Friday, January 15, 2021

20 for 2020: Number 14—Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Connection

Every December, I anticipate a special delivery into my mailbox. It's not a Christmas card or package, a holiday bonus or treat. It's an issue of what is now a monthly publication; it's Sports Illustrated's  Sportsperson of the Year. When I saw LeBron James gracing the cover for the third time, I wasn't entirely surprised but I wasn't excited either. That is, until I realized that he was one of five honorees. 

The 2020 Sportspersons of the Year are Activist Athletes—Champions for Life. Champions for Others. In addition to King James, Patrick Mahomes, Naomi Osaka, Breanna Stewart and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif have been recognized "not only for a championship performance this year, but also for turning their athlete fame into a platform for social activism." Great call, SI! And though it would seem plausible that Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, MD is #14 on my 20 for 2020 because he is the only current player in the NFL who also has a medical degree, what I find equally remarkable is the connection he shares with his Coach, Andy Reid. 

Duvernay-Tardif is an offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs. He made headlines when he became the first NFL player to opt out of the 2020-2021 season so that he could "continue his efforts on the frontline against COVID-19." He hasn't played a single snap this season and hasn't seen the field since the Chiefs victory in Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2, 2020. 

I can only encourage you to read the piece written by Jenny Thompson, an eight-time Olympic gold medalist turned doctor that reveals why he "traded in his uniform and cleats for medical scrubs." I invite you to listen for yourself to the ESPN Daily podcast, which aired on Christmas Eve. That really was a holiday treat. I am including a full description of it here.

Time and again, I have been reminded during these difficult days that so many people do not live ordinary lives. In the choices and the work of this French-Canadian right guard, I find a man who is far from ordinary, Duvernay-Tardif is extraordinary.

His coach Andy Reid feels the same way. At a press conference at the beginning of the 2020-2021 season he said 

I'm a huge Larry Duvernay-Tardif fan so I understand the dedication to be a doctor. We are all blessed to have doctors in our lives. They're givers, they're not takers. They are givers. Larry has that quality. I just think it's tremendous dedication to his profession, what his future is going to be and mainly to the people he gets to help. 

Coach Reid spoke of his player with deeper appreciation for doctors than most might think. Believe it or not, his mother is also a doctor AND she attended the very same medical school as his athlete. When I heard this "fun fact," I paused. I thought to myself  Are you kidding me?" Big Red's mom went to McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, too?! Unreal.

One thing that feeds my soul is connection. I delight in discovering that I share common experiences with friends or family. I love finding out from others that we know the same people, have visited the same cities or shore, or been to similar spaces and places. And, when I hear that others have a connection—like the one between Coach Reid and "Larry"—I can't help but smile. 

My niece Grace taught me the hand gesture for connection. This small sign only deepened my appreciation for her and the many ways humanity shares the same.

It probably didn't take Coach Reid's mother and Duvernay-Tardif's common experience of a medical degree from McGill University to build a connection between two talented, hard working and generous men. But it certainly didn't hurt either. When we become aware of the connections we share with others, the world just isn't that big of a place. We can all lend a hand or in the case of Duvernay-Tardif who stands 6'5" and weights 322 lbs, a pretty big one.

Congratulations on SOTY and Godspeed in your efforts on the other gridiron!

Photo Credits
with Mahomes
Coach Reid

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

20 for 2020: Number 13—Justice Amy Coney Barrett

Faith Fondue, my new podcast is a melting pot of topics, ignited the flame of faith and guided the Holy Spirit. My cohost, Haley and I proclaim on our show: No politics! as fondue features a Swiss cheese, and is therefore neutral. We are equal opportunity prayers; we pray for everyone.

Though this blog isn't overtly apolitical, it's not exactly silent no matters, either. Therefore, I would be remiss if I did not include Amy Coney Barrett's Opening Statement at the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing from Monday, October 12, 2020 as number 13 on my 20 for 2020. You might not like her politics, but you can't deny that she speaks Sports &  Spirituality.

Near the end of her 15 minute speech, she states

I would be the first Justice to join the Court from the Seventh Circuit in 45 years. And I would be the only sitting Justice who didn’t attend law school at Harvard or Yale. I am confident that Notre Dame will hold its own, and maybe I could even teach them a thing or two about football. 

As a final note, Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank the many Americans from all walks of life who have reached out with messages of support over the course of my nomination. I believe in the power of prayer, and it has been uplifting to hear that so many people are praying for me. I look forward to answering the Committee’s questions over the coming days. And if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed, I pledge to faithfully and impartially discharge my duties to the American people as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Thank you.

ACB thanked her mentors and teachers, the female Justices who blazed a trail and concluded with football, faith and the power of prayer. 

I would like Justice Barrett to know that I too sincerely believe in the power of prayer. Perhaps, however, she already knows that. Before her nomination. I reached out to Jesse—her husband/my classmate and friend—with an email entitled "Greetings and Prayers." I shared a few updates from my life and said I would pray for them. He responded "Thank you so, so much for the prayers -- we need them!"  I responded by asking them to pray for me, too.

In thinking back to this time, I was reminded of what I learned from a Holy Cross priest. who said "the Constitution of the Congregation of Holy Cross states that we "spend the least amount of time talking about the things that matter most to us." Those words written by Father Basil Moreau C.S.C still ring true.

A Supreme Court Justice takes a stand on issues that matter deeply to people, their lives and their livelihoods. When a woman or man is nominated to this position, their example affords us the opportunity to talk about what matters most...or not! 

Notre Dame and sports, supporting friends and family—those things matter to me—but they are just the starting point...or rather the invitation for us to enter into the challenging conversations and complex questions we ought to have with one another, need to have with one another, for one another and by one another. Communities of faith should unpack whether or not prayer really does have power and why it is important. Is it? (I stated my answer above!)

In a time characterized by division, I want to say thank you to friends and family who have asked me my about my beliefs (and not made assumptions) in and around the nomination of ACB.  I appreciate those who go deeper and want to know "why."  I am grateful to those all those who have shared their own views, when similar and different from my own. I am thankful for those who had the courage to listen and to those who had the courage to be heard. We cannot continue to talk about the need for this in our country; we must strive to do better.
And, if we can talk Notre Dame or football along the way, even better. 

Photo Credits
ACB Speech

Sunday, January 10, 2021

20 for 2020: Number 12—Hard Knocks Two for One

When is the last time you were the new kid on the block? No matter what your age, entering into a new community isn't easy. You are the newbie. We all must earn our stripes. Working through a rookie season or on a new team takes time; it's an adjustment. If you don't believe me, just ask Tom Brady. And I put myself in this position two years ago, in the Fall of 2019 when I started teaching and coaching at Saint Francis High School.

Thrilled by the actuality of being able to eat outside (there is no fog belt in Mountain View, CA) I saddled up to a table of six male teacher-coaches. I guessed this might be a safe space given that my colleague and partner—the JV golf coach—was with this crew. Everyone was welcoming and hospitable but this group of cronies were used to one another: their own six-pack. I listened, I ate my lunch and smiled. I am pretty good at those things. And then one guy started talking about the latest episode of Hark Knocks (Oakland). I could remain silent no more. I met a match, I found a friend and the first thing I said to him this fall as I returned to school is how much I enjoyed Season 15. Hard Knocks: Los Angeles is #12 on my 20 for 2020. 

In case filming during the strangest season in NFL history isn't enough, this season the HBO docuseries profiled two teams for the price of one: the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers. Since its launch in the summer of 2001, Hard Knocks has always kept the focus on a single team. In the post Hard Knocks: Los Angeles' preview: What to expect this year Dan Hanzus writes, 

For posterity, here's the full rundown: Ravens (2001), Cowboys (2002), Chiefs (2007), Cowboys (2008), Bengals (2009), Jets (2010), Dolphins (2012), Bengals (2013), Falcons (2014), Texans (2015), Rams (2016), Buccaneers (2017), Browns (2018), Raiders (2019). The Rams join the Cowboys and Bengals in the hallowed Hard Knocks two-timers club.

 And since they share a a respective home field—the state of the art, mesmerizing SOFI stadium—the double feature made sense and added to my enjoyment. Already a fan of compare and contrast, I appreciated observing the dramatically different personalities and coaching styles of Sean McVay and Anthony Lynn. And, I must add—coming from a COVID crazy compliance obsessed city, I couldn't stop critiquing the mask wearing styles (or lack-thereof)  between them. 

Hanzus added

Hard Knocks has a winning formula of beats we've come to expect, and so many of those beats are simply not an option in the current climate. Ken Rodgers, VP at NFL Films and the showrunner for Hard Knocks, said "this first episode to us is starting to become a look into an American workplace going back to productivity in the midst of the biggest story in the last 100 years in American culture," Rodgers said. "It just so happens to be the industry is football, but anyone who watches this is going to recognize what people are going through." He added, that even getting the show to production in light of logistics was "maddening but also creatively inspiring." Rodgers and NFL Films had to rethink how they did everything.

I'm glad they did as three memories stand out for me that speak to the moments we have lived through, reflective of our time yet revelatory about football.

1. COVID testing.

I have been tested twice for COVID (and tomorrow will be #3). One time, I self-administered the swab and the second time, I went to COLOR SF where professionals do this 1,000 times a day. I entered both tests with a reasonable amount of fear. Why? Because so many of the players—who are tested at minimum three times a week resist as seen here. 

They admit to their fear of the swab. They complain that it is entering their brain. Their technicians promise them it won't hurt. The squirm and squeal; they get it done. This cracks me up.

Football is undeniably physical and demanding. These athletes are hit and tackled, run down and hit again but another human being who weighs as much as 30, 80 or 100 pounds more than they do. That necessitates fear....or should!

When I had my COVID tests and didn't flinch, for the first time I felt tougher than an NFL player. Thanks Hard Knocks.

2. So Fresh and So Clean.
The proper placement of music in a documentary sets me over the edge. I can easily move from fan to fangirl in as few as three notes. Hard Knocks knows football, and Hard Knocks knows good music.

Life in COVID-19 means much more than quarantine. It means cleaning and disinfecting, wiping and swiping a lot. For several weeks on the show, the players aren't even allowed to make contact on the field. They walk through plays and schemes. They train and condition outside and on the field. And when they take it inside to the gym it's in a venue that is as Outkast once sang "So fresh and So clean." What a great beat. Keep lifting guys. (I cannot 

3. From Hard Knocks to Hard Hits
If you play football, you have to be okay with hitting and getting hit. My Dad yells "block you gotta block" more than any other charge to the players. Easy for him to say. However, as I mentioned, COVID prevented players from doing this in practice for several weeks. 

At certain points during the workouts the players vented their frustrations on the sidelines. Joey Bosa of the Chargers opined time and again about missing that physical contact. I thought to myself of the irony—hitting it what shortens every players career. It costs them quality years to their physical well being, and yet they miss it. 

The first day of full tackle football practice is noticeably different. There is a current of electricity, unseen before, The guys are smiling, they are focused and they are grateful to give and take their hits. Once again, the opportunity to compare and contrast, the before and the after...take a look.

Although I didn't return to that lunch table that often, I did enjoy checking in with my co-worker about each episode. He warned me about getting Hard Knocked. I wasn't sure what he meant until three episodes in to Season 15, I ordered a Chargers hat for my good friend Haley who is a longtime fan. When I ordered a second one for myself (hey! this is not a conflict of interest as I already have my NFC team), I knew exactly what he meant. I put that white hat on—so fresh and so clean—was met with a few questions on the golf course about my choice and was given yet another chance to talk about the show and my hopes for their seasons. Congrats to the LA Rams for their win over the Seahawks and I hope the LA Chargers keep building their team.

Photo Credits
Coach Lynn
Coach McVay

Saturday, January 9, 2021

20 for 2020: Number 11—Dare to Dream—The Links Life

In a time when we have learned, lived and been reminded time and again: there are no guarantees, is it okay to dream? My question is not a rhetorical one; I ask it with humility. In an effort to offer an answer, I've noticed my psyche undertakes a small but sincere battle. Yes, no, maybe! My optimistic disposition wants to offer a resounding "yes," while the pragmatic, personal side says "not so much." Fortunately, I found an answer—not from within, but from a friend. Thanks to the sharing of her dream, I encountered what is number 11 on my 20 for 2020: The Links Life.

Lesley, who I know through the Women's Golf Network (WGN) at the Olympic Club wrote:

I don’t know if the WGN board is talking at all about future “on the road” trips, but I thought I’d send along a little something for consideration.

Take a look at the video link attached. Ireland has always been on my wish list for a trip, but seeing this just pushed it over the edge for me. And then take a look at all the other Ireland episodes these guys put together.  Heck, I’d be happy to copy their whole travel itinerary!

Would love to hear your thoughts on the possibility of putting Ireland on the schedule for 2022.

Reading her message was an emotional and spiritual shot in the arm. To read about it in the midst of limited travel and heightened restrictions didn't make me sad, I found it hopeful. 2022: We can do this!

I should have known golf in Ireland would be a shared dream among my golf girlfriends. I watched the video, smiling from ear to ear as I imagined the possibilities. The joy and beauty of Adare Manor was trumped by the delight of seeing Notre Dame alum and New York Times best-selling author Tom Coyne join this crew. What a great trip!

I have only loosely followed Tom's career as an outstanding golf writer. A year behind me at ND, I remember encouraging Tom to apply for the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program as I thought his affable nature, quick wit, notable presence and keen intellect would make for a great teacher. ACE's loss was creative writing's gain as he completed his MFA in the year following his graduation. When his first book "A Gentleman's Game" came to print and was made into a movie, I thought he certainly made the right choice. And, since that time he has written a number of best selling books that golfers everywhere appreciate.

But, I still see that teacher in Tom as demonstrated in the YouTube series "The Links Life." Created to accompany his next novel, "A Course Called America," these eight to twelve minute video shorts tell the story of golf, with Tom as the narrator. His input is stellar, his swing spectacular. 

He begins each episode with questions golfers and their families ask of each other: 

Is golf a game? A lifestyle? An obsession? My name is Tom Coyne and for me, golf is connection. It's a connection with nature, places, but most of all—with people. I've traveled the work on some crazy golf adventures and everywhere I go, I find people whose lives revolve around this little white ball because this isn't just a game—it's The Links Life.

I watched every episode with awe and amazement, envy (he gets a lot better weather than I did at some of these venues) and an increased appreciation for this great game. They say that golf is a thinking person's game but I would contend it's that much better when played with a reading and writing person. Some of his erudite comments, e.g. Who set these pins? Nero? Caligula? have stayed with me. Love it. I don't know what I enjoy more— the courses or the commentary.

Tom on the Cliff's course at the Olympic Club. Ep 7

Tom's ultimate claim, as professed by introduction to The Links Life is that golf is about connection. And if there's one word I use to describe spirituality in my class, it is connection. Golf can be a spiritual experience because of the way it connects us to what he said--people and nature and God's creation. It creates memories to which we are bound through the good and the bad. It has in the simplest way reminded me that it is okay to dream and that we should....and we need not do that alone.

Thanks, Tom. Looking forward to hosting you at the Olympic Club for a book event celebrating: A Course Called America. Hopefully in 2021—if not 2022!

Photo Credits
A Course Called America
Author, Tom Coyne

Monday, January 4, 2021

20 for 2020: Number 10—Perspective and a Front Porch

Rather than commit to a New Year's resolution, I know a number of people who embrace a theme. Instead of saying "I will do x" they adopt a singular word: gratitude, hope, or kindness to frame how they choose to live in the new year. I'm down with both. You? I have been flirting with this word for some time and I am ready to stake my claim. My theme for 2021 is: perspective. And, I will let number 10 on my 20 for 2020 tell the story of how this came to be.

If you were to ask me to design a Catholic Church—and believe me, no one has—I would offer but two recommendations. It's just my perspective, but being away from my parish church and becoming part of a virtual one has sharpened my vision.

Number one: I would keep the square footage to a minimum. 
I do not say this because mass attendance is down and has dropped rather dramatically in the past 15 years alone. Besides, that viewpoint isn't comprehensive. Though many churches have closed or consolidated, others have emerged in areas of the country that were once not largely Catholic. Furthermore, some of these newer parishes are following the model of Evangelical Christian "mega-churches." The motto of Field of Dreams; If you build, he will come is a moot point. They built it, people come! Weekly!

I recommend that a newer church be smaller because there is something to be said for the "feeling of fullness." When it's hard to get a seat, when folks have to stand, and when you are in close proximity to others—it's hard not to feel as though you are part of something. There is a different energy to a room that is full, as opposed to one that has people so far apart a bow is the only way to extend the kiss of peace.

A former colleague who was an outstanding development officer always sought venues for events that would create a "feeling of fullness." Thanks Mary! Such a space allowed others to more readily mix and mingle. One feels as though they are part of something; there is a "there" there. Let's create this in our Church!

Number Two: Design a parish with a "front porch." 
I grew up in a post-Vatican II church that was built in the round. While this was meaningful for worship, that structure meant we entered and we exited by different doors. People could come an be totally anonymous. Perhaps if we had a "front porch" or main door our community would have had a different experience.

A front porch—that area outside the main doors of a church—allows for attendees to greet and thank the parish priest. This is the space where families can catch up and where I have met other parishioners. It is also a place where I have wanted to avoid others—which is sure sign that I really should be at mass! The front porch is where a bride and groom can stand and greet their family and friends as one. 

Perspective: With COVID restrictions having closed my parish since March, this is a space I have missed. While most people miss the Eucharist, communal singing, and beautiful houses of prayer—I miss that front stoop. But the power of perspective—my 2021 theme shed light on what I already have, albeit in a new way.

As written about in "20 for 2020: Number 6—A Case for Online Mass," though my St. Vincent de Paul parish community is sheltered in place, I have become a member of a virtual one through friends and fellow members of the Notre Dame family. And, just this past weekend, I realized we have a front porch of our own!

After Mass, the liturgical coordinator Kristine seeks volunteers to read the following week. This is usually followed by razzing, updates, questions and unsolicited commentary at Father Tom, by Father Tom and with Father Tom. While I am a semi-regular contributor, my boss stays on simply because he loves hearing what others have to say. 

It's our virtual porch—but it's different. Realistically, most parish communal spaces don't work that way. However, after we log off of Zoom, my long time friend Mike aka "Eggroll" or by those who love him most—simply "Roll" and I text back and forth. 

this gave us lots to chat about....
Following mass before the College Football selection committee chose the four teams that would play in the post-season, Roll wrote "is it ok to pray that ND doesn't play Bama?" And this past Sunday, we recapped the (Yellow) Rose (of Texas) Sugar Bowl. Though disappointed, I do love breaking it down with a fellow alum who is realistic, insightful, and who makes me laugh. For example, when I wrote "We lack cornerbacks….need a big time WR again…. Missing Claypool, Fuller and Golden Tate." His response was "we need to pay these guys more." Pause. "Joke." Loved it.

At SVdP parish in San Francisco, I would have had similar conversations with others and I miss those. But the call to consider perspective—born out of the challenges of 2020—has allowed me to see and appreciate what I do have, in another way. Here's to 2021 vision!

Photo Credits
Vision 2021
SVdP Parish Porch
ND v. Bama