Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Big Night: The Champion's Dinner at The Masters

It's always fun to ask what if. What if you had your choice of playing golf on any course with any foursome—Where would you go and who would you include? What if you could visit one sporting event—What would it be and where? What if you could attend any dinner party—Where would that be and what would you eat? My question is a timely one. Why? Because the answers to those questions involve a singular location connected to a specific event. Welcome to Masters Week. And, tonight is the Champion's Dinner. It is a Big Night—a sacred meal in a sacred space. Here's why.

As written in Seven Days in Augusta, "It's one of the most exclusive dinner reservations on the planet, and it doesn't even take place on a Friday or Saturday night. It is, however, one night a year."

Tuesday night of Masters week, past champions gather in the Augusta National clubhouse for a dinner hosted by the defending champion. No coaches or caddies, WAGS or wannabes. No media either. To say its exclusive is short-sighted. It is men only. It's not a large crowed. It's not even subject to invitation. I don't think there's anything else like it—I can only imagine.

The Champions Dinner was first put into place during the 1952 tournament when defending champion Ben Hogan gave a dinner for the previous winners. Hogan proposed the formation of the Masters Club, with its membership limited to Masters champions. He wrote "my only stipulation is that you wear your green coat." 

Dustin Johnson, the 2020 champion posted the menu for tonight's gather via Instagram. Cannizzaro writes "the menu choices reveal something about the players and where he's from." For example, Scotland's Sandy Lyle served haggis and Germany's Bernhard Langer served Wiener Schnitzel. When I saw Dustin Johnson, the 2020 champion's menu posted via Instagram, I wasn't the least bit surprised. Though entertained by Pigs in a blanket as an appetizer, I pegged him for a fillet mignon all the way. Bubba Watson served the save menu in 2012 and 2014: caesar salad, grilled chicken breast with a side of green beans, mashed potatoes, corn, macaroni and cheese and cornbread. What more would you expect of a guy from Baghdad, Florida?!

And the greatest meals—the ones we remember and cherish—offer sustenance far beyond the food on our plate. We are nourished by the conversation, the stories and the word made flesh.

As creative and distinct as the menu may be, Phil Mickelson's favorite part of the night is of the Champions' Dinner is the conversation. He said "those dinners are usually the chance for the older guys to tell stories. Gary Player and Bob Goalby are great storytellers and they tell some fun ones. It's always fun when Jack Nicklaus and Tom Waton tell stories because they always have some good ones of players I watched growing up. Some of us will add things, but usually it's the older guys telling the stories. I like to listen that week."

Cannizzaro writes "Byron Nelson used to serve as the dinner's unofficial host for years before Sam Snead took over and then Ben Crenshaw. Mickelson credits Player with being a conversation starter who elicits stories from everyone.  It's always fun—lots of jokes and stories," Player said.

Thinking about the gathering that took place this evening—who is there and who is not—notably the five time champion Tiger Woods, I couldn't help but think of myself: Big Night. In the senior selective "Faith, Film and Fiction" students are tasked with watching this 1996 classic. They are invited to consider how this movie demonstrates a eucharistic celebration. My friend Chad, the teacher asks students to respond to the following. He writes

A “Catholic imagination” acknowledges a universe where sacred places and times can be experienced . What experiences/ memories do you have of sacramental meals? What about those meals helped you experience communion and the sacred? What made these meals different/ special?

I see these questions and I can only wonder: What if I were allowed to attend this dinner? 

I know my answer. I would teach this group about the spiritual event they are privy to. They are sharing a meal and sharing stories. What makes is meaningful and memorable is that the menu represents more than one man's personality or homeland. At this table, the elders are respected and revered. They share their wit and wisdom. Those gathered at table listen and learn and one day will have their chance to impart their own nourishment for the self and the soul. 

And in two days, competition will unfold on the greatest of golf courses. The players will make their mark. The crowds will respond. The beauty of Augusta National will shine. A new work of art awaits....

Photo Credits
DJ and flags, Champions Dinner and Table Setting
Menu: DJ's Instagram page!

Monday, April 5, 2021

We Are Easter People: Two Thoughts from Sports & Spirituality

Happy Easter. He is Risen. Alleluia! We are Easter people. I've heard it in the pews and from the pulpit. I say it to my students and serve myself the same reminder: we are Easter people. What does that mean? I have but two thoughts.

First are the words from the Holy Father. This man, whose lives up to the name of his Twitter handle @Pontifex—Bridge builder, the Jesuit who speaks and preaches about the culture of Encounter and models it, has offered an important reminder. He said:

“This is the first Easter message that I would offer you: it is always possible to begin anew,  because there is always a new life that God can awaken in us in spite of all our failures.  
Even from the rubble of our hearts -- each of us knows, knows the rubble of his own heart. From the rubble of our hearts, God can create a work of art; from the ruined remnants of our humanity, God can  prepare a new history. He never ceases to go ahead of us: in the cross of suffering, desolation and  death, and in the glory of a life that rises again, a history that changes, a hope that is reborn.” — Pope Francis, Easter Vigil 2021. 

What a timely reminder. In a year that has been rife with challenge, division and strife, let us seek to begin anew. Let us open our hearts so that this history can be born and this art can be seen. Thank you, Pope Francis.

Second is a realization and a reminder: we must spread Good News. We are hungry for it. Though we are enticed by negativity and gossip, it leaves us hollow. No, let us share our experiences of joy. Extend our stories of hope and delight. Bring light to others. To me, this is what it means to be an Easter person.

This realization on the most mysterious of Holy Days: Holy Saturday. I refer to the day after Jesus died as "no man's land." I can't  recall learning about how we are to approach this solemn day. To me, it feels like you're in a holding pattern. Do we make time for silence and more prayer? Ought we engage in some communal worship or preparation? My approach has always been to pay attention, to be mindful and intentional about my day. This isn't difficult for being an Easter person means we know how the story ends.

On Holy Saturday, I was at work, supervising a junior varsity girls' softball game. I don't know if I have ever attended a high school softball game (which is surprising to me). It's probably not most people's ideal way to spend a Saturday during Spring Break, especially when you don't know any of the girls on the team. I didn't mind.

With fans mindful of social distancing, I took advantage of one of the few open seats—directly behind home plate. I was immediately struck by the amount of clapping and cheering from both the crowd and the athletes on the field. I heard the parents next to me calling most batters by their number. "Let's go one-six! You got this!" and "way to hold off that pitch niner. Good eye niner." More clapping, more cheering, lots of girls being called "kid" by both the adults and the teens. This made me smile.

As a sports fan,  I love sitting next to fans who are engaged in the game. I am a glutton for good commentary or insight. To my surprise and delight, this game offered all of it. My ears were feasting on the language that was being spoken about the game unfolding on the field. 

One inning later, I found myself cheering and yelling myself. I clapped and even stood up at one point. I began to wonder: was it not attending live sports for nearly a year that prompted such enthusiasm and joy or was the culture of the game? Probably both.

But what does this have to do with being an Easter person. In the past year, things have been so divisive and challenging that I think we have all fallen into sharing our latest gripe. I am no exception. I dish them out and receive them willingly and regularly. But when asked about my Saturday at work, all I could do was the total opposite. 

I found myself sharing the story of softball. Surprised by the joy of what was happening on the field and received in the stands, I had good news to tell. 

It was interesting to see the body language of the people who received my report. They relaxed. They were armed for a complaint and met a compliment. My smile prompted their smile. It was fun to share.

Jesus came so that we might have life and have it abundantly. The chronicle of his life—the Gospels mean, "The Good News." Easter is the time to remember that even with the sacrifice, loss and tragedy of this life, faith, hope and love remain. Joy awaits. New life is possible. 

I encourage you to share the Holy Father's reminders and offer your own Good News. You might need to look for it or when it comes to you—pass it along. Happy Easter, people!

Photo Credits
Pope Francis
Thank you Jim for posting Pope Francis' message
Holy Saturday
Good News

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

It's Not About the Weight Room....Right? Thoughts on Women in Sports

It's not about the weight room. And yet, it is.

By now, every sports fan in America should be aware of the story that emerged shortly before tip off of the 2021 men's and women's NCAA basketball tournament. University of Oregon basketball player, Sedona Price created a TikTok video to expose the disparity between the weight room facility and resources allocated for the men in Indianapolis and the women in San Antonio. Same sport, same tournament, same difference. Wait, strike that—it's not true.

The difference is remarkable. The NCAA issued and apology. Many were not surprised to see what has long been true.

How's so? Muffet McGraw, former head coach of Notre Dame women's basketball , said "
Well, I was happy to see it, and I was happy that people were surprised to see it. Because I think we're shining some light on the inequities that have been there for decades." McGraw would know—she retired from her position in April 2020 after 33 years at the helm.

As an outspoken advocate for women in leadership and a veteran teacher, McGraw offered examples of inequalities beyond the weight room. As written in Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw still shooting for women's empowerment, she said, 

Both the men's and the women's [teams] are playing on some college campuses. But you can't tell on the men's side if they're at Purdue or Butler. Because the NCAA has got a brand-new court with a beautiful March Madness logo in the middle of it. [The women are] playing at three schools in Texas who still have the regular court. So there's a three-point line for men and a three-point line for women. One court even has a volleyball court set up on it, with absolutely no signage. Then the courts in the Alamodome that the NCAA has provided for us simply say, "Women's Basketball" in the middle. The NCAA does not allow the women to use the March Madness [logo]. 
I think some of these things seem small to people watching. But there's so many. It's a pretty long laundry list of things that are inequitable. The problem to me is that they treat us as if we don't deserve better, and they're OK with it.

McGraw isn't OK with it and sports fans know it. As Laskey wrote, "McGraw captured attention outside the sports world in 2019 when her Final Four press conference answer about her practice of hiring only female assistant coaches went viral." Her words were truthful and they were divisive. I heard applause from many and jeers from others—long after "One Shining Moment" was played. Perhaps I should reference something else...that video montage does not feature any women. I guess I now know why...it's riddled with that March Madness logo.

Price concluded her report with the declaration: "If you're not upset about this problem, then your'e a part of it," 

McGraw said, "W
e have to ... enact change by raising our voices and making a stand, letting people know that we are not second-class citizens and we're not going to take it anymore.

So where does that leave us? What do you think? What can we do. Here are but two humble suggestions.

1. Talk about your Mount Rushmore. Expand your G.O.A.T.
Sports fan love a bar stool. They relish a good debate, new and old criteria, allowing history to be a teacher—for good, bad and much more. 

As much as I love this arena, I have grown very tired of the endless conversation about the G.O.A.T. My disdain for this topic isn't for the exceptions people make, the bias they carry or even the rules /qualifications they enact. All of that can be fun. No, this conversation is nearly nauseating to me because it seldom, if ever, profiles or mentions women. It should. Why not?

When Sheryl Swoopes turned 50 earlier this month, I heard Michael Wilbon—cohost of "Pardon the Interruption" claim her on his Mount Rushmore. As he said this, my ears perked up. I leaned in. With synapses flying, I said to myself Now we're talking! This something we can all do: change the narrative. Invite the input of others. Press your opinion. Go for it.  

FYI: Swoopes is on my Mount Rushmore, too. I LOVE that she won defensive player of the year and was scoring champion in the same year!

2. Read, Write and Follow a Female Athlete or Women's Sports Team
Supporting, following and celebrating an individual athlete as well as a dynamic team is one of the great joys of sports. 
Sports marketing 101 proclaims the R.O.I on a popular name and personality or an exciting crew is legion. So why not invest a little time, a little effort in getting to know female athletes. Why don't we make more of an effort to tell a female team's story?

Sixty Minutes' profile of the renowned sportswriter, Dave Kindred is all the evidence you will need. It is one of the best stories I have heard in a long time. He's a tremendous example and his personal story says it all. Enough of me—I can only encourage you to see for yourself.

Dave Kindred has covered the biggest moments and brightest stars in sports for more than half a century, but now he tells 60 Minutes he's found his most fulfilling work: writing about girls high school hoops in central Illinois. 

Back to the Weight Room
Though I haven't been there since March 2020, I love working out in the weight room at my gym. A co-ed space, I've never felt intimidated in this space—but I know many women do and I'm sensitive to their reality. I would like those who are tentative about entering this space to know that most people are more focused on themselves than you. For example, due to my heart health I cannot even lift heavy weight. I've taken some ribbing over the years, but most people never say anything. I'm just happy to be there. I put my weights away. I'm respectful of other people's space. I don't sing with my ear pods in, grunt or scream. I talk a little trash—but never about the weight I'm lifting.

I have noticed in recent years just how many more women—in particular younger women are active and showing up in the weight room. Like their male counterparts, they are focused, hard working, intentional and social. It's a good place to be. And, it's a place I would like to talk about a female Mount Rushmore....women GOATs and March Madness 2021. I have to say, I was sorry to see Oregon lose but happy to see Stanford back in the Finals. 

First, thanks to Dyan for sharing the story about Dan Kindred!!
Weight Room
Mt Rushmore

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Is Failure Your Fuel?—Question from Two Great Female Leaders

On Monday, I received what I hope will be the results of my final COVID test for 2021. I opened the email from COLOR SF to see a green arrow that said NEGATIVE. In one sense, the words and the image were contradictory. Green means go. That's positive—and in this case—so is the word "negative." My brain was happy to make these connections.  With the thought of Carla Harris's “negative motivation” fresh in my mind, I started to wonder: How often does a negative approach elicit a green arrow? In other words, are more athletes and competitors motivated by something negative or would they rather be fired up by something positive? 

As written in my last post "The Positives of Negative Emotion," Carla Harris ,vice chairman of wealth management and senior client adviser at Morgan Stanley, admits that she "leverages what people say cannot be done into energy to prove them wrong." She coaches with negative motivation. Since reading about her philosophy, I have seen she's not alone.

In her book "Wolfpack: How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power and Change the Game," Abby Wambach promotes the lesson to "Make Failure Your Fuel." This realization was born from something negative. While still on the youth national team, she visited the U.S. Women’s national team’s locker room. Next to the door, she noticed a 5” x 7” photograph of  longtime rival: the Norwegian national team, celebrating after having just beaten the USA in the 1995 World Cup. Wambach wrote, "It was a picture of their own team’s last defeat.”

Five years later, when she became a member of that very national team, Wambach said "Hey, what was the deal with the picture you kept on the locker room wall of the Norwegian team? Why did you want that to be the last thing you looked at before you went out to play?" 

She writes “they began to explain to me that the first order of national team business is to win. But that when failure does come, the team isn't afraid of it; the team is fueled by it. The team never denies its last failure. We don't reject it. We don't accept is as proof that we aren't worth of playing at the highest level. Instead, we insist upon remembering. Because we know the lessons of yesterday's become the fuel for tomorrow’s win.”

I had to wonder: Would that work for me?  Do I need the visual of a tough moment to keep me focused? to fire me up? 

Wambach adds, I came to understand that "in order to become a champion—on and off the field—I'd need to spend my life transforming my failures into my fuel."

I thought to myself, there's something I can wrestle with. I'm not sure that transformation is anything I could do on my own. It would require patience, prayer, mentors and more. For me to work with something negative—like a loss or against an errant expectation is not easy. It asks something of me....deeper questions, stronger emotions—quite possibly the ones I don't want to deal with. 

Wambach puts in print the Old Rule: Failure means you're out of the game. New Rule: Failure means you're finally IN the game. I think negative emotion is calling us to this same realization.

Do you agree? Does proving people wrong get you going? Do you see negatives as positive? Is that fuel for the fire? Thankful for these female leaders who not only lead from the bench but set their own, unique and outstanding example.

Photo credits
Abby Quote

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Positive of Negative Motivation: Thank you, Carla Harris.

I am a positive person. I would rather affirm that deny. I do what I can to make things possible, but occasionally it's just better to act, speak and think otherwise. For example, as a coach and a teacher, I know that "addition by subtraction" is much more than a catchy phrase. I cannot not tell you that's true. Quite often, less really is more. And thanks to Carla Harris, the recipient of the 2021 Laetare Award, I now know "negative motivation" is a positive approach—in spite of its name.

The Laetare Medal is an annual award given by the University of Notre Dame to recognize an individual who has displayed remarkable service to the Catholic Church, academics and society. At the commencement ceremony in May, the University will confer this distinction upon business leader, gospel singer, speaker and author Carla Harris.

As written in Notre Dame News

Harris currently serves as the vice chairman of wealth management and senior client adviser at Morgan Stanley and is on Harvard University’s and the Walmart Corp’s boards.

Throughout the course of her career, Harris has worked to promote women and people of color in business. She helped create Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab and oversees the company’s multicultural client strategy as a whole.

Characteristic of Harris’ approach to her own success has been a mantra that has carried her beyond many obstacles and naysayers: “Never count yourself out.” Harris coaches others with a “negative motivation” approach, leveraging what people say cannot be done into energy to prove them wrong. She likewise understands her successes as a responsibility to help others, saying, “We are blessed so that we may be a blessing to others."

Her approach caught my attention. Negative motivation? It seems contradictory. To me, motivation feels inherently positive. It is fueled by optimism. But it's also driven by desire and Harris' life is testimony of a truth that too many women, too many people of color, too many people encounter. Many doors aren't open. Ceilings are made of something other than glass. The world says "no way," or even worse "there is no way." Harris' stands before herself and others and says We can. You can. I can....or rather "you/we/I cannot not do this!." And why not?!

Yasiel Puig has always been my example for addition by subtraction. Talented but not a great teammate the Dodgers have fared better without him.

In math, the multiplication of two negatives results in a positive. Every language, has a construction in which two negatives make a positive. And so it is with a reality that many people face. When people tell you to count yourself out, use negative motivation and prove them wrong. I think Carla Harris has it right.

I speak about Carla Harris in Episode 17 of my podcast FaithFondue. You can listen here!

Photo Credits
Carla Harris

Monday, March 15, 2021

Saved by The Players Championship: A Lesson in Humility After Vaccine #2

The only reason I didn't sign up for a Sunday tee time is because I wanted to watch the final round of The Players' Championship. I didn't see much of the first two rounds and on moving day, I played nine holes before heading to the Oakland Coliseum to get my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Thank you, FEMA. Thank you, Pfizer. And thank you, TPC Sawgrass!

To me, this tourney, "the fifth major," lives up to the hype. Between the island green and so many other dramatic, demanding holes the players themselves are really put to the physical and mental test of this great game. Furthermore, a win at The Players gives much more than a $2.7 million prize (from a overall purse of $15 million); it affords a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour (formerly ten years), a three-year invitation to the Masters, three-year exemptions for the U.S. Open and The Open Championship, and an exemption to the next three PGA Championship. In short, there is a reason the who's who in golf—this year, 49 of the top 50 players—put a lot of skin in the game.

I turned on my television hoping that Lee Westwood would win it all. The 47 year old Englishman is one of three players on the tour who has been number one in the world and never won a major. I love that he is my age and that his caddy is female; Helen Storey is also his fiancee.

I laid on the couch and could barely move my arm. Fortunately, my remote control has voice activation ;-) As a teacher who gets the flu shot every year, I anticipated a sore arm after the first and the second dose of the vaccine. Check and check. But this pain was tremendous. My arm was heavy and extremely tender. At certain points in the day, I was unable to even lift it.

I watched the front nine of the leaders in relative discomfort and as the intensity on the course heated up, so did every last side effect listed by the CDC. Nausea. Chills. Fever. Body Ache. My own misery was growing. I started to just surrender to sleep. As much as I wanted to see Justin Thomas fly out of his shoes as he tees off, I could barely stay awake...and if I did, I found that my headache only throbbed more.

The thrill of competition couldn't fully distract me from my worsening condition. I told myself every last line of personal motivation I have ever used as an athlete. Just get through this. Pain is temporary. Stay strong. In 24 hours from now... I drank sips of water to stay hydrated. I added more layers to stay warm. I reached out to a few friends for encouragement and repeated to myself—ride this out.

I woke up to see the last few of what was, once again, great golf. How I love that look... exhausted athletes bringing it in and finishing strong. Smiling because they did their best and taking some satisfaction in that. Cant' be easy to do.

Thomas overcame a challenging first two days to win by finishing 14-under after shooting a final-round 68. After signing his scorecard, I knew he would be asked about losing his grandfather. Paul Thomas who died just five weeks ago, was a longtime head golf professional. It goes without saying, the two shared a love for the game As written in The Palm Beach Post, he "would have been proud at how his grandson overcame a start in which he was outside the cutline after the first 27 holes and recovered to card a 64-68 on the weekend on the way to a 14-under 274 for the tournament, one shot better than ageless wonder Lee Westwood."

Thomas recalled how his grandfather, aged 89, was at the forefront of his mind as he sealed the win. “I think about him every day but thought about him this morning and then I think when I saw my dad walking up 18 — that was the first time during or since I teed off on one when I really thought about him,” said the number three player in the world.

Thomas, got so emotional he had a difficult time trying to say how much his grandfather meant to him and how he wished he could talk to him. As Justin shed tears, it was hard not to shed my own. My pain, though real, was very different. I thought of how that served as an appropriate theme for the year--tears of loss, from physical pain. It's amazing to me how in a single moment we can hold such complex and varied human emotions. What a day.

With no golf to distract me, the pain intensified. I was told at the FEMA site to wait 24 hours before taking Tylenol but I couldn't wait any longer. At 22 hours and counting, I took two, and fell asleep for another two hours. I wanted to throw up, but I willed myself to keep it down so the medicine could work. It did.

When I woke up, I felt like a human being again. Though drained of energy, the Tylenol broke my fever and abated my acute body ache. My chills were gone and I was ready for Chicken Noodle Soup. I had the slightest of appetite and realized, I finally turned the corner. I could say "tomorrow will be better" and actually believe it. #Humility

While many people have posted pictures of getting the shot, holding their vaccination card, there is nothing that can or will capture my sentiments of the second shot. While most people are celebratory and grateful, I have been humbled. I still feel that way. My perspective on all of it has changed. 

I am still not 100%. I had every last side effect reported by the CDC. My reaction was severe and I wouldn't wish it on anyone, but I also know countless of Americans have been at risk for the actual disease this vaccine was preventing me from for a full year now. Though I don't know many personally, too many men and women have died from COVID-19. Some died alone, others died in hospitals, and all because what I got on Saturday wasn't available.

I think if a friend had pushed me to play golf on Sunday, I might have. And that would have made what was bad, far worse. Anytime I get sick, I am humbled by what the human body can do and what it feels like to be broken. Physical pain consumes your psyche. It takes the joy out of what we love most—like a great tourney. But it can't and never will break us from the strongest of emotions:  empathy as a 27-year old man cry tears of joy and grief. Gratitude for the weight that has been lifted in becoming fully vaccinated. Appreciation for those who care for me and wish for my healing. Inspiration at those who are working tirelessly to get the vaccine into our arms. 

Please know, if you have any side effects from the second dose, I am here to send words of advice and encouragement. And if you don't, enjoy another round of golf!

The 2021 Players Championship was the backdrop for another leg in the COVID-19 journey. Many graces and many struggles. Different types of pain and tears. The finish line for this particular race closes in. Let's cheer for one another to cross that finish line. Peace.

I speak about "The Fifth Major" in my podcast @FaithFondue. Give it a listen HERE!

Photo Credits
JT Trophy
Lee and Helen
JT and Paul
Vaccination Card

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Lunch with Serena Williams—Three Takeaways

Today, I had lunch with Serena Williams. 

Thanks to the University of San Francisco' Silk Series, I logged in to webinar that featured a conversation between Associate Vice President for Development Jennifer Azzi and the "tennis superstar, entrepreneur, activist, philanthropist, and venture capitalist: Serena Williams." Like a typical lunch day, the conversation lasted but a half hour. And here are but three take aways from the lunch bunch.

Her sense of humor.
People know a lot about Serena. This should not be surprising because she is everywhere. From the winner's circle of every Grand Slam, to the Olympic Games to Meghan and Harry's wedding, Serena is a household name and a known personality. What we see has been further revealed in a number of documentaries like the HBO series "Being Serena" or her profile as Sports Illustrated's Sportsperson of the Year. She is easy to describe—ambitious, focused, legendary and strong. Serena is smart, passionate and fierce. She's also really funny.

I don't know that I have ever heard the media or fans talk about just how funny she is. Perhaps it is because she's not trying to be....but she is. 

Serena is articulate and delivers her opinions and insights comfortably. She imparts her color commentary without much affect. Her dead pan humor is good, so good that people might miss it. She has a fantastic eye roll, too (I mean it). 

When talking about her daughter Olympia she said "she's in this phase right now where she thinks she should get a present everyday. And that's not how things work." She admitted that her daughter's desire to sleep with her and Alexis—her husband—is ruining her dinner plans. When asked about how she relaxes or finds way to destress she said "I love getting my nails done, but that hasn't been an option." She didn't even try to make up another answer. Azzi moved on.

Serena is as Serena does. And her commentary on that cracks me up. In the documentary "Venus and Serena," when asked about her size and body image, Serena said "well first of all I don't lift weighs because I think my arms are already too built. I don't use my upper body. My muscles are just for show, I don't know why they are still here—I never use them."  My students always looked at me in confusion at this comment. Is she serious? they wonder. She names her difficult personalities. There is Meghan and Laquanda. Her mother warned the viewer, "Don't let Laquanda get loose." 

I wonder what is the name of her comedic personality. I'm a fan.

What Motivates Serena
Every great athlete is asked at one point or another to describe why they play the game. Many have something to prove—whether it be to society, someone or even just themselves. Others want to be the greatest, to inspire others and leave a legacy.

Tom Brady has shared that football is the only place where he can truly be himself. I found his reason fascinating; I appreciated hearing something so unexpected. I found that in Serena, too.

At first I wasn't sure if she was dismissive of the question. Serena said what motivates her is love. She loves the game. It's what she loves to do. So simple and yet so on point. Why hadn't I thought of that before?

That love speaks volumes. It's why fans are drawn to certain players. It's not something a person can fake. I'm sure during the tenure of one's career, an athlete must fall in and out of love with their sport. I would like to hear Serena speak to that but I believe her when she states this love is deep, lasting and life-giving. Thank you, Serena!

At the conclusion of the conversation, USF's President, Jesuit Father Paul Fitzgerald thanked Serena for her love of art and support of it. This was news to me as well.

Serena shared her love for modern art and her efforts to support black artists. When she admitted that she was a bit of an artist, I found myself leaning in. I wondered what her medium might be. She didn't say much about this new passion. Instead she stated "tennis is my art." I smiled because that is what I have long believed to be true. 

In Closing
A good meal—a memorable one—is nourishing not just because of the food, but the conversation. Thank you Serena!

I speak about lunch with Serena in my podcast @FaithFondue. Give it a listen HERE!

Photo Credits
USF Silk Series
Playing Tennis

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Shtisel and Reverence: The Best of the Best

I absolutely loved "Ted Lasso" and "The Last Dance" captured my imagination. They should, both speak to Sports and Spirituality with proficiency. "Shtisel" however is different. For one, it has nothing to do with sports. It's set in Jerusalem and uses English subtitles to translate from Hebrew. Still, Shtisel is the show I have enjoyed the most during the COVID era. 

Season 1. I miss Elisheva so much...

While many people are familiar with "Unorthodox," Shtisel is an Israeli television drama series about a fictional Haredi Jewish (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) family living in the Geula neighborhood of Jerusalem. The show, which was first released in 2013 follows the life of Shulem Shtisel —the strong-willed patriarch and his five grown children. Like manna from heaven the third season will be released  on March 25!  

Why Shtisel? How could it possibly speak to a Catholic American? to a woman who loves sports? And why write about it on a Sports and Spirituality blog? Here are but a few thoughts. 

Peter Beinart of The Atlatntic writes, "Shtisel’s themes—the bonds of family, the pursuit of love, and the relationship between the living and the dead—are universal, its setting, the ultra-Orthodox Geula neighborhood of Jerusalem, is to most Jews (let alone non-Jews) mysterious. Shtisel re-creates it obsessively. One of the show’s creators, Yehonatan Indursky, grew up haredi in Jerusalem, and Shtisel employs mashgiachs (supervisors) to ensure that every detail is correct." 

Still struggling to accept Libby

Even before immersing myself into the Shtisel family—which like Ted Lasso, I often forgot isn't real—learning about Judaism in its many expressions has deepened my understanding of Christianity. As I have grown in my relationship with Jesus and belief in Him, so too has my appreciation for the tradition in which He was raised. 

Father Jim Martin, SJ wrote that traveling to the Holy Land is reading "the fifth Gospel." Thus, it was with that perspective in mind that brought me to Israel for a full month in the summer of 2017. To see what Jesus saw, to walk where He did, to visit his birthplace and his burial deepened my faith and my love for a shared heritage of belief. I now pray "and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" with a deeper understanding of what that means!

But Shtisel isn't set in the past, the characters live, move and have their being in the City as it is today: ancient and modern, walled and open, diverse and dynamic. My travels to Jerusalem brought me to the very neighborhood where the Shtisel family resides. Adrian, my group leader loved the Geula neighborhood. She taught us about this community and equipped me with eyes to see their way in the world. It was indeed mysterious, unique, singular and beautiful. I understand why it is the perfect setting for this program.

to know Kive is to love Kive

I believe the program Unorthodox raises questions that are far different than the ones that spawn from Shtisel. Many a viewer of Unorthodox is left with the sense that orthodoxy is extremism and/or that the two are synonymous. And in today's world extremism is viewed as something we must avoid all all costs. I don't think it's that simple. One program and one perspective, though valuable and affective doesn't make anyone an expert on a way of living, a tradition that has been followed, a faith that is practiced.

Unpacking the Immense Popularity of Shtisel captures what Shtisel does offer. Beinart writes, "Shtisel’s combination of radical particularity and radical universality lies at the core of its appeal. At Temple Emanu-El, Aloni quoted a fan who told him, “I’m a Norwegian Christian, and watching Shtisel makes me long for my childhood in Geula.”

Through Shtisel, the viewer is invited to both appreciate and question the practices, attitudes, traditions, norms, expectations of this ultra orthodox community. I found this to be a wonderful exercise by which to compare and contrast my own faith and its  culture. While some things stretched and challenged me, I also felt a tender appreciation and sense of wonder.  I still do.

And so while we are at it, I would like to conclude with a short video REVERENCE from the Jewish Film Institute. While Shtisel tells the story of a family that nominally assimilated today's world, in Reverence, we are brought to understand the meaning of newfangled kippahs (the Hebrew word for skull cap) branded with pop culture icons and sports logos is dissected. It is a given for viewing in Sports and Spirituality. And if Kive wears a Giants kippah in Season 3, I'll show Shtisel too... ENJOY!

I'd be happy to talk about Shtisel on my podcast @FaithFondue every week. But you can here it as part of the Spiritual Stew here!

Photo Credits
Season 1
Season 2
Akiva aka Kive

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Daniel Begovich of Stanford Men's Basketball and What Happens When Two Words Stand In Your Way

It isn't uncommon for athletes—or anyone for that matter to have a personal motto. Wayne Gretzky said "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take" So true. Henry Russell "Red" Sanders— not Vince Lombardi—professed "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." I'm sure in the late '80s mine was "Just do it." Thank you Nike and thank you Bo Jackson. You knew, even then that we shouldn't put off for tomorrow what we can do today.

As much as I love a good motto, I am intrigued by one near and dear to the heart of a former student, Daniel Begovich. Daniel, now a senior at Stanford is profiled by Cardinal Athletics because his story is one that needs to be shared, seen and heard. 

In this nine minute video Daniel "shares what Stanford means to him and his family as well as his journey from team manager to a member of the team for Stanford Men's Basketball." Promoted on Twitter, @GoStanford wrote

  • A journey from manager to team member.
  • A jersey number to honor his late father.
  • And a simple message for others: "𝐃𝐨𝐧'𝐭 𝐪𝐮𝐢𝐭."

According to Daniel, the don’t quit story goes back a long way. He said, "my dad was inspired by fellow Cal student athlete, starting QB Joe Roth who lived by those words as he battled cancer while playing football and continuing school. Look up his story I’m sure you’ll appreciate it." Don't Quit is the title of a movie about Roth's life. I can't wait to watch.

I love this photo because Daniel and Neal are always among the first to stand and cheer for their teammates. Caught in the act!

Daniel's motto, "Don't Quit" are words you have probably heard before: They certainly characterize his story and the stories of many others. Inspiring—yes. Unique—probably not. So what, right?

Daniel added, "When my father passed, I learned that he was inspired by the saying  Don't Quit and that poem. When he passed away I told myself I was going to play college basketball in his honor and those two words got in my way."

In life, we tend of think of things that get in our way as inconvenient, a hassle, a barrier or a hurdle. It is rare for me to think of anything that has gotten in my way as something good. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was on to something. Many have been, some can be!

If a motto is to have some teeth to it, at some point it must move beyond words on a wall, a quote on a poster or bi-line on our Twitter profile. For athletes, such words needs to be encountered and challenged. They ought to bring us to a place where we are forced to consider Do I really believe what I claim to?  They should help us determine Is this motto something I can and do live by?

There is so much that is so special to me about Daniel., and that's another profile for another time. But, I would like this post to rest at his story, his motto and what he has taught me, the least of which is what Sholom Alechem meant when he wrote "When the heart is full, the eyes overflow." 

Though I already knew much of the story you see in this video, I watched with a full heart and eyes overflowing with tears—both happy and sad. And in it, I saw what you will see: a man who offers his family, friends, teammates, Stanford fans and the world a reminder not only of hope, resilience, sacrifice, faith, hard work, but what a person can do when they let something stand in their way.

It's not often that a high school teacher gets to teach a student's siblings. I was lucky and got to teach Joe, Daniel and Neal—Sports and Spirituality!

Photo Credits
Daniel and Neal
Don't Quit
Great teammate

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Tiger Woods and His Nine Lives: A Dostoyevskian Character

Though I have yet to review the HBO documentary "Tiger," one of my take aways from the salacious program is that the man is lucky to be alive. And when news came pouring in on the morning of February 23, 2021 about his survival from a single car accident it confirmed what I have long believed: this cat has nine lives.

Many have bemoaned the way this story filled the airwaves, crowded social media and took over television programming. Sports fans, golf fans and everyone else have admitted just how much time and attention they paid to this event. I am no different. The morning after, I started my day by walking and listening to  ESPN Daily "Tiger Woods: Latest Updates + America's Son Documentary." One half hour later, my morning commute was characterized by an on-air discussion of the purported  impact Tiger's accident will have on the game of golf. Text messages simply stating "Tiger!!!" or "prayers for Tiger (insert emoji of hands in prayer and a Tiger here)" continued to find me. 

At some point, I hope you ask the question I asked of myself: Why? Why do we care? Do we? Are we still reeling from the all too sudden death of Kobe Bryant? Is it because Tiger still has or it is about something more? What do you think?

Likely answers will include that Tiger Woods has impacted the game of golf like few others. Or Woods is one of the best athletes of all time. Many can't help but cheer for his continued comeback while others can't cheer for him period. Are you a person who can separate the player from the game? Can you? Should you? Rather than offer my opinion or share what I believe, I would like to offer a suggestion on why the news about Tiger Woods IS important and what it has caused me to consider.

Brian Murphy, the host of KNBR sports morning show said what many of were probably thinking: "no one has higher highs and lower lows that Eldrick Tiger Woods. One need not take a long step back to realize this is true." 

Aren't some lives like that? Don't we have friends and family members who we might describe in that way? Some might say he's a tragic figure in a Shakespearean play. If yes, Is his story one of tragedy? Is he the flawed protagonist? Or something more? I don't know enough of the good bard's work to assess. But, I do believe Woods is....Dostoyevskian.

In an essay called “Prosaics,” Gary Saul Morson, a teacher of Russian literature at Northwestern University, showed how Tolstoy believed in the prosaic life and Dostoyevsky in the dramatic. Joseph Epstein, says it best in his essay "The Symphony of a Lifetime." He writes

Things happen to Tolstoy’s characters — they go to war, have vastly disruptive love affairs, suffer unexpected deaths — but they are most interesting in their ordinariness: a strong case in point is Natasha’s family, the Rostovs, in War and Peace. Her brother and father and mother, with their rich but normal passions, appetites and family loves, are people who gain moral stature through an endless series of small acts. 
In Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, nothing is ordinary: passions turn into obsessions; gambling addicts and epileptics are at the center of things; men are beating horses to death on the Nevsky Prospect; poverty has wrenched people’s lives into little hells on earth. The question isn’t really who — Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky — is the greater novelist, for both are great, but which shows life as it is more truly is. 
As Professor Morson puts it: “Dostoyevsky believed that lives are decided at critical moments, and he therefore described the world as driven by sudden eruptions from the unconscious. By contrast, Tolstoy insisted that although we may imagine our lives are decided at important and intense moments of choice, in fact our choices are shaped by the whole climate of our minds, which themselves result from countless small decisions at ordinary moments.” At some point in life, I think, one has to decide if one is, in one’s belief in the shape of his or her life, a Dostoyevskian or a Tolstoyian.

If you were to graph such lives a Dostoyevskian character is like a stock that is quite volatile. You see the ups and downs. A Tolstoyian character has losses and gains, but it's a conservative fund. Think cryptocurrency vs. a mutual fund.
I always ask my students about their preference: fiction or non-fiction. While most prefer fiction in their lives, like me, a few others wonder why read it when real life offers enough of the drama. And so it is in this ongoing drama that is "What to do with Tiger?"

Whether is it great literature or the following of a great athlete that gets us to consider and contextualize the story of our lives and the lives of others, so be it. After all, the journey, the pilgrimage, and the path of our own lives ought to be shared and examined for none of us walk alone. We influence others, others influence us. And your story need not be either Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy. It might be Shakespeare or Stephen King. A little Richard Wright and a lot Virginia Wolf. A touch of 
Toni Morrison but add some Amanda Gorman. Or Dickinson, Yeats or Edward Abbey all the way. Let me know....

Haley and I talk about Tiger and the need for prayer in our podcast @FaithFondue. You can listen to that conversation here!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

4 for 40 Days: The L.E.N.T. Prayer

Matthew Kelly of Dynamic Catholic writes "we become the books that we read." Do you agree? Why or why not?

My commitment to read for 21 minutes everyday in 2021, means I will be reading a lot of books. Some books find me and others I seek out. Each one leaves a mark, a new perspective and a unique point of view. I'm curious to know—who then, will I become? Right now, I'm reading Tom Coyne's "A Course Called Ireland" and I can't wait for his latest release "A Course Called America." Should be interesting and make me more interesting. We'll see...

I believe I can ask this question in good faith because this routine: #21 for 2021 is working. Ask me to read in the late afternoon or early evening and the odds are I will probably fall asleep. But I have begun most everyday since January 1, 2021 with my timer in hand and 21 minutes on the digital clock; its delightful. 

There are however other routines that still get away from me. I don't make a regular time for prayer, stretching or even tidying up my physical and mental space. Perhaps there is a way to integrate all three. But, given what I have learned about myself from the #21 for 2021, I decided this Lent that I would give all of four minutes to morning prayer—either before or after reading. I created an acronym to guide me in this pursuit and hope you will join me.

The article "Why We Pray, Fast and Give Alms During Lent," helps us remember why this spiritual discipline is at the heart of all Lenten traditions. Our Sunday Visitor writes, 

Throughout the season of Lent, we are called to deepen our prayer life. For some of us, this means beginning a habit of daily prayer, setting aside time each day to share our hopes, joys, fears and frustrations with God. Praying first thing in the morning, while the house is still quiet, or talking to God while on your commute to work are simple ways to integrate prayer into everyday life. Praying the Rosary, visiting the Blessed Sacrament or attending a daylong silent retreat may bring you to new places in your relationship with God.

So let this be the first thing you do in the morning. If your house is not quiet, find a space that is. Spring is inching closer;  so you might be able to offer this prayer outside. Pray at time that works for you. It's all of four minutes—one minute for each letter. Sports fans can refer to it as 4 for 40 days. Peace.

The L.E.N.T. prayer

L is for light….Ask God to be with you in prayer, to offer's God's light into your life and your day. Let God's light illuminate how God is working in your life—reaching out to you, communicating with you and loving you. 

E is for Ego or Error...Ask God to eliminate the Ego and the errors that prevent you from being your best self. In what ways do pride and your ego prevent you from loving others, yourself and even God. 

N is for nature... Bring to mind a part of nature you may have observes or appreciated in the past 24 hours. Maybe you were grateful for the sound of rain. Perhaps you felt the sun shining on your back. Did you see the color green? The blue of the Ocean? Give thanks to Our Creator God.

T is for trust.... Trust God. Ask God to help you trust. Consider what is holding you back? Consider what you may gain by trusting and loving God more.

Good and gracious God, thank you for your light. Help me when my ego gets in the way of being the best version of myself. I'm grateful for the world you have created. Help me to trust you always. Amen

Haley and I discuss this prayer as part of the "Take Away" on @FaithFondue. You can listen here!

Photo Credits

Lent and prayer

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The One Shot I Won't Block—Sports, Spirituality and the COVID-19 Vaccine

Never in a million years would I think to link a vaccine to sports or to spirituality. But then again, never in my life would I expect to be excited to receive a vaccine. And, yet the old adage rings true: never say never. Never!

On Saturday February 20, 20201 I received my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Oakland Coliseum. Whether or not you live in Alameda County, those over the age of 65 as well as teachers can receive the vaccine with or without an appointment. Walk-ups are welcome. Thank you Pfizer and thank you FEMA!

I took the 66th Street exit and entered through the same gates that have brought me to countless Warriors' basketball, Athletics' baseball and even a few Raiders' football games. I have paid my $20 to park in that same lot for Springsteen and Justin Timberlake concerts. I have tailgated in that space for many a Bay Bridge series. This space is not new to me and yet, as I made my way through the maze of cones, directed by men and women in fatigues with F.E.M.A. on their back, I realized the gravity of this particular moment. 

As I inched my Jeep closer to the vaccination tent, I was overcome with emotion—relief, joy, gratitude. For some reason, I was able to see it for what is was: a moment in American history. I arrived to this place with the burden of loss— of rituals and traditions, people and places we will see no more, but ready to turn the page. There was a current of hope among the workers—talking, mingling, directing and assisting all of us. I knew people would be talking about this moment—that I would be talking about this moment for years to come.

When it was time for my vaccine, I offered my right arm. My dominant side gets a lot more movement thanks to my golf game. The staff on hand was excited to learn I teach and coach at Saint Francis High School. I shared that students returned this past week and my girls' golf season started two weeks ago. They loved hearing the good news.

I asked the nurse what time she started working. When she told me she started at 8 a.m. and was done at 7 p.m. I promised myself I would pray for her and the countless other men and women working long days—many who do so in inclement weather—so that our country can heal, recover, reopen and stay healthy.

The van in front of me had five people in it, so I couldn't move forward to the zone where cars must wait for 15 minutes after vaccination. Instead, I was able to talk to the CalFire man who was assisting the nurse. He told me a little bit about what the last year has entailed for him. He admitted that summers are exceptionally hard now, given the reality and extent of wildfires. He added that after fires, they have worked overtime due to flooding and now this. He wasn't complaining, he was simply telling the truth. I listened and when it came time for me to pull ahead he said "It was nice talking to you. Thanks for what you do." I don't think a side effect of the vaccine is instant tears to eyes but that happened. He thanked ME for what I do. Wait, what? Maybe that's America at its best.

A friend and I have debated whether or not to tell people we have been vaccinated. Why? Folks are frustrated with how to access the system and injustices abound. My own mom who is 78 has yet to receive hers. I don't want to dismiss the reality and challenges that too many face in the process....and yet, I want offer a suggestion.

Let us encourage one another. Let us celebrate the success of each vaccine as it is administered. Let us cast off judgment if but for one moment, for those who are able to get and receive Moderna, Pfizer and those to come. Let us remind each other—more help is on the way. In time, we all can move our vehicles forward, offer our dominant or non-dominant arm and get the one shot Bill Russell said he won't block.

I hear all the time that people hadn't thought of the connection between sports and spirituality, until I call it to their attention. Prior to yesterday, I would have never seen the connection between a shot and spirituality. However, heading into a space sacred for so many different sports—for cause much bigger and better—I couldn't help but realize the gift being given, made possible by many hands and willing hearts. 

Photo Credits
Coliseum Complex
Bill Russell
Shot info

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Super Bowl LV: Hodgepodge. Snack on this!

Passing under the archway of chips for sale and on display at Safeway, I realized pandemic or not Super Bowl Sunday is upon us. Second to the Thanksgiving holiday, Americans eat more on this near national holiday than any other day of the year. I paid heed to the purchase power of those in front of me as I waited in line: cut veggies, dogs and buns, more chips, lots of dip. A royal hodgepodge of healthy and not so healthy, processed, colorful and caloric and figured why not create my own. Here are a few thoughts for you to snack on before—err...after Super Bowl LV. Enjoy

In lieu of "The Why"I don't myself as a skeptical or jaded person. However, the sophomore in me remains strong. And what I mean by that is when an idea or a tag line has run its course, it needs to be retired. If it's not, it becomes cliche. Even the definition of cliche seems to now be cliche. In other words, it loses its meaning.  Said cliche can come out of retirement in due time, but let it lay low for a while. There's enough creativity in the human race that we can and should find new ways to express the same truth.

In coaching, the hot term in recent years has been "The Why." I have given talks on this very topic. Asking an athlete why he or she plays and competes is an important question. Asking a coach why they do what they do is a telling question. "The Why" invites reflection. It is on-going consideration and invitation. But can we press pause for a minute?

So here's a suggestion. Religion of Sports runs a series, "Tom vs. Time." In the preview, Brady speaks to the power of conviction. Essentially he is inquiring about "The Why?" He believes an athlete ought to ask him or herself a composite list of questions. He says, "What are we doing this for? Who are we doing this for? Why are we doing this? You gotta have answer to those questions. And, they have to be with a lot of conviction. When you lose your conviction, you might as well be doing something else." 

In short, let's move beyond "The Why" and consider "Where is your conviction?"

The Kid
I love a good nickname. However, when you have a name as cool sounding as "Mahomes," I'm not sure you need one. But the KC QB has a few. For example, my Dad calls him "Boy Wonder" and he is more commonly known as "The Kid." I found both to be quite fitting. At just 25 years of age, Patrick Mahomes led his team to his second straight Super Bowl. 

You need not enter a sports bar to engage sports fans in a debate about the G.O.A.T. It's on-going, it's everywhere. You probably can't go a day without hearing some sport claiming their greatest of all time—their G.O.A.T. And one person is associated with that nickname in football more than any other: Tom Brady.

With the selling point of this year's Super Bowl contest being a Brady v. Mahomes showdown, the GOAT v. the Kid raged on. After hearing nearly a week of this sports talk, a light went on. I realized something that must be obvious to most people but me: Patrick Mahomes is the Baby G.O.A.T. and in the English language we refer to them as "kids." It was if the clouds had lifted...the scales dropped from my eyes. I love connecting the dots. I should have known why he is called the kid. I love it. 

Dots lead to more dots. I learned from Redwood Hill Farms that "It wasn’t until the 1800’s that the word kid was extended to children." I hope it's still PC to call young humans kids. Let me know if not.

Who You Did Not See Play on Super Bowl Sunday
One of the great joys of teaching Ethics and Sports and Spirituality is the opportunity to "introduce" inspirational people with my students. On Friday before the Super Bowl I was able to share the story of Laurent Duverney-Tardif, by way of his profile as a Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year.

The Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman, who spent the first four years of his NFL career balancing football with medical school, opted out of the 2020 football season. He passed up the chance to defend his team's Super Bowl title by joining the frontlines of the healthcare system in its fight against COVID-19 in Canada. 

I asked my students to respond to the video with their impressions and insights. I am always amazed at what strikes them...and I'm grateful that at least one student "kept it real" by asking how much he can squat. Well played. I want to know too.

Kudos to ESPN Daily for re-airing their profile on this remarkable doctor, athlete and humanitarian!

In Closing
The Super Bowl is now a week behind us. In episode 12 of my podcast: FaithFondue, Haley and I discussed the number of February holidays. A number of Americans want the Monday after the Super Bowl to be a national holiday. There are however a hodgepodge of others to enjoy this month—a month during which we celebrate Black history, our Presidents,  groundhogs, our most popular sport, love and feasting before the fast. Enjoy it all.

Should the day after the Super Bowl be a holiday? Haley and I discuss this question on our podcast @FaithFondue. You can listen here!

Photo Credits
Two teams
The Kid Goat