Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Five Lessons Learned from Bubba Watson's 10th PGA Victory

On Sunday, February 18, 2018, Gerry Lester "Bubba" Watson—one of the original Golf Boys and a two-time Masters champion secured his 10th win in the Professional Golf Association (PGA). As a longtime fan of the now second winningest lefty in the game (Phil Mickelson is #1 with 42 PGA wins), this victory illuminated five truths that resonate with Sports and Spirituality.
1. The importance of staying loose.
It's no secret that Watson is one of the more tightly wound golfers in the game. His nerves are visible, nearly palpable. And, his inability to control them at times has led many to deride him for his treatment of Teddy Scott, his caddy of 16+ years. 

Having played on the tour for 15 years now, Watson has had to figure out ways to stay loose and manage his demons. Perhaps playing the in the NBA All-Star shoot-around on Friday, February 16 enabled him to loosen up. Watson, who played basketball in high school (and is married to a woman who played at UGA as for the  Canadian National Team) had his shot easily blocked and put up a big, bad airball in this contest! 

In spite of it all, Watson has never been afraid to laugh at himself. I have a feeling this is one of the more effective ways to take the edge off of golf, a game that is both mentally and physically taxing. Whatever it takes for you to "stay loose" is worth considering!
2. Never be afraid to let it all go
On the final hole, Watson's ball was "away"—meaning that he should have putt next. Instead, his opponents took their putt so that he—the winner—could have and hold that final moment. I loved this gesture.

The minute that 7-foot putt went in the hole, Watson let it all go. Waterworks. Bubba fans have seen this before, especially upon winning the 2012 Masters where he hugged his mom, a recent widow and held her tight.

Many might question his tears; "What's the big deal? Why get so choked up?" and on one hand, that's fair. On the other, however, Bubba affirms what so many golfers know is true: it's so hard to win. Golf is one of the few games where the winner has beaten everyone else in the field. For example, tennis players or football teams play only those in their bracket or league. There's no defense in golf; one doesn't play tactically against another golfer. It man or woman vs. the game. Damn, it's raw. Furthermore, those tears are a sincere reflection of who Watson truly is. He very sensitive. He's masculine and "all guy" at times—AND not but—he is in touch with his emotions and feelings. He wears his heart on his sleeve and though not everyone is a fan of that, I am.

3. The questions we ask ourselves
Through the tears, Bubba said: 
There's so many emotions going through my head right now, never know if you're going to play good again, never know if you're going to be able to lift a trophy again. 
"So many things, I thought about retirement. I mean there's just so much stuff going through my head right now. I can't believe I'm going to lift the trophy."
Athlete or not, I don't know a single person who can't relate to those words. We all face questions and have doubt. We say "the struggle is real" too often in jest and yet we know it IS real. I appreciate that in this moment of victory, Watson was able to share the difficult road and the questions he asked himself to get there. By no means does it compromise what he achieved. In fact, his honesty only enhances the #10.
4. The power of setting and meeting a goal
Watson's first words in his post-win interview were "My goal has always been to get 10 wins, and so, this got me to my 10th win." At that moment, I realized the significance of meeting that goal, the journey it took to get there, the doubts he shared/temptation to talk away and ultimately his commitment to persevere made this win that much sweeter. 

I think that goal setting can be contagious. When I heard of his accomplishment—beyond the win—I began to consider the goals that I have. What are they? What steps am I taking to achieve them? Who have I talked to about my goals? I hope hearing people share the goals they have achieved cause you to consider the goals you have too.

5. Gratitude and Humility
Watson has been outspoken about his Christian faith. He said, "Obviously, God's given me a gift to play golf and I'm not too good at anything else." In this moment of both humility and humor, he recognized the One who enabled him to stay "in it to win it" and concluded his remarks by thanking his wife and kids and Teddy. 

His gratitude, his unconventional swing, his emotional game, his fear and doubt, his confidence and his triumphs made me hope for...another 10 more?! Congrats to my favorite Golf Boy: Bubba Watson.

Photo Credits
NBA All Star 
el Champion
Fist Bump

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Coach Jim Harbaugh and the Soul of Youth Sports

Even before he was hired to serve as the head coach of the University of Michigan Wolverines' football team, I held mixed feelings for Jim Harbaugh. A Michigan alum (boo), a practicing Catholic, a man who has been outspoken about the dangers of specialization (thank you!), a true coach and competitor, I have never known quite what to do with him. At his best, Harbaugh demonstrates a deep passion for football and competition. I respect how fiercely loyal his players are to him. Showing up to practice when he was with the 49ers, just hours after an ablation of his heart (which I do not consider a routine procedure) one would never doubt Harbaugh's commitment to coaching. I believe it when he yells "who's got it better than us?! NOBODY!" and yet over time, I have seen how the answer to that question changes. At his worst, Harbaugh's relentless pursuit of the W is polarizing. He had crossed the line of respect toward officials in too many games AND among other coaches (admitting he never wants to shake hands with another coach after a game). Part of me appreciates and values much of what he stands for and the other part of me has been happy to critique and criticize what he has done or failed to do. So, when I saw Coach Harbaugh listed as the keynote speaker at NCEA's Soul of Youth Sports Conference, I was anxious—no, almost nervous, to discover what I would learn....not just about him but about myself. This is what I have gained.

No Khakis
Every single person with whom I told that Harbaugh was the Keynote at the 2018 SOYSC in Kansas City had the same reaction/response/remark: commentary on his khakis. Mr. Khakis....I bet he will wear khakis...that's the coach who wears khakis. On one hand, it's surprising to me that this coach who has a lifetime record of 44-19-1 has been reduced to a pair of pleated, or no longer pleated pants. The other part of me gets it...it's branding, he's human, and those khakis have characterized more than a singular news story!
No, Coach Harbaugh showed up in a handsome navy suit with a Michigan tie (not a surprise). He was leaner than I expected (I think weight fluctuates for a significant number of coaches....in-season weight and off-season lbs!). He was as high energy and present as I expected he would be. All parties are aware that Coach Harbaugh is in a room because, with his excellent posture, he stands tall. He holds a laser focus on whatever is in his sight. Make no mistake about it, the man holds a powerful presence, khakis or not.

I Heart Football
Coach Harbaugh's love for football is infectious. "My goal as a player was to play as long as I can. My goal as a coach is to coach as long as I can....and then die." A
 number of attendees commented on his charisma, which is undeniable, but this quality combined with his sheer love of the game is compelling. He said, "football is the greatest game, ever." It's fair to say he had every single person considering these words as truth. He added, "I've heard too many athletes say I regret not playing football but I've never heard one say I regret playing football." 

Given the state of high school sports today, I wish more athletes would consider his words and his belief in football. At Michigan football will take you to places like South Bend (this Fall!), a bowl game in January and in 2017, to the Vatican. "I wanted my players to experience a new culture, taste new food, hear other languages. My players had the chance to meet Pope Francis. I think it's important to learn about other faith traditions and for many of my players and for me, more about our own." For Harbaugh, football is the vehicle whereby young men compete, feel good about themselves and learn to put others (the team) before themselves. The fuel for all of it? Love.
Faith, Family, Football
Harbaugh recognized and thanked his mentors in the game. Of no surprise, his father— Jack—a former coach and now his next-door neighbor in Ann Arbor came at the top of his list. Next, Harbaugh said his coach at UM, Coach Bo Schembechler drilled just two words into his players' psyches.  The team! The team! The team! was the mantra. Harbaugh confessed that his own immaturity as a college athlete got in the way of fulfilling this charge. He admitted the challenge to understand and embody those words, however, was a noble and worthy pursuit. He strives to help his own players understand the importance of The team! The Team! THE TEAM! today. 

This team, however, is not as important as two other priorities. Before he married his (second) wife Sarah, her father told Jim he must live with his focus on faith, family, and football— in that order. Jim said that list is easy to remember but our actions can make it easy to forget. He said, "when I keep my priorities straight, I know I am living right." Not everyone needs to be a football coach to understand the truth of that matter.

Leadership, Competition, and Fun
I was able to ask Coach Harbaugh a question during a brief Q & A that followed his address. I told him I am from San Francisco and wanted him to know we have missed him, but things are also on the up and up (it's true! Thanks, Coach Shanahan and GM John Lynch). I inquired how he develops leaders and what he does to have fun with them.
Harbaugh responded by stating his looks for leaders when he recruits athletes to Michigan. He said, "with technology today, a coach can see—athletically—all they need to see. However, when he talks to coaches, he wants to know what kind of person they are. Do they have integrity? Describe their work ethic? Do they maintain a coachable attitude? Are they hungry? honest? trustworthy?" These are the qualities Coach Harbaugh is seeking. He broke this down by sharing what he learned from Judge Judy of all people. "You know when you buy a basket of blueberries and there's that one blueberry that is moldy, right? Well, what happens if you keep that blueberry in the basket? The other ones begin to mold as well. You have to remove that blueberry or in this instance, don't buy the basket with the moldy blueberry to start. Leadership is no different"

Though honest, I found his response unsatisfactory. I think there is a lot that a football team, even on the D1 collegiate level do to form leaders. Young men who are 18, 19, 20 and 21+ years of age are not fully formed. Coaches, graduate assistants, and captains can and ought to play an important part in their formation. Feel free to disagree, but I left with a deeper appreciation for Brian Kelly after hearing Coach Harbaugh in this regard. I truly DO believe that BK and his staff take the formation of Notre Dame football players very seriously. I think they do much more than recruit leaders. The Irish have failed to become the leaders, alums like myself expect from those representing Our Lady's University; they have been held accountable. Others do so much to make us proud. And, when I heard Brian Kelly speak a few years ago, I heard him mention these players by name. This is something Coach Harbaugh did not do.

Coach Harbaugh did not answer my question on how he has fun with his players. I'm not sure I needed him to, for I think I know the answer. He has fun in competition. No one loves the thrill and challenge of competition more than he does. And that fact remains a bone of contention for all of us who watch him work. The word competition means "to strive together." A good competitor will raise the level of play for all those involved. Competition has come to mean winning...or victory...sometimes at all costs. I'm not convinced Harbaugh doesn't see competition the way I do. I wish we had more time to talk.
The Power of Friendship
Coach Harbaugh came to Lenexa Kansas to speak to 200 coaches and athletic directors at the request of a friend. These two men became friends through the context of football, but I came to understand the nature of their friendship is rooted in so much more.

One of the most life-changing experiences for Coach Harbaugh has been his missionary efforts. Again, he traveled to this rural village of Piura, Peru at the invitation of a friend. Friendship for Harbaugh is a two-way street. Fortunately, we have learned of the mutual benefits and gains from those parties.

Coach Jim Harbaugh began his keynote address with an invitation for us to consider how athletics can and do serve as the cornerstone/foundation of building community. True Christian community is never inclusive of people who "think like me or act as I do." No, in Harbaugh, I came to see a man who has committed to building community—albeit it differently at times—in his own unique way...with passion, with commitment, with friends and family through football, with or without the khakis. Looking forward to seeing you again on Saturday, September 1 at Notre Dame stadium.

Photo Credits
Brothers Harbaugh
Faith and Football

https://twitter.com/search?q=%23SOYSC2018&src=typdSOYSC Tweet

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Interminable NBA Season: A Case for Contraction

On Sunday, February 18, Team LeBron defeated Team Stephen (148-145) in the 2018 NBA All-Star Game at Staples Center in Los Angeles and the rest of the Association enjoyed a much-needed break.  The NBA's star-studded contest falls 58 games into their season of 82 games, Most teams have approximately 24 games left, except for 16 of 30 teams that will continue in the playoffs. While MLB refers to their All-Star game as the midsummer classic, by this point in the season, their break is mid-nothing. They are broken, sore, weary and mentally and physically exhausted and their fans, their coaches, and teammates know it. This reality has only further my belief that if I had the chance to meet Adam Silver, Commissioner of the NBA, I would say one thing: contract
to shorten (a word, phrase, etc.) by combining or omitting some of its elements: Contracting “do not” yields “don't.”.
I remember thinking I had not missed basketball whatsoever when the 2017-2018 season began on Tuesday, October 17, 2017. On the opening night, my Golden State Warriors hosted the Houston Rockets. The other game of the night was a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers facing the Boston Celtics. Two of those teams—the Dubs and the Cavs completed the 2016-2017 just four months prior as the Warriors were re-crowned NBA champs in Game Five of the series. I'll speak for myself, but it's hard to miss basketball when the season is eight months long. There really can be too much of a good thing.

In the book "Sportuality: Finding Joy in the Games" Jeanne Hess writes,
Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? If the good thing—even sport—no longer inspires, then, yes I think it is. Is that happening as sport becomes over analyzed and mechanistic?  Is profit and hype removing— spirit and joy—from the game? 
Do you remember when professional football was played only on Sunday? Then came Monday Night Football and the annual Detroit Lions game at Thanksgiving. Then other teams begin to play on Turkey Day too. Now we have weekly Thursday Night Football.  Why not at least play one football game every night of the week?  
Do you remember when the Major League Baseball season was 154 games and ended in September with the World Series in October? Now with the illumination of doubleheaders, the 162 game schedule seems longer and the expanded playoff format puts the World Series well into late October and early November.  
Do you remember when the NCAA basketball tournament comprised eight teams? Then it was expanded 16, 32, 48, 64, and 68 teams. Now there's talk of expanding the number of teams even further, and a multi-round NCAA football championship series remains a possibility.  
How far can athletics seasons be expanded? As far as the media advertising dollars, owners' desire to put meat in the seats, and fan interest will go, I suppose.
Is it possible to maintain that level of both saturation and interest? This question is worth considering because we're swimming between the two streams. I sincerely wish that the leaders of the NFL, MLB, the NHL and NBA would make a tremendously counter-cultural decision and opt to contract. Lean is mean. Leave us wanting more....not less.
I'll conclude my diatribe with a story; one that is meant to demonstrate this phenomenon isn't limited to just the world of sports. I dare say contraction might be a good thing in our personal lives, our spiritual lives and our society at large. 

At the Colloquium on the Ministry of Teaching for Jesuit schools, one teacher shared a story (lots of storytelling) about a school, similar to many of ours with increasing enrollment. We are fortunate—our schools are viable and this is nothing we take for granted. Growth can be seen in the enhancement of our facilities, the quality of our students, the qualifications of our faculty and more. For all intensive purposes, bigger is better. That's our reality. 

As one school prepared to welcome girls into the school community the faculty engaged in a spirited debate. How many students can we have for each grade? What should the teacher to student ratio be? How many more faculty member will we need? As the faculty discussed these questions with enthusiasm and energy, a lone wolf cried out a message that all needed to hear. He raised his hand. You could tell the President didn't want to call on him but the time was nigh. This prophetic voice said, "Instead of expansion might we consider contraction? Does anyone think it might be wise for us to get smaller." 

What an unpopular message he brought to the table. What a countercultural voice. Bigger is not always better. More is a word we associate with money, but ought we think how quantity might compromise quality? Perhaps it is time to embrace less AS more. Less is more. 

Dear Mr. Silver....

Photo Credits
Two teams
Less is More


Friday, February 16, 2018

A Good Reason for Playing Football

Why play football? This question is one that every player and coach must be prepared to answer. I don't doubt it's one that parents of football players feel obligated to respond to as well—to their friends, to their co-workers, to themselves! Why should I allow my son (or daughter in small examples) to participate in this game that causes injuries and concussions, that is dangerous and demanding? Perhaps you have considered these questions, among others.
I would like to offer an answer that may sound idealistic and improbable. You might find it lofty and unlikely, but I think it is both worthy and true. My response isn't about how the sport will showcase one's athleticism or serve as a ticket to a college scholarship. My thought has nothing to do with aspirations of the NFL or playing on Monday Night Football. No, my reason that a young person should play football is because the sport will help him (or her) love in a way that few other sports can or will. The love that football can teach is authentic and kind. It can teach a young person to love in the way that Jesus taught us and that Matthew Kelly of Dynamic Catholic says we are called to do.

The author of several books, Matthew Kelly offers a daily video reflection during Lent to remind us of how we ought to live and love. Lent is a season to be more intentional about those practices. Check out the video here
As we talk about this theme of progress, I think it's really important to understand that it doesn't matter how small the progress is, it's the compounding impact of progress every day, every week, every month, that ultimately has a massive impact. 
We live in a culture of "the big." We live in a culture of "the spectacular." We live in a culture of things that are enormous and that sort of thing. And, we live in a culture that despises, in many ways, the little things. And so, no surprise that we live in a culture that, in many ways, despises God, in many ways despises God's way. Because God's way is love. And love's in the details. 
Love's in the little things. Love's doing something every day to demonstrate that we love. That we love the people in our lives, our family and friends. That we love the strangers who cross our path on any given day. That we love. That we've taken on board God's way of life, which is a way of love. 
And yes, there will be moments in our lives where we're called to do something extraordinary. 
But those things are rare. And, we prepare for those moments by doing the little things every day.
I heard his words and I thought of all that is demanded of a football player. In class today, one of my students said, "we train 11 months of the year to play 10 games during which the ball is only in play for approximately 7 minutes total." 
We may think of football as that "culture of the big" but those who play the game know the highlight reel exists for a reason. What makes a team work is "the small progress." These guys know "it's the compounding impact of progress every day;" we don't call it a gridiron for nothing. The weightlifting, the drills, studying the playbook, reviewing film, hitting and pounding, catching, blocking and tackling—every week, every month—of course, it has an impact. Guys get hurt, tired and burnt. No wonder they pursue other sports.

But, something keeps them invested and what that something is in found in the details....in the little things...in what amounts to love. I see this love manifested in the friendship and bond that forms among teammates. I read about this love in what my students have written about their coaches—their mentors, so many who become significant male role models. I have witnessed this truth in the rare moments when these athletes are called to do something extraordinary, be it on the field or off of it. Many football players are FAR from perfect. The sport is not a path toward holiness and yet, I truly believe the selfless and loving acts the game demands are not in vain. The fruits of those efforts extend far beyond the hash marks, sidelines and the end zone. Football, at its best, is a training ground for progress, for getting the details right, for learning to love and being ready for the extraordinary.
I ran this by my students. They got it...and then added, "it's also just really fun to hit people." Hard not to love 'em when they say things like that.

Photo Credits
Lad and leading

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Essential Force of Music in Sports: "Lose Yourself"

Upon completion of the "Sports and Spirituality Personal Inventory," I have students create prompts of their own, for their classmates/ by their classmates. They came up with some good ones, such as, What is your:
  • Favorite jersey number
  • Least favorite WCAL team (our sports league)
  • Pregame pump-up song
  • Sport you wish you played but don't
We played with these ideas until our guest speaker—my friend and classmate, Alex Montoya arrived. Ever observant, ever playful, Alex looked at the students' creation on the board and decided to answer one.

"For the pregame pump-up song, I have two. The first is "Lose Yourself" by Eminem. Even though that song came out in 2003, I think the words, the beat, its entire effect captures what you are supposed to do in the game. Sports is an invitation to lose yourself in something." I looked at this group of 27 young adults and I could tell, every single one of them knew exactly what he was talking about.

And the second is one called "Here Come the Irish. I don't suppose you have heard it but it's almost haunting in its beauty. It's hard to hear this song when you are inside Notre Dame Stadium and not get chills."
I was reminded of Alex's words during Senior Night, the final home game of the varsity boys' basketball team when "Lose Yourself" was played during a timeout. Though Alex's insight invited me to think of the song in a new way, the ballad has never needed much explanation. Its power speaks for itself. Prior to that timeout, the athletes on the floor were lost in the contest they were creating. Their coach was calling their plays, their bodies and minds were preparing to execute. 
You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow  
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime
This song is instantly recognizable. The resounding beats of Eminem's academy award winner commenced. The volume was up, filling the airwaves. It became impossible not to listen. I averted my gaze from the team to their fans—the student section. In that moment I  saw a freedom in my students, one that is too seldom on display. They couldn't help but move with this timeless hip hop, lyrical masterpiece. Many knew the words and dropped their conversations to join in singing. And in that moment, I know the essential force of music had taken command. 
In the article "Good Sports" Rabbi Martin Siegel states that Sports is our shared religion, He supports his claim by stating, If a millennium from now someone were to examine the artifacts of our civilization, he or she would discover that in many places sports facilities were the largest and most prominent buildings. This discovery might lead to the conclusion that sports were one of the most powerful influences in our culture. And that conclusion would be correct.

Rather than opining for another way or other priorities, Siegel questions:
What power does sport manifest that has made it the “religion” of many contemporary people? Perhaps you too have wondered what makes sports so compelling? Or, to draw from the root of the word "religion"—religio which means "binding,"—How or why are we bound to sports? Siegel answers these questions by examining five essential forces—"power that connects all human beings to their Creator and that express the essence of that Creator in daily life." One such force is music. He writes
Another way that people experience the energy of the Creator is through music, which is the energy of the Creator as expressed in sound. The most material reaction to music is dance. Moving the physical body to music joins the breath of the Creator as expressed in music to the power of the human body to move. There is the obvious music that we hear, but there is also the deeper level expressed in the rhythm of creation that cannot be heard. In sport the athletes are “dancing” (moving in a ritualized fashion) to this hidden music of creation. There is a powerful essential rhythm to the games and competitions in which all participants are dancing. 
Through viewing the competitions, the fans participate in this essential dance by feeling its hidden music. This “rhythm” at the heart of the game allows fans to experience the deeper rhythm of the Creator as expressed through the game. The power of this rhythm joins the players and the fans into a dance, through which they are connected and together experience the energy of the Creator. This energy can feel like ecstasy when players and fans experience the highest form of this dance in an artful play or victory.
Clearly, Eminem had an awareness—a sense of this essential force. The urgency by which the narrative is delivered, its aggressive beats and themes, the uncompromising drive speak timelessly to humanity....to one who is seeking...who is engaged in a path toward something more. Sports manifest that drive, that quest and that place where we can and want to lose ourselves, if for but 4 minutes (the song) or 32 (the game). 

The Creator knew what He was doing when he created this force....and so did the creator of this song. Give it a listen...before, during or after your next contest.
Photo Credits
LeBron James Playlist

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Super Bowl LII: A Sports Fan's Perspective

I've always liked the question: What gets you out of bed in the morning? Last Monday, the primary reason I got out of bed at 5:30 a.m. in time for my 6:00 a.m. Hour of Power class is because of Super Bowl LII. One might think the sheer athleticism of the contest would light a fire in my inner athlete and motivate me to hit the weight rack, pound the pavement and bench press, dip and curl. No...I went to my gym because I couldn't wait to talk about the game. A great upset, a valiant victory—yes the Eagles won their first Super Bowl—but football won, too. This sport that many people currently "love to hate" revealed to us, once again, why it captures our hearts, minds and our pocketbooks.  Here are but a few thoughts from the perspective of a sports fan.
A Case for Impartiality
For years, Pats fans have proclaimed loud and proud that you can't be impartial about their team: you love them or hate them. One Boston sportswriter went so far as to liken this sentiment to the words of Christ who said, "...for whoever is not against you is for you." Jesus' message was about a false prophet, one who claimed to exorcise demons (Luke 9:50). Needless to say, his words aren't about fan loyalty.

I've heard sports fans accuse the Yankees and Notre Dame of a similar fate. Personally, I find this assumption brazen and impudent. Perhaps I don't want my alma mater thrown in the mix, but when it comes to the New England Patriots, I don't stand in either camp. I can't cheer for them, but I certainly have respect for their legacy. I am fascinated by what Bill Belichick has done, but I'm not dreaming for a selfie with him or an interview for the purpose of this blog (though that would be great). I can't deny that Tom Brady may be the best athlete to hail from the Bay Area and I am intrigued by The TB12 Method, but I don't read or write about him (probably) often (enough).

I'm sure New England fans find themselves defending their greatness and the GOAT given some colored history and reasons to fuel the fire of non-impartiality, I'm just indifferent. Meh.
Given that Wentz played at North Dakota State U, I'm wondering how this is possible....
Forced Choice
All that being said, when the game clock starts, I have never been able to watch a championship game and NOT pick a team. Dodgers vs Astros, Sergio Garcia vs. Justin Rose, Dubs vs. Cavs (easy!) and as Super Bowl LII revealed: Eagles vs. Patriots. As written about in A Sports and Spirituality Icon: The Eagle, I had no dog in the fight. When forced to choose, I wanted the Eagles to win. I prefer the NFC over the AFC (Niners!) and who doesn't want to see an upset? I know and love a few Eagles fans, but not enough that I felt a need to go out of my way to cheer or promote the Birds.

However, seeing this team brought joy, happiness, and amazement. As a loyal Giants fan, I remember when my team finally got their first World Series crown. These championship series—as over the top and gratuitous as they are—don't exist for nothing. I rode an emotional high for days, weeks and honestly a full year at a time. The other rings have been super special, but to deny that the first one isn't the sweetest of victories is just not true. 

Through all of it, I realized that I saw this win, the post-game celebration, the fan reactions, the parade, the commentary, and even the takeaways from the perspective of someone who "gets it." I have felt that hunger and tasted that joy. I am not overstating matters when I say the Eagles' victory made me even more grateful for the championships I have known in my lifetime. In our head and in our heart, we know that victory is never a given. I have learned in my life as a sports fan that when it comes your way, hold on to the ride. It's magical. I know Philadelphia will and I also know that Doug Pederson will NEVER pay for another meal or drink anywhere in and around Philly.
A Double Standard
I do love a good Super Bowl party. I always have "Super Bowl squares" in play, I like the healthy and not so healthy snacks, and it's nice to gather with people of all ages on a Sunday afternoon. The party I attended was your typical  Super Bowl gathering: awesome flat screen TV, mixed beverages and but a few true fans of either team in attendance. The ratio of men and women was equal and the number of people who really like football veered toward, maybe 50%? I know the rhythm of these gatherings: the focus on the game won't settle in until late in third/beginning of the fourth quarter. The conversation prior to that time is all over the place. However, this year, the conversation among women, in particular, caught my attention.
  • Doug Pederson is a "silver fox." I think he's hot.
    • Only certain men can look that good in a visor.
  • That player's body is amazing. Totally rock solid and I love how the pants these guys wear showcase them 
  • Don't you think the tight end lives up to the name? He has one...
Two women discussed Tom Brady's hairstyle and its past iterations for at least 3 downs.  The extent of their conversation reminded me of media reports on how inappropriate it was that the American public talked about Hillary Clinton's hairstyle, cut and color during debates and on the campaign trail. Is one worse or different than the other?
I don't really feel the need to defend men, but I guarantee if men were talking about female athletes they way these women were talking about these men, they would be called out. Several women objectified the men on the field in the same way female athletes have been for years. For too many women, those remarks have been hurtful, disrespectful and inappropriate. I'm not convinced these were that much different.

Carson Wentz
The Eagles' *star* quarterback, the player who laid the groundwork on this championship season saw his own season come to an end on December 10, 2017. As Steven Ruiz of USA Today writes The Eagles were 10-2 and their second-year quarterback had just broken the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season. Everything was going right. But then Eagles fans were offered a stern reminder that they can’t have nice things, and Carson Wentz left Philadelphia’s game against the Rams with a knee injury.

His personal fate and the team's fate met a major roadblock. A torn ACL and LCL meant that Eagles would call upon Nick Foles. The questions that loomed large were answered as Foles stepped up, so high that he became the Super Bowl MVP.
After the game, the camera showed Wentz in the locker room, in plain clothes—the ones he wore during the game—sitting alone and crying. A number of players broke down in tears. Relief, exhaustion, pure joy, amazement, gratitude and so much more. However, when I looked at Wentz, my heart swelled. He is such a good person, I know he was crying tears of joy...but the human part of me had to wonder if those same tears weren't tears of disappointment....for not being "the guy"....for what the injury cost him...for not having the opportunity to lead the team to the win. 

Dear Players' Tribune please ask Wentz to share his thoughts on this moment. He is a man of devout faith and integrity. I know he could teach us a lot from this vantage point.

The Best Fan Reaction I've Ever Seen
The Philadelphia Eagles have sold out every home game since 1999. They have the third highest number of season ticket holders in the NFL. Sports Illustrated has deemed their fans to be the most intimidating and obnoxious of all NFL teams. 

Perhaps it's because I live nearly 3000 miles away from the Link but I find all of it highly entertaining. I scrolled and trolled social media for a good hour after both the NFC Championship and Super Bowl wins and laughed out loud time and again. In that time, I encountered what I think is the funniest and most creative fan reaction I've ever seen. Yes, I love what Steve Kerr, my favorite coach (men's sport) tweeted out: Just another Arizona Wildcat QB winning a Super Bowl. Seen in once, seen it a thousand times (Yawn)....Bear Down Nick Foles!!!! but whoever it is that had the foresight and gumption to take his dune buggy up the same steps that Rocky once scaled....Brilliant!
Philly, I know you have not yet even recovered from the victory because you are still celebrating. You might be all year. I also know, to take from "Silver Linings Playbook" there will NEVER be a question of what to wear...

Pat: Hey, my friend Ronnie is having this party on Sunday night and it's like a real hoity-toity thing. And his wife Veronica is a real stickler for... I don't know. My mom got this Gap outfit she wants me to wear, but I want to wear a jersey that my brother Jake got me from the Eagles
Dr. Cliff Patel: Which jersey?
Pat: DeSean Jackson.
Dr. Cliff Patel: DeSean Jackson is the man.
Pat: Well, that settles that.

Photo Credits
Carson Wentz
Coach Pederson
Tom Brady hair
Eagles win


Sunday, February 4, 2018

A Sports and Spirituality Icon: The Eagle....Fly!

Three events in sports have invited me to reflect upon the most regal of birds, our national symbol: the eagle. You can probably guess where this is going, so let's fly!

Many Americans might know that Ben Franklin proposed the turkey as our national symbol, but why?  To me, the eagle is the most majestic of all birds...its beauty is striking, its strength is overt. However, the History Channel reports that the Founding Father argued that the eagle was a bird of bad moral character that does not get his living honestly because it steals food from the fishing hawk and is too lazy to fish for himself." In short, Franklin saw the eagle as a scavenger. He didn't want those qualities associated with America.

The rest of Congress, obviously, did not agree. They voted to confirm the eagle as our national symbol, placing it at the center of the National Seal for the United States of America, The glory for this magnificent bird didn't stop at this handsome emblem. In the world of sports, an eagle captures what we celebrate in this American icon: wonder, inspiration, power, and beauty. 


The documentary "Nine Innings From Ground Zero" raises important questions about the significance of symbols. As written by the movie's description on Amazon, 
In the days following terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, sports might have seemed trivial and irrelevant. But Nine Innings from Ground Zero demonstrates how New Yorkers, in fact, embraced baseball with a cathartic passion, turning Yankees and Mets games into spontaneous rituals of grief and showcases for resilience and the restoration of normalcy.
Part of the ritual and gathering was framed by the symbols that matter to our country, a nation in mourning. A tattered flag from what had been the World Trade Center plaza was raised to fly above Yankee stadium. The seventh inning stretch now included the singing of "God Bless America" As this unofficial nation anthem commenced, a member of NYPD released an eagle into the night sky to watch it fly in its glory—without inhibition. This handsome bird circled the diamond only to return safely to the man who had set it free.

When my students see the eagle—the spreading if its wings, its flight and its return to NYPD, clutching the officer with its talons—their eyes widen and there's a silent wow. Others will say "that's sick!" (code for amazing).  I see this action and I know the answer to the questions I ask them to consider: 
  • Why might symbols be necessary or important in times of distress or joy? Comment.
  • Has a symbol (like the flag) ever taken on increased significance for you? Respond.
In golf, the rarest of all birds is actually a shot I didn't' know even existed: the condor. I have a feeling this bird has flown less than 10 times in world history. It is a hole in one on a Par 5 hole. I am thoroughly convinced I will never see that happen in my lifetime, and prior to last Sunday, I wondered the same thing about my own golf game about a different bird/a different shot: the eagle.
An eagle is a -2 on a scorecard. An eagle is a hole in one on a par 3, a hole in two on a par four and in my case, a hole in 3 on a par 5. I have come close but a few times, and yet that 4.25" hole isn't ever easy to get into...even when you have a caddy, a putter and a good read in hand!

I know I'll remember what made this eagle happen. I had a great shot off the tee that landed in the middle of the fairway. On my second shot with my 5-wood, I hit the ball on the screws. It traveled straight and far. As I prepared my third shot, I scoped my distance to the pin. I stood 105 yards out looking at a green slightly raised from me. I pulled out my nine iron and hit it cleanly. The ball hit the pin and dropped straight down and into the hole. I waited for its reverberation....out of the hole, down the slope...somewhere else on the green ...but it stayed in. 

When asked to do a "jumping" photo in the future, I will recall how I felt on hole #5 on the Lake course at the Olympic Club.  It was made possible because that ball knew how to fly...and how to land. That's an eagle for you.

Today, the NFL team from Ben Franklin's hometown will take on the New England Patriots at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN in Super Bowl LII. The Eagles, aka "The Birds" have never won a Super Bowl and like the city they represent, this team delights in its underdog status. After the NFC title game, Philadelphia Eagles Lane Johnson and Chris Lane ran off the field with dog masks on their heads, after beating the Atlanta Falcons.  
The two Eagles players were out to lunch last week, smarting that they were 2½-point home ’dogs in the divisional round, so Johnson said they found the latex German Shepherd masks on Amazon, stashed them on the sideline and pulled them on after they won. “Just something a little fun,” Johnson had said.
Their fans ate it up, which is a surprise to no one. Known to have one of the most passionate fan bases in all of sports, the team consistently ranks in the top three in attendance and has sold out every game since 1999. In a Sports Illustrated poll of 321 NFL players, Eagles fans were selected the most intimidating fans in all of the NFL. 

In this way, the Eagles reveal the true nature of our national bird—the scrap, they claw and scavenge to get their feast. I don't really have a dog in this Super Bowl fight, but for the citizens of the City of Brotherly Love, I hope your Eagles use those inner resources on the gridiron today, remain steadfast on D and.... soar. 

Photo Credits
National Seal