Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Integration of Sport and Spirit on 9/11

For three days now, I have woken up to blue sky against the San Francisco skyline. This is a welcome change. For the entire month of August plus, the cold, gray fog clouded my vision. I have honestly asked myself "Why pull up the shade?" Still, each day I rise and open that window with the hope of a warmer hue on the horizon. Perhaps a gray sky would have foreshadowed all that was to be in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. Instead, New Yorkers always share that late summer day was anything but gray, the color of ash. No, it was a radiant blue—a color that served as an inspiration for what visitors will surely remember from the 9/11 Museum in Lower Manhattan.
Jimmy Dunne has accomplished much, both on the course and off.
I envy the residents of Dunne Hall, a dorm at ND named in his honor. What a legacy! 
As written on ArtNet.News
While the National September 11 Memorial Museum has a large collection of photographs, videos, articles, and artifacts related to the events of September 11, 2001, and February 26, 1993, Spencer Finch is the only artist who was commissioned to create a new artwork for the institution.   
Finch’s work, Trying To Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning, is inspired by the memorably clear, intensely blue sky of that fateful morning, reports the New York Times. The work covers most of the central wall in the museum’s subterranean exhibition space. 
Though it may appear from a distance to be a stone mosaic, the piece comprises individual sheets of Fabriano Italian paper that the artist has hand-painted in different shades of blue with watercolors, hung like the missing person notices that filled the city’s streets in the days and weeks following the tragedy. Each of the 2,983 squares represents one of the victims of the 2001 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
No wonder Pope Francis paused here to pray. A unique color for each unique individual, which frame the words of the poet Virgil "No day shall erase you from the memory of time." Furthermore, every letter in each word was made from recovered World Trade Center steel, connecting what was with what we must know. 
The artwork speaks to my heart and my mind. The symbolism of the blue sky reminds me of the striking contrasts that life too often presents. The integration of the resources to create this art speaks to the intelligence and thoughtfulness of humanity. We work through the darkness, we find the light, we share the light. Indeed there is something sacramental about this space.

And so, I offer but a few thoughts on this 17th anniversary of 9/11. We still live with the tradgedy and loss of this day. For many, the sadness hit very close to home. For others, though distant, we mourn and remember, we recall and retell in our own way. The way I am able to do just that is through the integration of Sports and Spirituality. I continue to blog about this day in our nation's history because I must. Sports has and continues to provide a platform for symbols to speak....for a nation that is too often divided to stand together as one. Athletic contests offer venues for us to learn about the heroics of everyday people and for other heroes to create their own. Tonight, my students will read about Mark Bingham, a rugby player who died on Flight 93 and about Jimmy Dunne who lives today because of golf. 

We pray in thanksgiving for the life and legacies of both Bingham and Dunne. I will actively look for one in the next life (with the Lord) and I hope to play a round of golf at heaven here on earth with the other (he and I can debate whether or not that's the Lake course at Olympic or Shinnecock). Please watch this video shown during the 2018 US Open and share. 

A Prayer for Today:
Loving Creator, on this anniversary of the terrorism of 9/11/01, help us to know and to understand that lasting peace is a gift from you, but that is also a human work: the work of each one of us. Raise up among us peacemakers—men and women who will fight for peace. We trust in your mercy and love for us and for all people. —Father Richard Warner, C.S.C.

Past posting about Sports and Spirituality on 9/11
Photo Credits

Monday, September 10, 2018

One More Voice Weighing in on Serena Williams at the 2018 US Open: From Start to Finish

I don't know a 19th hole in America that wasn't talking about the 2018 Womens' Final at the US Open in its aftermath. Naomi Osaka defeated Serena Williams 6-2, 6-4 in what was much more than an upset. Radio, TV, newsprint, highlight (and lowlight) reels, confer this championship match was a lose-lose. A friend shared the Washington Post article At U.S. Open, power of Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka is overshadowed by an umpire’s power play by the four-time AP Sportswriter of the year Sally Jenkins. I think he knows that I a) appreciate great sportswriting and b) am interested in reading all things, Serena Williams. 
I spent much of 24 hours after the match deconstructing what transpired under the lights in Queens, NY. Curious to learn what Jenkins'  "Sports Perspective" might offer, as of 9:00 a.m. PDT on the morning after the match, there were 5.7k comments. 5700 different insights, questions, complaints, judgments and jeers and jabs. 5,700! By the time I got home that evening, the number had grown to 7.1k. I have asked myself: Why do so many people feel the need to weigh in? And in the spirit of equal opportunity, How am I any different? In other words: Why write a posting about another sporting Boogate when the market must be saturated? Simple answer is because it's Serena. The longer answer is...because it's Serena. Here's what I got.

1. From the start....
Distraction seemed to find Serena from the get-go of the 2018 US Open. On August 25, French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli announced the French Open will be introducing a new, more restrictive dress code moving forward. He explained this decision by saying ‘’I think that sometimes we’ve gone too far” and “[the catsuit] will no longer be accepted. One must respect the game and the place.’’ Though it was largely understood that Williams wore the attire for a functional purpose—preventing blood clots—Serena was unencumbered by the decision. She said "We already talked. We have a great relationship," Williams said of Giudicelli, laughing as she added, "Everything is fine, guys" and instead, Serena found a new flair in wearing a tutu.
I am a teacher who enforces a dress code. I play golf at a club that does no differently. I believe the purpose of a dress code is to establish a standard—a line in the sand that deems what is and what is not acceptable or appropriate. Though individuals will always challenge the standard and/or make a case against it (or for it), what bothers me about this particular instance is that once again, people were more interested in what Serena is wearing than in her game. I would rather we talk about how fast and hard she serves the ball. How many aces does she average per match? Is she playing doubles with her sister in the tourney? And yet, I also know that fashion is of both personal and professional interest for Serena and Venus. For example, Venus is a regular attendee at Fashion Week in New York. I do not want to take away their passion from them...but I don't want to let that be what drives the conversation about these athletes. I would sincerely like to ask them both their thoughts on this matter.

2. The way we talk about Serena
It isn't uncommon to comment on an athlete's physical stature, especially when you meet them "en vivo." I will never forget running into Steph Curry at the Olympic Club. His height and weight are public information and yet, my take away is that he's leaner and even a little taller than expected. After the University of Notre Dame's Football 101, I couldn't wait to tell Irish fans about the physicality of several players: Myles Bokin, Chase Claypool and even Brandon Wimbush. When QB2 Ian Book told me he played lacrosse in high school, I could see how that might be true, again based on his size and stature. Therefore, why would I expect talk about Serena Williams to be much different? I often mention that Venus is 6'1" and Serena is my height, standing 5'8". All good, right? Wrong.

When people talk about Serena Williams they invariably use the word "big." They say, "She is BIG...she's so big." "She has big muscles, big things, the woman is big." My question: Why big?

I find the usage of the term "big" to be pejorative. Why aren't we describing her as strong and muscular? I do not believe I am splitting hairs here. Why can't we say that she is athletic and built? Instead, too often, we use the word that I myself—as a woman—would prefer not to be used to describe me. I do not use this word to describe Serena, either.

Granted, "big" is an improvement over descriptors—such as "beast' or "Amazon" that have been associated with Ms. Williams in the past. I would prefer that we pay attention to how we talk about one of the greatest women to play the game. Thank you.

3. Serena has multiple personas and attitudes
In the documentary "Venus and Serena" the younger Williams admits to having multiple personas and attitudes, each of who has her own name and personality. She said,
First there's 'psycho Serena.' You don't want to meet her. She's on the court, she's at practice, she's in the match. She's an awesome athlete. Next, there's Summer (Diaz). Summer helps me out a lot. If I have to write long letters....Summer moved to England and now has a British accent. The one that's really mean is Megan. You don't want to run into Megan. Then there's Takwanda. Takwanda is rough; she is NOT Christian. She is from the 'hood. She played the 2009 US Open. I wasn't there, but I heard about it. 
At this point, the video flashes back to the foot fault called against Williams and how she responded. The video bleeps out several of the words she had for the official. Oracene Price, Williams mother said "Takwanda got loose. Uh oh...."

It might be helpful in the mental game to do what Serena does. However, many times, she has come undone in these moments. Williams is not the only athlete who struggles with keeping her composure, but it's both a liability and something she must continually seek to improve.
I think Serena could have walked by Ramos in the umpire chair and shared her disdain. I don't think in that moment it would have been inappropriate for her to call him a thief or ask for an apology. However, this is not the choice Serena made. She couldn't let it go; she baited him and her blood continued to boil hotter and faster. Knowing her multiple personalities she should have bid Jakwanda farewell when she sat down for the change over at 4-3.

4. Serena Hates Losing More Than She Enjoys Winning
Her distaste for losing has fueled her entire career. Similar to Wimbledon, Serena found herself getting beaten in a Grand Slam final match. And, given that this match would move her a win closer to own the record for the most single's titles in women's tennis history (that would be 25), losing this one tastes bitter. I think it's fair to believe the Serena was frustrated with herself and with her opponent who, 16 years her junior, played outstandingly well. Throwing a coaching violation into this mix was kindle to the fire. Gaining a game and then losing it, prompted the racquet abuse. Adding up that total: two penalties and one changeover—where she had to walk by the chair umpire—well, we saw the embers, and ultimately, what burned....which leads me to...

5. I don't cheat to win, I'd rather lose. 
In their confrontation over the coaching violation, Serena held her ground in telling Ramos, "I don't cheat to win, I'd rather lose." I believe Serena. I do. I do not believe she was looking to her coach Patrick Mouratoglou for input, tips or what to do next. Tennis players are allowed to receive coaching during a match, during the changeover. Serena rarely asks for assistance, no one knows her own game better than she does...or maybe Venus or Richard Williams. Her coaches have traditionally been individuals who keep her in line and point her toward her best self.  And yet, what has added a layer of intrigue to this fire is that Mouratoglou told TV analyst Pam Shriver, "I'm honest, I was coaching."

To me, this instance speaks to those rare events in life when two conflicting claims can both be true. Like so many other coaches, Mouratoglou was coaching during the match. Given that this penalty is so rarely enforced I do not doubt his gestures and his body language, his personality and his hopes manifest itself into action. If this is deems coaching, so be it. Maybe tennis will face a new era, like the one the NFL is in. What is a hit? What is a catch? What is coaching?  Regardless of what he may or may not have been offering, I find it both strange that at no other time in the tournament did a chair umpire call this penalty (you could say the stakes were higher) and that it would be called against an athlete who didn't use that to her advantage. There are many ways to cheat in tennis, this isn't one I'm concerned about.

5. Lessons for us
Every athlete, every sport demands its own kind of fact-finding. I'll never forget what my own cousin a longtime basketball player told me: "you always got to test the ref. That's part of the game,"  Her words made me laugh because her dad is a basketball referee. In MLB, hitters find out the umpire's strike zone. We wish the standards were entirely objective, but unfortunately, subjectivity rears it's pretty or ugly face. Williams and her coach knew the reputation of Carlos Ramos. It bears paying attention to, so you know what you are getting into, even when you don't.  Knowledge is indeed power.

And yet, even the biggest lessons will emerge beyond the ones I have named here: the words we use, the notion of a standard, working through our mental game, how we win and how we lose. We are still battling sexism and double standards. We still need officials to enforce rules and standards—how we ensure the best for the game and for the contestants?

Serena has reached the echelon of athletes we refer to by just one name. She will be back...so will Osaka. Tennis and many more 19th holes await.

Photo Credits
Osaka and Williams

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Spiritual Discipline of Reading: Thank you Malcolm Mitchell

September 6 is National Read a Book Day. You might wonder why we need a singular day to promote an activity that serves as a window and a bridge, that costs very little but gives so much. The truth of the matter is reading needs and ought to be promoted locally, nationally and yes, globally. September is also National Literacy Month. During this month you will find libraries, foundations and literacy organizations doing what they can to encourage Americans of all ages to read. 
As written in "Summer Reading: Bringing Spirituality to Sports. Thank you, Greg Boyle, SJ," I read one book this summer (insert super sad face). I shudder when I realize all that I have and am missing out on. Yes, I started ten other books, yes, I'm in the middle of many of them but reaching that final page and closing the cover of a book is a fine accomplishment. The feeling that comes with completing a book bears repeating. No?! Furthermore, a book takes its reader down a different type of path. One resides with the author's perspective and voice, experiences and insights for far longer than they do with any article or blog posting.  

Teachers, parents, ministers, and coaches ought to work together to promote reading, throughout the month of September and beyond. The proverbial question, however, is howFortunately, the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation has a few tips and insights on how we might—as their mission proclaims— "improve the quality of lives through the power of literacy."
The first recommendation to promote reading is choice, in particular among children. Let young people pursue their interests and natural inclinations. Among teens, I find a balance between required reading and choice is valuable. I can think of a significant number of books I never would have chosen on my own. The curriculum/my teacher made that choice for me. I'm so grateful they did.

Another tip is making books accessible and available. A good society and a strong school will get books into the hands of children. And still, I know teens and adults are never immune from judging a book by its cover. Who hasn't picked up a book from an airport bookstore, a Little Free Library or common space at work just because it's there— it catches your eye and piques your curiosity. That's a good thing! So I think sharing books, putting them in public places and promoting them in any way possible helps everyone.

For many adults, a Book Club is the ticket toward reading and completing a book. Accountability and the sense of a shared task have propelled me in the past to keep reading.  Odds are that many of the people in your book club won't be unlike you. My guess is you join a Book Club comprised of your friends or neighbors. Perhaps you are associated with one another through your work or your church. That being said, I don't know a book club that isn't unique, be it in membership, in purpose or in their approach to reading.

Such is the case with the book club that (former) Patriots' wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell decided to join while he was in college at the University of Geogia and shared on CBS Sunday morning. Their website states: When Steve Hartman first met Malcolm Mitchell three years ago, the wide receiver - then playing for the University of Georgia - had been invited to join a book club. He was the only man in the club, and by far the youngest. But he was proud to be called a nerd. Today, Mitchell is playing for the New England Patriots, and he's taken his love of reading to a new level: writing a children's book, "The Magician's Hat."

Mitchell's personal story is one of my favorites. I've always believed that if being in shape were easy, all of America would be fit. It's no secret that maintaining physical fitness is both important and yet demanding. And yet, no one in our country will deny that exercise maintains good physical and mental health. We ought to do all we can to encourage one another to get fit and stay fit. Is reading any different? As Steve Hartman opines, what if we put as much effort into our reading game as our football—or rather our fitness game? Can we think of reading in this way? Is that a negative for you? With choice, better access, and a group, might you read more often? Do you think you would also reap the benefits of this discipline—dare I say a spiritual one—as we see with Malcolm Mitchell?

Pick up a book. See if it's something you can finish this month. Share it with others. If someone calls you a nerd for wanting to do that, remember that for some people—that might be a compliment.

More in the next posting...

Photo Credits
Barbara Bush

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

5 Things You Ought to Know about Brandon Wimbush

For the first time, I traveled an all-female cohort of students to Wheeling, WV to take part in the Appalachia Institute's week-long service project. When we arrived to Wheeling Jesuit University, our HQ, we discovered we were meeting with another student group out of St. Peter's Prep. I turned to the girls and said "I know all of four things about this school. I know:
  1. St. Peter's is another Jesuit school, 
  2. They are in Jersey City, NJ and 
  3. Their school is all boys." 
They looked at me incredulously. The other teacher and I said it's good to come into service with expectations, but you should always be open to surprises. Amidst their excited and nervous laughter, one girl said: "What is the fourth thing you know?" I said, "well, I'll wait and ask them." Moments later, we met this group of approximately twelve young men from the Garden State. I turned to the one standing next to me and asked, Does Brandon Wimbush ever come back to campus? We talked for the next half hour.
For the second year in a row, Brandon Wimbush is the starting quarterback at the University of Notre Dame. A native of Teaneck, NJ, fans ought to know that he returns to his alma mater to visit his former football and baseball coaches, teachers and today's athletes. I think this is incredibly important for both a program, for current players and for the athlete him or herself. The current student-athletes ought to see what their community has shaped. They need to hear the stories from the past and what is going on now, at the next level. In that story and that spirit, here are four other things you ought to know about QB1 for the 2018 season, Brandon Wimbush.

2. Brandon Wimbush is a playmaker. 
In the article "What the Irish Learned" John Heisler, senior associates athletic director drew upon his 16 years as sports information director in writing a fitting summary of the first game of the season. He noted, "Notre Dame's second-year quarterback earned the game ball Saturday night — certainly not by accident given all the Irish contributors. It reflected his all-purpose effort as he answered all those interested in seeing how his 2018 version would compare to what Notre Dame fans viewed a year ago. One media member suggested to Kelly after the game that Wimbush maybe qualifies as the best Irish running back right now. Fair enough — yet Wimbush's most impressive trait Saturday likely was the way he maneuvered for the tough yards when they really mattered. A 22-yard run on third-and-18 comes to mind. There was a third-down conversion and another on fourth down (both runs) on Notre Dame's third TD drive. There was a third-and-six rushing conversion on the second Irish TD march. For one Saturday night, Wimbush mostly delivered what was required from one down to the next.
It's fair to say Notre Dame Nation knew this from the get-go. And I mean that literally. Wimbush played in his first game on September against UMass. On his very first possession, he ran the ball 58 yards into the end zone for a TD, adding yet another page into Notre Dame football history.

3. Wimbush has a presence.
I ran through the tunnel onto the field inside Notre Dame football stadium (I love writing that) and headed to my "team's" first station. As a first time attendee of the Kelly Cares' Foundation's annual fundraiser: Football 101, I knew that I would be grouped with other women to run through drills led by both the position players and their coaches. We started with the defensive line, where we were taught how to tackle and ground a player...I mean, tackling dummy. This drill requires a woman to swallow her pride, have fun and cheer for the girl who is up next. As I stood in line awaiting my turn, I couldn't but gaze up and throughout the stadium. I tried to imagine what a player must see and feel on game day.

I averted my gaze to the players on the field. Who did I recognize? Whom had I heard about? It is at this time that QB1 had come onto the field. He was high-fiving his teammates, he was talking to fans, there was something different about this athlete. He smiled, he stood very tall and was very confident. His presence was undeniable. "That's Brandon Wimbush" somebody said. With that persona and warm swagger, we already knew that.
When it came time to head to the quarterbacks' station, I could see Coach Tom Reis, Ian Book and a few other offensive players ready to help us throw the pigskin a little better—with a little more accuracy and zip. We were encouraged to throw the football into several targets and the guys had as much fun as we did when we converted the pass. Throughout this time, Wimbush was talking to fans, helping us out, posing for a whole lot of selfies and serving as a warm and welcoming face of the program.

Make no mistake about it, Brandon Wimbush has a presence—a positive one, a strong one. Granted this is what your quarterback should have and must have. He has it. I have a sense his teammates feel the same.

4. His biggest fan
Episode 4 of the Showtime Series "A Season With: Notre Dame Football" profiles the backup to the original backup quarterback at the start of the 2015 season. When Malik Zaire fractured his ankle in an early season game against Virginia, DeShone Kizer suddenly became QB1. The storyline of the season took an unexpected turn. Wimbush entered the spotlight. Once again, his presence speaks for itself as the audience sees him interacting with fans, Coach Kelly and his mom, Heather Wimbush. Ms. Wimbush tells the camera what isn't hard to see: she is his biggest fan.

In the article "Atlanta Home" Chip Towers writes "Heather Wimbush raised Brandon and his older Sean in areas of Teaneck and Hackensack, N.J., across the river from New York City, from the day they were born. But she has always dreamed of a better life for her two boys. While she graduated from Penn State and always had a good job as a labor and delivery nurse, it was always difficult to make ends meet as a single mother." Chip Towers speaks to her tenacity, personal drive and goals. I know it's cliche, but it's also not hard to see the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. AND that's a great fan to have in your corner. 

5. Student-Athlete
An administrator with the Archdiocese of San Francisco recently told me she would prefer that we use the term "scholar-athletes." The emphasis on "scholar" in lieu of "student" implies that said young people take their education seriously. A "scholar-athlete" aims for excellence both in the academic and athletic classroom. As noble as her quest may be, the truth of the matter is that not all of our students—athletes are not— are scholars. However, you have one in Brandon Wimbush.

The emphasis on scholarship started at home. Towers writes, "For Ms. Wimbush, it’s all about her youngest son getting a great education. She actually wanted Brandon to accept the scholarship offer he received from Stanford University, where he says they both met Georgia’s Jacob Eason and his father Tony at a camp. But Notre Dame and its top-ranked business school represented a good alternative." Today #7 is majoring in accountancy with a minor in studio art. His GPA is viable (I believe it's over 3.0 but can't find that source).

From Teaneck to South Bend, Wheeling to San Francisco, there's a lot to look forward to in the Notre Dame quarterback and the season ahead. And yet, I was humbly reminded while rewatching "A Season With Notre Dame Football" that the plan for any player and any team can change in an instant. So let's enjoy each TD, every game, and every win. As a friend said last Saturday—the first big day of the 2018 College Football season—"it feels like Christmas!" Indeed and we have a gift in the scholar-athlete, playmaker out of St. Peter's Prep, #7, Brandon Wimbush. Go Irish!

Photo Credits
Head set