Saturday, October 26, 2019

Sports and Spirituality Moment: What's in Your Podcast Playlist?

You can tell a lot about a person from the books they read, the company they keep, the car they drive, even the shoes they shine....excuse me, wear. While some might make an argument that a person's playlist reveals insight into who they are, I'd like to advocate for something a little more specific: the podcast playlist.
My podcasts playlist includes eight different icons. However, the three I listen to the most are:
  1. Pardon the Interruption, or PTIESPN personalities Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon's popular TV show in podcast format for listening on demand. Kornheiser and Wilbon provide fast paced analysis and debate of the top sports stories.
  2. Happier: Gretchen Rubin talks about ideas and tips for making your life happier. My co-host (and guinea pig) is my younger sister, TV writer and producer Elizabeth Craft, and together we propose try-this-at-home ideas, offer simple happiness hacks, listener questions, discuss common stumbling blocks, take debate know-yourself-better questions, and give weekly demerits and gold stars.
  3. The On-Being Project: Hosted by Krista Tippett, it examines what it calls the, "animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?"
I believe my podcast playlist adequately reflects what matters to me. Is this true for you, too? Have you ever asked a person about his or her favorite podcasts? I know #2 came to me by way of a trusted friend—thank you Erin!
I sincerely admire the creativity and genius that goes into the making of a good podcast. I would love to have my own audioblog (as they were originally known) but I also know there is no shortage of good ones. I've asked myself Do the internet airwaves need another voice weighing in? Is there a Sports and Spirituality audience in search of a mindful or moving mediation? Maybe! 

If so, please take a listen to my contribution, a small dent into the world of podcasting; Sports and Spirituality MomentCreated by my good friend and former co-worker, Sean, this episode addresses what takes place on Sunday @ Noon on game-days with a 1:35 PM first pitch at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Southeast DC, just five blocks from Nationals Stadium. The idea stems from the CBS Sports Minute launched in 2012 by Boomer Esiason, Jim Rome, and others. These brief reflections ought to spawn a conversation, get wheels turning, and/or spark dialogue. A Sports and Spirituality moment may even prompt prayer. Let me know.
For those of you who work in communications, my Sports and Spirituality moments can be been used during halftime or timeouts of any athletic contests streamed through internet radio. My friend Sean, who serves the executive producer of digital and social media at St. Ignatius College Prep also includes prerecorded interviews of the coaches, players, team captains, the principal and renown alumni. Including a Sports and Spirituality moment in this mix helps an audience understand a little bit more about the mission of our schools and direct our athletic programs.

I hope my reflection on #NatsMass help you reflect a little more on the creative ways the Church is trying to meet people—in particular baseball fans—where they are. And, I have to wonder if there will be a SPECIAL mass before Game 5, this Sunday! Go Nationals!
You can listen to my podcast here
Photo Credits
WS in DC

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Why: Learning from the World Series Champion 2016 Chicago Cubs

Game one of the 2019 World Series resulted in the Washington Nationals taking one from the Houston Astros on their home turf in an exciting and close game. Nats 5, 'Stros 4. Even with the Astros heavily favored, I don't know a baseball fan who isn't wondering if these Washington Miracles won't do it all. If they prevail, I hope sports fans will ask the question I have been considering all season: Why.
Why is this team so good? Why did they perform this way without their star, Bryce Harper? Why do teams get hot at the right time? Or, why have them come together NOW?And if you have no connection to either team, I think it's fair to ask "Why should I care?"

I love to ask "Why?!" I think it's a great question. Why? (pun intended) Answering "The Why" requires complex thinking. It demands us to challenge our assumptions. "The Why" invites critical thinking, historical knowledge and I dare say biased and unbiased opinions. Once you know "the why" wisdom checks in and stays.

The 2016 Chicago Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians in a dramatic seven-game series—one that reigns as one of the most exciting and dramatic championships to date. With 103 wins on the season, the Cubs were nothing to underestimate; however superstition and a 108 year drought between trophies had their fans feeling otherwise. In the tenth inning the Cubs beat the Indians 8-6; Chicagoland is still celebrating. 
In his 2017 Commencement address to Yale College, Cubbies GM, Theo Epstein, explains WHY the Cubs won. He speaks to a choice they made when it mattered most. The significance of the rain delay in the eighth inning of that final game at Progressive Field in Cleveland is no secret. Sports reporters have written about the Cubs gathering on their own to regroup, to rally, to share what they believed could and should be true: let's do this.

Epstein addresses the literal and metaphorical significance of the rain delay—something each one of us will encounter in our lives. He challenges coaches and athletes to consider what they will choose during those moments and what factors enable a person to make what we now know as the "right choice."

I honestly believe every coach should watch his talk and share it with others. I'll let Epstein's words and the Cubs' action speak for themselves. I have attached part of his transcript below. And, at the conclusion of the 2019 World Series, I'd like to evaluate choices the winning team made starting in the pre-season, during the dog days of summer, the significance of September and the distinction of October baseball: good for helping us understand "The Why." In the meantime, Play Ball!
After all the champagne had dried and we finally got a good night’s sleep, I found myself returning to a simple question: what should I tell Jack and his younger brother, Drew, about this historic achievement; what is it, exactly, that I want them to hold on to?

I thought immediately of the players’ meeting during the rain delay, and how connected they were with each other, how invested they were in each other’s fates, how they turned each other’s tears into determination. During rain delays players typically come in off the field and head to their own lockers, sit there by themselves, change their wet jerseys, check their phones, think about what has gone right and wrong during the game, and become engrossed in their own worlds. That would have been disastrous for our team during Game Seven — 25 players sitting alone at their lockers, lamenting the bad breaks, assigning blame, wallowing, wondering. Instead, they had the instinct to come together.

Actually, it was not an instinct; it was a choice.

One day I will tell Jack and Drew that some players — and some of us — go through our careers with our heads down, focused on our craft and our tasks, keeping to ourselves, worrying about our numbers or our grades, pursuing the next objective goal, building our resumes, protecting our individual interests. Other players — and others amongst us — go through our careers with our heads up, as real parts of a team, alert and aware of others, embracing difference, employing empathy, genuinely connecting, putting collective interests ahead of our own. It is a choice.

The former approach, keeping our heads down, seems safer and more efficient, and I guess sometimes it may be. The latter, connecting, keeping our heads up, allows us to lead, and, every now and then, to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and, therefore, to truly triumph. I know, I will tell them, because I have tried it both ways.
And I will tell Jack and Drew that we all have our rain delay moments. There will be times when everything you have been wanting, everything you have worked for, everything you have earned, everything you feel you deserve is snatched away in what seems like a personal and unfair blow. This, I will tell them, is called life. But when these moments happen, and they will, will you be alone at your locker with your head down, lamenting, divvying up blame; or will you be shoulder to shoulder with your teammates, connected, with your heads up, giving and receiving support?

And I will tell them not to wait until the rain comes to make this choice, because that can be too late. We weren’t winners that night in Cleveland because we ended up with one more run than the Indians. If Zobrist’s ball were four inches farther off the line, it would have been a double play and we would have lost the game. That was randomness; like much of life, it was arbitrary. We were winners that night in Cleveland because when things went really, really wrong — and then the rains came — our players already knew each other so well that they could come together; they already trusted each other so much that they could open up and be vulnerable, and they were already so connected that they could lift one another up. We had already won. That’s why I had that smile on my face as I walked away from the weight room door.

Thank you Eileen for sharing this talk with me!!
Photo Credits

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Let the World Series Begin....

When the Washington National defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, Bob Carpenter, the Nats play-by-play announcer  proclaimed "a World Series is coming to Washington DC!" 

Baseball is a special game for many reasons, one being that the championship series visits and competes in the home cities of both teams, more often than not out of doors! A World Series hasn't visited our nation's capital since 1933, and the Nats will be making their first appearance in the Fall Classic after several heartbreaking, failed attempts to get there. (NB: there is an interesting lineage of sports teams inside the Beltway; this is the first time this particular franchise has made it).
The Astros are favored to win, but this D.C. squad is not to be underestimated. Known as the "Washington Miracles," they got into the Series by coming back in the 8th inning to defeat the Milwaukee Brewers, only to defeat a team with the best record in MLB—the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games. They didn't once trail in the NLCS boxscores sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals, so the 115th World Series will be interesting.

Although a good friend of mine prefers the regular season to the drama of the October baseball, I don't. I love the energy and intensity behind ever pitch, hit, run and out. No lead is ever safe. No steal goes unpunished. America's past time earns its stripes, it's red, white and blue as our days shorten and nights grow a little colder. So the next few postings will address my love for a game that reveals what is visible and invisible. 

I will share a podcast that speaks about Baseball and the Spiritual Life—why and how this game can be a road to God. You can watch a talk that deconstructs much more than why the 2016 Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians, and all that W meant for Chicagoland. You'll discover what every fan ought to eat at a World Series parade, should you be a citizen in the lucky metropolitan area of the soon-to-be crowned 2019 champions. And, if you are fortunate enough to go to a game in Washington DC, I have a wonderful Mass recommendation for you below. (I have not gone to World Series game. Always said I would rob a bank in order to go....and then the Giants got there in 2010, 2012, and 2014. NB: No banks were robbed. No Fall Classic for me...yet). So let's start with that: Nats Mass 2.0

There's only one thing left to say: Play Ball!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

From the Moon to the NY Mets: Celebrating Another 50 Year Anniversary

Today celebrates the 50 year anniversary of the 1969 World Series Champions, the "Amazin' New York Mets. In "Ya Gotta Believe," Most Rev. John Barres writes "Amazing things are still possible in the seemingly diminished world of 2019 in which cynicism, disillusionment, polarization, and despair often seem easier to come by than inspiration and hope." Sadly, I agree. He adds "Why would a Catholic bishop write a Pastoral Letter on the 1969 New York Mets?" I have but two words: inspiration and more inspiration.

We need inspiration. It feeds our souls. I have always believed "if you look for it, you'll find it." I don't mean to oversimplify things. Look for sexism, racism, inequality, hatred and injustice—and it's there. But inspiration is too. It's something you can see and really feel. It can catch fire; inspiration lights things up. When it gets hot, inspiration doesn't cool things down. Rather, it makes it bearable. 

For example, my single favorite memory of this past summer was gathering with my brother and nieces of watch the simulcast of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. A heat wave hit the District of Columbia; every day it was over 100 degrees with a heat index of 110. Night wasn't that much cooler. The humidity hung heavy. Regardless, we traipsed to National Mall to see "one small step for humankind" as shown on the Washington Monument. I'm so grateful our nation's capital decided to celebrate the 50 year anniversary through a creative, communal gathering. The joy was palpable, the inspiration abounding. I can only imagine how July 20, 1969 must have made people feel! For the New York Mets, it was the seedbed for their success. In the Sports Illustrated piece Moon Magic: The Apollo 11 Landing Wasn't the Only Fantastical Event of July 20, 1969, S. L. Price writes
Pairing the moon landing with the hapless franchise’s first, and most unlikely, World Series title has long been a thing—if only because of context. In an era scarred by race riots, assassinations and the cultural earthquake of the Vietnam War, both events registered as against-all-odds triumphs, examples of the species at its lovable best, never mind the carping of Cubs fans. That Mets players, watching Armstrong’s moonwalk that night in a Montreal airport bar, tipsily declared themselves moon people only helped. 
“We all sat there in disbelief that something like that could happen,” Mets ace Tom Seaver later recalled. “And you talk about metaphors: I mean, we just looked at each other and said, you know, ‘Why not?’
In "Ya Gotta Believe!" Bishop Barres speaks of Mets who moved from "Why not?" to "We believe!" He writes 
Everyone started to believe and the thing steamrolled. Seaver pinpointed a specific clutch comeback win against the Dodgers in August where he himself began to believe. 
When they made it to the World Series after overtaking the Chicago Cubs and sweeping the Atlanta Braves in the playoffs, the Mets faced the formidable and intimidating Baltimore Orioles who had such Hall of Famers as Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Jim Palmer. 
The Mets lost the first game to Baltimore 4-1 but as they were coming off the field, Don Clendenon came over to Seaver and said with a confident intuition, “We’re going to beat them!” 
As we know, the rest is history. The Mets swept the next four games. They beat the seemingly unbeatable Orioles. 
In short, when belief takes root, miracles happen.
So why should we, 50 years later, care about a team that decided to believe? What's in it for us to learn about the Miracle Mets? 
Our world needs hope. And hope is rooted in faith—belief in things seen and unseen. Bishop Barres writes, 
The very essence of our Catholic faith is that there is always a light in the darkness – a light that the darkness cannot understand – and the history of the Catholic Church repeatedly shows that hope can spring from the most unlikely sources. 
Drawing on the inspiration of the 1969 Miracle Mets, the Catholic Church on Long Island can experience a new era of Catholic Evangelization and dramatic missionary growth against all the odds and expectations, and even become a model for the country.
I am not in his diocese. I don't have any connections to the Amazin' Mets. I refer to the Washington Nationals as the Washington Miracles....not the Miracle Nationals but this leader in the Catholic Church has found a way to connect with the people of God through one of his passions—one that I happen to share with him. Bishop Barres speaks my language: Sports and Spirituality. I will do my part to lean into his. One of evangelization, mercy, discipleship and of course, Faith.

Photo Credits

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Schadenfreude: A Different Take on the Joy of Sports' Rivlaries

The most common question I get asked about my new job isn't "How are the students?" or "What do you think of St. Francis?" People want to know about my commute. I drive one hour in the morning from San Francisco to Mountain View; the ride home varies from one hour to nearly two. Not fun. However, the saving grace in the tireless task of road warriorship is not a podcast or a great playlist. No--it's Murph and Mac in the morning. That's right, my local radio show has been so full of good sports reporting that I honestly do best aspects of being a sports fan: a great rivalry.
The fuel for this particular fire was found in the Washington Nationals defeating the arch-rival of the San Francisco Giants, the hated Los Angeles Dodgers. I don't know if anyone could have seen this coming. The Dodgers won 106 games this season—a franchise record—to a team that had to win the wildcard game.

As written in the WSJ

The Dodgers lost in the division series to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night, a devastating—or thrilling, depending on your perspective—7-3 10-inning defeat in the decisive Game 5 of the division series. 
The Dodgers didn’t just fail to win the World Series. They failed even to advance to the National League Championship Series. 
“Disappointing,” manager Dave Roberts said, “is probably an understatement.”
For the first time since 2015, the NLCS will take place without the Dodgers. Instead, it will feature the Nationals, a club certainly accustomed to its own embarrassing early postseason exits.
There is a singular word that captures what has pulsed through the veins of every real SF Giants fan. This term is the name of the song, serving as the music in San Francisco's ears: Schadenfreude—pleasure derived by someone from another person's misfortune. It rears its head in the memes and posts shared on Facebook. One of my favorites is here:
Schadenfreude. Enjoying the pettiness of it very much this decade thanks to the Dodgers. Now don't get me wrong, to my friends who live and die with the Boys in Blue, I do feel bad for you. Baseball is designed to break your heart. But on the other hand, to all those Dodgers fans I had to endure from the late 1970s to 2009 at Candlestick, AT&T Park, and at Dodger Stadium with their constant put downs about the Giants never winning a World Series, well...our guys in orange and black won 3 in 5 years. 8 in franchise history now to the Dodgers 6. See you next year.
Thank you Sean!
A part of me knows such enthusiasm was petty. Some of the sports talk was mean. At times I felt slightly skivvy, leaning in for more. To be honest, I have a lot of respect for the Dodgers as a team. I do not hate Clayton Kershaw, quite the contrary (I have blogged about him many times). If I grew up in LA (or Brooklyn), I am certain I would wear Pantone 294. I would have a favorite player in Cody Bellinger or Chris Taylor. I think the stuff that Kenley Jansen throws is remarkable....but that still doesn't mean I will cheer for them or value their fans. The rivalry is sacrosanct. 

The time spent in the car...reflecting on the rivalry has caused me to consider more questions. For example: Is this a shared rivalry? Meaning, do Dodger fans have the same heated passion for beating SF and we do for Beating LA?! I think Schadenfreude is acceptable in the world of sports fandom, but I wonder—do I harbor this sentiment in other ways? towards others? I hope not.

I will be cheering for the Washington Nationals for the rest of October baseball, not because they beat the Dodgers (ok, maybe!). DC is a second home to me; my brother lives within walking distance to their ballpark. I think #NatsMass is one of the best connections there is between sport and spirituality. They are my second favorite team in MLB....and a very distant second at that....but I am happy for the Nats (especially without Bryce Harper!) and have always been a Scherzer fan. I hope that's ok.

A good rivalry is one aspect that makes sport so special. My day is framed around watching one of my very favorites as the Irish host the Trojans of USC later today. The LA Times reports

The USC-Notre Dame rivalry is considered the greatest intersectional rivalry in college football, with 36 wins for USC, 46 for Notre Dame and two ties. Between them, the two schools have won 22 national championships and 13 Heisman Trophies. The rivalry began in 1926 and has been played every year, except between 1943 to 1945 because of World War II. It's one of the longest-running rivalries in college sports with the 91st meeting taking place on Saturday in South Bend, Ind.
Rivalries encompass history, tradition, tensions, emotions and even spirituality. No wonder we love sport.

Photo Credits


Friday, October 11, 2019

High Quality Jobs: Sports and Spirituality from the President and Principal

In speaking about his role as the diretor of athletics at Notre Dame, Jack Swarbrick said, "the quality of the job is directly related to the distance to the athlete." He challenged those with similar roles to consider how close they are to the athletes they serve. However, I think his personal realization—now credo—extends far beyond sport. I believe his words are true for all involved in school leadership. Administrators, counselors, teachers and coaches can and should consider What is my distance to the students? How close am I to freshman and seniors, students and their parents?

Swarbrick's words remind me that I am lucky. As a classroom teacher and a varsity coach, I work directly with teenagers on a daily basis. However, I have often considered how school leaders and administrators find the time and space to close (and mind) the gap between the students' world and their own. A recent class offered a wonderful answer.
I teach one section of Sports and Spirituality, a new senior selective in the Religious Studies department at St Francis High School. I have 34 of the most spirited and athletic students on the campus in one room. If one was to seek the Lancer "Rage Cage" you would find them in this class. Every man and woman in there is the 12th man/woman! When I told them that I invited the principal and president to speak to our class, their response was incredible. One student remarked that "this is the best Religion class ever." Wow. School administrators please read that twice—students really do love you!

I offered a few guiding questions, but my primary goal was to get the principal and president to share their story. They both have been extensively involved in athletics in many ways—as athletes, coaches and parents; they are faith-filled Catholics. I truly believe Matthew Kelly has it right. He wrote, "we become the stories we listen to." My students discovered their stories are well worth hearing....and becoming!? 
Ms. Teekell, a member of the SFHS Class of 2000, played on a varsity girls' soccer team that won CCS ever year she was on it. She matriculated to Cal Berkeley, where she played for one year. Go Bears! She admitted that her decision to stop playing still hurts. Her truthfulness in that moment will stay with me, with us. That decision however is what led to an early start as a coach, a role that reignited her love for the game. Her affect is calm, near staid, which had to have been an asset as a goalie and is today as the leader of our school. I wouldn't want to try to score on her....

Mr. Curtis began by telling us he is most likely alive because of sport. His father, drafted during the Vietnam war with the Marine Corps was an outstanding tennis player. He and his doubles' partner, Stan Smith—the athlete behind the shoe—played competitively for the Marine Corps instead of going into combat. To hear this story affirms my belief that sport has power; it directly and indirectly saves life.
Mr. Curtis, who has coached volleyball—boys and girls, from youth to college, passed on what he believes makes a good team great. Having worked with top ranked teams in the state and in the country he knows what championship teams share in common: the individuals are willing and able to give up what matters most to them for the good of the group. His conviction was inspiring. I wonder how many students will move one step closer to doing what sounds easy, but I know is incredibly hard. 

Both school leaders are parents. A thoughtful student asked what they want their children to learn from sport. Others wanted to know about their vocations. Curtis and Teekell asked the students how they have applied the lessons of the class to their experience as athletes. We all agreed that some things need to change in the American youth sports culture—and Mr. Curtis stated "what better place than in Catholic schools?" And when we reflected upon the Catholic Church and living our faith and vocation, Mr. Curtis shared a challenge for all of us. How can we use our gifts and talents, in particular at our school to make changes for the good? I hope my students will let that question guide the stories that THEY become.

Both leaders said that they appreciated the opportunity to reflect on questions of Sports and Spirituality. I am grateful that they took an hour out of a day, one that is full of meetings, lists and communication to teach my students. They stressed it was the best part of their day, essentially underscoring what Jack Swarbrick professed to be true.
My former principal probably called 85% of the student body by their first name. He would stop a soccer player in the hallway and ask how they lost to Riordan. He knew who was a Dodger fan and who wanted to Beat LA. I don't know that there was any distance between him and the students—which is why he was honored with a jersey to wear every year.
When I have an idea for a blog posting, I try to get it out asap. However, I had two golf matches back to back since this class period. Funny thing about that is both Mr. Curtis, Ms. Teekell and my AD came to our final home match of the season to watch the girls tee off and play a few holes. I have coached for many years—all in sports that are not entirely spectator friendly. However, all that is required for a parent, friend, administrator or teacher is to "show up."  The distance to the athletes? can't get much closer OR as Greg Boyle, SJ, says, "No daylight to separate us, only kinship." Amen