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

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

#BecomeAnOfficial: Thank you Sarah Thomas

On January 19 when the NFL announced the names of the #SBLV Crew—the team that will be officiating the 2021 Super Bowl— I read, heard and discussed something I have never heard before: excitement about a referee. I have lived my entire life in appreciation of "the zebra" but it would be hard to find a sizable group that shares my enthusiasm. That is, until Sarah Thompson made history as the first woman to officiate the Super Bowl.

Thomas, who will work as the game's down judge has made history before. She was not only the first woman to officiate a major collegiate football game, including a bowl game, she is the first full-time female official in NFL history. In 2019, she officiated in an NFL playoff game and when asked about the upgrade this season, she said, “Being granted the honor of working a Super Bowl means you finished top of your position, If you get the call to work a Super Bowl, that’s awesome. But just being selected for it, can’t say it was a goal. My goal is just to be No. 1 in my position.” (Tampa Bay Times) Thomas' reputation speaks for itself. She is respected throughout the league and in particular by her fellow crew members. 

There is plenty online for anyone who is interested to discover and learn about the 47-year old wife, mom, and former college athlete. And, I know many people will but my hope is that the excitement she generates, will only encourage young women and young men to seriously consider participation in sports through officiating. 

At least once a week, I get an email for the NFHS Network encouraging and reminding those in athletics to spread the word, invite people to consider, assist in the process. Sarah! We need you!

Help Us Meet the Critical Shortage of High School Officials

As a high school coach, you’re making a difference in the lives of teenagers on a daily basis. Thank you!

As you probably know, there is a shortage of high school officials in your state. In some areas, the shortage is critical. As a well-connected and highly respected coach, you’re uniquely qualified to help us recruit someone who can make an official difference in the lives of our students—just like you do every day. All they have to do is become a high school official.

To be an official means you have thick skin. You must be resilient and remain calm under pressure. You cannot take things too personally. You must always keep learning and striving to do your best. You must take the satisfaction in knowing the usage of your gifts and talents makes a difference and, thanks to Sarah Thompson you might also know, you don't need to be a man to participate on the highest level. I hope her example will inspire countless others to consider the valuable role a referee plays in athletics

As suggested by NFHS Network, let me share the tweet I ought to offer:

As a coach, I’m making a difference in the lives of teens. You can make a difference too by becoming a high school official! Whether you’re a former athlete or an enthusiastic fan, click below to start officiating the sports you love. #BecomeAnOfficial.

Photo Credits
Sarah Thomas

Monday, February 1, 2021

The Importance for Coaches of being Ted Lasso

Everything I know about morality and the obligations of humanity, I owe it to football 
—Albert Casmus (*he is referring to soccer ;-)

In my workplace, the athletics office of Saint Francis High School, we hope and believe every coach ought to challenge Casmus and say "Everything I know about morality and the obligations of humanity, I owe to—insert respective sport here." However, with all due respect to the late Alex Trebeck, please know there is a bette answer. "What is Ted Lasso?"

Those of you who have watched the show already know that Ted Lasso is not a real person. As much as I am struggling to accept this is true, I am still committed to learning from him. And for those who haven't seen the Apple TV+ program, "Ted Lasso" chronicles an American football coach recruited from the Wichita State Shockers to manage a woebegone soccer club in the English Premier League.

As written in the Wall Street Journal "To be Ted Lasso is to believe things will get better—and if it doesn't, well, he'll have some fun trying. You know where this is going. Over time, Ted begins to win over even his harshest critics. Lasso-mania stirs." The author, Jason Gay adds, "Ted Lasso" turns out to be the ideal television distraction for these times, almost a salve, simply for the fact that it radiates a rare commodity in a deeply toxic moment: optimism.That's really it. It's optimistic."

Easier said than done, right? Yes and No. In Episode 10, "The Hope that Kills You" Lasso addresses the danger of this phrase that his athletes use far too often. In the locker room he said, "So I've been hearing a phrase y'll got over here, that I'm not to crazy about: It's the hope that kills you. I disagree. I think it's the lack of hope that comes and gets you. I believe in belief. Now where I'm from, we have a saying or actually, it's a question: Do you believe in miracles?  I encourage you to watch to get the rest....

For those struggling to believe in miracles and for our colleagues who are struggling to find hope, I would like to offer the message that Saint Francis' Director of Athletics, Michael Pilawski gave this past week during a meeting of our varsity coaches. He urged these athletic leaders to practice, emphasize, extend and model the following for the young people entrusted to our care. Ted would be proud.

Safety: We will always give the utmost care and attention to keep our athletes safe.

Empathy: People are in different places and are facing personal and familial challenges we may or may not know about. Walking a mile in our athletes cleats can go a long way.

Success: We want our seasons to happen! We desire for our teams to compete. As coaches we play a critical part in the success of our season and our team's experience. Own it!

Flexibility: This is my personal theme for this year. We have to be flexible and open to the changes that come our way. Be water, my friend.

Positivity: Times are tough enough. We are called to be hope for the hopeless and light in the darkness. Let us smile and extend positivity to one another. Let us focus on what we can do.

Coaches, I would love to know

  • What stands out to you about Ted Lasso and his coaching philosophy: believe!
  • How has he challenged, changed and constructed a new culture in Richmond?
  • How is weakness his strength? And strength his weakness? 
  • Would you do the running man inside a huddle with your players if you won the title?

I'm so glad I saved Ted for January—my annual comedy month. My roommate checked to see if I was okay during Episode 3 as I was laughing so hard. Many other episodes have had me in tears—and not from laughing. I am not even a soccer fan, but I am curious about the culture of the Premier League. Ted Lasso MIGHT be my favorite show. Ever. And the good news is there is more to come....

Haley and I discuss the gift of humor, in particular how Ted Lasso made me laugh. You can listen to that episode of @FaithFondue here.

Photo Credits
TV Show photo
Ted and Coach Beard