual and traditions, too. Many are shared throughout the country and others are unique to each institution and organization. This is one reason that fans love to travel to see their team on the road. I have loved seeing Notre Dame play at Texas, LSU, University of Washington and even Rutgers. Nothing beats winning in enemy territory. It's fun interacting with the enemy and taking in the many ways they reveal their allegiance by donning certain colors, participating in their own unique calls and responses i.e. cheers and more. This notion of the liturgy, however, was vacant at Stanford.

Within the first ten minutes of the game (not on the official game clock), I turned to my friend and asked if we were at a pop concert. Would a football game break out? I have never been to a sporting event with so much music inundating the airwaves. It was incessant and prevented me from hearing anything on the field. I have written about the importance of silence on this blog many times and I found the total lack of it offensive. I had difficulty focusing on football because the music, totally unrelated to the game was so loud. Football is not a silent game. There is the sound of hitting, tackling, whistles blowing, fans reacting, clapping, and yelling. I want to hear the masses cheering and jeering. Please, no more Meghan Trainor.
I hate this band...but, damn it if I don't respect them.
I have never totally understood Stanford's infamous marching band. They delight in being different, but their impact is anemic. I can't stand USC's fight song— it's hard for me to like much about USC—but I recognize their band is impressive. They accomplish what they aim to do, set the tone for the men who are going to war on the gridiron. They entertain their fans during halftime and during the game itself, their music carries a cadence that increases fan engagement. Cheerleaders work in concert with the band, as they should. I might be wrong, but Stanford's cheerleaders seemed divorced from the Dancing Tree et al.

The pageantry and the rituals of college football are simply the icings on the cake of a great American liturgy, but the real "work of the people" is the game itself. Stanford beat us. They capitalized on every one of our mistakes. They stopped the run and covered our receivers. They deserve congratulations for converting, for being up when we were down. But honestly, this is something I could easily watch and experience on television. I could probably hear the actual game better, I could have saved $160 which is the face value of the ticket (more expensive than my USC at ND ticket). Call me an unsavvy shopper—I enjoyed sitting in a group with my friends—but that much for the fan experience I had is imprudent.

The late Michael Novak helped me understand the liturgy of football a little more. In the introduction, he spoke about the voice of Monday Night Football's Howard Cosell. He wrote, 
Howard challenged me to prove football is more than just mere entertainment, means more to us than entertainment, elates or depresses us more than entertainment, affects us more deeply. Entertainment is what occurs at halftime when you get up to go to the bathroom or to buy a hotdog. Entertainment is what you see on a television above the bar in a hotel far from home when no one is paying attention. Football is what makes the people are around the same bar silent, reverent, elated or despondent as the last quarter brings on the game's climactic moments. —Joy of Sports
Call me sour grapes for letting the entertainment get in the way of the football. And if I was Stanford fan, I might see things differently. But the liturgy isn't to be underestimated. It frames the source of the reason we gather, and well, some do it much better than others. I invite any Stanford fan to come to Notre Dame to compare and contrast.

Will I show up two years from now? Given my vows, I think the answer is probably "yes." However, when people ask me that question in the future: Are you going to see the Irish play this weekend? My answer isn't necessarily a given "yes." Staying committed to someone or something is a choice we are always making, affirming and doing. The fan experience at Stanford helped me appreciate that a little more. 

Photo Credits
USC band

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Two Faces of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, a wonderful American tradition and national holiday since 1863 has two faces. Contrary to what you might think those faces are not stuffed and more stuffed, turkey and pumpkin pie or even Pilgrims and Amercian Indians. No the faces of Thanksgiving are beautiful to see, perfect in their goodness; they are gratitude and generosity.
So fun to have faculty, alumni, family & friends at the 2017 Turkey Trot. Much warmer than Boston ;-)
Many of the Gospel readings of late have focused on these faces, revealing their importance and yet how challenging they might be. Generosity isn't always easy. Sometimes, we give with the hope (or expectation) of getting something in return. True generosity is able to give without counting the cost. And gratitude—thank God my mom emphasized the importance of writing that seemingly innocuous thank you notes when I was young; making time to give, write and say thanks is a spiritual discipline. I have often wondered if Jesus, in His humanity, walked away disappointed that only one out of ten lepers who were cured returned to say thanks. And yet, even one face of gratitude is worth seeing. Thanksgiving is a time to look for both.

The faces of Thanksgiving show up in unexpected people and places, which makes them worthy of seeking. For example, for the past 20 years, nearly 200 students, faculty, alumni, parents, and friends have come to the circle at Lake Merced to walk, run, jog or stroll our Turkey Trot. All of the proceeds go to St. Anthony's Dining Room, a place that loves all and serves all (ala Hard Rock Cafe) in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. We ask for a $10 donation from every participant, And, as the organizer, I see the faces of every one of them. I can't tell you how many are excited to give much more than the suggested donation. Others thanked us for not only organizing the race but for supporting St. Anthony's. We are grateful and want our community to know that. 

We say "thank you" for attending—the fact that anyone even shows up is a grace. We give t-shirts to the first 100 registrants, something I always have fun in creating. During the years when the Giants won a World Series (2010, 2012, 2014...2018??!!), the Turkey Trot t-shirt was either orange with black lettering or black with orange lettering. Hard not to be grateful for three championships in five years. This year's shirt, however, was navy and orange, the colors of no Bay Area sports teams. So what gives, right? This year's shirt was my way of thanking the Houston Astros for defeating our rivals—the Los Angeles Dodgers. Happy Thanksgiving LA! Giving thanks can be fun.
So grateful for my ND Family, gathered for a pre-game meal
Indeed, there is so much to be grateful for. Every other year, I get to see the faces of my other family, one that I love very much. Later today, the Fighting Irish will take on the Stanford Cardinal down on the Farm. This pigskin classic brings alumni, family, and friends from far and wide. We come together for tailgating, football and Fireball and much more. The ND family is inclusive of faces old and young. They have been my classmates, teammates, mentors, prayer partners and friends. Always thankful for this family...and of course, a good victory. Go Irish!

At the Friday Morning Liturgy before the Thanksgiving holiday, in the homily, Father Steigeler said that gratitude is a reactionary virtue. We express gratitude because someone has been generous. He challenged us to practice both. This Thanksgiving weekend is the perfect time to begin.

I would never ask a high school student to be two-faced, but considering what these two look like....maybe I would.

Read about the SI Turkey Trot in 2010!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

David Feherty Off Tour

Golf analyst and former European pro player David Feherty takes 15 pills a day to function. A former drug addict and alcoholic, Feherty is bi-polar. His sobriety and the fact he is alive today is nothing short of a miracle. "I only live in the moment. I'm not thinking of the next 15 minutes or looking back on the past of them. This is what I must do to stay on this planet," said the Northern Irishman.  Given such a dramatic personal history, one might wonder how David can live without the highs that once characterized a fascinating, troubling and colorful history. His live show "Feherty: Off Tour," which is currently on tour is the answer.
How do you describe the offbeat antics of David Feherty? The New York Times called him “a cross between Oprah Winfrey and Johnny Carson.” With a sharp wit and irreverent style, the professional golfer turned golf analyst, talk show host and sports broadcaster has made a name for himself as one of the most hilarious and irrepressible personalities in golf. Of Feherty’s live one-man show, Golf Digest said: “Uncensored and unhinged, and worth the price of admission. It really was stupendous.” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette raves, “David Feherty was uproariously funny. It was two hours of zaniness and madcap storytelling. People were coming out of their seats with laughter.”
What the promotional description does not capture is what those in attendance know to be true. The high that David must feel isn't his alone. As I exited the Palace of Fine Arts, I realized I was walking among others caught in a collective euphoria. Everyone left feeling high... High from a deep belly ache of laughter, of hearing stories that were shocking, completely inappropriate and yet hilarious beyond expectation. He is politically incorrect and there is something almost liberating in his honesty and equal opportunity offense—both taken and received. I am not overselling his stock when I state that seeing David Feherty Off Tour revealed to me the words of St. Irenaeus: "the glory of God is the human person fully alive." Many people are grateful he is alive; that is a fact. But to see a man self-actualized, who has become even more than anyone could have ever predicted, confirms that miracles come in the form of human beings. This posting is meant to retell a few of his fabulous stories and life lessons. Enjoy.
Feherty began by discussing from whence he came: Belfast. Given the political turmoil of his homeland, he noted that humor was a mechanism for self-preservation. He added that no one laughs at anyone else's jokes because the bar has been set so high (I'd like to go to that bar). Everyone is funny. That being said, he told the tale of when he first realized both his mother and his father were funny people. "My Da worked at the docks and came home like clockwork, every night to a home where my mother had his dinner waiting for him like clockwork, every night. One Thursday night he made his way to the "town meeting hall" and had a few too many. He arrived home over two hours late, pretending like nothing had happened. He asked my mom if his dinner was still warm. She said it is, it's inside the stomach of the dog." Safe to say, a lot of people in the audience laughed.

In August 2008, David Feherty co-founded Troops First Foundation. Their mission is as follows:
We work to provide meaningful assistance to our military who have been wounded while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Through unduplicated programs designed for OIF/OEF combat-wounded service members and their families, we address relationship building, mentoring reintegration and looking forward.
In speaking about Troops First, David shared the story of a 31-year old veteran he had met through his foundation. Retired Marine Corps Sgt. John Peck, a quadriplegic received two arms in a bilateral transplant. I had no idea this was even possible. 
What was equally interesting however is that in meeting Peck, Feherty recalled that their interactions were laced with biting humor and innuendo. Though the cause is near and dear to Feherty, for whatever reason, he didn't treat this guest of honor like one might expect. At the conclusion of their meeting, Peck said to David, "Thank you for being an asshole to me. I'm still here, though I occupy a different space." Feherty emphasized that what many people want isn't pity, but to be included as someone who isn't all that different—even when we are.

Feherty became a PGA commentator in 1997. He had a lot to say about the men (less about the women) in today's game—their fitness, the equipment, the competition and the question of performance enhancement drugs. He said, "if they come up with a drug that helps you play golf better, I'm going to be so pissed—I looked for that for years. Money spent on drug testing could be used for a much better cause, like seeking a better quality of life for the elderly, especially those struggling with Alzheimer's." Way to speak truth (and humor) to power.

Feherty noted that his career as an analyst and commentator began at the same time as the career of one of the all-time greats in the game: Tiger Woods. He said, "Tiger Woods? I thought that was the name of a golf course in India." 

He added, "Tiger did things no one had ever seen before. I was hired to tell the audience what a golfer was thinking...what he would do next...what he should be doing. When I saw what he did, I told him, 'Noah only put one of you on the Ark.' Looking back now, the problem as I see it is that we —the camera and crew...and, therefore, all of you who were watching‚—were so busy focusing on Tiger's reaction to his shots. We should have focused in on ours....or his competition." It was obvious that Feherty has great respect and affection for the 14-time major golf winner. "He has a great sense of humor. People don't know about it."
Until I found "This is Us," Feherty is the only show I watched regularly on prime-time television. I do not offer those words as a "point of pride" or with a trace of arrogance....meaning, that sense of I don't have time for television. I'm not sure I do, but that's beside the point. Regardless, Feherty has been "my show" for quite some time....and I love that feeling of anticipation for the next episode, and what will happen next. Feherty should be different, as it's an interview between a golf analyst and a celebrity for the purpose of talking about golf and about life. With golf, however, the two are never mutually exclusive. 

Last week Feherty's show came to San Francisco, and it might be coming to yours. It felt as intimate as what I watch in my living room, but it was even that much better. As my friend Malia said "he is fascinating, raw, honest, flawed and totally likable." I would like to add that I believe he's a remarkable example of what can happen when we accept our fragility and humanity...when we find a lucky break and fortune throws us a bone....when we live in the moment, rely on those we love, laugh often and let life (and the good Lord) take it from there.

Photo Credits
with Tiger

Feherty Off Stage: Thank you Malia!
Troops First

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Catholics vs. Convicts: Yet Another Story Behind the Shirt of the Century

In the back of my classroom, next to iconic the album cover, Springsteen's "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and a framed portrait of Payne Stewart hung a worn out t-shirt that read: Catholics vs. Convicts. Taken out of context—or rather with no context, that shirt may have alluded to the conflict in Northern Ireland. Though this shirt was meant to represent the school colors of two storied football programs, some unsuspecting vistors—or students—might read it as the green of the Republic vs. the Protestants of the North. Rather, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (the Catholics) and the Hurricanes of Miami (the Convicts) had their own battle. And today these two top ten ranked teams will play one another....but before they do, that story must be (re)told.
A final picture of what once hung in my classroom
The "30 for 30: Catholics vs. Convicts" is one of the most popular in ESPN's video series. I had no idea this episode, in which my alma mater prevails, would catch fire the way it did. I should have known better....good stories do. However, my story has a twist.  About six months before that show was aired, I took down the shirt and I gave it away. I had no idea how lucky I was to have one of the original 2000 shirts that were made in the fall of 1988, but my students also had no idea what those words—labels that carry some weight—were about. 

At that time, I had to confront one of my students about some language and ideas he had written in a paper that was both problematic and inaccurate. I don't remember the exact issue, but it wasn't an easy conversation. Some consider these to be "teachable moments," but his response was meant to offer me one as well. The next day, he turned in a rewrite and said: "What is that shirt Catholics vs. Convicts about?" I wasn't entirely sure how to address his question. I could sense he was challenging me, he was retaliating and he was truth-telling all in one. I taught him about the Notre Dame vs. Miami rivalry in the late '80s. I didn't say "well, this is different," though I wanted to! I addressed how that might be interpreted and about two weeks later, I quietly took it down. I still think that was the right thing to do.
This is actually the FRONT of the shirt. The back reads C vs. C
Given the number of my students who have seen the "30 for 30" I think they would love to see that shirt as it's the portal to one of college football's greatest stories. Instead, I'll let Tony Rice, Lou Holtz, Jimmy Johnson, Joe Frederick, Chris Zorich, Steve Walsh, Andre Brown, and this blog posting: Catholics vs. Convicts: The Story Behind ESPN's "Shirt of the Century"—the most widely read posting I have written do that.

And today, yet another chapter will be written....I'll let you name the story.
Go, Irish.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Three Prayers for Roy Halladay

Silence has two faces. One is golden. The other? it is deafening. Too often in the classroom, I hear a silence that is unwelcome. Questions go unanswered. Comments are left unsaid. Prayers remain unspoken. But not today.  No, today's silence was punctuated by something beautiful and unexpected: today, in all three of my classes, my students offered prayers for the family of Roy Halladay. "Doc" Halladay died yesterday, November 7, 2017.
Just two postings ago, I wrote in praise of silence. Quiet spaces? We need more. I now believe making time for silence, in a communal setting, is a necessary good. Hollywood agrees. An ad pronouncing silence as golden reminds patrons to turn off their cell phones and keep conversations to a minimum, proving that silence isn't always a welcome thing. 

Every class I teach begins with prayer, which is student led about 75% of the time. 100% of the time our communal prayer begins by remembering "we are in the holy presence of God." We stop for at least 30 seconds of silence and then a read prayer in unison, out loud. The student prayer leader is responsible for sharing special intentions that they have written before class.  We pray for those who have been affected by the shooting in Las Vegas and in Texas. That our country can know peace and a better tomorrow. After offering those prayers, the class is free to name people or places for whom they feel called to pray. This isn't easy for a lot of students. Perhaps they do not want to risk feeling vulnerable. Others are shy; offering a prayer for some, feels like a risk. Each day, I sit silently with the hope that someone will pray for someone. There is no shortage of people and places in need of our prayers. I ask myself time and again, How do we not have anything to pray for?
However, today was different. In each of my classes when a student asked if there were any special intentions, a hand was raised. Each petition was for Roy Halladay who died yesterday in a plane crash. "Doc" Halladay, a Major League pitcher with both the Toronto Blue Jays and most notably—the Philadelphia Phillies—was a husband, father and just 40 years old.

Part of me was surprised that my students, none of whom are Phillies fans said this prayer. I looked at the 15-year-olds and wondered if they could remember the NLCS series in 2010 when the Giants miraculously defeated the Phils. In that six-game series, Halladay was 1-1. 

I thanked the students who offered prayers. Others nodded in agreement. For those students who might not know the subject of our intentions, I said this loss would be like San Francisco Giants fans losing Tim Lincecum. Halladay was a two-time Cy Young award winner, as well. Halladay's career, however, was decorated by a no-hitter in the post-season and one of the rarest of feats, a true gem: a perfect game.

Lately, I've been hearing too much about the athletes that do wrong or cause division. This viewpoint is so unfair for there are far more men and women—great athletes and outstanding competitors—that honor the game. We are wowed by their physical gifts and talents, their chutzpah, their heart. Some are close to home and others are as far away as the City of Brotherly Love is from the Bay.  But their impact is real....memorable...notable and noble...dominant and dramatic...all of that is worth praying for—in thanksgiving and in memory of....

Thank you to my students for having the courage and the heart to offer a prayer worth saying out loud.

Photo Credits

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

True Story

I think the best stories end in two words I am sure you have heard before: true story.

A storyteller only uses those words when something fantastic or incredible has been shared. And if you pay attention, the likelihood of repeating those words is high. True story....(people laugh)....true story. For someone to share this type of story and for me to hear it, is a gift. So here is my thank you note to those who have told me great stories, true stories and those that might be well, not so true.
Plato said, "those who tell stories rule the world." At one point in time, I loved this quote. I agreed. Those who can tell the stories—good ones— have a certain power. I've been mesmerized by both story and storyteller. Why? A good story nourishes my soul; a good story comes in unexpected places, from unsuspecting people at unpredictable times. But not always! Greg Boyle, SJ the founder of Homeboy Industries has said: "good stories come to those who tell them." Well, as a priest and a prophet, I find him deserving of the many stories he tells both from the pulpit on Sundays, in print through stories about his homies and now as a public speaker who travels nationwide to raise funds for what is the largest gang prevention service in the United States. I am, however, not interested in ruling the world. I'll leave that responsibility to someone else. I do however want to be a person who offers good stories. So I look and listen, pay attention and pray. I ask questions and search for answers—all with the hope of finding a good story. 

A person who finds a great story ought to share them. With social media, there are many ways to I also believe storytelling can be a ritual integrated into the classroom and with sports teams.

My friend Chrissa & I had a chance to tell
our stories of writing a book.
In "Pray and Practice with Purpose: A Playbook for the Spiritual Development of Athletes" I advise coaches to make time during the season for athletes, especially the seniors or the older members of the team to tell their story. Giving student-athletes the time and space to share their story is an important "team building activity." As seen in Chapter 4: Practice with Purpose, the context for this exercise is as f I never said it had to be a true one. Written as a "Team Building Activity" in the section on Team Building,

“Those who tell stories rule the world.”

In “31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator,” Jared Dees offers—you guessed it—31 different and practical ways an educator in the faith can both improve their teaching skills and grow closer to Christ. Many of his suggestions work for coaches too. On Day 24, Dees writes

“Jesus had a preferred style of teaching: He told stories. Like Christ, you can use stories to provide your athletes with a deeper understanding of the important topics or concepts of what you want them to learn, appreciate and emulate. The more descriptive and engaging the story, the more memorable and meaningful it will be. You do not have to be a talented storyteller for your stories to make an impact on students. Simply the presence of verbal imagery connected with the real application will make a notable impact.”
I think one of the best stories an athlete can tell is their own story. They need a place to do it and a willing audience to hear it. Team gatherings can be a safe, supportive and important place to do that. 

In his book “A Teen’s Game Plan for Life,” former head football Lou Hotlz explains why (and how). He writes
“I feel that it is important for our football players to get to know each other better. Each night during two-a-day practices that are held before the season begins, I ask different players to get up and talk to the team about their backgrounds. It is unbelievable how the players come together when they understand what a person has gone through in their life. I can tell you that these meetings have moved me as deeply as they have the players.
This type of sharing is not all that uncommon on retreat. By why should it be limited to a time and space that is so different than our day-to-day reality? And why, given the amount of time athletes spend with one another each week during the season, shouldn’t they be privy to learn more about the story behind the position.

A wise colleague once told me “once you know, you cannot not know.” Giving teammates the opportunity to share who they are—where they came from, what that have overcome and what they hope for will certainly have an impact on the relationships and bonds that develop over the course of a season.

I had one junior on the junior varsity golf squad this season. Before our final match, she shared her golf story: how she started playing, what golf has taught her and what being a member of the golf team at St. Ignatius has meant to her. Her story was the ideal way to conclude our season. True story.

I've started to realize a significant reason I am both a Catholic Christian and a sports fan is because I love stories. Jesus used stories to preach and teach. His story, the story of his life, love, death, and resurrection is the greatest story ever told. And I sincerely believe he would appreciate many of the stories that come from sports. In "Carry On: A Story of Resilience, Redemption and an Unlikely Family," Lisa Fenn writes, 
I learned that sports shouldn’t be reduced to questions and answers. Sports can serve as a backup of resilience and a field of redemption, giving us a vehicle to move from who we are to who we wish to become. Sports are treasure troves of the heart’s greatest stories, some of which need to be held. 
Yes, they do. True story, implied.

Photo Credits

True Story

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sound in Sports: The Silent 10

I haven't thought about using C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters in Sports and Spirituality, but maybe I should. As written on Amazon, this 
classic masterpiece of religious satire that entertains readers with its sly and ironic portrayal of human life and foibles from the vantage point of Screwtape, a highly placed assistant to "Our Father Below." At once wildly comic, deadly serious, and strikingly original, C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters is the most engaging account of temptation—and triumph over it—ever written. 
Sports—athletic contests—are fertile ground for temptation. Every athlete can speak to the unique challenges their sport presents in this fight between good and evil. Opportunities to mock authority, cheat, lie and even steal abound, especially during competition. But today, the occasion to resist may be even more difficult than it was in 1942 when Lewis first prophesized against the work of the devil. And still, the antidote isn't any more challenging or difficult. In fact, one response has caught on in the popularity of the mindfulness movement. It's something you and I have in fleeting moments throughout our day. We find it in nature and at Mass. We take a moment of it in public gatherings and if you play for Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors you get ten minutes of it at every practice. It's silence.
Lewis wrote that "Noise is the music of the devil." If that is true, the devil has a lot of power; Satan gets great airtime. When is the last time you found yourself free from noise? Where do you encounter silence?

Silence shouldn't be something we must "find." However, I do believe silence is increasingly more difficult to grasp. How so? In one way silence is counter-intuitive for silence is not the absence of all sound. For example, the runner who removes his or her headphones is now open to other noises—
the sound of crashing waves, birds chirping, a baby crying or even panting and shoes hit concrete one step after another. And, a runner may also hear honking horns, the crack of the Muni bus line or a car alarm that won't shut off. No longer is it just my playlist that I have to turn off; it seems that everywhere I go, music is playing in the background. Is it just me or did Nordstrom and Macys' REALLY turn up the volume inside their stores in the past two to three years? Furthermore, large flat screen monitors can be found in most restaurants and the majority of all bars. These are the distractions, the noise that Lewis warned against. 

Sports is the domain I have encountered even more noise. As mentioned in my posting "Notre Dame, You've Change But....," I don't think the band of the Fighting Irish should have to compete with Ozzy Osbourne for attention....nor should the team on the field. In MLB, I have had a hard time hearing who is batting next because the players' signature walk-up song is so loud. At NBA basketball games, popular, hip-hop music now plays on both offense and defense. The irony is that the music is only echoing the inherent rhythm of the game. Why can't we hear those notes? Golf is one of the few places that I truly get to disconnect from noise in its many guises. No cell phone, no texting, no music. Just the sound of the game, nature around us and the conversation that unfolds. This reality was under attack a few weeks ago, when a friend asked, "Do you mind if I play music from our iPhone?" Yes, I do. He turned it down but played his music anyway (NB: Johnny Cash and 18 holes of golf...not a great pairing).
I think it's important that coaches and athletes find space for silence in their training. One of my favorite coaches, Steve Kerr, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors agrees. As written in "The Little-Known book that shaped the minds of Steve Kerr and Pete Carroll" Chris Ballard writes
Sitting courtside after practice, Kerr provided an example called “the silent 10”, an exercise he happened to use that day. He instructs Warriors players to run the team’s plays for 10 minutes, five-on-zero, going up and down the court. The catch: no talking allowed. Hand signals only. “It’s bizarre, because usually there’s chatter, everyone yelling on the floor, people off the court talking,” says Kerr. “Now, players have no choice but to be fully engaged.” To call out a play called “Strong Elbow”, Curry needs to flex, then point to his elbow. Everyone must pay attention. “It’s incredible the level of focus you achieve,” says Kerr. “By the end, it’s like this Zen moment. It’s the most we’ve gotten out of practice in the last month, really.”
The beauty of this spiritual discipline is that it costs nothing and is not difficult to do. Silence might be difficult for some to endure (?) or enjoy at first, but silence is also something that an athlete can ease into. For example, many rowers erg with music. Erging is challenging and far from what any athlete would consider fun. However, erging is essential for success in crew. Rather than conducting an entire workout with the varsity team's mix, opt for a set in silence. This exercise can be incorporated into a routine—one that is both mindful and necessary. A coach can ask their athletes what they hear in the silence. A rower may hear the sound of her breath, the speed of the slide or the pull of the chain. Every sound can be an invitation to learn more about rowing form and function. Every sport can incorportate 10 minutes of silence....
It might be a stretch to state the silence will allow students to hear the voice of God, but it might be a portal....a invitation to how God is always to trying to reach us, teach us and speak to our hearts and our deep desires.

Photo Credits
Kerr and Carroll 
Mother Teresa Quote
Silent Ten