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 been...social 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
Winning--@ndmbb

Monday, July 12, 2021

Breakfast Without Wimbledon

Dear Sports Fans,

Is there a name for this? It's that feeling you get when a major sporting event—The Masters, the World Series, the Stanley Cup final or in this case, Wimbledon—has come to a close for another year. It's not a hangover, for you just can't get enough of good golf, football, tennis and so forth. And yet, it's a powerful cocktail comprised of one part gratitude, two parts melancholy and residual adrenaline. The amount of that ingredient depends on the outcome of the contest. For example, Philadelphia fans are still enjoying that Kool-Aid from the 2018 Super Bowl W. At any rate, this unnamed feeling it what I took to the table as I had breakfast without Wimbledon for the first time in a fortnight. Sans strawberries and cream, I began to make sense of the memories from the past 12 days. Enjoy.

Tennis is at a critical juncture
I imagine most Americans were unfamiliar with the majority of players in the semifinal matches of both the men's and women's draw. While Djokovic is certainly no stranger to the game or to Wimbledon finals (he is the fourth player to have won three in a row), the Canadian who was born in Russia, the Polish phenom and Italian finalist Matteo Berrtini were most likely new names to the average fan. On the women's side, to not have a semifinalist representing the red, white and blue and/or specifically one named Williams was newsworthy.

The big three: Federer, Nadal and Djokovic aren't getting any younger. Neither are Serena and Venus. The fact that their careers have extended as long as they have is remarkable. It's time for fresh blood and for new chapters of this great game to be written. 

Tennis has been here before and will be here again. I would like to think in the men's game the future looks Azzurri! Berrettini has an outstanding game and on the women's side perhaps we will get more of...

A Case for the Multi-Sport Athlete Ash Barty
I've grown weary of arguing FOR the multi-sport athlete. As far as I'm concerned, it shouldn't even be a debate or a discussion. Play sports (plural) young people. Enjoy lots of them. And let's celebrate the success of the men and women who master more than one.

Look no further than Ashleigh (Ash) Barty. In 2014, the number one player in the world played cricket—professionally! In an interview with Purav Jose of Essentially Sports, she said:

“It’s something I am super passionate about. I probably watch more cricket, more Australian rules, more Aussie games than I do tennis if I am being honest. Absolute sport, I love it,” 

After her revelation, one might assume that she might have chosen to play cricket over tennis. However, she mentioned that it was something that came her way during her break.

She said, “I didn’t stop playing tennis to go and play cricket. It was more than after about 12 months an opportunity came up, and I thought, ‘Why not? Give it a crack and see how we go’. It was really enjoyable; I loved it. I always wanted to challenge myself and to try new things and try different things.”

Interestingly, Ash also plays golf incredibly well.

Jose's praise is not an exaggeration. Barty is a plus 2 handicap. In other words, she shoots 2 strokes under par on average at most courses. #shero!!


I love her incredibly athletic style of play, and her championship mentality. In her trophy speech she told Pliskova, "I love testing myself against you, and I'm sure we'll play many, many more matches." The best opponents test us and true champions appreciate how they can do this. Case closed on Ash Barty. I too, look forward to more tests, more matches from her and future opponents....whoever they may be!

Beauty in Simplicity
I am a fan of standards, uniforms and dress codes. I have no problem playing by and enforcing "the rules." I also believe they are worth revisiting and revising if and as necessary. I know such expectations are not without bias nor complication and yet, I value having them.

Requiring all players to wear white is fascinating to me. Why? Part of me just can't believe they get away with it. But, I'm not naive. It's England. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are in attendance. The line judges were button down shirts and ties. I have heard about the cost of tickets; I don't know that I will ever attend.

While their dress code may feel antiquated, I think the end result is spectacular. The contrast of white clothing against the green grass is striking. 

Perhaps it is an unintended consequence, but the uniformity leads me to focus more on the tennis and less on clothing, loud colors, patterns and prints. Yes, tennis players are already a walking billboard—advertising for FILA, Rolex or Slazenger— and, I have to admit I spend a little more time taking inventory of some women's jewelry, who has tattoos, etc. But, when I think of Wimbledon, my mind's eye remembers the dark purple and forest green logo, the iconic scoreboards and the athletes who serve, hit and volley dressed in but one hue (is white even a color?). Truly, I find beauty in the simplicity. You?

The I in Team
Have you heard? There is a team in tennis.

Single's tennis is an individual sport. So is golf, swimming and running, minus the relays. And yet, Barty and Djokovic went out of their way to acknowledge and thank their "team." 

For tennis players the team consists of one's coach, physio, hitting partner, business manager and more. You will see these men and women sitting together in a designated area, often wearing sunglasses and sitting near or beside the player's family (who is naturally part of the team).

Every last part of me ought to celebrate the "we" mentality of the game. None of us can achieve greatness on our own. Why not give a shout out and call the supporting cast, "team?" 

I'm just not sure I buy it. Why? When a player loses, he or she assumes the responsibility....at least publicly. Furthermore, playing a "team" sport is very different. 

I coach an individual sport that seeks to operate as a team. It's very challenging to change the mindset. I will lean into what these athletes have to offer...

In Closing
Due to COVID, it has been two years since the last fortnight at Wimbledon. The enthusiasm of the crowd and from the players revealed their excitement and gratitude times two...or ten. And, as much as I LOVE the US Open, Wimbledon is second to none. 

It's a joy to watch and when it comes to a close, we are all too thankful game, sets and matches. If we weren't, it wouldn't feel like it does...whatever that is.

Photo Credits
Djokovic on the board
Barty v Pliskova
Wimbledon logo
Ash Barty Fist Pump
Djokovic

Monday, July 5, 2021

What I Wish Sha'Carri Richardson, US Sprinter Knew....

Discussions and debate on moral issues goes with the territory of teaching ethics. Over the years, I have heard my fair share of good arguments and bad ones. I listen more than I preach. Occasionally my students will ask me what I think. More often than not, they assume my stance. I wish they knew it's never that simple. I love playing with ideas. I'm okay with gray. Yes, I respect the Church and its official teachings. I understand life is hard and it gets messy. And still, I try to help young people grow not just in age but in wisdom. 

In order to teach moral issues, I collect life lessons from others, I offer a few of my own and I hope for the best. Who knows. Along the way, the most compelling argument I have heard for not using drugs was in an interview with Bruce Springsteen. In all fairness, this ought to strike you as an interesting, albeit unlikely source. Why? The term sex, drugs and Rock n Roll exists for a reason. He came of age in the 60s and 70s. I do not credit The Boss because I'm a big fan, but because I think he is right. His message is one I wish that American sprinter, Sha'Carri Richardson, was familiar with, too. 

Richardson, winner of the 100-meter dash at the U.S. Olympic trials, accepted a one-month suspension after testing positive for THC, the primary psychoactive compound of cannabis. The media was clear that she smoked pot in Oregon, where it is legal. When asked about this unfortunate situation, President Joe Biden said, "the rules are the rules,” but  he questioned if they should remain that way." Announced by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency on Friday, July 2, Richardson still has a chance to compete with the U.S. relay teams. However, her retroactive disqualification at the trials means she is out of the 100-meter race. 

When asked his opinion on drug use, Springsteen said "I do not think it is a moral issue." For the record, I do not agree with his claim. I consider drug usage as much more than a personal preference. I do think it's a matter or right or wrong because the stakes are just too high. I digress.

Bruce admitted that he was around a lot of people who did a lot of drugs as a young musician. He
said, "I saw what it did to them. At the time, the only thing I had was my music and I knew I needed to do everything I could to protect it. So it wasn't for me." 

I appreciate Springsteen's insight because it shows he was aware of his surroundings, he understood the culture in which he lived, he knew himself and what was important in his life. He realized he had a gift and that they might require sacrifice and care. Music fans are glad he did.

Via Twitter, Sha'Carri Richardson stated "I'm highly gifted and blessed...." As written on The Shadow League, "the U.S. has not won Olympic gold in the women’s 100 since 1996 when Gail Devers claimed her second in a row. But the 5-foot-1 Richardson is without question the country’s next best shot." America would have love to have seen her talent and speed translate to a gold medal. There was a lot to protect. I wish she had done that. 

One moral issue students always want to talk about it drug usage. Many use, many do not. There is a wide spectrum of experience and curiosity. It is very rare that a junior in high school offers his or her experience in saying "yes' or "no" to them. Many who are athletes have signed contracts that require they do not use during the season. We discuss how this affects their decisions, if at all. We talk about recreational drugs, hard drugs, prescription drugs and as any ethicist should: What is a drug? This year, however, I think I will just ask What is the thing in your life worth protecting? And how do you plan to do that? Might be one of the more important questions I ask. And for what it's worth: It's a question for all of us to consider.

Photo Credits
Richardson
Young Bruce