Thursday, June 7, 2018

Someone My Students Should "Meet": Clayton Kershaw

As part of the final project, I ask students to identify who they are glad they "met" in Sports and Spirituality., In his book, "My Life with the Saints," James Martin, SJ tells the stories of holy men and women he has "met" from reading their autobiographies, studying their lives, praying to them and learning about their effect on the world. In my course, I invite my students to use this framework. There are some people that as a class—they really do meet! I am grateful to have hosted some incredible guest speakers over the years. The majority of individuals they will encounter are folks they meet through our discussion, required readings, shared videos and more. In several cases, I am certain they would not meet this athlete or coach if it were not for our class.
Frank Allocco is a beloved guest speaker. He visits every spring!
I love reading who has had an impact on them and why. Names like Manute Bol, Serena Williams, Jill Costello and even Mark Bingham come to mind. But what is equally fun for me to discover is an answer to a bonus question I offer: Who do you wish we had met? In some cases, they simply want to know more about a local hero or a well-known athlete. Superstars such as Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, and Patrick Willis are typical. At other times, they want to discuss the impact a given person has had on their sport and even the world. Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, and Jackie Robinson are popular (one semester is just too short!) 
I am constantly updating my curriculum to reflect their desires as well as their suggestions. For example, last fall, the first article my students read was about the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt. Not only was the piece timely, Bolt ran his final race that very week, it was inspiring to read about his faith. Not a bad recipe for the class I teach: timely and faith-filled. And so that might be the necessary context I offer in order to teach about someone no student has ever wanted to learn more about: Clayton Kershaw. 

That's right, this athlete—though remarkably gifted and talented—captures few to any of my student's imaginations precisely because of the colors he wears and the city he represents. The three-time Cy Young award winner has played for the Dodgers—the great rival of the San Francisco Giants—since 2008. Kershaw is not an athlete any student has ever said we should meet, but the article "The Control Pitcher: As Free Agency Looms, Will Clayton Kershaw Win It All in L.A.?" has convinced me we should.

As I have written about before, I can't feign complete disinterest in the lefty because he wears #22 for the same reason I do: our favorite ballplayer is Will Clark. Furthermore, I try not to let my subjective feelings block an objective truth: he is one of the greatest players in the game. I like to know what makes athletes like him tick. I came to find a big part of his motivation is his faith in Christ. I'll let the article speak for itself, but at times I found the characteristics and qualities of my faith resonate with his beliefs and how he lives them on a day to day basis. 
We do not earn God’s grace, he likes to say. That’s what makes it grace. Still, a gift like his—he must owe someone something for that. At a minimum, he says, he must not squander it. It galls him to see young players arrive in the majors, dazzle for a few weeks and then fade away rather than make adjustments that would keep them in the big leagues. “I don’t like to see people waste their talent,” he says. 
Despite Kershaw’s platform, he does not try to convert everyone. He does not point to the sky after key strikeouts or suggest that God roots for the Dodgers. He tries to read the Bible daily, during those six hours before the game, and considers how he can grow in his faith. He attends a small service held at the ballpark before Sunday day games and helps lead a Bible study with teammates once per road trip. 
Over the years, his idea of a life working for the Lord has expanded. In eighth grade, Ellen watched an Oprah special about AIDS orphans in Zambia and felt called to help. She has since visited the country 10 times, bringing Clayton with her for the last four. After their first trip they established Kershaw’s Challenge (motto: Strikeout to Serve), which they fund with events including an annual Ping-Pong tournament and by donating $500 for every Kershaw K. The organization has worked with a charity called Arise Africa to build two orphanages in the capital city, Lusaka, and has since expanded to L.A., Dallas and the Dominican Republic. Ann Higginbottom, Ellen’s sister and the executive director, once mailed T-shirts to donors from her living room; today she heads a staff of eight and has overseen more than $6 million in contributions.
One of the opening assignments in Sports and Spirituality is for students to share their "Sports Moment of Grace." I speak of grace the way Kershaw does.  I too hate to see others waste their talent. I believe we have a responsibility to help one another develop, cultivate and share our gifts with the world. I am not seeking to convert any of my students. Rather, I hope they see something in me in how I live my life and how my faith guides what I do that is worth pursuing. I too attend weekly service—the mass, and I too seek to give extended time to charity. I think this is a valuable way to live as Christian; it's not the only way, but it's a good one.

I want my students to "meet" Clayton Kershaw because our rivals can always teach us something about ourselves. However, in this case, that lesson extends far beyond the game. We'll see how it goes....

Photo Credits
CK Faith

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