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.