Tuesday, December 31, 2019

19 for 2019: Varsity Girls' Golf Team: My Freshman Year

New school, new team, new program, new coach. Though I have coached high school sports for nearly twenty years now, this Fall, I carried the title of varsity coach for the first time. Varsity sports in secondary schools—on every level and among every sport, are not what they were when I was in high school. Just yesterday, someone asked me if I actually coach as a golf coach. He said "I know my high school golf coach loved match days because he was able to play." Though familiar with stories such as these I was only slightly amused. We golf coaches have come a long way, baby!
I do not claim to be a swing coach or anything close to an PGA teaching pro, I do play close attention to my golfers and their game—their strengths and areas for improvement. I am seeking to build a culture that helps young women play as a member of a team and working together in a sport that emphasizes the individual score. I hope they will learn the mission of the school and our values through their experience in St. Francis athletics. No small task, but opportunity awaits. And because of that, I decided my team would serve as the final profile in Sports and Spirituality's 19 for 2019.

Some of my students have been among some of my greatest teachers. Some of my athletes have become some of my most inspirational coaches. This paradox makes both teaching and coaching more than a worthy endeavor.

This team taught me many things—for better and for worse. They have exceptional talent. We finished second in the WCAL and took home a trophy for our fourth place finish at CCS. On a team with four seniors, two will go on to play in college (at the University of Michigan and at Williams College). Each one of the them contributed to the character of this crew in their own, unique way.
All of them love golf and of equal importance, one another. Some of my favorite memories included listening to the conversations about golf among the girls. They follow both the LPGA and PGA closely. Any highlight I mentioned from a weekend tournament was met with more detail and insight about the golfer, the intricacy of the shot and even the green—Poa or Bermuda?! 

We compared our preference between a 58 and 60 degree wedge and why some of us carry a 4 or 5 iron in the bag. During a Chapman Scotch competitive practice, my partner told me my ball was 116 yards from the pin, but I should play it more like it's 112. Done. This same golfer won the WCAL championship, finishing two under par, which meant a lot to her personally and to her teammates. One senior was known for driving the green on our home course.....on a par 4. Her strength of body is matched by her humor, kindness and humility. I won't forget a student-athlete like her. We welcomed a freshman up to the varsity squad and it was delightful to witness the way her teammates welcomed her into the fold. She finished the season with WCAL first team honors, indicating that our program has great promise.

I have a few regrets about this past season, and those are important miletsones to learn from. Chief among them is that the photo you see here is only of the varsity team. This year, the JV and varsity crews worked and practiced together. I loved getting to know these up and coming golfers and seeing my own team mentor, befriend and learn from these girls. Not to mention, their coach made my job possible. We are only as strong as—not the weakest link—but as we allow ourselves to be TOGETHER. Go Lancers

Monday, December 30, 2019

19 for 2019: No 16-18. Shared Birthdays and 17 Other Things You Should Know about Chris Mullin

Largely acclaimed as among the greatest in their respective sports, Tiger Woods and LeBron James share the same birthday: December 30. Therefore it is only fitting that today's "Sports and Spirituality's 19 for 2019" profile each athlete on this special day. However, I have to keep posting number 17 for a man who bares the number.  
#16 Tiger Woods
As a sports fan, I love that the holidays bring a "year in review" of athletic accomplishments and achievements. Sure, some years are better than others, but the wide world os sports has yet to disappoint me. There is always some underdog who rises to the top, some unexpected victory, one path of total domination. And in 2019, it is hard to argue that The Masters—and its champion—didn't take the cake.

This morning at the gym, I was privy to revisiting what many consider one of the greatest comebacks stories of all time. Thank you Golf Channel! Tiger Woods earned his fifth green jacket, his fifteenth Major title and reminded sports fans, once again why he did revolutionize the game.

As I watched in review, I thought Is any individual athlete more iconic? From his name to his trade mark red and black on Sunday, Woods made golf much more emotional and athletic. Due to physical (and I would argue personal/ mental) health complications, Woods did not know if he would ever play golf at an elite level again. Golf fans caught wind that he might when he won the TOUR Championship for his 80th victory on the PGA TOUR. He took winning to the next level when he won the 2019 Masters by finishing 13 under par.

Happy 44th, Eldrick Tont "Tiger" Woods
Mullin admits he has no fashion sense whatsoever—which explains
why I had no reaction to his shirt being untucked in this photo
#17 Chris Mullin
Although it was an honor and a privilege meeting Coach Lou Holtz this year, meeting Chris Mullin trumped, yes even the 30 minute car ride

In my classroom hangs a poster that lists 17 important facts about Mully. Impressive information. Equally valuable are 17 OTHER things you ought to know about the left-handed shooting guard out of Brooklyn who wore #17 in honor of his boyhood hero, John Havlicek. I created this list after I heard him speak at KNBR's Dinner with a Legend. I will keep these recollections brief, but you'll get the point.
  1. During his third season in the NBA, Mullin admitted to his coach, Don Nelson that he had a problem with alcohol. He entered into rehab in late 1987 and stayed at the facility in Los Angeles until early 1988.  
  2. Mullin spoke candidly that he struggled with anxiety about returning to the game post rehab. He wasn't sure how much the time away from the game would set him back.
  3. The good news is that the mental clarity he gained from sobriety improved his focus on the court.
  4. Void of alcohol left a restless energy, hence his commitment to fitness—running, cycling, stair master, etc. Today that includes golf! 
  5. Back in those days, NBA teams flew commercial. Mully ran into his team in the Oakland airport as he returned from rehab and they were flying out for a road game. This interaction angered, annoyed and yet motivated him to get back with the team and compete again.
  6. The change post-rehab showed on the court right away. I've always thought nature has a way of teaching this to use. In pruning a rose bush, one must cut back to ensure more growth.
  7. One of the reasons he loves basketball is that the game allows you to "show off" what you've been working on, quickly
  8. The first flap top is a sign of his sobriety.
  9. His daily reprieve: turn it over to a higher power
  10. Mully concedes that the athletes he grew up playing against on the streets of Brooklyn
 were MUCH better athletes than he ever was. In other words: surround yourself with the best to improve.
  11. Believes players ought to hang out more often for one-on-one play
  12. Believes Steph might be the best shooter of all time—certainly with the three point shot. His floaters and shots off the dribble are second to none
  13. Klay Thompson is a close second
  14. Boogate at Oracle Arena didn't take away from the ceremony in which the Warriors retired Mullin's jersey. In fact, felt badly for Joe Lacob.
  15. He spoke extensively about his friendship with his former teammate Manute Bol. His brother had been friends with Manute first, which is how they were connected.
  16. Considers former NBA player and now analyst Brent Barry a good friend. Barry has shared that the reason he has worn #17 is because of Chris Mullin
  17. Admits that when he looks up and sees his jersey hanging from the rafters, it's pretty cool. It is.
Thomas Merton has said "to be a saint is to be myself." Though this idea is lofty and those words are optimistic, an evening with Chris Mullin helped me understand he might be right.
#18 LeBron James
Named as AP's best male athlete of the decade, LeBron is celebrating his 35th birthday today—and he has yet to slow down. This two-time Sportsperson of the Year (Sports Illustrated) has won every major award as an individual and helped his teams to three titles.

The reason I would like to profile James is because he is the subject of many, many stories/articles/books and more. However, when I saw he is also the subject of "TheSkimm" Audio Notes section, I thought there was nothing they could say that I didn't already know. I was wrong.

I recommend listening to this 8 minute and 52 second upshot. Yes, you will learn
  • how he grew up
  • how he got into basketball
  • all about his rep in the NBA
but most importantly, I don't know that you will ever watch him play basketball or a wide receiver or  tight end in quite the same way again. 

Photo Credits

Sunday, December 29, 2019

19 for 2019: Profiles No 10-15. The Future is Female

The unique skirt in the store window caused me to pause and take another look. Scripted all over the gauze overlay were the words "The Future is Female." I turned my head to the side and realized, I'm not entirely sure what that means. Maybe I missed the memo. Did you? However, profiles 10 through 15 might point the way toward understanding. 
Number 10-14: The University of Notre Dame's 2018-2019 Women's Basketball Team
Though they did not defend their national championship title, the Irish came VERY close. Losing to the Baylor Bears in the another exciting game 82-81, I was aware that Easter baskets are exceptional.

This team however deserves recognition for the very fact that they became "the first program in which all five starters were selected within the top 20 picks. They also join the 2008 Tennessee squad as the only two instances in draft history in which all five starters were selected in a three-round draft. Furthermore, Jackie Young became the second Irish player in program history selected No. 1 overall, joining Jewell Loyd." (ND Athletics

The photo created for social media says it all. 

Basketball is obviously a team sport, but great teams are comprised of outstanding athletes—who get better because of one another. I always hold this symbiotic relationship in mind as I celebrate individuals on a team sport. Great job Irish!

Number 15: Coco Gauff
Look at 15-year old Coco Gauff and you can see much more than the future of women's tennis. She's tennis' future. 

Awarded as SI's Breakthrough Athlete for 2019, most sports fans learned about the American teenager when she defeated Venus Williams in the first round of Wimbledon 6-4, 6-4. She is worth profiling for she has demonstrated "why she is already so damn good but also why she is likely to get even better." According to L. Jon Wertheim, "Her greatest assets: her low center of emotional gravity, her perspective, her ability to reset when a call doesn't go her way or she hits a rough stretch during a match. Or even when she finds herself with a shot in a tournament after a disheartening flameout in the qualifier rounds. Already, she gets it." Impressive.

I appreciate her personal story, especially her emotional and physical DNA—if you will. The daughter of two Division I athletes,
at seven, inspired by Serena Williams, Coco discovered tennis. "It was," she says, "the perfect sport for me." She could use her speed and agility and coordination. The need for power, leavened with accuracy, played to her strengths. And, maybe above all, it allowed her to draw on both her parents.
Let her explain: "I feel like my dad, we are both pretty stubborn people. We are both fiery—though I think my dad has more of a temper than me. But my mom, she is more chill. She is more like, O.K., let's take things slow and have patience. I am literally right in the middle."
Though an individual sport, no tennis player gets to play in a Grand Slam tournament on their own. Coco's parents made sacrifices support their prodigy!
To accommodate Coco's tennis, the family moved from Atlanta to Delray Beach, Fla. By 13 she reached the final of the girls' event of the U.S. Open (18 and under). Coco's success put some stress on the Gauffs financially. Tending to their eldest became a full-time undertaking. "We went from a two-income home to a no-income home," Corey has joked. 
Beyond that, there was a sort of existential strain. The Gauffs had aspired to raise their kids, including brothers Cameron and Codey, amid comfort and convention—youth sports and proms and carpools in the minivan. Suddenly they had to recalibrate for a prodigy. "We wanted her to have a quote unquote normal childhood," says Corey. "But—and this is a term I always use—we didn't want to be dream-killers."
Coco Gauff is pursuing her dream...doing what women like Venus and Serena Williams have done, seeing that the future is indeed female...whatever that might mean.

Photo Credits


Friday, December 27, 2019

19 for 2019: No. 7-9 Profiles. Who wants a QB Jersey for Christmas?!

I have a feeling that not much was different for San Francisco Forty Niner fans this Christmas. For years upon years, the most sought after gift under the tree had to have been a red jersey with a number belonging to the quarterback. First-ballot hall of fame QBs jerseys #16: Montana and #7: Young are still worth putting on your Christmas list. In some years, I'm sure #5 (Jeff Garcia) or hopefully #11 (Alex Smith...see below) were en vogue. This year, however, there's no question and little debate: All I want for Christmas is well, to beat Seattle for the first place seed and a shirt with the number #10 for Jimmy Garoppollo.
Profile #5: Jimmy G
Nobody was quite sure what to expect out of Jimmy Garoppolo this season. The quarterback was coming off an ACL injury and only had 10 career starts under his belt. In case the first place standing in the NFC West doesn't say enough, I think the words of corner back and team captain Richard Sherman do.

After a dominant defeat of the Green Bay Packers in Week 12, Sherman addressed the media about who deserves the credit for the W. He said,
"Jimmy Garoppolo is our leader, and we will follow him into the darkest of dark," Sherman told reporters after the game. "We'll follow him into a dark alley, and I guarantee you won't touch him." 
"You hear some of the noise and things said about him," Sherman continued about his quarterback. "It's frustrating, because we see him every day. We see what kind of work ethic he puts in, the hours he puts in, being the first one in and the last one out. The guy looks for no credit. All he does is encourage his teammates and puts more work in. 
"And then you have people nitpicking. We'd run for 300 yards, and they're like 'well, he didn't throw a lot.' We ran for 300 yards! And then he throws for 400, and they're like 'well, I think he got outplayed by [Arizona Cardinals quarterback] Kyler Murray. ... The goal posts keep moving. But the one thing you can appreciate is being good enough for people to make excuses for you. He's a good enough quarterback that people have to move the goal posts for him."
In short, he is not to be overlooked.  And yet, that's not saying much...either.

In class when I showed the video clip for Unboxing Day, a number of my female students were smiling and then laughing. With a dead pan face I said, "Excuse me ladies—is there a problem here? There is no problem is there." I smiled with my lips and my eyes. Some things are just understood.

I wonder how many Niner fans received a #10 jersey for Christmas. I hope to report back to you an unscientific answer this Sunday and in the weeks to come.
Profile #8: Alex Smith
And if someone deserves to be a first-ballot hall of fame player for character, that honor should go to Alex Smith. Smith is the consummate sportsman and one of the more respectable athletes in the game.

Chosen as the number one pick in the 2005 draft, he played for the 49ers until 2012, when he lost his job to one Colin Kapernick, due to a concussion in a game against the Rams. Before losing the starting quarterback job, Smith was on pace to set career highs in completion percentage, passing yards, yards-per-attempt, passing touchdowns and rushing yards. Not once did he complain or harbor any resentment publicly or with his teammates of his plight or his fate. No wonder he was named named to the USA Today All Joe Team for the second year in a row, and was also named the captain of the team. Niner head coach Jim Harbaugh has admitted that Smith had been more of a coach to Kaepernick later into the 2012 season than even he was.

I can still recall the disappointment of several of my students when Smith was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. They delighted in his success at Arrowhead and shook their heads when Smith lost his job, once again, to another talented, young quarterback—one Patrick Mahomes—only to be traded to the Washington Redskins. 

I didn't know that one could gain more admiration for Alex Smith, but the instagram video posted by his wife, Elizabeth moves the needle past full. Smith added a caption that reads "One year later and so much to be grateful for."
For his optimism and professionalism, work ethic and talent, he deserves to be much more than just a "19 for 2019 profile" or a jersey to gift a Niner/Chiefs/Redskins fan. Give me that HOF for character. First ballot. Bar none.

Profile #9: Steve Young
Though he retired from professional football in 1999, Steve Young warrants inclusion in this list for his contributions on my favorite sports podcast: Pardon the Interruption. Steve calls in regularly and offers the most thoughtful, introspective, cerebral yet spirited and playful remarks. I learn more from his segment than any other.

Young plays in the American Century Classic golf tournament and stays in the same hotel as my group of friends and me. While sitting in the lobby, Young walked in my direction and I had to share how much I enjoy his commentary. He looked at me incredulous. He said "You listen to PTI?" I said that I do and that I find myself quoting him often. I added "I love the way Tony Kornheiser nearly falls over himself thanking you for calling in."
Steve spent the next ten minutes talking to me and my friends about his experience on contributing to the show and how his immediate family has no interest in sports. He said he doesn't talk to anyone about PTI—for example his two sons are into acting and drama—and so this conversation was a nice one to have. I would have been happy talking to Young for as long as he wants about sports, but we wanted to respect him and his time.

I think it's important to know about what professional athletes do, what they care about and who they care for after their time in the spotlight, scoring TDs and winning titles. Young has a great mind in both arenas. As Tony loves to say "THANK YOU STEVE!" And, it should be no surprise, my friend Dotty had him sign her jersey.

Photo Credits
Jimmy G

Alex and Vernon

Monday, December 23, 2019

19 for 2019: No. 5 and 6 Profiles from MLB

In the days to come, the Gospel will remind us that Christ Jesus was born in precarious times. Born during the reign of Herod, Matthew's Gospel proclaims
When the magi had departed, behold,the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,"Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him."Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by nightand departed for Egypt.He stayed there until the death of Herod,that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,Out of Egypt I called my son.
The reign of Herod extended over Judea from 37 BCE to 4 CE. And though it's not a fair to compare a despotic ruler to a leader in the world of sport, I do think San Francisco Giants fan will understand it when I say: The reign of Farhan has begun.Giants fans believe these to be precarious times as well. 
Farhan Zaidi is President of Baseball Operations and has cleaned house since he was hired in November 2018. He made it clear that the future Hall of Fame manager, Bruce Bochy would serve as the Giants skipper for one last time in 2019. When we said fare thee well to Will Smith, Kevin Pillar and deep wound—Madison Baumgarner—it became crystal clear that the reign of Farhan is characterized by one thing: analytics. As former GM of the Dodgers, the emphasis on analytics was of no surprise. The warning rests in the fact that this approach has yet to yield was it seeks to produce: the final W....the World Series ring, trophy and title. 

Speaking of which, followers of this blog will not be surprised to see the Washington Nationals are included in the 19 for 2019 Sports and Spirituality profiles. Like many baseball fans, I delighted in this team and their run for the Commissioner's trophy and the road they took to get there is remarkable. Scott Boeck of USA Today writes
The Washington Nationals didn't win their division. 
They didn't win 100 games during the regular season. 
They were the eighth-best team in the majors, ranked by wins. 
They were 12 games under .500, 19-31, on May 24. 
To say the least, the Nationals' path to the World Series championship was an unconventional one as a wild-card team. 
They stunned the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the World Series and became the seventh wild-card team to win the championship.
The road wasn't easy. They survived five elimination games. They beat Brewers closer Josh Hader, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, Cardinals phenom Jack Flaherty and Astros co-aces Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander.
They also beat a 106-win Dodgers team and a 107-win Astros club.
"People thought we wouldn't have been there in the first place and we just happened to come out on top," third baseman Anthony Rendon said after the game.
Analytics is a factor in this equation, but numbers and empirical data will never capture what good culture and chemistry can do.
There's a freedom to watching a World Series, when your own team is in abstentia. While I wish the San Francisco Giants were the team I am profiling in this 19 for 2019, my hat and my heart go to the Nationals of Washington, DC—our nation's capital.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

19 for 2019: No. 3 and 4—Coaching Crush

Two coaches, two divisions. One sport, same crush.

Your basic school girl/school boy crush isn't what it used to be. Yes, there will always be the first crush and potentially your worst crush, but now there is the man crush, the girl crush (which became a monster hit by country music artist: Little Big Town)  and I would like to add to the mix. I have a full blown, unadulterated coaching crush on the man I hope will be coach of the year: Mike Tomlin.
The seeds of this crush were planted when I watched HBO State of Play
A deeply personal look at another side of professional sports, the fourth film focuses on the challenges of balancing the pursuit of professional success and family obligations.  FIRST LADIES focuses on three couples whose vows shape their decisions on the field and at home.  What role has each of these spouses played in her family's success? Profiled are Mike and Kiya Tomlin, Kevin and DeLana Harvick, and Scott and Megan Lenhoff.  Mike Tomlin is head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kevin Harvick drives a racecar on the NASCAR circuit, and Scott Lenhoff is head football coach at Steele High School in Cibolo, Tex.
Both Tomlins emerged as hardworking, engaging and dedicated to their craft and to one another. 

Coaches are inherently competitive people. It's easy to get jealous of their success or envy their situation. But what Tomlin has done with this year's team demands respect and admiration. Bill Cowher, the coach Tomlin succeeded in Pittsburgh prior to the start of the 2007 season, believes that this has been Tomlin's best coaching season to date. Agreed. Let the crush rage on.

Go west and head to the NFC and it's hard not to notice Forty Niners Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh. He looks like defense and he means it; safe to say that Saleh eats D for breakfast as the Niners will play next week for a first place standing in the NFC playoffs. 
The reason I want to profile Saleh, extends far beyond the coaching crush. Saleh is a graduate of Fordson High School. I am familiar with the Tractors of Fordson High and feel as though I know it well because the school in Dearborn Michigan is the subject of the movie, "Fordson: Faith, Fasting and Football." 

I use this film in Sports and Spirituality for the way it demonstrates spiritual and religious discipline—inside and outside of athletics. My students find it meaningful and interesting. It is often mentioned as a highlight of the course, as noted by my student Sarah. 
I really appreciated having the opportunity to learn about Fordson High School: their school, love for football, and balance between typical, teenage life with their sport.  
When we watched this movie, it was at a time when football ended for the Saint Francis seniors. It was special for me to watch that movie with the players that I have come to know the past three years. We were able to joke around about similarities within the Fordson team and ours, ultimately lifting our moods about our recent finish.   
I also loved being able to see football from a high school in a completely different state. Football is a national sport. It is not just here. Sometimes, it is too easy to forget that Californian teams are not the only teams in the United States. We often are unable to actually see football in other places–football we relate to and can feel an intense connection to–but this gave us a glimpse into the outside world.  
One thing that I found beautiful about their story was their dedication to following their  religion. It is easy in high school settings to succumb to the pressure of fitting in. These boys—the vast majority of who are Muslim— were diligent in following their beliefs and customs, so much so they rose above the disapproval and left it all on the field. Their strength, the support of the school officials, and the love between the boys and their coaches was wonderful. Ultimately, I very much enjoyed learning their story.
I first paid close attention to Saleh, when the Niners defeated the Rams 20-7 in the LA Coliseum on October 13, 2019. He certainly models the intensity and focus he asks of his players...and he was on the sidelines. I looked up his background and when I read "from Dearborn" I knew it had to be. Watch "Faith, Fasting and Football" and it all makes sense.

Great people, great profiles for 2019. #CrushThat

Photo Credits

Friday, December 20, 2019

19 for 2019: Profiles in Sports and Spirituality. Drew Brees and Megan Rapinoe

When I learned that Drew Brees broke Peyton Manning’s all-time passing touchdown record in a 34-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday, December 16, 2019 I immediately thought of the picture of him that hangs in my classroom. The 20-year veteran quarterback was SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's 2010 Sportsman of the Year (SOTY). That honor stays with me. Why? Every year, I anticipate this award and when I saw his profile on the cover, I remember thinking: this one is special. 
Brees brought much more than the Lombardi trophy to New Orleans in defeating the heavily favored Indianapolis Colts (feel free to connect the dots here). He brought hope. He helped rebuild the city both literally and metaphorically in the way that he always has—without much fanfare, with joy, humility and good, old fashioned hard work. I kept that cover because though easy honoree is both distinct and deserving, some of the honorees are unsuspecting. Brees too often flies under the radar. And yet, he commands respect. I wonder if he hasn't made a single one of his teammates better. He would never say it, so I will: try me. 

He might be the active player in the NFL with whom I would most like to have dinner. I am certain he is first ball Hall of Fame. I wonder how many sports fans might include him in their ideal golf foursome? Other thoughts?!

The 2019 SOTY honoree is equally deserving. Megan Rapionoe led the USWNT to victory at the World Cup. She was the tournament's leading scorer and its top player. She won the Ballon d"or as the year's best female player. 

Jenny Vrentas, the author of the cover story wrote, 
Megan Rapinoe is SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's Sportsperson of the Year. She is just the fourth woman in the award's 66-year history to win it unaccompanied, a feat that is both a remarkable athletic achievement and a reflection of entrenched gender biases. Rapinoe challenged perceptions of her, of female athletes, of all women. She led her teammates, three months before their tentpole tournament, to sue the U.S. Soccer Federation for equal pay; to declare in advance that they would not visit the White House when they won the Cup; to score 13 goals in a group-stage match against Thailand, without apology.
Vrentas adds "Megan Rapinoe is Sportsperson of the Year, though not because of what she subversively calls her "newfound fame." but because of how she's handled it. She owned the biggest moment of her life and silenced all the doubts. Except, perhaps her own."
It should go without saying that Rapinoe is a different athletes, and a different person than Brees. I love her precision, focus and athleticism on the pitch. I appreciate her relentless pursuit for equal pay and gender equity. I understand, from her interview the message she is sending with her iconic pose. It leaves me conflicted. I am not a fan of crass language from her or any person with that type of platform. The fact that she stands on the cover holding a sledgehammer says it a lot and it makes me think. I want to be clear—I value that, even if it does not resonate with me. NB: Sports Illustrated works in collaboration with the SOTY for the clothing and setting to be used in the photo.

Born SOTY nine years a part, I started to think about the men and women who colored 2019. With that, I would like to present 19 profiles for 2019. In the next few blog postings, you will read about the athletes who have made an impact, left a footprint, raised a trophy, called a play, challenged the status quo....or at least the local fan base.

2019 has been another exciting year in sports. I hope these postings capture a slice of the flavor, color, sounds, emotions and memories they have imparted into our communities, homes and hearts. Enjoy!

Photo Credits
Drew Brees

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Spirituality of Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike

My athletic director reminded me that parents must model for their children how they want them to be. For example, your son or daughter will learn how to handle stress based on how you, the parent react to it. Or, if you want to encourage your child to read and develop a life long love of reading, parents—you need to read. 

While the "Four Gift Christmas Challenge" points to gifting "Something to read," parents—ask your child to give you the gift of a great book. Here's my recommendation, and my guess is if you're reading a blog about Sports and Spirituality, I won't be the first person to have suggested it to you.
Shoe Dog is the memoir Nike founder and board chairman Phil Knight. Released in 2016, "Shoe Dog“
offers a rare and revealing look at the notoriously media-shy man behind the swoosh” (Booklist, starred review), illuminating his company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands.
I enjoyed it more than I anticipated. One friend, who attended the University of Oregon asked me why he didn't read it upon publication. "I think I would have taken my life in a different direction," he said. Another friend told me he has given at least four copies of the book to different people.

Whether or not you get something to read this Christmas, no matter if you decide to read, listen or download Shoe Dog to your Kindle, there are nuggets of wisdom too good NOT to pass along. I have provided a theme for the insight—Sports and Spirituality style. ENJOY

The Power of....BELIEF.
So why was selling shoes so different? Because, I realized, it wasn't selling. I believed in running. I believed that if people got out and ran a few miles every day, the world would be a better place, and I believed these shoes were better to run in. People, sending my belief, wanted some of that belief for themselves.

Belief, I decided. Belief is irresistible.

Tuck this life lesson away:
There are many ways down Mount Fuji, according to my guidebook, but only one-way up. Life lesson in that, I thought.
The Power of Passion: Do not forget this. Do not forget.
For eleven laps they ran a half stride apart. With the crowd now roaring, frothing, shrieking, the two men entered the final lap. It felt like a boxing match. It felt like a joust. It felt like a bullfight, and we were down to that moment of truth—death hanging in the air. Pre reached down, found another level—we saw him do it. He opened up a yard lead, then two, then five. We saw Young grimacing and we knew that could not, would not, catch Pre. I told myself, Don't forget this. Do not forget. I told myself there was much to be learned from such a display of passion, whether you were running a mile or a company.

As they crossed the tape, we all looked up at the clock and that both men had broken the American record. Pre had broken it by a shade more. But he wasn't done. He spotted someone waving a "STOP PRE" T-shirt and he went over and snatched it and whipped it in circles above his head, like a scalp. What followed was one of the greatest ovations I've ever heard, and I've spent my life in stadiums.

I'd never witnessed anything quite like that race. And yet I didn't just witness it. I took part in it. Days later I felt sore in my hams and quads. This, I decided, this is what sports are, what they can do. Like books, sports give people a sense of having lived other lives, of taking part in other people's victories. And defeats. When sports are at their best, the spirit of the fan merges with the spirit of the athlete, and in that convergences, in that transference, is the oneness that the mystics talk about.

Remembering Steve Prefontaine
"A race is a work of art, that people can look at and be affected in as many ways as they're capable of understanding." —Pre
Arete—Excellence in Mind, Body and Spirit
But that day to day business of the human body isn’t our mission as human beings. It is a basic process that enables our higher aims, and life always strives to transcend the basic process of living—and at some point in the late 1970s, I did, too. I redefined winning, expanding it beyond my original definition of not losing, of merely staying alive. That was no longer enough to sustain me or my company. We wanted, as all great businesses do, to create, to contribute, and we dared to say so aloud. When you make something, when you add some new thing or service to the lives of strangers, making them happier, or healthier, or safer, or better, and when you do it all crisply and efficiently, smartly, the way everything should be done but so seldom is—you're participating more fully in the whole grand human drama. More than simply alive, you're helping others to live more fully, and if that's business, all right, call me a businessman. Maybe it will grow on me.

The Lord is the Master Architect
I say by pure chance, but is it really? Am I allowed to think that some coincidences are more than coincidental? Can I be forgiven for thinking, or hoping, that the universe or some guiding daemon, has been nudging me, whispering to me? Or else just playing with me? Can it really be nothing but a fluke of geography that the oldest shoes ever discovered are a pair of 9,000 year old sandals...salvaged fro ma cave in Oregon? Is there nothing to the fact that the sandals were discovered in 1938, the year I was born? 
What's its all been about: The Extraordinary Tiger Woods
Part of Nike's tremendous success in the 1990s their sponsorship of the right athlete at the right time. Tiger Woods a game changer for the game of golf and the success of Nike. Knight professes unabashed love and devotion for Tiger because he called him as soon as he learned that his son died. This excerpt reveals to me, their relationship was never ordinary; I find this gesture extraordinary. Knight shares the story here.

"When I first signed with you," he says, "I didn't know all that much about the history of Nike. So, I've been studying up and I learned Oh! you're the founder."
"Well, the cofounder. yes. its surprises a lot of people."
"And Nike was born in 1972," said Tiger.
"Well, born? Yes, I suppose," I admitted. 

"Right. So I went to my jeweler and had them find a Rolex watch from 1972."
He hands me the watch. It's engraved with Thanks for taking a chance on me.
As usual, I say nothing. I don't know what to say. 
It wasn't much of a chance. He was pretty close to a sure thing. But taking a chance on people—HE'S right. You could argue that what's its all been about. 

I think "Shoe Dog" might fall into the Want/Need/Read category. As for something to wear: easy! Nike.

Photo Credits
Shoe Dog
Tiger and Phil
Nike Shoe and Knight

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Something to Wear: My Cause, My Cleats

This Advent, I have enjoyed framing "Holy Cross Family Time" around the "Four Gift Christmas Challenge." A close cousin or kindred spirit to the Advent Conspiracy, the Four Gift Christmas Challenge has gained traction thanks to social media. In fact, I heard a DJ recommending it on the radio today as an alternative approach toward holiday shopping.  Limiting what we receive to just four gifts, may still be a sign of abundance for many people in the world, but for so many others, it's a thoughtful way to frame how, what and why we give. 
When I shared this challenge with my students, they fell silent and then laughed when I revealed the fourth and final gift: something to read. All but a few admitted that they would be disappointed if they received a book. More on this: my personal diatribe and manifesto later...

I asked them what happened. I said, "How did we go from the joy of Scholastic book orders and book fairs, and the nightly ritual of reading with your parents to disdain for the gift of a book?

As I am often reminded, things change. When I was young, I would have been disappointed with a gift of something to wear. Today, receiving new clothing, shoes and accessories is a treat. And what might be even better is something you may have seen on the gridiron this past weekend: My Cause, My Cleats.

Now in third consecutive season, the NFL in collaboration with its players represent hundreds of charitable organizations that may be near and dear to them or one for which they want to raise awareness and support.

As written on NFL.com, "The league will post videos and profile cards to tell the stories behind the cleats. Many players have worked directly with Nike, Under Armour and adidas to design their cleats. Other teams worked with an independent designer to create cleats for participating players." Even better, all week 14 games feature players on the field wearing their cleat of cause. Most of the cleats are auctioned off or sold and all the money goes to the designated charitable organization. 

I suppose bidding on Jimmy Garappalo's cleats wouldn't necessarily fall under "something to wear" or "something I need" but it just might under "something I want." I love this tradition and sharing with my students how we can all be creative in our efforts to support organizations that serve others.  Why not?!

What might be the best part of this sharing is how my students took the cause and cleat one step further. Today, two seniors integrated its history and founding into our class prayer. Please read the background information they have provided and the video link to hear from the founder, Brandon Wanton....Christian, athlete, husband, brother, and activist.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Unboxing Day: #MyCauseMyCleats

December 26, in certain parts of the world is known as Boxing Day. Boxing Day is a secular holiday—a bank holiday— that originated in the United Kingdom and is celebrated throughout Great Britain and Canada. Thanks to the NFL, in the United States we now have Unboxing Day! If you are an American, you may need a definition, and an explanation of both.
The roots of Boxing Day—a day that has nothing to do with the combat/contact sport—are unknown. According to History.com, "One idea is that December 26 was the day centuries ago when lords of the manor and aristocrats typically distributed “Christmas boxes” often filled with small gifts, money and leftovers from Christmas dinner to their household servants and employees, who were required to work on December 25, in recognition of good service throughout the year. These boxes were, in essence, holiday bonuses. Another popular theory is that the Boxing Day moniker arose from the alms boxes that were placed in churches during the Advent season for the collection of monetary donations from parishioners. Clergy members distributed the contents of the boxes to the poor on December 26, which is also the feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr and a figure known for acts of charity."

Imagine if we all received but one box for Christmas? Would we be be more or less grateful? Would the season of Christmas feel differently? What would you put into that box for a loved one? What might you hope for?

Though unrelated, "Unboxing Day" is a creative play on words and the concept. As written on NFL.com, "For the third consecutive season, the NFL will celebrate Unboxing Day, a league-wide unveiling of the players’ custom cleats. Players will unbox their cleats in hospital visits, classrooms, locker rooms and on stadium fields on Giving Tuesday, Dec. 3. Through Week 14, players will share images of their cleats and the stories behind them on social media, using the hashtag #mycausemycleats."

I have written about My Cause, My Cleats and have shared this collaborative effort between the players and the league with my students, since one of my own students first taught the class and me about it. 

As a creative assignment, I had my students design their own cleat. Many of them used an online template/outline of a cleat, decorated the shoe with colors and symbols of an organization that they appreciate and value. They were asked to include the website and a short summary, in their own words of the cause. One student went so far as to draw upon his own track cleats. As I opened the box to share these shoes with my new students, I felt the same energy and excitement shown by many of the athletes in the video (link below).

I love that every team has their own, personalized video of certain players "unboxing" or unveiling their cleats. To hear from your local heroes about the organizations that matter to them can deepen your connection and appreciation to the team and the cause. 

It can be challenging at times to applaud the NFL as an organization. #MyCauseMyCleats is one however toward which I am more than will to extend much more than a golf clap.
Unboxing Day and Boxing Day—two festive ways to celebrate the season. Enjoy

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Sacred Places, Sacred Spaces: Football Field in Notre Dame Stadium

When asked What do you do? or  How so you serve? Mother Teresa responded with three simple words: Come and see. She never explained anything about her ministry. Rather, she let the work speak for itself. I like that approach.
I am often asked what a class like Sports and Spirituality is all about. Perhaps I should take a tip from Mother Teresa and offer my own three simple words: Look and listen. Viewing "Sacred Places of Notre Dame: A Daily Advent Journey—Football Field in Notre Dame Stadium" serves as the perfect answer. I hope you will watch it here.

The grabber on the PrayND webpage states: Follow senior football player Daelin Hayes onto the field at Notre Dame Stadium as he reflects on how that place draws him closer to God. I think people should know his testimonial speaks to how sports are spiritual. He thoughtfully and earnestly articulates his belief in God, what God has given to him and what he gives back to God.. He says
I believe that when you are born, God gives you a unique set of gifts and what you do with those gifts is completely predicated on you. My gift was football and I used the game to give that glory back to God. 
Even after I leave Notre Dame I know I’ll feel connected to that field, not just because of big plays I made there, but because of the many times I knelt down, prayed, and committed myself to use my gifts to serve God and serve the world.
Hayes professes his connection to the field. This is the very space where I do not doubt he feels connection to his teammates, coaches, and to his school. This space, these people and this place connect him to God.
If I proclaim one thing over and over again in Sports and Spirituality it's this: connection serves a portal for understanding spirituality. Connection is a much more than a feeling—it is a recognition, an understanding and realization in one. All humans long for connection. It speaks to our nature—who we are and what we long for. God longs to connect with us; connection is the spark of a relationship. It feeds my soul.

While the field is where the athlete finds connection, how fitting—and beautiful— that a Notre Dame usher finds the student section, inside the very same stadium is a place of sanctity for him. You can watch that here. 
So this Advent, I hope you will enjoy the entire series from the ND Alumni Association. I know I anticipate the text I receive each evening that invites me to watch and pray. It serves as an opportunity to "quiet my heart and still my minds to prepare for the coming of the Lord." I prayerfully consider the questions I am being asked. For example, Daelin Hayes concludes by reflection by stating "This Advent, let us all consider what gifts has God given to us and how we can use them to serve others."

Thank you Daelin for raising questions that are at the heart of my curriculum. Sports and Spirituality has found another great teacher in your testimony. We, your fans and teammates are all witnesses.

Photo Credits
see Faith ND, Advent 2019