Wednesday, September 22, 2021

A Pressing Question for Sports Fans: Nothing Spiritual About this....

I have attended two major sporting events in the past month. Lucky me! Both games have also sparked a realization. Perhaps it should not have taken me this long to come to terms with how I feel, given how long I've been a sports fan (i.e. my whole life). Regardless, allow me to put this insight into the form of a question. Here it is. To what degree does the quality of a game affect your enjoyment of the experience? A lot? Not at all? A little? Is there a "right answer?"

On Saturday, September 4, I went to Oracle Park for the second time this season to watch the league leading San Francisco Giants take on our talented nemesis—the Los Angeles Dodgers. With its 6:05 p.m. start, it was the hottest ticket in town. 

I could not have asked for better seats or a better companion at the game. Mike is a die hard, life long fan of the orange and black. In fact, he's my favorite type of person to watch a game with. Why? He knows the players, sees details that I do not and calculates standings/potential outcomes with ease (love those text messages!). Mike asks me questions. He knows Giants' history, baseball history and more. Mike is funny and we have a close friend in common who is a massive Dodger fans. We delight in beating the Dodgers because we should--that's what Giants fans do. But using it against our friend is potentially sick and twisted, but still ok. (See rivalry 101 for more information). 

Our game was the second game of the three game series. The Giants won game one, but never never got it going and lost 6-1. The winning pitcher Jose Urias was good, but he wasn't MadBum World Series 2014-like. The loaded Dodger line-up put the hurt on early, as Trea Turner started the game with a one-run home run. 

While the Giants did score one run in the first inning, they never got in a rhythm and we are still upset about the balk. 

While I was sincerely grateful for our time together, something felt off...or missing. When coworkers and friends asked me how my weekend was, knowing I had gone to the game. I should have been more ebullient but that's not how I felt. Does anyone else share my sentiment?

But two weeks later, I was in South Bend, IN for the Alumni Association's Fall Affinity Groups Meeting and stayed for the home opener of the of the 2021 Notre Dame football season. The Fightin' Irish hosted the University of Toledo Torpedos and won 32-29.

I went with a beloved friend, my former roommate. Erin and I have attended a game together, barring Covid, for the past six years. As Notre Dame alumni and fans know, returning to campus for a game is about so much more than what occurs on the gridiron. The pep rally, time at the Grotto, meeting with other friends, tailgating, mass and golf make game weekend and incredible weekend.

Erin is also a great sports fan. Her football IQ is strong and we always find a way to connect to the people around us. She loves to play call and even though I got mad at her for projecting a loss (it was WAY to close), I love her passion and commitment to ND football.

The seventh ranked Irish squeaked out a win on the final drive of the game. We locked arms for the alma mater, took a photo together and were thrilled to leave with another victory (the Irish are 6-0 in the games we have seen together). We also left exhausted, dehydrated and wondering how the rest of the season is going to be with a team that played so flat footed. The defense was no where to be found. I wasn't even sure who SHOULD get the game ball.

I returned home from an incredible trip to campus and yet, I couldn't pretend like the game wasn't something that it wasn't. It was confusing, nerve wracking and even with the win, it was underwhelming. 

Thus, I am left with the question I asked at the beginning of this post: 
To what degree does the quality of a game affect your enjoyment of the experience? A lot? Not at all? A little? Is there a "right answer?" One reason I ask is because I cannot find an analogy for this issue in the spiritual life. But the more important reason is because I believe sports are a gift. To participate and witness athletic contests and feats should enhance our lives, not compromise them. And yet being a fan of sport isn't without cost. If I didn't care—and care deeply about my teams, I could walk away unaffected. Though still grateful for the experience, I reminded myself that we say victory is sweet, but some much sweeter than others. 

And if there's a word in German or in Yiddish that captures this feeling: grateful to have been part of something but less than thrilled about the experience itself, please let me know. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

#Gameday2021: Reflections on Sports and Spirituality at Notre Dame

I posted a photo of the Golden Dome on  the first day I returned to the University of Notre Dame and wrote "No Caption Necessary." In response to this iconic shot, I got likes and hearts, questions and the message "Welcome Home" from several friends. This is something I hear quite often when I return to campus and it never gets old. That message, those words—they warm my heart. 

Notre Dame is a home for me. Like any home, it's a place we yearn for. We return with anticipation and expectation. It's not easy to get to Notre Dame and often times, I arrive home exhausted but excited. Weary and yet hopeful. My time at home always sparks a mix of emotions. Things aren't the same--Why would they be? In many ways, life on campus is so much better. In many others ways, it's not. I think I am too. 

My return home however prompts memories--new and old—and gives me the opportunity to reflect and pray. And, as readers of this blog know, my time and ND offers me a chance to think more about Sports and Spirituality. Here are but a few thoughts that I gained from the past weekend.

Saturday, September 11, 2021 at 8:46 on the South Quad 
My former roommate and good friend Erin and I went to the flag pole in the middle of South Quad, the same space that students gathered after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 for Mass. The celebrant then was the leading celebrant of this timely prayer service, President Emeritus Edward "Monk" Malloy.

As written on the Notre Dame website,

At 3 in the afternoon an estimated 7,000 people gathered on the South Quad for a Mass concelebrated by 75 Holy Cross priests, including Father Malloy and Daniel Jenky, CSC, ’70, ’73M.Th., auxiliary bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese. In contrast to the somber mood, it was a dazzling blue-sky day.

“On the altar today we will say prayers that Jesus will be present with us again,” Monk said to a mass of people that stretched from Alumni Hall nearly to Badin. “His words are emblazoned on the Sacred Heart statue not too far to my right: ‘Come to me all you who are afflicted with heavy burdens for I will be with you. My burden is easy and my comfort light.’ He is our source of comfort. He is the one who can give a perspective on the incomprehensible horror that we have experienced today."

Monk recalled how students were lost and clung to one another on that tragic day. They went to the South Quad because they did not know where else to go. When it was time to pray the Our Father, they didn't join hands—they locked arms. The sign of peace was shared by heartfelt and long lasting embraces. Father Malloy has mentioned that mass as one of the most memorable and meaningful events of his presidency (if not his priesthood) .

Twenty years later, we remember the members of the Notre Dame family who died on September 11.  The night before, I spent some time reading in Deaths in the Family: September 11 and Domers that Survived the World Trade Center attacks in Notre Dame Magazine. I carried the names of all to this prayer service.

The ND Club of New York offered a flag that once flew over Ground Zero. It was raised in silence and then lowered to half mast. Though I have seen many a flag fly at half mast, I'm not sure I have ever seen this ritual take place. I was amazed, humbled and inspired that a simple gesture could say so much. 

I am so grateful I was able to begin this tragic day in remembrance and in prayer. Thank you, Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Stadium
I posted another photo, this one from my seat in the North end zone. #Gameday Go Irish!

My friend and podcast partner Haley replied to it with a question many other people were asking. She wrote "Why isn't the stadium full?" As someone who comes from a city with the number one team in baseball and the best ballpark in MLB that has had very few sellouts all season, I have my own thoughts. Covid? 

The 20,000 empty seats, barely registered with me. Why? My seats was adjacent to the student section. I realized if I wasn't watching the game, I was watching them...and at times doing what they did. 

No, I did not stand the entire game. Nor did I volunteer to be hoisted or to hoist anyone else for push-ups after the Irish scored. But I did wear green as 97% of the student body did when they purchased THE SHIRT.  (97% is also the same percentage of students who are vaccinated). And, I lifted my hands to fist pump and clap in response to the marching band.

In my four years as an undergraduate, I attended every home game. While many people think of Touchdown Jesus, the Dome or the spire of Sacred Heart Basilica as the backdrop of Notre Dame Stadium, I realized this past weekend there is an audible backdrop, and it's timeless. 

This backdrop hasn't changed in the 25 years since I graduated. It's not just the whistle of the referee, or the clashing helmets. It's something other than the Notre Dame Victory March and the Alma Mater. I am talking about a score, a collection of ditties from the Band of the Fighting Irish. This rhythm comes from the drum line and the cheerleaders lead the way. This music and these cheers aren't something students think or talk about. I don't even know if each song has a name—but I know exactly what to do when the begin. And I love them! I always have. I will ask my friend Kristin, a former cheerleader more about this

This year, the band does not sit in the corner opposite the student section. Instead the are in front of their friends and roommates—their peers. I loved seeing the student body together and as one—especially as they join in those cheers.

Notre Dame Mass Hype Video
Yes, you read that right. Only at ND does a jumbotron feature an an advertisement, an invitation and a reminder for Mass. Check it out for yourself, but the celebrity priest, Father Pete McCormick is featured doing his work in much the same way the team and fans do theirs. Erin and I went on Sunday morning at the Basilica, but  I do love that all are welcome—easily and accessibly to a number of places on campus to remember "you are called, you are known and you are loved." Thanks be to God.

In Conclusion
My role as a Notre Dame Women Connect Regional Director brings me home for meetings in the Fall and in the Spring. It should be of no surprise that both dates are planned to include a football game (in the spring it's the Blue and Gold game...both of which are optional). These meetings are not for the weary. We meet and plan, discuss and debate ideas and input for better programming, meaningful experiences and new ways to live the mission of Notre Dame.
Even at home, there is work to be done. I am grateful for it.

As beautiful as Notre Dame is, was and will always be—it is home because of the people--the Notre Dame family.

Thank you all those who serve on ND Women Connect Board--you are colleagues and friends. To the NDAA for your tireless effort and leadership. We are a "Force for Good" because of your support and dedication. Special shout outs to the Sheehan family, Colleen Moore, Notre Dame Women's Golf coaches and players for the visit, the Kroha Clan, John Harris (one in a billion), the Rohr family (we connected!), Paul Kollman, CSC, Brian Levey (Sports in Ethics Prof and resident comedian), Don Smail (in spirit), the staff at Sacred Heart Parish Center and my dear, dear friend Erin who has joined me for the past 7? 8 years now?  Go Irish!

Photo Credits
Touchdown Jesus
All others--taken by me or Erin!

Friday, September 10, 2021

We Remember, We Celebrate, We Believe: Welles Crowther and His Red Bandana.

I stood before all those in attendance at the Notre Dame Alumni Association's Fall Affinity Groups Meeting to lead our closing prayer but my mind and my heart wanted to share a message must different than the one I had prepared. I suddenly got choked up as I realized the gaiter around my neck is a red bandana.

Today, my Sports and Spirituality class at Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, CA is learning about Welles Crowther. Welles was a lacrosse player at Boston College and dreamed of being a fireman. After graduation he worked as an equities trader at Sandler O'Neill and Partners. Tragically, he lost his life while making heroic efforts during the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center. However, twelve men and women are alive today because he led them through the rubble of the 78th floor to the stairwell. 

Rather than descending all the way to the bottom of the south tower, Welles went back in and up. To me, this is why Springsteen's song and album "The Rising" is poignant and powerful. Through music he articulates what is nearly impossible to put into words—the total sacrifice, and heroism of people chose otherwise. Those he saved did not know his name, they simply knew that he wore a red bandana.

There is a book and a movie about this life. The video my students saw today is this one. I encourage you to watch it now and consider the questions I have posed for my own students.

  • Can an ordinary object ease agony?
  • Can an ordinary object create legacy?
  • How can someone be gone but still with us?
  • Have you ever played a game that honors another person? Have you ever dedicated one of your games in honor of a friend, family member or cause?
  • Identify a personal object of your own, maybe this is something that you wear or have at home. It might be something that was given to you, or something you got from someone you love—that is of personal significance to you. What is it? What is the story behind it? What is the lesson or reminder it offers

What they don't yet know, but will learn is the red bandana is a sacrament (lower case "s) and to be a Catholic is to celebrate the sacramental life.... one that we can understand and share through prayer.

A gift from his Dad, Welles wore a red bandana as a young boy.

The prayer I had written was one thanks for the Notre Dame family, one that is seeking unity in our diversity. I offered thanksgiving for the Notre Dame spirit—a force for good, guided by Mary, Our Mother. With gratitude for the hospitality that has been extended by leaders at the University, I asked for continued blessings in the work we all share and a prayer that we return renewed and recharged to our homes with "a warrior's heart, an immigrant's spirit and a servant's soul." We heard these words at our introductory session and they capture the life of Welles. The prayer I wanted to offer in that moment was in remembrance of him and all those who have given their life in service to others. I hope this post serves as its own prayer.

Tomorrow marks 20 years the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. I will begin the day with prayer at Notre Dame. As written in "Notre Dame News, "
30-minute prayer service on the South Quad to begin at 8:46 a.m., the time the first plane was flown into 1 World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. Notre Dame President Emeritus Rev. Edward A. “Monk” Malloy, C.S.C., will preside, as he did for a Mass of remembrance in the same location on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001. Mary Elizabeth Stern, director of faith and service in Student Government, will serve as emcee, and the Notre Dame Folk Choir will provide music." I will wear what I wore today: a red bandana. A sacrament for all to see. 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Faraway Goal: Using story and soccer to talk about Afghanistan

I frame the curriculum of Sports and Spirituality with a focus on three things: language, vision and story. Ron Rolheiser said, "God speaks to every element in the language it can understand." For the purpose of the course, that language is sport. Second, "spirituality is understanding there is more to life than what meets the eye." Thank you Richard McBrien. My goal is to help young people acquire the ability to see the spiritual in all things, especially sport. Finally, I believe sports are the subject of some of the greatest stories we have and hold. "Faraway Goal" is a  story about Nick Pugliese, an American soccer player who played on the Kabul Cup championship. His story is how I decided to talk to my students about a crisis in our world that has brought tremendous sadness to my heart—the current events in Afghanistan.

In 2014, Nick found an opportunity to continue his soccer career after college in an unlikely place: Afghanistan’s pro soccer league. He said, "You cannot explain this place in two minutes, let alone two hours. I'm not sure whether I will be able to share this experience with people or if it's something that I'll just hold with myself for the rest of my life.” 

The article, Empire Alumni Nick Pugliese Featured on Sunday ESPN SportsCenter, states "Tom Rinaldi voices the story, which explores Pugliese’s life in Kabul last fall (2013). A native of Rochester, N.Y., Pugliese went to Afghanistan to take a job after graduating from Williams College in Massachusetts, where he was a soccer standout. He played high school soccer at Rochester’s McQuaid Jesuit."

“I was just fascinated by the idea of an American all by himself living in this country and of all the things, he was playing professional soccer,” said Dan Arruda, producer of the feature for ESPN, who spent 10 days in Afghanistan with Pugliese. “It just seemed very surprising to me and I wondered what his life was like.”

I shared this story with my students because I wanted them to see just what Kabul, a city of 3,000,000 people looks like (let alone from a fellow American's point of view). I wanted them to see Ghazi stadium—a place that was once used by the Taliban for public executions and in Pugliese's tenure as a venue for  Afghani "association football matches." I wonder how and if that will change again.

Through soccer, Pugliese becomes much more than friends with his teammates. To him, they are family. 

Sayed Shahab Shah said, "he was speaking a little Farsi, I was speaking in broken English. We started with hello! How are you? We drink tea together. We go to the market together. We tell each other stories and share our thoughts.

Upon hearing that word "story" my eyes began to pool with tears. I started to wonder what are the stories Sayed is now telling Nick, who is in law school at Yale. 
I wondered if Nick's teammates and friends are safe. Are they living in fear? Are they even alive?

Sayed added, "we don't treat each other like a foreigner or an Afghan. We're like brothers."

If only that was the perspective of the Taliban...of ISIS....ISIS-K and what hurts me most—of the US Government. I believe the United States of America  has a moral obligation to uphold our end of the bargain in protecting those Afghanis who protected us. I know friends and family here in the US who have lost sleep over what we have failed to do.

As written in the WSJ, "Today More than 100 people were killed, including at least 13 U.S. service members and 90 Afghans, at the Kabul airport Thursday when two blasts ripped through crowds trying to enter the American-controlled facility, disrupting the final push of the U.S.-led evacuation effort." Please pray for peace, for safety, and integrity.

After watching Faraway Goal, my Dad said "if Afghanistan had a team that played in the World Cup, things might be different. A soccer team unites people in many foreign countries in a way that little else does. They would certainly cheer against America, but it would bring together all of those in the Afghanistan in a much different way." This in no way is meant to simplify the complexity of the problems. That being said, one of my students—a die hard soccer fan, completely agreed. How I wish that story could and would be written... 

Photo Credits
Nick with Medal

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

School Rules: The Positives and Negatives of Norms, Rules and Expectation in Sport

On the first day of school, one of my studnets walked in significantly late. I was speaking to the class when he handed me his tardy slip and kept walking toward an empty seat. Several of his friends laughed at this brazen move. I imagine this confident senior must have been embarrassed on some level. Who knows. I was so shocked by the interruption that I gave a response that surprised even me. 

I said, "Did you know if you are late in NFL for a team meeting, you are fined? Interesting, huh? But for those of you who know the culture of the NFL, fines aren't uncommon. But let me get back to the point at hand; I would like to talk about that consequence: Is it fair? Is that a good idea? Fining players when they show up late?! We will talk about that in this class."

growing up with a Grandfather and uncles who refereed, I suppose respecting the rules is in my DNA.
Glasses Ref has retired from his duties at the white hat but still works with the Pac 12 Crew of officials

The class thought about it too. I returned to my original point and the bell rang but a few minutes later. As I packed up my backpack, I realized the 2021-2022 was well underway and with it, a new way to talk about classroom norms, expectations and rules.

Given that the entire student body hasn't been together since March 2019, I realized quickly how important it is to cover nuts and bolts of the course and what students are expected to have in class. Between posting the seating chart, taking roll and reviewing the syllabus, we haven't had much time to talk about Sports or Spirituality. Therefore, I figured why not integrate them into this discussion as well.

I posted my syllabus and asked students to review and sign it for homework. It includes a course description, outcomes, and our units of study. It lists the grade structure and procedures, grade scale, late work policy as well as expectations for academic integrity and attendance. Starting last year, we implemented a diversity statement. I hope students know how seriously I take the principle of respect for one another, for me and the course itself.

It was important for Coach Wooden that all his players had short hair.
Bill Walton challenged this!

After formally reviewing the information I want to be sure they are familiar with, I presented the following three prompts that address culture, climate and rules.

  1. If you are late for a meeting in the NFL you are fined.

  2. Many private clubs have dress codes and norms or rules for members. At the Olympic Club in San Francisco some of the rules are as follow: no hats inside a building, no jeans on the property (Lakeside), male members must wear a collared shirt when playing golf, men must tuck in their shirt, hats cannot be worn backwards, no cargo or yoga pants on the course or short skirts. It is the responsibility of members to know and follow the rules but not enforce them on one another. That is the job of the staff.

  3. John Wooden, the legendary coach at UCLA, had three rules for his players:  1. Be on time. 2. Never criticize a teammate and 3. No profanity. Not one word

I asked the class to determine what was positive and negative about each statement. I challenged them to think creatively and consider how these ideas relate to our school. I emphasized that the point of this exercise was not for them to share their opinion on the matter but rather to consider how these norms can affect a community for better or for worse. 

I have always tried to offer personal examples when I talk about school rules. For example, when I share with my students that I enforce the dress code, I remind them that I too must follow one: female teachers are not allowed to wear sleeveless shirts. They are asked to wear a sweater over a tank top or any blouse with straps, etc. However, providing these examples that relate to the wide world of sports was much more interesting. For example, one student noted that the dress code at Olympic Club affects men more than women—many saw that as a new characteristic! They also loved reading the list of what else the NFL issues fines for. I've heard it called the No Fun this why?

I hope my students will return to class with other examples of rules and norms as they apply to our school and the world at large. Stay tuned. It's exciting to be back.

Photo Credits

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Football as the Metaphor for Life: What We Can Learn from the NFL on the COVID-19 Vaccine

In his Pro Football Hall of Fame speech, John Lynch said, "I want to state the National Football League is the greatest metaphor for life that I've ever known." I have a world of respect for the nine time Pro-Bowler and now General Manager of the San Francisco Forty Niners and still his words challenge me. Really? Football is life? I suppose Ted Lasso is proclaiming the same truth.

On one level, his proclamation should not surprise me. The yellow jacket, the bronze bust, the platform to recall and celebrate past success allows one to wax poetic about the power and potential of this great game and the organization that makes it the most popular sport in America. Even with emotions running high, I have to admit, his metaphor works—for better or for worse. 

Three words that come to mind when I think of NFL leadership are cronyism, nepotism and sexism. Truth be told, these isms are characteristic of too many powerful organizations. Sadly, drug use, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault and homophobia are friends of the program. In the NFL, you have the obscene wealth of the owners, the extreme wealth that agents make, and the inordinate cost of season tickets. The PSL should be criminal. Unfortunately, the list goes on. Did I mention the Black Hole? 

But Lynch does not focus on the shortcomings, the limitations of the National Football League. Instead he says:  

It challenges each and every one of us that plays this great game in every way possible. Everything about the game is hard and tests your will. It compels every man that puts on a uniform to not only do their best, but to be their best. In football we quickly discover we're only as strong as our weakest link, and if we're to achieve the goals that we've set for ourselves, we must all learn to play together and pull together. Each of us comes from a different walk of life, but when we huddle up, we huddle up as a team. It doesn't matter where we come from or your background. All that matters is the fulfillment of one goal: victory.
And I think few too people know this metaphor extends to a battle we are fighting in our country and in the world today: COVID-19.

The NFL is now nearly 90% vaccinated!  These increased numbers didn't get there by happenstance. Due to the league and players' union, every player is not required to get the jab,  However, life is challenging for those who won't. And I want to thank them for that. 

In the ESPN Daily Podcast, How NFL Team are Combating Vaccine Hesitancy I learned the league is actually leading a vaccine campaign in the US. According to Kevin Seifert this is the last thing he would ever imagine saying. 

While many people are aware "if an unvaccinated player causes an outbreak that forces a game to be canceled, that player's team must forfeit. And every player on both teams will lose out on their game check." Many fans—and players!— are upset about this decision. They wonder Why should the vaccinated get punished for what others have chosen not to do? Good question. And yet, is that not corollary to our reality right now? If all those who are able to get the vaccine had gotten it, we would not be required to wear masks indoors once again. For the record, it's NOT fun and it's hard to teach with a mask on. The metaphor is real.

But what many people do not know are what I see as positive measures the league has taken to promote getting vaxed. 

If you are vaccinated, there are very few protocols or restrictions on your actions around the team and in your personal life as well. You do need to wear a contact tracing device in case you get exposed and must get tested every 14 days (this is subject to change based on the variant). You can eat in the cafeteria, you don't have to worry about social distancing, you can go out to dinner when you are on the road, you can leave for the bye-week. You can do all the things—for the most part—that NFL players have been able to do in previous years to the pandemic

However, if you are unvaccinated, you are subject to all the protocols and a few additional ones that we saw in 2020. You must wear a mask at all times except for when you are participating in a game or practice. You have to stay in town during the bye-week so you can keep getting tested so you don't bring anything into the building. When road games  happen, you are going to have to travel separately, you can't leave your hotel room, you can't eat with the team in the cafeteria, and you can't see your family without them being subject to testing. Players have to wait 30 minutes for their test results so they can join team meetings. The "No Fun League" fines players if they are late for meetings! This means athletes arrive at practice extra early. In short, the NFL is making it very difficult for players to stay unvaccinated.

You can call it a maximum pressure campaign, but those steps, those requirements remind me of Lynch's message. These times are hard; the past year has tested my will in more ways than I thought possible. And yet, we must strive to do our best and be our best. We must work to stay healthy, to be clean and as far as I'm concerned get the vaccination that prevents severe illness, hospitalization and death. Do we have the goal of beating the virus? Do we want to protect people like Ron Rivera—coach of the Washington Football team who is immunocompromised due to chemotherapy treatments in 2020 and cannot get the vaccine? Indeed, we come from different walks of life. Fortunately the vaccine is completely free. And what might we all say to one another in that huddle as we continue to work toward victory over this pandemic? Let us continue to work toward fulfilling a goal—putting COVID 19 in the history books

Lastly, I would like to write a whole lot more about John Lynch, but his message was but a starting point for this post. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the US Open in June at Torrey Pines! Thank you, Cort!!! I loved his speech because it reflects what I consider to be shared values. He  thanked his wife Linda first, his children—each one of the four by name, and his parents. He said, "your standards and expectations were always high, your love always unconditional. The Catholic faith that you instilled in me and blessed me with is my guiding light. Where would I be without it? Where would I be without both of you? Mom and dad, I'm truly grateful and I love you."  I too am grateful to my parents for the Catholic faith they instilled in me. And for what it's worth, leaders in the Catholic Church have encouraged the faithful to get vaccinated.

Photo Credits
Vax Site
JL and Jake

Monday, August 16, 2021

MLB at Field of Dreams: Here's to the 2021 School Year

The 2021-2022 school year at Saint Francis High School officially begins on Wednesday, August 18.  With 10 minute classes, we have just enough time to welcome students, introduce ourselves and share an insight or two about the course. And, thanks to MLB at Field of Dreams that took place on August 12 between the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees in Dyserville, Iowa I know exactly what I will share.

I have always loved the artwork of Lisa B. Johannes entitled "Is this heaven?"

My two sections of seniors enrolled in Sports and Spirituality will be asked to pull out their notebooks and with pen in hand and respond to the following statement: "I believe in things visible and invisible." I can't wait to hear what they have to say.

Perhaps these words are familiar to you. I say them with conviction at Mass when we stand and profess the Nicene Creed. I have never been a person who must "see to believe." To me, there is so much more to life than what meets the eye. Such is the stuff of the spiritual life. 

It's also the premise of the movie "Field of Dreams" in which Kevin Costner, playing Ray Kinsella—an Iowa farmer turned mystic—greets his father for the first time in years thanks to a call and a commitment to build a baseball field. The catch? (both literal and metaphoric here) is something that takes place on a diamond that he builds from his corn fields. 

Ray hears the voice. He sees Shoeless Joe Jackson. Some do, like his daughter and others do not. For Ray and his family, the invisible IS visible to him. Thanks be to God. 

If you would like to use "Field of Dreams" in your own Religious Studies class, I have created a discussion guide hereIt is a beautiful movie—the setting, the music and the lighting. It is a weird one too. How perfect for teenagers. I have written a number of blog postings about this movie you might enjoy. 

Kerry Weber, editor of America magazine writes, "You Don't Have to Love Baseball to The thing about “Field of Dreams,” though, is that you don’t have to love baseball to find beauty in the film. You just have to want to be reminded of the power of faith in things unseen and the need to find courage to follow a path not yet trod. It offers stories of second chances and reminders of the beauty of reaching out when all seems lost, only to find that someone has been watching out for you all along."

I think "Field of Dreams" offers an invitation to reflect on some very basic questions that relate to the spiritual lives. For example, In your own faith life—What messages have you heard? Have you been called to do something that is as Ray says, "totally illogical?" Do your family members see what you see? Do they support you in your vision? Field of Dreams is just one way to consider what our Creed outlines as truth. 

Sure you can call it a smart marketing gimmick by MLB, but for me it offered good press and a new chapter in the story of Field of my students will read again this Fall. It evokes so many of the primary themes of my class—mystery, pilgrimage, beauty, sacrifice, reconciliation and the afterlife. Sometimes, believing IS seeing. 

Photo Credits
Is this Heaven?
MLB at Field of Dreams
Corn Field

Monday, August 2, 2021

What We Can Learn from US Olympian Jessica Springsteen

I have yet to watch much of the Tokyo Olympics, but I will certainly be tuning in today to watch the Boss' daughter, Jessica Springsteen compete in Equestrian. Ranked number fourteen in the world, Jessica Rae is the middle child of Rock n Roll Hall of Fame singer and songwriters Miss Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen. She is also the youngest of the four members of the United States Equestrian team. Thanks to Jess, I have learned that Equestrian is the only Olympic event which involves animals and in which men and women compete together. With every sport, I seek to celebrate its virtues. Jess has certainly brought those to the spotlight. 

Think what you will of Springsteen's success in horse riding. Yes, the sport defies financial accessibility. I'm sure there are those who believe that her parents' power and privilege has put her in a perched place, one that points to Olympic glory, but her story intrigues me. I am not that familiar with horses. I know but a few people who ride. So what gives?

Fortunately, I figured out why: I have been told that our parents influence us more than we will ever know. To hear Jessica talk about her sport serves as a poignant reminder of that power of parental example. 

I have a program from the 1984-1985 Born in the USA concert tour that stands proudly in my room. It features each member of the E Street band with a full page photo and biographical information including: full name, nickname, height, weight, birthdate, instruments played, first band, secret ambition, favorite color, favorite food and what do you like to do on a date. Bruce Frederick Springsteen's nickname is "The Hardest Working Man in Show Biz." Attend but one of his concerts, and you will the moniker as self-evident.

In order to make an Olympic team, one must become "the hardest working man or woman" in their sport. I can only guess Jessica saw that work ethic in her father...and in her mother who has been with the band since before she was born. The Boss has continued to sing, write music, write a book, perform worldwide, perform on Broadway, create a podcast in that time. 

The Duke University graduate saw not only the hard work but the passion that fuels the fire. "They [Bruce and Patti] obviously found their passion when they were younger with music, and they recognize how hard it is," Jessica told the Robb Report. "Some people go through their entire life without finding something that they really love, so they just kind of really pushed me. They know that you just have to keep going. And they've really instilled that in me."

Jessica's passion—her Olympic dream— is now a reality. According to the Town&Country article Bruce Springsteen’s Daughter Jessica Joins the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team, "The professional rider also gave some insight into her extensive training routine, which included strengthening her legs and core. But, she noted, there's no substitute for riding itself. She said, "The best way to keep yourself sharp and to stay in shape for show jumping is to constantly ride." Springsteen started riding at the age of four. 

According to ESPN Olympics 2021 - Jessica Springsteen is far more than The Boss' daughter

  Jessica traveled with the team to London in 2012, but she didn't get a chance to compete. She then took the 2014 American Gold Cup and won her first five-star event in 2016, but it wasn't enough to make the cut for the Rio Games.

Over the five years between Rio 2016 and the delayed Tokyo Olympics, she progressed up the ranks and started working with her current horse in 2019. The pairing put her in the Olympic radar when it helped the U.S. jumping team win the FEI Jumping Nations Cup USA in 2020. She would add her own individual victory in the K 4* Grand Prix Hubside Jumping Tour event June 13 in France.

Equestrian comprises three disciplines: Dressage, Eventing and Jumping—with men and women competing on equal terms. Springsteen will be representing the US in Individual Jumping with her horse Don Juan van de Donkhoeve. 

In every interview I have seen, I have found her to be incredibly engaging. A self-described introvert, she smiles easily and defers to the wisdom and expertise of her teammates. I find her to be a wonderful representative of our country in these Olympic games and hey...all this makes a for a great story, too. I think her parents deserve *some* credit in all of this.

In 1990, the Boss wrote the song "Living Proof" following the birth of his first child, his son—Evan. To my knowledge, he has not written a song in honor of his daughter. Perhaps HER example at the Tokyo Olympics will prompt that.

Photo Credits (see links above)
Town and Country

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Comments and Questions for Olympic Gold Medalist Lee Kiefer '17

According to Fighting Irish media, Lee Kiefer is "Arguably one of the most accomplished student-athletes in Notre Dame history.  Lee Kiefer is a two-time Olympian, four-time NCAA national champion, and the first U.S. women’s fencer to earn a No. 1 world ranking. This is her story." As the first American—male or female—to win an Olympic Gold Medal, I don't know there is much to argue. In Kiefer, we have an answer. 

I encountered her story in 2017, thanks to the video about her (I recommend you watch it now). The opening line speaks the language of Sports and Spirituality. 

Lee says "Fencing is Beautiful."

Even in that moment, with Lee standing mysteriously behind a cage of a face mask, leaping with a sword in her hand, the conflict reveals a truth. There is beauty in the sport. This dissonance does not last for long. She adds "and it is violent. Strategy is crucial. At times it is patient and other times it is wild." She had me at beautiful, but now I really want to know more. I enjoyed every minute of it and have shown it in my class every semester since. My students feel the same way; I hope you do too. 

Thus, the purpose of this post is to share her story and the questions it has inspired. Enjoy. 

Why Fencing?
Lee's father, Steve Kiefer shares why he was drawn to fencing. A club sport at Duke University, he said "fencing to me was exotic.  As a club sport, it just sounded intriguing and kind of fascinating." 

His testimony resonates with mine. A club sport at Notre Dame, I felt the same way about crew. In high school, I saw what must have been a 30-second clip of students rowing in the movie "Dead Poets Society." It was fascinating. I was intrigued. Like many college kids, I tried out for crew in the fall of my freshman year. I rowed all four years. 

Lee's story is different. Her father obviously exposed her and her siblings to fencing early on. I would like to know if she also found it exotic, intriguing and fascinating as a child. And, does she still feel that way?

Why Fence?
I would love to learn more about the virtues of fencing. What does an athlete gain mentally and physically, socially and spiritually by participation in the sport. Also, I am interested in knowing from fencers: How do you think about the world because you fence? In other words, how does fencing shape your vision?

What I know about fencing is limited to what I learned through her story and what my former students who fence have shared with me. As an undergrad, I didn't know any fencers. Though I remember seeing the set up for fencing bouts (that's the official word for their match/game) inside the JACC, I have never attended an actual competition. I wonder how many students attend today? 

Fencing often attracts a certain type of student athlete. Fencers are high achieving, self disciplined, type A personalities. Though they should never be reduced to a certain stereotypic, I've worked with enough teams in athletics to know that certain characteristics emerge. 

I have heard the off-color remarks that young people use fencing to get into outstanding colleges, the Ivy League. While this may be true for some, at some point, every fencer must reconcile for him or herself why they engage. Why fence? I'd like to know. 

Fencing and Fun
Lee admits that bouts get sweaty and can be fun. How? 

I ask this question as a person who plays a sport that a lot of people disregard as fun. Golf is tough and it's slow. The number of people who reduce it to chasing a 1.68" white ball over hundreds of yards, all the while hoping that you don't lose it looms large. But, I can explain to you exactly why golf is fun. I am certain Lee can do the same. And it must be fun, because she has given so much of her life and time to it. 

Lee's coach, Gia Kvaratskhelia
 lauds her creativity. In fact, it underscores his claim that she is the greatest Notre Dame athlete of all time, in part, because of it.

In every sport, the greats are creative. Wayne Gretzsky, the Williams sisters, Michael Jordan. What does creativity look like in fencing? What does it feel like? sound like? I'd love to learn.

Fun Facts
Lee Kiefer should not be reduced to bunch of fun facts. Her success is worth celebrating and sharing. She has much to teach about excellence and that noble pursuit. And yet, it's hard not to pass on some of her stats as noteworthy "fun facts." Thanks to Jim Small, here are but a few:

America has won only three Olympic Gold Medals in history in Fencing -- and all three have been won by former Notre Dame student-athletes!

2004:  Mariel Zagunis, Sabre Olympic Gold Medalist
2008:  Mariel Zagunis, Sabre Olympic Gold Medalist
2021:  Lee Kiefer, Foil Olympic Gold Medalist

Also, Lee's husband, Gerek Meinhardt '13 is currently ranked #2 in the world in Foil. He competed in the Olympic games on Sunday, July 25. It makes sense that she would marry a fencer. Growing up with two siblings who competed in the sport, it's a family affair. Those must be some good bouts.

Beyond the I in Team
I love that Lee grew to become more confident and caring after competing for four years on the fencing team at Notre Dame. It can be quite challenging to build a team when your athletes compete individually. With her early success, she could have constantly and consistently played by her rules. But from her teammates' testimony to the tears she can't hold back at the conclusion of the interview, it's obvious there wasn't a huge I in this team. 

I wish Lee, her husband Garret, Fightin' Irish AND American fencers many years of continued success. Congratulations Go USA!

Photo Credits
Lee at ND
Flag for Lee
Wedding Shot

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Bromance in Sports...and in Spirituality?

In teaching about the life of Christ, I enjoy sharing facts that students might not know about the Lord or His disciples. 

Here are but three examples. Were you aware that Jesus knew three languages? Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew. Second, although the crucifixion makes this evident, Jesus was tough. Joseph, his earthly father, is too often referred to as a carpenter. Given where they lived, the term "tekton" is more appropriate. Tekton means a general craftsman; some even translate it as "day laborer."A tekton would have made doors, tables, lamp stands and plows. But he probably also built stone walls and helped with house construction. We don't know much about his teenage years, but we do know he would have been mentored and trained by Saint Joseph and that work is never easy. Lastly, the disciples were probably teens. In the first century, when a boy reached his early teens, he became a man. Women married at around age 13. Renowned scholar Craig Keener, argues that the twelve disciples were most likely in their late teens. 

These fun facts generate some good questions and I find it valuable to think of the Lord in a personal, relatable way. And what I saw at the 2021 American Century Celebrity Golf Championship Tournament between Justin Timberlake and Patrick Mahomes prompted a new one. Their budding bromance inspired a question for my class: Is there any evidence in Scripture that Jesus and one of the Apostles might have had a bromance? And, were there any bromances among the other disciples? 

Though nearly self-explanatory, "bromance is the combination of two words, "brother" and "romance". It might start with an admiration of something that the other man does, like his ability to shoot hoops, talk to women, or succeed in business. The men enjoy hanging out with each other so much that it becomes a (nonsexual) infatuation.

Evidently, Timberlake is known for continually cultivating and creating the unique male bonding found between "brothers from another mother." (thank you, Urban Dictionary) According to the post "What's So Great About Bromance"? The media often uses the word bromance to describe two men who just met who get along. For instance, in March 2016 when President Obama talked with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House, media headlines everywhere declared the two were in a bromance. Celebrities like Justin Timberlake, Andy Cohen, and Will Ferrel are also said to be in a bromance with their close, male friends. 

In years past, and to the delight of all fans in attendance JT has been seen bromancing Steph Curry. When the relationship was broken up by the former MVP's pairing with his father Dell and brother Seth, Timberlake found himself in a love triangle. Paired with Mahomes—the highest paid quarterback in the NFL—and one of his best receivers, tight end, Travis Kelce, JT had a lot of wooing to do. Chiefs fans may or may not support it.

Timberlake is a multi-faceted entertainer—dynamic, gifted and very talented. He is a strong golfer and finds rhythm wherever he goes. Mahomes who excelled in both baseball and football,  had innumerable fans in the gallery. However, he met his biggest one in Timberlake. 

For example, on the 18th hole when QB1 hit his third shot on a par five to within 2 feet of the pin, JT did what Mahomes had already done to him. Pick him up on his shoulder and carry him in.  The love may extend beyond Edgewood, Lake Tahoe. According to "For Pete's SakeChiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is ready to make his singing debut and he may have found a way into the music business through a golfing buddy: Justin Timberlake. Pete Grathoff writes,

On Sunday, NBC Sports asked Timberlake what he had going on next, and he answer with short- and long-term plans.

“After I get off 18, I’m gonna go take a nap,” Timberlake said. “I’m 40 now so naps are like a thing. Then after that, I’ll finish up my record. I’m about 80% done.”

Mahomes interjected: “Can I get a feature?”

“Let’s go,” Timberlake said.

For the record, Kelce and Timberlake broke out dancing at one point on the course. In other words, this bromance is not exclusive.

Is it just me or is "bromance" just fun to say? Maybe bromances are fun to consider because seeing friends have fun is a sign of joy. Friends out to make us smile and laugh. They bring out new dimensions of our personalities and build our character. Women might call this a "girl crush" but among dudes, bromances are here to stay. Or rather, they have always media is happy to celebrate them.

Saint John the Evangelist offers personal testimony of his bromance with the Lord. There had to have been others. I hope to take this perspective with me and offer it to my students as we make the Life of Christ part of our own.

Photo Credits
Singing Duo
Kelce, Pat and JT and ACC Love
On Hole 17

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Suns v. Bucks: A Case for Connaughton

I would like to thank the Sports Information director at Notre Dame for writing my Case for Connaughton. One can't even get to his stats —the breakdown of his freshman through senior seasons (you can read that again: a four-year collegiate basketball player still exists in the NBA!) without wading through a robust list of his accomplishments as a player and teammate. 

I got to meet Pat at the Ask Jack series on campus.
Not sure I've ever stood next to someone that fit...

I don't know that even Irish hoops fans are fully aware of the incredible contribution Pat has made. I'll let the information from his Bio on Notre Dame's Men's basketball speak for itself. 

One of the greatest leaders in the history of the Notre Dame men’s basketball program … two-time Notre Dame captain and one of 22 players in program history to serve in that role in multiple seasons … played in more games (139) than any other Fighting Irish player … started 123 career games to rank third all-time in that category … made 120 consecutive starts during his career as one of three players in Notre Dame history to make 100-plus consecutive starts … concluded his career as the eighth Fighting Irish player with better than 1,400 points and 800 rebounds … finished 16th and eighth, respectively, on school’s all-time career scoring and rebounding lists … owned career averages of 10.5 ppg. (1465 points) and 5.9 rpg. (823 rebounds) … scored in double figures 74 times during his career and netted 20-plus points on 11 occasions … grabbed 10-plus rebounds in 20 career outings and registered 16 career double-doubles … led the Irish in scoring and rebounding 19 and 41 times, respectively … also led Notre Dame in blocks on 32 occasions during his career … fifth all-time in career three-point field goals made (268) … 41st pick overall (second round) in the 2015 National Basketball Association draft by the Brooklyn Nets and was subsequently traded to the Portland Trailblazers.

The play-by-play case for Connaughton is self evident. I would like to add a bit of color commentary for why I could potentially cheer for this member of the ND family in the Suns v. Bucks NBA Finals

Speaking of family, Patrick Bergin Connaughton is the first cousin of my friend Erin nee Bergin Earnst. Pat's mom and her dad are siblings. I learned of this family connection early in his time at ND. I loved following his success because it proved to be a fun way to stay in touch with Erin over the years. His success = Irish success = Bergin pride. I can't imagine how her kids must have felt, having a cousin in the NBA. I personally couldn't handle it; I am convinced I would tell anyone with ears to listen. 

Instead I am running with this one: my mother's maiden name is Naughton. In the same way that I feel a connection with Steve Stricker (different spelling) I feel one with Pat. I like to think we hail from the same clan...or it's safe to say I want to think we are. Go 24!!!

Most importantly, as a player and teammate Pat has a singular quality that speaks volumes. Although he was as starter in college, Pat has spent most of his six years in the NBA as a reserve guard. He rarely starts; last season with the Bucks he averaged 22.8 minutes per game. Regardless, I encourage you to watch Pat on the sidelines. Notice him on the bench. It's not hard. Pat is the first to stand up and clap for a great play or outstanding bucket. When a time out is called, he's first to rally toward the huddle. He always goes out of his way to give his teammates high fives, to shake hands with other players after the game, etc. His body language is incredibly positive, his engagement is exceptional.  I don't know that a person can coach a player to be like this, but I think you can and should point to the example. Here's a great one. If my class or my team had but two Pat Connaughtons, relationships just might flourish. Records might be broken... Who knows.

Irish fans know that Pat was also drafted by the Baltimore Oriole's to pitch but I wouldn't hold my breath. The average NBA career is 4.5 years and he's already six years deep. Pat's adept basketball IQ and EQ, his positive presence and the contributions he is making right now are more than keeping him in the game. Hopefully his efforts are bearing fruit that will lead to two more wins against Phoenix and a championship for Milwaukee. 

I would like Pat to know how much I have enjoyed following his career and how he has represented our alma mater. I would love to sit in on a conversation between him and Coach Williams. Go Irish.

Photo Credits
Bio Page
with the Bucks: @ndmbb

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Suns v. Bucks: Team Williams

While sports networks might not be overjoyed that the NBA Finals feature the Milwaukee Bucks vs. the Phoenix Suns, Irish hoops is celebrating this match up. Two graduates of the University pf Notre Dame are contributing to "The Association" at the highest level. Monty Williams '93 —head coach of the Suns—is the first former player to lead an NBA team on the men's side. (Fun fact: In the WNBA, Bill Laimbeer '79, now with the Las Vegas Aces, is former head coach of the Detroit Shock and New York Liberty). Pat Connaughton '15 —reserve guard for the Bucks—has made his mark all season long. As a fellow alum and loyal fan, I can't decide who to cheer for. I wonder if this is how the Curry family must feel when the Warriors take on the Sixers. To pick one team is to choose Steph or Seth. What a wonderful problem to have. 

With the series tied at two games a piece, it's time to choose. I'll allow this post to give a little more information about Team Williams. I'll post the Case for Connaughton tomorrow and let you cast your own vote. Enjoy.

Team Williams
Sports fans love to create an enemy. It's easier and much more fun to cheer for your team and jeer for the other when a player or coach is unlikable, entitled, disrespectful and rude. Unfortunately for all the Milwaukee fans who yelled "Bucks in six!" Williams is anything but taunt-worthy. In fact, I find his story so incredibly remarkable, I'm not sure how you root against him.

Williams is no stranger to adversity. He is a man of faith and integrity. Thanks be to God for this because he has had more than his fair share of what anyone deserves. 

But one chapter of his trial is featured in his "Strong of Heart" profile. This series, from Notre Dame Athletics "intends to be a chronicle — to be a measure, of the growth" of the student athlete in their four years on campus. Jack Swarbrick, Director of Athletics, said, "It offers stories that represent the way this University and its athletics program impact the lives of people. These are the stories of student-athletes, former student-athletes and individuals who contribute to the environment that allows student-athletes to flourish. Their stories offer testimony to the power of intercollegiate athletics to impact lives at the University of Notre Dame." His story is scary, inspiring and faith-filled. 

Williams discovered a dark cloud hovering close at hand–one that carried the potential for serious harm. During his annual physical, doctors discovered he suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a potentially life-threatening affliction featuring a thickened muscle between chambers of the heart. A stunned Williams had no idea how to even react.

“When you’re 18 years old, you can’t process that kind of information. One day, I’m playing on the team. I’m bench pressing 300 and whatever pounds and jumping 40 inches off the ground and the next day, they tell me I can’t play basketball anymore,” Williams says. “To hear that news, it was devastating. It was something I never want to feel again. It was no emotion at all. You can’t even muster any emotion because you don’t know where to go.”

Despite seemingly having his playing career ended, Williams, sparked by his then-girlfriend and now wife Ingrid, turned to his faith to guide him through this unforeseen challenge.

“It was probably the most important time in my life because that’s when my girlfriend, who was such an example of faith and Christian living, told me that I had to get things together in my life,” Williams recalls. “God was trying to get my attention . . . that he didn’t put this on me but this was my shot to get my life together because where I was headed probably wasn’t going to be a good place.”

As one would expect, when word surfaced that Williams could not play at Notre Dame, other universities began to inquire about his desire to transfer. In what some might find to be a surprising decision, Williams recognized the need to take advantage of his other opportunities at Notre Dame while parking his basketball dreams.

“If I left Notre Dame, I knew I was going to leave something special,” Williams says. “Schools were telling me, `Come on down and we’ll take care of it.’ Right away, I knew they didn’t care about me. They just wanted someone to come down and help their program.”

For a guy that came to Notre Dame with dreams of playing in the NBA, Williams’ ability to keep perspective was unique for someone facing so much adversity at such a young age.

“I went to Notre Dame to get a job, whether it was in sports or the corporate world,” Williams says. “I knew if I stayed there long enough, I was going to get a job doing something. My biggest thing was that I never wanted to go home and be a burden to my mother. People don’t realize how special of a place Notre Dame is. I knew that being there was going to mean something someday. Thank God, I stuck it out.”

Of course, basketball could never completely leave his thoughts. Despite doctors telling him to stay away from competitive basketball, Williams played often on campus–which led to fellow students wondering why he would put himself at risk.

“I believed everything that the Bible said about healing. We prayed the prayer of faith and I just rested in that,” Williams said. “Even though the doctor said that there is a chance I could still die, the reality was that all I had was my faith and if I couldn’t lean on that, what else did I have? I kept playing with the idea that someday I was going to get to play somewhere, whether it was the CBA or overseas. I enjoyed basketball so much that I couldn’t picture my life without having basketball in it.”

In the summer of 1992, Williams no longer needed to imagine life without basketball. The 6-foot-8, 225 pound forward was cleared by doctors after his condition improved to the point that it no longer posed a threat to his life.

“When the doctor came in and told me that I was going to be able to play again, all I could do was thank God. My mom was crying and I called Ingrid and told her, `I’m going to play ball again,’ and she started crying. This time, I was able to garner some emotions. I just felt thankful. I never felt that thankful again until I had my own kids.”

As an undergraduate, I remember two things about Monty Williams. The first was that he lived on campus, in a section of Morrissey Manor known as "Dirty Thirty," Otherwise known as "DT," these rooms in the basement had ceilings that matched his height of 6'8". Gritty.  The second was that he had returned to play, after a health issue involving his heart had sidelined his career. I had no idea how precarious and unsettling it must have been. As someone with a heart issue myself—one that changed my ability to engage in athletics—I understand his perspective and am happy he healed. Although nothing could prepare him for what was to come, I do believe his faith, prior tests, struggles and his survival enabled him to—at the very least—manage what was to come. 

As written in Sports Illustrated, You Can't Give In by Chris Ballard chronicles his loss. In February 2016, Williams' wife and the mother of his four children Ingrid died in a car accident. In reading this piece, I thought he is a modern day Job: a good and righteous man who has been tested by God.

At times, I had to put down this article because of its tragic beauty and I know I was not the only one. As written in SI's "Inbox," Mike Campbell of Madison, TN shared "It took me two days to read Chris Ballard's story on Monty Williams in its entirety because I had to stop to cry so often. Your magazine has told many wonderful stories of human interest and compassion, but never one as strong and compelling as this one." Amen.

He came to coaching at the encouragement of former teammates and friends who thought it would be good for him and his five children. The Suns' organization and its fans are certainly glad he did. This year, he was conferred by the National Basketball Coaches' Association with the Coach of the Year award. 

Monty Williams is an outstanding coach and if the term "Notre Dame man" is to have any authenticity or depth behind it, perhaps the definition should point to him. Kevin Durant, who worked with Monty for a season in OKC, says, “He’ll hate that I say this, but he’s the best man that I know. And that’s no slight to my dad, my godfather, my uncle or any coaches that I’ve had.” For Durant, lots of men have tried to fill the role of mentor. Most had lots of advice; few wanted to listen. Fewer still shared the hiccups in their own life. “Monty listens, allows you to vent,” Durant says, “but then he’ll bring you back in and keep it real with you.” 

The Case for Connaughton will run tomorrow. Much like any family, it's not a contest, but something to celebrate.

Photo Credits

Coach of the Year
Williams family prayer
Williams at ND