Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Question: Smile or Mugshot?

Like you, COVID-19 prompted me to organize files I didn't know I had. When I decided against tossing the one labeled "future blog postings," I paused. Was that a bad idea? I asked. The interior debate raged on. To keep or not to keep, that is the question. Well, this posting reveals the answer. It shouldn't have taken eight years to write and yet, it doesn't matter. The topic is timeless. It's one every athlete must choose on picture day: smile or mug it?
very happy to see so many smiles among student athletes

Although a relic by today's standards, I still have a penchant for a sports program. To this day, I purchase them at sports contests if they are available and I loved that the Athletic Department of St. Ignatius College Prep created one for fall, winter and spring sports. As an upper division teacher, I would look at each varsity team to find out (in case I missed it) what sports my students played.

I saved part of the Spring 2010 program because the baseball squad caught my eye and prompted my question. Every single player opted to mug it, except one boy. I knew him well and wasn't surprised he flashed a warm, good looking smile. I did however begin to wonder from whence the serious shots hath come. I know I am not the only person who wants to know.
A friend and regular reader confirmed my suspicion when he wrote to me about the shot featured in my bi-weekly newsletter: Sports and Spirituality Synopsis. Via e-mail he wrote:
Whether the kids decided it or were directed to it, they're all giving the "serious, competitive look."  With individual and team photos (in sports and in families), many people choose various different "looks."  Some smile, some serious, etc.  I wonder,  when everyone is giving the "competitive look," what positives does that convey about sports and what does it miss?  While the competitor in me loves the photo, the educator in me wonders, Where's the joy? the fun of sport?  I'm sure these kids, in this photo, love and enjoy their sport and their teammates.  I'm not worried about them. It just struck me when looking at these kids (14-18 year olds) that they seemed awful serious in the photo.  Would love to hear what you think.
I thanked him for framing my questions and concerns so well. I wonder, Are student athletes imitating what they see? Is that a good thing?  The students with whom I have discussed this photo love it. Several have indicated that the athletic department at St. Francis should update it every year. They want to be the model athlete of their sport. I get it.  Knowing their appreciation of this poster, would they hold back their excitement? Would they Smile or mug it?!

In my last blog posting, I noted that when I did a mental inventory of how many athletes have a great smile, I realized just how many do not smile, period! Most are very serious. I get it; competition is serious. But athletes are gifted with amazing talents, beautiful bodies and artistic abilities.  They ought to reflect what St. Iranaeus believes: the glory of God is the human person fully alive. I hope that participating in sports, playing on a team, engaging in recreation, learning from mistakes and achieving victory does amount to a person fully alive!

As you prepare for your next season, encourage your athletes to smile. And when you are confronted with the question: Smile or Mug it? let it not be a question.

Here are but five passages of Scripture that speak to the spirituality of a smile!
Proverbs 31:25
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future.

Proverbs 15:30
Bright eyes gladden the heart;
Good news puts fat on the bones.

Job 29:24
“I smiled on them when they did not believe,
And the light of my face they did not cast down.

Psalm 34:5
They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces will never be ashamed.

Numbers 6:25
The Lord make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you

Photo Credits
Mother Teresa

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