Thursday, July 25, 2019

Platforms for Gratitude: Thank you Shane Lowry

Viewing a game, match or tourney through my DVR just doesn't give me the satisfaction that a live feed does. I have to watch sports en vivo—live. For many fans however, the highlight reel is sufficient. If that is all a person can get, so be it. But there is much more to the production and telecast of a sporting event than the game itself. To me, this is not worth missing. If I had, I would have missed out on an important activity for all coaches to consider as they plan for a new sports season: How do we thank our parents? In what ways can our athletes honor them? Thank you to Justin Leonard and Shane Lowry for this reminder. 
As I watched the 2019 Open Championship, I marveled at the pin-rattling wind and the heavy rain that often seemed to be falling horizontally during the final round. I was mesmerized by the Irish crowd who came and stayed, in droves to support one of their own and I was especially moved by one clip they ran featuring past champions. American golfer, Justin Leonard shared his memory of winning it and holding the Claret Jug in 1997 . What followed was a number of golfers—Zach Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods doing the same. While that may not sound remarkable, their reaction was. Each one, had to pause. They stopped talking. They lowered the silver trophy in hand. Many apologized. Each was so overcome with emotion of what had happened, they were moved to tears. Memories like these, shared with the viewers from around the world, said little, but spoke volumes about the significance of this particular win. Humbling to see, delightful to behold.

The timing of this clip made me wonder if this year's winner would do the same. The WSJ writes
With a red, bushy beard and a ball marked with a shamrock, Shane Lowry was a perfectly Irish champion on a perfectly Irish day. He won the British Open with a score of 15 under par, beating Tommy Fleetwood by six shots. In the first Open on Irish soil since 1951, Lowry became the first Irish major champion since Rory McIlroy in 2014. 
As Lowry walked up the 18th fairway, his name already engraved on the trophy, it took a line of marshals to restrain the dozens of fans running up to him from behind. 
It can't get much better than that....but it did. When it was time to hand over the Claret Jug, Lowry did so with open arms. He smiled and held it high for all to see. As written in the Irish Sun, he said
"What can I say? I just have so many people to thank really. First of all, the R&A for such a great event, to have an Open on the island of Ireland at Portrush is amazing. 
This is one of my favourite places in Ireland. I've a lot of people in my team I have to thank. 
My coach Neil (Manchip), caddie Bo (Brian Martin), my management. I definitely wouldn't be standing here without them. 
My family. What can I say? My mum and dad.

The camera turned to feature Brendan and Bridget Lowry jumping up and down. Shane however, had to pause. I knew what was coming. I felt them too. He got choked up. He lowered the trophy and looked down. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, but the tears began. Just moments later however, with Irish eyes smiling, he said, "they sacrificed so much for me when I was younger and I'm so happy you can handle this trophy tonight."

Their selflessness made this feat possible. Their joy and his joy—shared, complete.

Our parents do make our greatest of achievements possible. They are the giver of great gifts, the first being life itself. From that gift, many others flow. Indeed, our parents are not perfect but I do think it is important to express gratitude for what they have done for us. I was reminded how important and meaningful this can be by Lowry's emotion and gesture. 

The platform of athletics lends itself to this easily. I invite all coaches to consider how and when you will have your athletes and your teams thank their parents for giving the gift of sport. Indianapolis CYO director and longtime head football coach at Roncalli High School Bruce Scifres offers a poignant and practical way he had his team give thanks to their parents. In "Five Great Transformational Team Activities" he shares the steps for Senior Letters to their parents: 
Each season for our last regular season home game, I would have each of our seniors write a letter to their parents. I would give them three basic guidelines on Monday of that week:  
  • Thank your parents for the countless sacrifices they make for you. 
  • Tell them that you love them. 
  • Let them know you are proud to be their son!
After giving these guidelines, I would encourage them to create something in their own words that would be a keepsake their parents would want to hold onto forever! I would have the seniors turn the letters in to me in a sealed envelope before the game. I would hand the letters back to the players after pre-game warm-ups to hand to their parents as they were escorting their parents to the middle of the field as they were introduced. The parents could then read the letters after they returned to the stands or after getting home from the game. Over the years, I have had a handful of parents tell me later that this senior letter changed their relationship with their son for the better. They said it opened up their line of communication and provided plenty for them to discuss later. Our parents always appreciated these letters from their sons a great deal.
I dedicated my book Pray and Practice with Purpose to my parents. I wrote "to the giver of so many wonderful gifts—including Sports and Spirituality. Thank you." It shouldn't take writing a book or winning the Open Championship for us to have a platform to extend our gratitude. It's certainly worth celebrating, but we can in the many steps that our parents share with us along the way.

To Brendan and Bridget: ENJOY!
To Shane: I saw you hit a hole in one at the 2016 Masters. Brilliant!

Photo Credits
Crying Shane
Lowry Parents

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Ben Hogan: Perseverance and Perfection

The Open Championship is underway at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland. Though I am partial to The Masters, and in some years, the US Open, I do recognize the significance and import of what a golf purist would say is THE major of the year. To J.V. fans, it is The British Open, but to those who know otherwise, it is The Open Championship. It needs no other descriptor. 

The colors of the R&A, the time change and the traditional links style courses make for a different fan experience on this side of the pond. While compare and contrast always sharpens our vision, so too does an understanding and appreciation for the history of the game, the players and its past. And so I would like to offer a profile on one of golf's greatest, Ben Hogan. 
Hy Peskin film. Whether it's a 1-iron or a 2-iron is up for debate...
Hogan's name might be familiar for a number of reasons. Long after his 20+ professional career, he designed golf clubs and wrote Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf. Next to Harvey Penick's Little Red Book, "Five Lessons" is perhaps the most widely read golf tutorial ever written. In 2013, when the US Open returned to Merion, a photo resurfaced everywhere. I should have. The photographer, Hy Peskin, who captured JFK and Jackie on their sailboat and a great solo shot of Mickey Mantle, admitted that the famed approach shot during the fourth and final round on 18, was his best. While most people hustled to the green, Peskin stayed back. We are grateful his did. The result is a terrific composition depicting grace in a historic moment. 
Whether or not that is why you have heard of Ben Hogan, the primary reason one ought to know about him is captured by Daniel Rapaport of Sports Illustrated. He writes,
When Tiger Woods when the Masters in April, it sealed one of the great comebacks in golf history. But, it hardly compared to Ben Hogan's resurgence nearly 70 years ago, when he won six majors after his car collided head-on with a Greyhound bus—he broke his pelvis, collarbone, ankle and ribs and developed near fatal blood clots. 
It is undeniably the greatest comebacks in all of sports history. To compare what Hogan overcame vs. Woods, is a near insult. Watching the two hour film: Hogan: Perseverance and Perfection will reveal how and why.

Sports Illustrated profiled the film in "Gameplan: The Smart Guide to Right Now." It said

A new film cuts through the mystique surrounding Ben Hogan, the icon who made golf's greatest comeback.

That accident only added to the mystique surrounding Hogan, the subject of a tw0-part documentary. He has long been shrouded in ethereal, but the film offers a revealing look at the legend, showing how he cultivated his iconic swing and parsing his complicated relationship with friendly rival, Byron Nelson. "Ben Hogan is god," former pro Charles Coody says in the documentary. "He's the supreme being as far as golf is concerned. Among those interviewed is another iconic golf figure, the late SI writer, Dan Jenkins, who knew Hogan well and covered the Texan's first Masters win in 1951.
Whether or not one is a golf fan, regardless of your appreciation for history, there is so much to learn about Hogan's great life. Here are but a few nuggets I gained from watching.

"I invented practice."
Far too much attention is given to Allen Iverson and his questioning of practice. Hogan knew of its importance and was committed to it. He said "The only way I could beat them, was to work harder than them. They would work two hours a day and I would work eight." The fruit of practice was his unshakable confidence. He played without fear. Hogan knew what he could do and how he could get to the pin. How? Why? He invented practice.

A Man of Many Words....not so much

Compared to his affable, friendly rival Byron Nelson, Hogan was quiet and serious. He was known for saying little. So little that on opponent shared "the only thing he said to me during a round was 'you're away'."  He didn't settle for imperfection. He asked his caddy for the distance to the pin, only to hear "117...118." In total seriousness Hogan replied "well what is it?" I don't know who we can compare Hogan to today. I wonder if the media would let him be....Would I be fan? My perspective is retrospective, but I'm intrigued.

In saving his wife's life, he saved his own
Driving on a highway between low lying fog inhibited driver visibility. A Greyhound bus sought to pass a truck on the open highway and in the process caused a head on collision. Hogan leaned over to shield his wife Valerie from the blow. In doing that, he saved his own life.

Christianity is rooted in the Pascal Mystery. In death: there is new life. Though Hogan did not die, he was willing to do that to save his beloved. Which leads to the next point....

He drove himself to recover.
A lifetime of disciplined practice paid dividends. Hogan had to learn to walk gain and did so with just 10 steps a day. Ten made way for 20 and 20 made way for 50. He had surgeries and he was in pain for the rest of his life. And still, he made a historic comeback in 11 months time.  As one responded said, "Here was a guy that was SO
 determined that not even a head on collision could hold him back." But what sports fans must realize is that Hogan not only came back, but came back to dominate. 
You could argue that he was better than before the accident.
He probably overcame more obstacles than anybody can dream of....
Hogan's father took his life when he was just 9 years old. The family incurred financial difficulties and Hogan and his two siblings took jobs to help their seamstress mother make ends meet. Though he started working as a paperboy, he realized he could make a lot more money by caddying. He walked six miles to Glen Garden Country Club and started to play golf, a game he loved because he could participate and practice in solitude.

It worth considering that nothing else that Hogan faced in his life would present the same challenge of that of his early childhood. Out of such turmoil and tragedy, however, something was born. Those who saw him play know the answer: his game and his swing. Truly, one of a kind. 
One of his biographer's says it best
There' a purity to beautiful things that is most reserved for art. And Ben Hogan's golf swing comes as close to a work of art as any athletic motion in the history of sport, that's ever been.
I recommend this film for golf fans and sports fans. Coaches,  in particular of a boys' team—I think this is worth watching together. As a coach of a girl's team, I would share parts of it, but to me, Hogan speaks more to the male psyche.

Read the official Golf Film review here

Photo Credits
with Valerie
Book Cover
Peskin Photo

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Sports Hangover....of a different kind

All week, I suffered from a mini-hangover. It lingered. It came and went at a varying intensity. I didn't get this hangover from too much wine or champagne, or even vodka on the rocks. No, this hangover was different. Though I wasn't physically sick, I can't deny it was there. Sports fans might understand; I know many athletes do.
The 2019 men's final at Wimbledon was truly one of the ages, an instant classic. But, I couldn't let go of the outcome. As I recalled the match with friends, I couldn't help but feel bummed—for a lack of a better word. The 37-year old number two player in the world, Roger Federer didn't lose a single game. He did, however, lose the match. Staving off two match points—his opponent—Novak Djokovic beat him in three tie breaks in five sets. As much as I felt the loss—that ache, I wondered What it must feel like for the athlete, for their spouse, their coach, "team" and friends? Hungover, but in a different kind of way, is my guess.

I have read about said hangovers before. In the movie "Venus and Serena" Venus Williams, a five time Wimbledon champion admitted that after she lost, she didn't get out of bed for a week. Phil Mickelson has as much before, too. It wasn't after his fatal fall at the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot. According to Golf News.Net 
The reigning (British) Open champion had what he described was his best chance to finally capture the elusive U.S. Open in June. Instead, he came up short against Justin Rose, posting a sixth second-place finish in the championship -- only adding to a record no one wants to own. 
In an appearance on 'Today" on NBC,  Mickelson said, "My worst, hardest loss of my career was the U.S. Open just a month ago. For days, I didn’t get out of bed; I was tired." 
Once again, however, it was Mickelson's family that helped pulled him out of the funk. 
"It was a trip that we had to Montana that kind of got me out of my funk and I realized that I’m playing great golf, and I can’t let one loss affect the rest of my year," he said.

Fortunately for Fed, the circumstances are slightly different. There is no Grand Slam out of his reach. With eight single's championships, he is not only the winningest man in Wimbledon history, he has twelve others, 20 major championships in all. But what made this win so desirable is to see what we don't often see in a sport like tennis. The great enemy of every athlete is age. Fed responded to that truth by smiling and sharing "I hope I give some other people a chance to believe that at 37, it's not over yet." It does. And BTW: The Maestro will be 38 when he plays the fourth and final Grand Slam of the year, the US Open.

I think it is important to feel these hangovers and to let them linger. That storm cloud may need to rain for one day, or maybe for three. But it's not a condition or characteristic of today's athletes alone. In the film 'Hogan: Perseverance" Bantam Ben Hogan admitted his struggle in defeat. 

On the 71st hole of the 1960 US Open at Cherry Hills Country Club, in Denver CO, Hogan hit a wedge loaded with backspin that went into the water, essentially ending what was another bid for a fifth championship title. He said, "I find myself walking up at night thinking of that shot. Right today. How many years has that been? That's been 23 years ago and there isn't a month that goes by that that doesn't cut my guts out." Wow. 
I don't know what Fed will say weeks, months or even years after the loss. Business Insider wrote,
After the match, Federer was graceful in defeat, joking with the crowd while speaking in his post-match interview. Federer was congratulated for his brilliant performance, with BBC presenter and former Grand Slam champion Sue Barker saying it was a final we would "remember forever."
"I will try to forget," Federer replied, earning laughs and cheers from the crowd.
I'm not sure he will...or I will. I do not believe that a person is strange or selfish, if they are depressed or down after a loss. Why? These contests and competitions are great because we see humanity at its best. We see men and women giving everything—physically, emotionally and spiritually. They literally having nothing left in the tank. Their cup cannot runneth over, that is, unless it's spiked with adrenaline. 

Family, friends and fans can't expect to see one face of greatness—the joy, exuberance and triumph without realizing there might be another. 
The fortnight of Wimbledon is a special time of year. New wine was poured into both new and old wineskins. We drank it all. In spite of the "other" type of hangover, I'd do it again. Thank you Fed. Congratulations Joker!

Photo Credits
Heart on hand
Loss at Merion
Staying Positive
Tough Loss

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Roger Federer: Athlete, Artist and Generalist

Sports fans and tennis fans are familiar with the fact that Roger Federer holds the record for the most Wimbledon titles with eight of them. He will be competing for his ninth against Novak Djokovic on Center Court in the 2019 men's final. But do people know that Roger's mom, a coach—never coached him? Or that when his instructor decided to move him up to play with older, more talented players, he asked to move back so he could stay with his friends? He said "I was just dreaming of just once meeting Boris Becker or being able to play at Wimbledon some time." His mother admitted "we had no plan A, no plan B." I suppose Plan AB, or C or Z that we are seeing today. For nearly twenty years, tennis and sports fans alike have been privy to watch an athlete who is an artist. He is certainly a master and his masterpiece is Wimbledon. Enjoy.
For the past few years, I have wondered how long Federer can and will continue to paint, I mean play tennis on the tour. At 37 years of age (almost 38), to remain so dominant in a sport as physically and mentally demanding as tennis is remarkable. He is one of the game's all time greats, a consummate professional and sportsman. NB: he has not earned Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year title to the chagrin of many fans and postings. And to me, the beauty of sport is all we can learn from the legends. 

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by World by David Epstein offers a unique perspective on what we can learn from The Maestro/Darth Fed/Fed Express (take your pick!). According to Epstein's website: 
Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. If you dabble or delay, you’ll never catch up to the people who got a head start. But a closer look at research on the world’s top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.
David Epstein examined the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields—especially those that are complex and unpredictable—generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.
Two of the athletes Epstein profiles include Roger Federer and Tiger Woods. Epstein writes "the Roger path to sports stardom is far more prevalent than the Tiger path, but those athletes' stories are much more quietly told, if they are told at all."
Woods' story was familiar to me. I knew he was a child prodigy, holding a golf club at the age of two. I knew that his father, Earl believed "Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity," Even Buddha, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. I have also read about the "10,000 hour rule" which we now equate with expertise, in conjunction with Tiger's as he "was not merely playing golf. He was engaging in deliberate practice." But, the contrarian in me longed to hear another story. Enter in Fed''s worth exploring. I find it encouraging. I love to opt out...but this might be a case to opt something different.

So many athletes, especially tennis players, tend to put their tennis balls into one basket at an early age. Fed however, credits a wide range of sports, such as played basketball, handball, tennis, table tennis, soccer for developing his athleticism and hand eye coordination. Furthermore, his parents were far from pushy. A Sports Illustrated writer noted that "if anything, they were "pully." Epstein adds,  Nearing his teens, the boy began to gravitate more toward tennis and if they nudged him at all, it was to stop taking tennis so seriously. When he played matches, his mother often wandered away to chat with friends. His father had but one rule: Don't cheat. He didn't and he started to get good." Really good. They never wrote or followed a manual to make him the number one player in the world. Today he is ranked third. 
I encourage you to read "Range" for yourself and develop your own conclusions. Do we need more Fed? Less Tiger? Please share your thought. Regardless, Epstein's work is thorough and it's thoughtful and it offers evidence and story to support that there is always another way. I hope you will watch Fed with a deeper appreciation knowing more about his personal story and his artwork.

Photo Credits
Fed's 8

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Not All Weeks in Sports Are Created Equal: From Good to Great, Thank you Serena Williams

If there's a spring in my step, it's because it's a great week in sports. I have been feasting on outstanding athletics and exciting competition. It started with Breakfast not only at Wimbledon but in Paris, with the Women's World Cup Final at 8:00 a.m. PDT on Sunday. While most of MLB enjoys some respite, I still delight in the All-Star break and all its festivities. I check in on the Home Run Derby and still cheer for the National League to defeat the American League. No such luck (AL 4- NL 3). I am already licking my chops as the the fourth and final major of the year in golf, The Open, which will commence next week at Royal Portrush in Portrush, Northern Ireland. It's a great time to be a sports fan.
Not all great sports weeks deliver great sports. I have anticipated and awaited these critical junctures and been left unaffected and disappointed. I do believe however that the joy of sport is that you just never know. Yes, you will get the good, not great. Things will go flat and our teams will fail. But you will also get what surpasses expectation. You will see what you've never seen, witness what has never be done. Similar to a great meal, these "wow!" moments are special—savor them. You can compare and contrast them to other feats and meaningful memories—that is what we sports fans do best—but I try to enjoy each one for what it is. And, Serena Williams' quarterfinal win at Wimbledon reminded me why I love her and I love sports so much.

In the article "Wimbledon 2019: Serena Williams, Simona Halep Wins Highlight Tuesday's Results" Christopher Simpson writes:
Riske's meeting with Williams was their first singles match against one another. It was also the former's first Grand Slam quarter-final, whereas the latter is in pursuit of her 24th major singles title. 
Williams was twice a break down in the opening set, but she battled back to take it 6-4. 
A strong start from Riske made it a competitive contest from the outset, and she fended off some strong serving from Williams to draw first blood, per SportsLine's Mike McClure:
The 29-year-old responded immediately when Williams leveled proceedings at 3-3, but after the seven-time Wimbledon champion broke back a second time for 4-4, she used that momentum to take the set.
Both players found breaks more difficult to come by in the second set, and Riske kept Williams on her toes with some neat shot variation, catching out her illustrious opponent with a well-executed drop shot.
Riske took the set 6-4. I wondered what Serena, under duress, would do with the deciding one. 

After going up 3 games to 1, Williams dropped two games in a row to fellow American, Riske. When that happened, rather than lose it or get overly down on herself, Williams went inside. Her focus was palpable. She started to hit the ball with brute force. She didn't let one return go soft. She served the ball at 116, 118 and even 125 miles an hour. I must admit, Riske was unflappable. She responded with her own velocity. However, Serena was too good.

At 30-all, up 5-3 in the third, Williams served up an ace and on match point, Riske returned the serve. It was out. Serena knew it and offered a primal yawp. A clutch win. A valiant fist pump. Just over the sound of the cheering crowd and Serena's entourage, I heard the chair umpire announce: "Game, Set, Match Williams."
God I love that phrase. What an awesome way to conclude an athletic contest. Summary statement to end all. El Fin. Muy bien. Those three words got me thinking about other great terms in Sports and Spirituality. I have a feeling that will be a future blog posting.... I'll concoct some sort of recipe that will outline criteria....but in the meantime, my belly is full. I do however, always leave room for dessert. 

Dessert came by way mixed doubles at Wimbledon. Serena Williams has teamed up with Andy Murray and they defeated Fabrice Martin and Raquel Atawo in a match that had me smiling, yelling, clapping and standing. Too good! Five star rating. Unfortunately, they just lost in the third round, to the top seeds, Bruno Soares and Nicole Melichar. 

Enjoy the rest of the week....Bon Appetite!

Photo Credits
Murray and Williams
Serena getting after it

Monday, July 8, 2019

Rejoice! Women's World Cup 2019

The first reading at Sunday Mass on July 7, 2019 tells us to Rejoice! The Responsorial Psalm is no different. It proclaims: Let all the earth cry out to God with joy. We can and we should. 

In his reflection on the Sunday readings, the priest asked the congregation What in your life brings you joy? What makes you happy? When do you rejoice? I was touched by how quickly people answered the question with thoughtful responses; they said, my family, my friends, and my health. Father confessed that his answer, especially on a weekend morning is "bacon." I was waiting for someone to say "the US Women who won the 2019 World Cup!" No one did...maybe I should have for just one half hour prior, the United States defeated the Netherlands 2-0 in the Final. It was awesome, inspiring and exciting. Certainly a cause to rejoice. Here's why.
1. Soccer brings people together.
This first point is so obvious I'm almost ashamed to write it. However, I joined two former co-workers at 8 a.m. at McTeague's sports bar in San Francisco for the game. The place was packed—NOT something to take for granted given that a whole lot of people are not out of bed and in a bar on a Sunday morning, especially on a long holiday weekend. 

Entire diatribes have already been written, shared and discussed on this point. I've used the article "What the World Cup can teach us about everything" as an opening read in Sports and Spirituality. Enough said.

2. Thoughtful viewership
I watched the game with two men—former co-workers—both of whom have coached soccer for years. One was the beloved varsity girls' coach and the other has not only coached at every level but has a wife and daughter who play. Upon seeing my past three reflections on the Women's World Cup, he invited me to join them to view "The Beautiful Game." I'm so grateful I did.

I love nothing more than a smart sports fan. I don't watch sport for pure entertainment, I am always hoping to learn something about the game, strategy, athleticism, culture and history. Carlos and John provided that and much more.

As former players and as coaches, their insights into the game were fascinating to me. They didn't agree on every call or how every play was executed, but for 50 minutes, I stood as a sideline reporter and fly on their wall. 

Fan viewership can make or break an experience for me. Some want to tell you how much they know, others are don't care that they know so little—their opinion is still given liberally. However, with these too, I leaned left and then right to soak it all in. Thanks guys!
3. Thinking More about Sports
Seems that the only difference between men and women's soccer is what the athletes are paid.  Should be interesting to see if that changes...and when.

In most sports, there is a slight nuance, a difference between the men's and women's game, even at the highest level. For example, female basketball and water polo players use a ball that is slightly smaller than the ball that men use. The LPGA play from tees that, though still challenging, are not the same distance as those the PGA uses. The Grand Slam finals for tennis ask men to play the best of five sets and the women to play three (many pro women have said they could play five and outside of the majors most men play three). Women's volleyball plays with nets that are lower than in the men's game. Though there has been some talk of playing with a smaller soccer ball (the argument being that women's feet are smaller, so this would made an anatomic accommodation) as well as a smaller net, no change has been made. 

I love thinking about sport, its evolution and its nuance. Some sports require women and men to undertake the same challenge—track, cross country, swimming, etc. and some are slightly different. What do you think of the difference? The similarities?  It's just fun fodder.

4. Thinking More About Social Norms
Thinking more about sports sent the synapsis flying. My brain was feasting on new information, I knew enough about a lot of the players to know that several of them are married. However, all of these women, minus one, keep their maiden name on their jersey. I wondered if players like Carli Lloyd or Alex Morgan kept their names because their fame started before they got married. I wanted to know if Julie Ertz played with just "Ertz" because her fame came after her nuptials. I noticed there were no hyphenated names either. 

This observation led me to ponder what percentage of American women now change their name when they marry. Was the US Women's soccer team reflective of the larger population? How many women keep their name for professional reasons/in that domain? How many don't? I can't say I did a thorough search, but what I did find is interesting.

5. An Excellent Reason for Playing the Game
There is no shortage of reasons why we should encourage young men and women to play sports. The Women's Sports Foundation believes it is important for us to know that 
  • High school girls who play sports are less likely to be involved in an unintended pregnancy; more likely to get better grades in school and more likely to graduate than girls who do not play sports.
  • Girls and women who play sports have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem and lower levels of depression.
  • Girls and women who play sports have a more positive body image and experience higher states of psychological well-being than girls and women who do not play sports.
And, what I learned about Megan Rapinoe from the most basic of resources, Wikipedia, spoke truth to power. It reports, "For both Megan and Rachael (her fraternal twin) soccer was a means to get away from the drug abuse that is widespread in rural California." Their world is no different than countless others' in our state, country and world. 

To read her story is to remember how important it to teach young people to play sports. Help them to love sport and make the most of their physical, mental and spiritual selves in the process.
During halftime, Carlos found out that the 2023 Women's World Cup will be in China. The US team will most likely be different—and who knows in what coach? how many new players? new ball? new net? new salary? new fans?!!! In the meantime, REJOICE with their victory. The United States of America Women's Soccer team are World Champions.... again!

Photo Credits

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Most Inspiring Female Athlete: Venus Williams

They say you can't be what you can't see. Another way of saying this might be "you can be what you can see." The first round of the 2019 Wimbledon tennis tournament revealed this truth and and much more as the 15-year-old Cori "Coco" Gauff beat Venus Williams in straight sets.
Gauff's victory makes her the youngest player to win a match at Wimbledon since 1991. Williams is the oldest female in the tourney; she will stay at the All-England Lawn Tennis Club to watch her sister Serena play singles and mixed doubles with Andy Murray. I was disappointed that Venus and Serena, who have won 14 doubles titles together will not play in the women's division. 

Venus, a five-time Wimbledon champion won four Grand Slam titles, including two at Wimbledon before Gauff was born. 

Gauff said "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for her. She is so inspiring and I've always wanted to tell her that." Her chance came when they shook hands at the net after the match.  From the look on each of their faces, it's safe to say that feeling might be mutual.

If a female tennis player is to serve as a young athlete's inspiration, I'm not sure I can make a stronger argument for anyone in today's game other than Venus Williams. Teaching about her life in my Ethics, Morality and Justice course through the Nine for IX video "Venus Vs." and the resources available through ESPN W this year was a true highlight. My students, both male and female felt the same way. Here is one student's impressive summary of what he learned:

Throughout the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Venus Williams and her sister Serena were among the most popular and dominant female tennis players in the world. Both won major tournaments, braced magazine covers, and received massive endorsement deals from companies such as Gatorade and Nike. However, Venus Williams’s biggest achievement did not come on the grounds of Wimbledon or the US Open. Instead, Venus’s biggest victory came in her battle against the wage gap, as Venus, along with help from the WTA and other female players, finally gained equal pay for the 2007 Wimbledon tournament.  
Equal pay, or the desire for it, is the central issue of this case of social justice. Our society has (and still does) struggle with equal pay between men and women, as men have consistently made more than 20% more than their female counterparts over decades in American society, and beyond.  
In this case, Williams saw that although the television packages and ticket sales grossed the same amount of money for both men and women, men received more prize money at Wimbledon. Other tennis tournaments such as the US and Australian Opens paid women the same amount of prize many stretching back decades, yet Wimbledon, The Masters of tennis (definitely not trying to appeal to you), refused to pay women the same prize money. 
Venus Williams’s story has also inspired me to watch WNBA basketball this summer while the Nationals sit deep below .500, as WNBA athletes also face a similar financial struggle to Venus. Venus’s story can be translated into the stories of women around the world who fail to see equal pay for the work they put in daily.
What an excellent reflection upon a social justice issue and the role that Venus Williams played in advancing the cause. For three young women, she was named the person they enjoyed learning about the most! Here is what they wrote:
My favorite person we studied this year was Venus Williams because of her inspiring efforts regarding women’s equality in sports. I thought Venus’s story was especially inspirational because, despite the racial discrimination she already had to face in her career, she continued to fight to make a voice for women’s tennis and demand the equal pay women deserve –– even if it meant sacrificing her reputation. I believe that all people have the responsibility to fight for their beliefs regarding gender equity, but only some people will have the courage to do so –– and Venus Williams is the perfect example of a leader who is willing to take action to achieve what is truly right.
The person I found most influential in understanding myself again this year was Venus Williams. The film Venus Versus film did not only tie into race and equality but tied into my favorite part of the year Jan Term. Through this class, I found how passionate I am about women's athletics and female athletes. Before this class, I knew what title IX was but that was it I didn't know any statistics, how unequal women are still treated. After watching Venus struggle it fueled my fire even further, her perseverance and persistence does not only make her a great athlete but an amazing person.  I find Venus as in inspiration as a face for the movement of women's sports equality. Venus has even gone as far as inspiring me to possibly pursue a further investigation into this cause and maybe one day even properly join the movement. ;)
My favorite person we studied this year was Venus Williams in our studies about sexuality and culture. Tennis has been a huge part of my family as nearly everyone on my mother’s side has played. I have grown up watching the William sisters for as long as I can remember, and I appreciate learning more in depth about their impact on prize money equality and on changing the face of tennis.  
I believe the Williams sisters share an important ideal of fighting for what you believe in. Throughout their lives, the Williams sisters overcame adversity and made great strides toward eliminating the prize money gap at Wimbledon. The Williams sisters also share the lesson of representation. Two strong black women dominating the typically white and proper country club sport, give inspiration and encouragement to many young aspiring athletes. I believe their story is important because, today the wage gap still exists, and their effort encourages all women despite race and socioeconomic backgrounds to take a stand and make efforts toward gender equality.
I have always said that Serena Williams is my favorite female athlete. However, since teaching about Venus Williams, I now think I do not have one, but two. I admire and respect the Williams sisters for different and overlapping reasons. While I love Serena's style of play, I value Venus' with a new eye. To see her congratulating Coco Gauff at the net was to witness sportsmanship at its best. Time and again, Venus Williams has offered that to fans with her game, her plight and her victories on and off the court. Women's tennis won, yesterday. Congratulations all around.

Photo Credits
Venus and Coco
Interview Photo

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

US Women's Soccer: Strong Women, Women of Strength

Society's interest in women's team sports does not garner the same attention as it does for individual ones, such as tennis, swimming, gymnastics and golf. I've never been able to figure out why. So many men and women grew up playing (traditional) team sports like basketball and soccer, volleyball and baseball/softball—so we certainly understand the game(s). I am comfortable that there are differences in the way men and women play the game and understand we may have our own preferences. However, when I look at the 2019 Women's World Cup Soccer team: all I see is strong women, women of strength.
On Friday, June 28, 2019 the US Women's Soccer team defeated France in what was the most anticipated World Cup game in 20 years. The defending champions, the United States punched their ticket to the semi-finals against the host nation with an emphatic 2-1 win in Paris! They will play against England in the semi-final match. I have loved the hype, conversations, and energy around these strong women, women of strength. 

I realized that morning, my tee time commenced at game time, and 90% of the time, I do not play golf with my cell phone. I cannot handle the distraction. That being said, most people I play with can and do. Four holes in, I noticed one man was checking his phone regularly. When the US women scored, he announced the feat and everyone in our group cheered. Two men wanted to know more. What minute? Who made the goal? Who had the assist? As our round progressed—this makeshift, spirited group of four male golfers and I discussed the tournament, and the team. John continued to relay updates and the score in real time. I couldn't help but savor this moment: enthusiasm and appreciation for a women's sports team. We've come a long way baby. Men, women and children were following and excited about Women's World Cup and Team USA in 2015 as well, but I wish an instance like this didn't happen once every four years. I'll take what we can get.
After the round, I asked one of the men a leading question. I said "Do you think Megan Rappinoe is good for women's soccer?" His response was as emphatic as the women's win. "She is outstanding. What a great player. Her fitness level is remarkable. She doesn't stop. She's strong, too. I want to be sure I see the two goals she scored in today's match. Yes, I think that's an asset to the team and to the game."

His response could have gone in any number of directions. Some have applauded the team captain for her outspoken political remarks—they have certainly drawn attention to her and to the game. I know others who are refusing to watch because of them. He kept his response to her athleticism and talent on the pitch. He said nothing about her hair color, her appearance, sexual orientation or even her hometown. I have to say—I savored this moment as well. Athletes are always more than just how fast they run, jump, swim and execute....but that's certainly why we know who they are.

I thought I would conclude with this poem? prayer? that I found while cleaning out to my classroom. A former student or athlete gave it to me. I think it profiles who and what I see on Team USA. Enjoy the rest of the World Cup!

A strong woman works out every day to keep her body in shape.
But a woman of strength kneels in prayer to keep her soul in shape.

A strong woman isn't afraid of anything,
But a woman of strength shows courage in the midst of her fear.

A strong woman won't let anyone get the best of her,
But a woman of strength gives the best of herself to everyone

A strong woman makes mistakes and avoids the same in the future,
But a woman of strength realizes life's mistakes can also be God's blessings and capitalizes on them.

A strong woman walks sure-footedly,
But a woman of strength knows God will catch her when she falls.

A strong woman wears the look of confidence on her face,
But a woman of strength wears grace

A strong woman has faith that she is strong enough for the journey,
But a woman of strength has faith that it is in the journey that she will become strong.

Photo Credits