Given that Serena Williams is "evolving away from tennis," the 2022 US Open is much more than the final Grand Slam of the year. After publicly declaring a "Farewell to tennis " in Vogue magazine, the tourney has become the venue to celebrate and honor Williams' career. And a record 29,402 fans— the largest attendance ever recorded for an evening session at Arthur Ashe Stadium—showed up to watch her play.As noted in the New York Times, "A former president, A-list actors and professional athletes were among the fans who packed into Arthur Ashe Stadium" on Monday, August 29, 2022. While the high profile, star studded list was exciting to observe and discuss, to me, their appearance was not surprising. Why? Because all athletes have fans and followers. No matter who you are or how famous you become, a person's favorites, leanings, loves, rivals, enemies and frenimies remain. Teaching a new Religious Studies course to Sophomores has reminded me, this truth applies to the life of Christ as well.
Sports talk radio had a hey-day naming the celebs in the stands. Foo example, the announcers were amazed by the fact the 42nd President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton was in the stands. I said to the radio and anyone with ears to hear: "I'm not surprised."A renown sports fan, Clinton has weighed in time and again on the impact and significance of the Williams' sisters contributions to tennis and American society. He offered astute, thoughtful commentary in the documentary "Venus and Serena."
While in the White House, he was a regular at Georgetown basketball games (cheering for his alma mater). He called fellow Arkansan John Daly when he won the Open in 1995 and cheered loud and proud for the Razorback football squad time and again. Yes, Presidents are people, too.
Just last week in Williamsport, PA, former President George W. Bush was honored with as a statue as one of the town’s most notable visitors to come to the annual Little League World Series. 43, who is the first and only sitting president to visit the youth baseball championship, praised the organization’s impact and import of playing Little League.It is common knowledge that "W," former owner of the Texas Rangers is a devout baseball fan. However, in the media promotion of this event, I heard him say "As a kid, my favorite player was Willie Mays." His reasons for choosing the Say Hey Kid as his hero were personal and fun to hear.
My respect for George W. Bush went through the roof after watching him throw a strike inside Yankee Stadium during the 2001 World Series (the year of the 9/11 attacks). To hear this son of Midland, Texas choose a New York/San Francisco Giant legend pushed it further.
On the same night as Serena's match, I got to see Padres' first baseman Josh Bell against my Giants at Oracle Park. I have followed the career or the 6'4" power hitter as both a Pittsburgh Pirate and in his tenure the Washington Nationals. I became a fan because of his size, power, unusual hitting style / stance and the simple fact that he attended Dallas Jesuit. Bell has not played for the Giants, he doesn't live in the Bay Area. BUT, as a teacher in a Jesuit high school, the connection for me is clear.And that connection extends beyond sports to the course I am teaching this fall: Christology (the study of Christ). This is the hallmark of a Jesuit education. Here's how...
My students, all sophomores, were surprised by the fact that Jesus' disciples were probably in their late teens. They wondered "Why would someone so young follow Jesus?" To me, this question was an invitation to step back and think deeply. What is it about Jesus that people were attracted to? What did the disciples see in Jesus that sparked much more than interest in who He was, is and will always be? I realized the questions I was asking are exactly the questions I ask of Bill Clinton about Serena Williams or George W. Bush about Willie Mays. In this way, starting with my love and understanding of sports has helped me understand spirituality.
As a fellow sports fan, what I find interesting isn't just who a fellow sports fan, athlete, coach, rock star or world leader follows but why. Why do we certain athletes over others? What draws us to follow a team that might not represent our school or community? And at what point does that allegiance "stick" or become connected to a person's identity?Questions such as these are an invitational and welcome way for me to think about Jesus—the historical being and more.What draws me to Him? Would I have followed him? Do others know me as a fan and a follower of His message? His Word? His Way? How do I speak about him to others? And how do I show Him my support?
Thank you, Serena for a career that has given me more to discuss, debate, reveal and understand more than you would ever know....