Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Reflections on 23 Straight Days of Blogging for 2023

Having a full week off at Thanksgiving provided me the opportunity to relax, take a breath and look around. Maybe I should have kept my eyes closed—I noticed that basket that lives by my desk could not be contained. I let months of magazines and articles pile up. I did a personal inventory: What had I been reading? What was I missing? And how did I let things go?! 

I am fascinated by the idea of "inbox zero," but I know all too well (shout out Tay-Tay) what will never be. And yet, I recognized with this (new) break, I could do something about this mess. I have learned it takes 21 days to build a habit. I started to wonder, about writing as a habit. It is something I would like to do more regularly. Could I? If so, how? An idea was born.

On the Happier podcast, Gretchen Rubin and sister Elizabeth do an annual challenge with listeners. Rubin writes, "We’ve done #Walk20in20, #Read21in21, #Rest22in22, and #GoOutside23in23. Framing a habit this way makes it feel more fun–and also easier to maintain."

I've embraced their challenge since 2020. I have stuck with reading 21 minutes a day for the past three years. Last year, I aimed to play 22 different golf courses and attend mass at 22 new Catholic churches. Come August, I modified the challenge and combined the two. Mission accomplished! 

At the onset of 2023, I thought I would attend a combined total of 23 different sporting events and religious services. I didn't need an excuse to attend Wimbledon, but this goal made for a good one. And still, I lost steam somewhere in last January or February. I let it go and was okay with no 23 for 2023.... until I saw that basket.

I save articles because they spark an idea for a blog posting. Sometimes I need the information for teaching. The joy of offering a class like Sports and Spirituality is that what I read, write about and require is symbiotic,—one feeds into the other. The annual challenge provided a solution: blog for 23 straight days in 2023. Game on.

The first thing I want to say about this challenge is that I did it. I wrote everyday for 23 straight days. A colleague noticed that I was pumping out a lot of content. I told him I don't recommend it. At time, I was sleep deprived. I exercised less. I didn't have time for other things. In response, he said, "but you did it. You did it." Thank you, Darius for affirming the accomplishment. Truly, there is satisfaction in setting out to achieve a goal. I did it. yay!

Second, it was fascinating to see how bound a person can be to a commitment. More than once, I told myself "I don't have to do this." However, deep down inside, I knew I had to do it. There is some sort of moral fiber—a "stick-to-it-ness" that I have always been aware exists inside me. I was back in touch with that entity. I'm glad it's there.

Third, it was amazing just how many ideas came to me in the knick of time. For example, one I night I while waiting to pick up my friends' son, I took notice of a new kind of Giving Tree/Angel Tree. It wasn't early in the evening, but without a doubt, that had to be the post for the day. I have long subscribed to the mantra: seek and ye shall find. I did! But I also believe that there's something to be said for being found. 

Fourth, it's not insignificant just how much happens in a 23-day time period. In that three- week plus time frame, my alma mater named a new president, an icon in the St. Ignatius College Prep community passed, our country observed as national holiday, I attended a college football game, a beloved radio host lost his job and a celebrity came clean about a hot topic—the day AFTER my post. I would like to think she read it, but reality suggests otherwise.

For anyone seeking to take on a personal challenge, this is what I learned. Here are but a few recommendations from my 23 for 2023

  • Start when you have some free time. The Thanksgiving break provided me with the hours to lay enough of a  foundation that made it harder to opt out. By the time I returned to work, I already had six days under my belt. The finish line wasn't close, but it wasn't impossible.
  • I have a number of drafts on my blog. I had already done some strong writing and worked through the ideas. Too often I let perfect be the enemy of good. I just hadn't finished the thought or in this case, the post. Similar to my basket of papers, I wanted to work through those drafts. 23 for 2023 allowed me to finish four of them!
  • Be aware, and okay with the fact you will make sacrifices to accomplish this goal. Because I knew that I was going to write for 23 straight days, I realized my missing my morning workout or getting less sleep was for a short period of time. Was it worth it? Only you have to answer the question. If it's not, reconsider your goal. For me, it's a yes and a no. I'm a both/and person; this is fitting!
  • Many people will make an argument for accountability. In this instance, I was accountable only to myself. I did tell but a few people I trust and respect but overall, the goal was mine. I did not do it for financial gain, for honor or glory. I did it because I was curious to discover how it would go, what I would learn and how it will affect me in the future.

Am I a better writer? Maybe. Do I have more respect for those who write for a living? 1000%!! And I'm related to one! Was it fun? YES. I love sharing my stories and making connections. I wouldn't have a blog if I didn't. Would I do it again? Probably not. I could, but I have my day job ;-) My biggest take away? What I heard from my coworker and from my own self: I did it. Young kids delight in doing things by themselves. I guess that never goes away.

By the numbers. In the 23 for 2023 posts, They were inspired by
book: 3 posts
video: 1 post
article: 2 posts
podcast: 2 posts
event: 5 posts
magazine article: 1 post
Notre Dame: 4 posts (only 4?!!)
health issue: 3 posts

Questions for you the reader: What is a tension in your life? Or an area of dis-ease? Meaning, something you want to contain or tidy up (think of that basket). What can you do to get to the bottom of it...or simplify. Consider a way to frame the task you want to undertake. Think of the advice and go. As Gretchen Rubin would say "Onward and upward!" Here's to 24 in 2024 and guess what it is....

For 2024, our challenge is…#Write24in24!

Depending on your goals, your specific project, and what’s manageable, you can write for 2-4 minutes or 24 minutes a day. Click here to read tips and strategies for approaching this year’s challenge in the way that works for you.

Photo Credits
23 for 2023
You did it.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Phil Jackson's Eleven Rings: A Gift for Any Coach

Dear Reader, 
Genuinely curious. A friend or family member gifts you a book for Christmas. It is not a read you put on your Christmas list. Yes, gratitude and appreciation is implied—but how many times out of ten do you read said book? 

I say this because one of my favorite gifts was the book "When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Faith, Family and Funny People" by Jeannie Gaffigan. My brother gave it to me, I gave it to a friend and have recommended it to countless others. In the event you need a recommendation for a friend who has several children...a woman of faith...someone who needs a good laugh—Gaffigan's work is worth it. If your child happens to participate in high school sports, espeically  during the winter season, here's something for their coach: Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson.
Whether or not this person coaches or plays basketball is inconsequential. I say this because the head coach of the Golden State Warriors Steve Kerr has read and re-read "The Inner Game of Tennis." In fact, he sighted this as a source that prepared him for the position of head coach. None other than Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks recommended it to him. Two coaches of two completely different sports consulted one another on a book about an entirely different one. Sounds fascinating. I gain so much insight through compare and contrast. 

I read "Eleven Rings" because a former student recommended it to me. As you can see from the tabs, I found more than a few things worth remembering. The purpose of this post is to not to get you to buy the book, but to learn a few ways Jackson opens his teams to Sports and Spirituality. If you decide to make the purchase, I would love to talk to the recipient of this book. It's so rich. It's real—Jackson did the work, and it's inspirational.
According to Dolly Duffy, the executive director of the University of Notre Dame's alumni association, the number one request from alumni and friends during shelter-in-place was for spiritual resources. On the Wednesday before Easter 2020, 50,000 people went online to pray with the University's President, Father John Jenkins. This desire for meaningful prayer reminded me that our hunger and thirst for God is unassailable. I believe coaches are in a privileged place to help the people they work with tap into their desire for meaning, for connection, for the holy, and the unassailable. Jackson does this in unconventional ways. Maybe a coach you know is open to leading in this way. I have taken but a few of his basic principles and included them .Jackson writes: 
I'd like to give you an overview of the basic principles of mindful leadership that I've evolved over the years to help transform disorganized teams into champions. You won't find any loft management theories here. With leadership, as with most things in life, the best approach is always the simplest. 
Enjoy. Pass them on. Read them for yourself or give them to a coach you care about/who cares about your child. Merry Christmas!
The Jackson Eleven: #5. Turn the Mundane Into the Sacred
As I see it, my job as a coach was to make something meaningful out of one of the most mundane activities on the planet; playing pro basketball. Despite all the glamor surrounding the sport, the process of playing day after day in one city after another can be a soul numbing exercise. That’s why I started incorporating meditation into practices. I wanted to get players something besides x’s & o’s to focus on. What’s more, we often invented rituals of our own to infuse practices with a sense of the sacred.
At the start of training camp for instance, we used to perform a ritual that I borrowed from football great Vince Lombardi as a players formed a row on the baseline. I’d ask them to commit to being coached that season, saying “God has ordained me to coach you young men, and I embrace the role I’ve been given. If you wish to accept the game I embrace and follow my coaching, as a sign of your commitment. step across the line." Wonder of wonders, they always did we did this in a fun way with it but with a serious intent the essence of coaching, as a sign of your commitment, step across that line.” Wonder of wonders, they always did it.

We did this in a fun way, but with a serious intent. The essence of coaching is to get players to wholeheartedly agree to being coached, then offer them a sense of their destiny as a team.

The Jackson Eleven: #6 One Breath = One Mind
Mindfulness meditation is an easily accessible technique for quieting the restless mind and focusing attention on whatever is happening in the present moment. This is extremely useful for basketball players, who often have to make split-second decisions under enormous pressure. I have also discovered that when I had the player sit in silence, breathing together in sync, it helped align them on a nonverbal level far more effectively than words. One breath equals one mind.

The Jackson Eleven: #8 Keep your eye on the spirit, not on the scoreboard 
Management guru Stephen Covey tells this old Japanese tale about a samurai warrior and his three sons: the samurai wanted to teach his sons about the power of teamwork. So he gave each of them an arrow and asked them to break it. No problem. Each son did it easily. Then the samurai gave them a bundle of three arrows bound together and asked them to repeat the process. But none of them could. That’s your lesson, the samurai said “if you three stick together, you will never be defeated.“

Hearing the Unheard: I was always looking for new ways to get inside the players’ heads. When I started coaching the Bulls, I had the players create what I called a personal shield, a simple profile based on questions such as What your greatest aspiration? Who’s influence do you the most? And what is something people don’t know about you? Later I asked them to fill out a more formal questionnaire and use their answers to probe more deeply drain our one on one meetings midway through the season.

My favorite psychological tool was one called a “social bull’s-eye,” which creates a picture of how people see themselves in relation to the group. On one of our long road trips, I’d give each of the players a sheet of paper with a three ring bull’s-eye, representing the team’s social structure, in the center. Then I’d ask them to position themselves somewhere on the bull’s-eye based on how connected they felt to the team. Not surprisingly, the starters usually placed themselves somewhere near the eye, and the back ups scatter themselves in the second and third ranks. One year back up forward Stacy King, a fast talking, stylishly dressed player who made everyone laugh, drew himself hovering far outside the third ring. When I asked him why, he said, “I don’t get any playing time, Coach.” Which wasn’t true, but it was how he felt. On the surface, Stacy seemed confident and gregarious, but inside he felt like an outsider struggling for recognition. I don’t think I ever figured out how to heal that wound.
Bittersweet Victory: Getting the players to turn inword wasn’t always easy. Not everyone on the bus was interested in “spiritual” realization. But I didn’t hit them over the head with it. My approach with subtle. Every year the team went on a long West Coast trip in November when the circus took over the stadium for a few weeks. Before the trip I would select a book for each of the players to read, based on what I knew about them. Here’s a typical list: Song of Solomon for Michael Jordan, Things Fall Apart Bill Cartwright and Zen and the Art of motorcycle Maintenance John Paxson.

As the regular season wound down, I thought it was important for us to have closure as a team. This was the end of an era, and I wanted us to take some time to acknowledge our accomplishments and the strength of our connection. My wife suggested that we perform a ritual that she had used with children whose parents had died in the hospice program where she worked so I scheduled a special meeting before the start of the playoffs and asked everyone to write a short paragraph about what the season and our team had met to them. We met in the travel room. It was just off the inner corner of the team, the players the coaches and the training staff. Only about half of the people wrote something ahead of time that everyone spoke.

I could do go...I'll let Jackson's book speak for itself! What a gift

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Fashion Forward: From Gary Player On

In November, I had the chance to interview one of my heroes, Danielle Green '99. In our conversation I learned that her former teammate Niele Ivey helped her pick out the dress she wore for the 2015 ESPY awards. I wasn't surprised. I follow Ivey, who is now Coach Ivey, the head coach of Irish women's basketball team is featured on social media. It's hard not to notice her—she has a dynamic presence, she is passionate and so often she looks like a million bucks. The color, the style is bold and it's beautiful. Danielle agreed. She said "fashion is huge in women's athletics." Her insight made me pause and take notice. I think it might be true for men, too. 

Much was made about a recent wardrobe choice of the San Francisco 49ers. Upon arrival in Philly before the Sunday, December 10, 2023 match up, several players set the tone by showing up to the game wearing all black.

On "Inside the NFL," all-pro left tackle Trent Williams said,

A couple of week ago, I already knew I was gonna come all black

I knew that was gonna be my mindset. My mindset was gonna be time to kill. We're going to a funeral.

The final score, Niners 42, Eagles 19 proved this was not a wardrobe malfunction.

Athletes find new, unique, playful and meaningful ways to communicate through clothing. While football requires a team uniform, athletes find ways to express themselves from My Cause, My Cleats to the duds they don pre and post game. 

Athletes who play an individual sport however, have (some) freedom to express themselves through their apparel. Yes, many have contracts with certain lines of clothing and their sport may require a dress code— but there is room to make a statement. They have been doing that for decades.

I'm sure many examples come to mind, but in the Winter USGA Golfer's Journal magazine I learned about a pair of pants worn by Hall of Fame golfer, Gary Player. Known for wearing all black, the South African wore these pants at the 1960 Open Championship to show his support for ending apartheid. Player stated the pants were "a quiet protest, of bringing white and black together." He wore them again in the 2000 Open Championship at St. Andrews. They are now up for auction. 

While golfers are not required to wear a certain color (like all white at Wimbledon), they don't vary all that much from a norm. There is no "bad boy" of golf in terms of apparel, as seen when Andre Agassi wore denim washed shorts and neon colors. Still, Player's pants made a strong statement. His message was clear. It still is. Simple, yet potent. 

I do enjoy the posts of Notre Dame women's basketball traveling to their next game. What they wear on the runway, albeit an airport, tells me a little bit about who they are and of course who they represent. They have made their own statement in the past when they were among the first to wear an "I Can't Breathe" t-shirt in their pre-game warm-up. 

Whether it's a team's collective decision to make a statement before a game or an athlete's decision to stand behind an important cause, sports are entertainment AND much more.

Photo Credits

Deebo, Gary Player

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

A Wonderful Holiday Tradition: The Christmas Giving Tree—Sports and Spirituality Style

I reviewed a number of polls listing the Top 10 Most Popular Holiday Traditions. You can probably guess what rings in the yuletide cheer: decorating a Christmas tree, baking cookies, putting up and looking at twinkly lights. I wasn't surprised to read "write a letter to Santa" but I wasn't expecting to read about "hanging the holiday pickle." There was however one tradition that I did not see. It's an important one and I know many people, many parishes, family and friends rally around it: The Christmas Giving tree.

In case it is something you are not familiar with, a giving tree is a charitable version of the Christmas tree a school, church or community puts in a public place. Hanging on this tree are ornaments labeled with the name of a charity, a specific present or a gift card amount. The giving tree does much more than serve as a festive decoration—it  enables a person to choose an ornament, make a purchase and give back.

My friends' son had his final scout meeting of the year at Calvary Presbyterian Church. While I was waiting to pick him up, I noticed that their giving tree was not like the others I had seen before. Attached to its branches were zip-locked bags of gloves, A few held socks. One even had a pencil pouch! Another had art supplies. I was a little surprised. Sadly, here in San Francisco so much gets taken from public places without permission. But next to the tree was a sign, inviting someone, anyone! to "take what you need, give what you can." I loved the creativity, the generosity and the opportunity. That's the holiday spirit!

I started to wonder why I had not seen this type of Giving Tree before. And then I began to imagine how sports teams, athletic offices, boys and girls clubs, community centers and gyms could create their own Giving Tree: Sports and Spirituality style.

Ideas for what to hang in ziplock bags on this sports tree include
  • batting gloves
  • goggles or a swim cap
  • sleeve of golf balls, tees and ball markers
  • head band/wristbands
  • sunscreen/lip balm
  • ball pump
  • gift cards to Dick's Sporting Goods, etc.
  • baseball, basketball and football cards—for the sports fans among us.
  • Other thoughts? Ideas?!
Invite your sports teams to give and to help others get what they might need. To participate in athletics isn't cheap, but they can be formative and fun. They encourage fitness and help people make friends. 

Our prayer at school today focused on the words: comfort and joy. I can't help but consider how this type of giving tree brings tidings of comfort to athletes and joy to all who participate in the decoration and deliveries this Christmas. 

Monday, December 11, 2023

FORE! Thoughts on Ozempic

I played golf on Friday on my home course. My score was unremarkable. I had one birdie thanks to a killer 18 foot putt. I cobbled together a few pars, but I also picked up on two holes. Two! I've been playing this game for a solid ten years now. While I have certainly improved from those beginner days, I wonder to what degree I have come to accept, the type of golfer I am.

I work at my game—I take lessons on a quarterly basis. I try to play most weekends. I get in a whole lot of golf when I'm on break, especially in the summer. But yes, I can and will keep my day job. Still, I would like to shave a few strokes off every round. I want more GIRs. I hope those will make room for a string of pars and an occasional birdie. That would take a whole lot of work and yet, I have an answer to my problem: a new drug. 

Though quite costly, the only confirmed side effect of this drug is that once a person stops taking it, their game will return to what it once was. (A trial examined people who had taken the golf drug once a week for 68 weeks and then stopped using it. After a year, participants gained back two thirds strokes they lost). A good number of golfers taking this drug report that they are less interested in golf— but they play anyway. Of note, the improvement is fast. The index will drop in a short amount of time. The results are obvious, thanks to the World Handicap System. 

What I find interesting about this drug is that most golfers won't admit that it is the reason their game has gotten better. When asked "how did you get so good?" they tell other club members “It’s not one thing, it’s everything.” and it is the result of "willpower." While that may be true for some of the men and women out there at the club, the majority of us are getting older—not younger. We have to work harder to keep muscle mass, maintain balance and flexibility. However, this drug is just the trick. Long term effects are unknown, but the bottom line is why put off for tomorrow what you can achieve today?!

If this story sounds like an extended metaphor, it should. According to the New York Times The Daily podcast, no other drug has become a household name faster than Ozempic. Odds are you know someone who is taking it.

I want to be very clear about this: all metaphors are limited. Some of comparisons help a reader recall, remember, understand and appreciate an idea on a much deeper level. Other parts of a metaphor fall short. Still, I find value in using them in writing and teaching.

Second, I also want to acknowledge Ozempic and other GLP-1 medications for weight loss related to diabetes and obesity have truly helped people. Praise God! I value the work of modern medicine and am by no means anti-drug.

Third the purpose of this blog is to express my concerns and raise a few ethical questions about it. I welcome yours. I'll start with a story....

I've talked to one friend about her experience with Ozempic. I wondered if she was taking it, but 
I didn't bring it up because it's her business. In our conversation, she opened up about her "why" for taking it. I asked about her hopes and her fears—as related to taking the drug. She admitted that she had not told her husband she was taking the drug and for a brief period of time last summer, she went off of it. She gained the weight back.

To my surprise, she asked me what I thought. I would have left the conversation at that but she wanted to further engage in a dialogue. Since we were sharing honestly with one another, I relayed my questions—ethical ones, a few causes and yes, my concerns. 

On a macro level, it makes me very sad that our culture places so much attention and emphasis on thinness—yes, being thin. While thinness is still an obsession, in the last ten to twenty years, I thought we made significant strides toward body positivity. We have seen this in ads, mannequins, totem  characters and yet we really don't. Yes, fat shaming is intolerable, but to be overweight is a heavy burden—both physically and socially. Moving away from this culture of thinness might be a losing battle. There are explicit and implicit messages everywhere you look. Social media doesn't help.

Of further concern to me is the way that Ozempic recalibrates the paradigm for thinness. People who are healthy and fit now look heavy. This distorted view of how we see ourselves is the enemy of self-acceptance and self-love. I think we should always be seeking to improve ourselves in every way possible. I believe that we will have to make sacrifices along the way to do that. That road is not easy. It takes patience, self discipline and support. We will have setbacks. We might even fall. So what's the solution? Take a drug? 

The emphasis on a our physical appearance, especially thinness recalculates how we see beauty, too. Physical attractiveness is entirely skin deep and light weight. But each of us has our flaws—physical and otherwise. To be self assured and to comfortable in your own skin, that's a big part of beauty. Last year, the US Surgeon General issued a public health statement on loneliness in our culture. Will there be one in the future about self acceptance? 

On the personal level, what bothers me most the willingness take a drug to solve a problem that for some people is NOT a problem. My friend does not have a weight problem. She's always been active and like me, would love to drop a dress size. At our age, the weight is getting harder and harder to keep off. (I do want to thank for all the sisters who warned me that the Traveling Pants would start to get tight...and tighter). My friend isn't unlike a number of people taking the drug. They carry and extra 10, 20 maybe 25 pounds.…take an injection 2x a week and those extra lbs are gone. As written in the New York Times“These drugs were not designed for normal-weight people who want to get down to be super thin.” None of this sits right with me.

I got this questionnaire today!
While my friend was honest with me, she wasn't honest with her husband. The ethics teacher in me says I hope she will be—for the sake of integrity. It's hard to be honest in "some" areas of our lives and not others. We've all experienced this truth; I know I have. I would like to know how taking Ozempic affects how she sees other people. I'd be curious to know if she's seen subtle changes.

My friend does not play golf, if she did, I would continue to speak vis a vi the golf metaphor. Play in a foursome with people who make you feel good about who you are—both on and off the course. Whether or not you are fitting into that golf skirt from seven years ago is not the point—it never was. If you shoot an 80 today, great. If you shoot 95, that's fine too. Don't be afraid to move to the appropriate tee. Life is just too short... I don't think there's a drug to change that. 

Ozempic has taken me on a moral journey I did not expect to take at my age. As completely tempting as it would be to drop that dress size, plus, I feel too committed to the principles of working toward my best self all while doing what I can to accept myself for who I am. I think this is something I have to model for high school students and athletes, and my nieces. I've read a number of articles about the topic and my biggest gripe is the power we have given over to a drug. Whether or not we want to admit it, this drug is changing a person physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. That's worth careful consideration. Fore!

Photo Credits

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Balboa Island Holiday Home Tour: Sports and Spirituality Style

My mom and I traveled to Southern California for the 25th Annual Balboa Island Holiday Home Walking Tour. Walking through all eight of them, I was reminded of just how much (or little) you can learn about a person from their home. And my favorites were among those where Sports and Spirituality is evident.

This event has become a special holiday tradition and way for me to spend time with my mom. Given that we both live in the Bay Area, we arrived into the iconic harborside community in Newport Beach as tourists. We aren't there to visit friends or family, to go sailing or hit the beach. We are there because we delight in the quaint shops and restaurants, the views of the water from the canal or the paved concrete boardwalk that circles the island. And, the homes and cottages—many which are designated as historic landmarks are just fascinating. They are small and tight, cozy and colorful—offering a different and vibrant way to live by the beach. Balboa is one of my favorite places in the US.

All eight homes were beautiful and unique. One stop was the home of an artist. Filled with color, the highlight of visiting that home was the opportunity to see the artist's studio—on the top floor of her home. I imagine the vistas of the Pacific Ocean add some inspiration! Another home was the most minimalistic abode I have ever seen. Neutral tones of taupe, cream, black and white were used in every room on every floor. The only color in the place was from the holiday pillows, bath mats (in every bathroom) and a small blue and gold placard on the windowsill in the work out space: Play Like a Champion Today. 

I wondered if that motto is just what an individual needs to stay motivated and keep focused during a workout. Though I tried, I could not confirm anyone in that home has a Notre Dame connection. I looked for a copy of our alumni magazine, any sort of interlocking ND or Irish paraphernalia. I'm still not sure....and I fully support the motto!

Still, my favorite was one of five remaining "storybook homes" on the island. As written in the LA Times, the 

2,426-square-foot 1936 cottage that was one of 20 homes built by the well-known 1930s Balboa Island builder and architect Leon Yale. He and his family had lived in this home, where his children’s handprints remain on the concrete floor of the garage. 
The cottage is located on Apolena Avenue, which has been referred to as “storybook row” because of the distinctive Yale style. 
Yale was known for his signature detailing, using tongue and groove joints, sloped vaulted ceilings, wood floors and alcoves. According to the property’s current homeowner, some of the beams used in the living and dining rooms were taken from the original Park Avenue bridge during a remodel and the bar in the dining room came from a ship."

From the moment I walked inside, I could tell this was the home of a religious family. The current owner has seven children and countless grandchildren. Though the family was not raised in that small home, it's obvious that it brings them together in a special way today.

There was a beautiful Della Robbia of Jesus hanging in their living room. Near a table of family photos was another Della Robbia of the Holy Family. While these two Italian ceramic art pieces don't necessarily mean are Catholic, the plate of Pope John Paul II did. As did the Papal blessing from Pope John XXIII to the owners upon their wedding day.

They had other sacramentals here and there, a book about the lives of the saints and a painting of the Divine Mercy chaplet. I paid attention to all the spirituality I could find. But what made the biggest impression on me, was a Loyola High letterman jacket, framed and hanging inside clear, glass square box. 

An honorary patch—for winning the 1962 regional? football championship was affixed to the left breast. What a memento. I asked my mom if they should have given it to someone in their family. My mom said "no, that was special to him [the father/owner]. He earned it and by framing it in that way, they've kept it for posterity." My mom's right. And like me, I'm sure others want to know the story about that jacket. Therefore, when someone asks, the owner gets to recall the memories that go with it. Go Cubs!

Today as a good reminder to take a moment to examine what our homes reveal about who we are and what we value. I am confident that if someone were to walk through my apartment, they would see Sports and Spirituality characterize my life—and I'm proud of that. 

Special thanks to the many volunteers from the Balboa Island Improvement Association who made today run as smoothly as possible! Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Playmaker in the House: Sam Hartman

Not sure what I like more—an athletic celebrity sighting on my own or seeing athletes and coaches in attendance at other sporting events. Whether it's a few Forty Niners at a Warrior game after a big win, golfers in the stands at Wimbledon before the British Open, memories of Kobe Bryant with his daughter at UConn game—it makes sense that athletes show up in support of other athletes. And, I loved nothing more than seeing Irish quarterback, Sam Hartman and two teammates at the Notre Dame Women's basketball game.

This is not the first time Notre Dame football players have been at Purcell Pavilion for Irish women's or men's hoops. In recent years, schools have been vocal and intentional about getting coaches and teams to support other programs with their presence. When I was in Athletics, I know how hard we worked to build a culture—rooted in our community values, shared by all the programs. While training, practice, team meetings, and travel are to be considered, the field of competition reveals character and culture above all. Therefore, we wanted teams to be in the stands, cheer for their friends, yell for the Irish and have fun. Talk about winning.

The caption under the photos said "Playmakers in the house!" Reading that message and seeing these photos, I wish I was too. In response, one comment said "he's just another student.... Jesus!" While those words are certainly true, they're also not true.

Sam Hartman is not just another student. He's QB1. Were I a current student at Notre Dame and he was my classmate, our realities would be totally different. Remember, Hartman is an athlete for whom Notre Dame stadium played Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" over the loud speaker at the Wake Forest game—on his "other" senior day. The love prompted the Demon Deacons coach, Dave Clawson to say,

Here's a guy [Hartman] we recruited and we developed, and they are putting on a video of him, saying 'We will always love you.' I'm like, you only dated him for a couple of months. It can't be love. We are the ones who love him. We had five years with him. You rented him for a season. They bought him and rented him for a year, and now they love him. When that video played, it's just like, holy cow, this is where college football is.

Hartman, a Wake Forest transfer has played in only 11 games for the Irish, but the love is real.

Like most love stories, let's be honest: the timing was right. "Coach Free" and his program have established roots. Hartman came in with experience, a strong arm and great hair. Although the season didn't go exactly as planned, we loved him because we felt like it actually might. Furthermore, it's noteworthy that he's a part of student life when he could easily be in Phoenix training for the combine. His presence (and his beard) turn heads. We pay attention and take notice. So let's do as he and two of his teammates did—show up for others and reveal character and a culture worth standing behind. 

Photo Credits
with Coach Free

Friday, December 8, 2023

23 Ways to Cope: Sports and Spirituality Style

Counselors at the high school where I teach met with students about two weeks before finals, which preceded Christmas break, to discuss good mental health strategies. Given the typical student's stress level, the demands of the holiday season, the short days and long nights, I wasn't surprised that our school community found it important to recognize how they might be feeling and offer resources for them to maintain their well-being.
The handout "100 Ways to Cope" caught my attention for it was not only creative yet practical, I noticed how many of them relate to the world of Sports and Spirituality. Here a brief reflection on seven of them and 23 to focus on overall for 2023.
  1. Exercise: Run, walk, frisbee, etc
    Exercise increases blood flow, emits endorphins, and it puts us in touch with others, ourselves and with God. I can't think of a better way to ward off stress than to exercise; it has and continues to keep me sane. Exercise also makes me aware of the mind, body and soul connection. To workout is to challenge all three realms. 

  2. Prepare for the morning the night before
    The hardest part of exercise is often getting to the gym! I have found when I prepare my clothes and pack my gym bag the night before, the odds are dramatically in favor of getting there. I know too well what Coach John Wooden said, "failing to prepare is preparing to fail." To prepare a healthy lunch the night before means I'm eating well the next day! To prep my gear and bag in advance, means what can get in my way of working out is...well, not a whole lot.

  3. Watch a movie and eat popcorn
    Some of my favorite movies involve sports. One of my regrets this semester is not offering a movie series on boxing. The sport carries a narrative well. So well that two movies about boxing have won the Academy Award for Film of the Year: Rocky and Million Dollar Baby. Given that I teach a semester class, I may give this a go in the month of January (it's long). They choose the movie to watch. Others will include: Cinderella Man, The Boxer and Creed.

    I think popcorn is the added bonus. There's something to be said for settling in to watch the whole movie, not less—with a tub of popcorn by your side.

  4. Study the sky
    Play golf and you will not only study the sky, but the wind as well. As someone newer to golf, I have enjoyed the attention to detail that golfers pay to sun, sky, wind and rain....yes, that's what happens when you play a game that was invented in Scotland, no? Runners are forced to study the sky. There are far worse lots in life!

  5. Take a hot shower or relaxing bath
    Ah! The rewards of a good workout. Yes, some athletes are tasked with the ice bath before a hot shower, but on tired and sore muscles, nothing feels better than these ways of coping.

  6. Take a nap (only if you're tired)
    There are a wide variety of opinions on the nap. Some do everything they can to stay away from one—worrying that if they nap, they won't fall asleep later that night. I can almost guarantee that if you workout hard or long, you body will crave a nap....and if it's a good nap, you feel refreshed and re-energized. Your body will thank you twice: for the exercise and for the zzz's.

  7. Go somewhere very public
    It's good to be out in the open and see how big our world is...and how many people there are and how many people you run into. I love reporting back to my family who I saw and what we talked about. I rarely make it to a sporting event where I don't see someone I know. And even in my own parish, I have gotten to know the people—young and old sitting in the pews. Some help me pray better. Others have become friends. When we come together, I realize I am part of the Living Body of Christ.

Consider these and share your own reflections....
  1. Say "hello" to a stranger
  2. Practice breathing slowly
  3. Do a brand new thing
  4. Shoot hoops, kick a ball
  5. Ride a bicycle
  6. Talk to someone close to you.
  7. Become a better listener.
  8. Jump on a trampoline.
  9. Go to a ball game and scream.
  10. Keep a journal.
  11. Strive for excellence, NOT perfection.
  12. Get enough sleep.
  13. Freely praise other people.
  14. Yoga.
  15. Make a list of goals for the week/month/year/5 years.
  16. Hug a friend or family member.
These 23 suggestions for 2023 are on point. They speak to the importance of our mental, emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual well-being and the on-going work and effort to maintain all of it. Framing these suggestions through the lens of Sports and Spirituality grounds a list into my reality. I hope it's helpful and interesting to you. Good luck to students in finals! Godspeed to parents in making it through and Blessings to all this holiday season!

Photo Credits
The Boxer

Thursday, December 7, 2023

This Advent: Sacred Stories with....Notre Dame Running Back Audric Estimé

During this season of Advent, the Notre Dame Alumni Association sends a daily video reflection featuring alumni, students, faculty, and staff to help anyone and everyone ready our hearts and make way for the joy of our Savior’s birth at Christmas. The focus of these testimonials varies from year to year. This Advent, "members of the Notre Dame family, offer  their most sacred and meaningful moments on our beloved campus."

The Sacred Stories of Notre Dame: A Daily Advent Journey "range from tales of life-changing experiences in the classroom and moments of stillness at the Grotto to the power of family memory and unforgettable mentors." Each one is different. Each story is inspiring. And the one for December 8, featuring Audric Estimé should not be missed.

I receive a text reminder each afternoon to log-in and take a look. I will admit I am anxious and excited to see Will know the narrator? I wonder—What University administrator might they profile. Will I hear from a classmate? And I would be lying if I said otherwise, but I always want to know what athletes and coaches weigh in.

To see the star running back, Audric Estimé brought a huge smile to my face. Talk about big time, Estimé was the life blood of the offense. He is undoubtedly one of the more exciting and dominant players in college football. Take one look at this hype video—released before the Ohio State game and his physical stature speaks for itself.

But, Day 6 of Sacred Stories reveals Audric Estimé is so much more. He is a student-athlete, a political science major, a man of faith, he has an active prayer life and I believe he is genuinely joyful. Take note of how many times he smiles! I give him so much credit. He lost his mother at an early age and struggled in college—like so many other men and women do. He is a beloved member of an extended family and a valued member of the Notre Dame family—a place he realized "was the only school that brought together the three most essential things in my life right now — faith, academics, and football." He added,  "I realized all my goals and dreams were on the right trajectory. I truly felt that God had a path for me, and that path was Notre Dame." 

I am grateful to have walked that same path. I am thankful for my own family and the Notre Dame family. I'll show you and wear the green jersey any day. A happy and holy Advent.

Photo Credits
Audric photo is from the video: Day 6 of Sacred Stories

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Lessons in Cultural Anthropology

My good friend claims to be a cultural anthropologist. She takes great pride in her identity. I don't blame her. To me, the study of "humans and their cultural, social, biological, and environmental aspects of life in the past and the present" is utterly fascinating. And the best part about being a cultural anthropologist is that it will allow you to meet a lot of people, attend innumerous events, travel to unsuspecting places and ask all kinds of questions—all in the name of this social science.

To the surprise of no one, Taylor Swift was named TIME's person of the year. No one, right? I imagine Karen will read the article for its cultural anthropology 101. In October, she asked me go with her to see the Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour documentary. I was a little surprised she wanted to go. I shouldn't have been. 

I saw it opening weekend and she went later with her niece—expensing it in the name of cultural anthropology. While her husband questioned the need to do that, I loved it. It was a raging celebration of  love and friendship bringing together women, girls and even a few "girl-dads" all summer long. I need to ask Karen about the conclusions she came to after watching the show. No doubt they justify the price per ticket.

Looking through this world through the lens of cultural anthropology makes life infinitely more interesting. In a way, cultural anthropology is liberating. One can observe, take note, and enjoy it all in the name of curiosity. From time to time, I feel that I can only give my time to events or causes aligned with my passions or my values. However the field of cultural anthropology allows one to expand their horizons.

Following the second gathering of the SI bowling club on Monday night, the club leader and I sat down for a few moments to catch up and watch members of the bowling league compete against one another. Every single one of them had their own ball, their own bag and approach to the game. Their style and speed...and their scores were fascinating. Not a single game was under 200. 

The next day, I mentioned this to a colleague who I know likes to bowl. She said "oh yeah, Monday night leagues are usually a lot of football fans." I said, "that's exactly right. I saw tons of Niner gear." She added "I bet the game was on. That's a drinking crowd, too." Without being at Classic Bowling Lanes, my co-worker described perfectly who was in the house. I walked away from our conversation thinking two things: One: I'm sure every sports league in America has its own subculture. I have seen Dude Perfect capitalize on their groups and make them into humor "stereotype" videos. They're only funny because they are so accurate. Two: I honestly started thinking about how good of a bowler Niner running back Christian McCaffrey probably is.

Will cultural anthropologists study bowling leagues hundreds or thousands of years from now? Probably not—but they will consider how human beings take leisure find ways to play.

Ted Lasso popularized the quote written by Walt Whitman, "be curious, not judgmental." To become a cultural anthropologist—for work, pleasure or both is to live the spirit of this motto and more. 

Photo Credits
Niner Bowling
Bowling League

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Penalties, Personal Fouls and Pass Interference: Off the Gridiron

Given my family background, I should be a referee. My grandfather and two uncles served middle school, high school and collegiate athletics through officiating for most of their adult lives. Through refereeing, they have made an impact on their local communities snd the lives of many young people. I'm proud of my heritage. However, I gave to sports in my own way. I coached high school sports for 20 years and worked in the athletic office for two. Those days might be over, but this entire mix is in my blood. And from time to time, I find myself wishing I were a football referee. As much as I admire Sarah Thomas, it's not that I want the zebra suit. I want those yellow flags. That's right I want to call personal fouls and assess penalties. Not on the field but any and everywhere off the gridiron. Allow me to explain....

Although Jerry Seinfeld didn't create Festivus—a secular holiday celebrated on December 23, his show certainly popularized it. At Festivus, people come together to pass the unadorned aluminum pole and air their grievances. Throwing the penalty flag isn't much different. Sure it's not exactly bringing holiday cheer, but all is fair in love and sports. 

So if you have wanted to call a penalty on a friend, family member or even yourself read on and let me know what you think.

Penalty: Ball has been illegally touched, kicked or batted
A friend posted on social media "Congratulations to Michigan on an undefeated season!" Always one to give a person a wide berth when it comes to supporting their alma mater, said individual is not a Wolverine. 
While their spouse is a graduate, I still find this to be a penalty and loss of a first down. Why? I find it hard to support a program so egregious in cheating, led by a coach who doesn't care. Perhaps they feel targeted, but honor and integrity went out the door on this one. Whether Michigan fans feel wronged or not, I think a public proclamation and celebration of their 12-0 record is a penalty. No loss of 15 yards. No personal foul. In this case the ball was illegally touched, kicked or batted.

Personal Foul: Roughing the Passer
On September 30, Notre Dame barely beat Duke, 21-14. Even though a win is a win, is a win, Irish fans were not feeling good about this one. Two days later, a friend who has no allegiance to any college football team and is indifferent to Notre Dame football started questioning me— hard—about the vitality of the Irish. "Geez. Notre Dame. WHAT WAS THAT? I mean really?!" I replied by saying, "It wasn't pretty but we got the win." To my surprise, the inquisition did not end. "It's going to be a very long season if you continue to look like that." I replied "well, the Irish were 4-1 coming into the game and are now 5-1. I'll take that any day. Duke has a strong quarterback and it's tough to win on the road." She kept going....

In that moment, I wanted to throw the flag. It's one thing to razz your friend who you know is a huge fan of a certain team. And it's another to push, judge and make assumptions when you're largely agnostic. Personal Foul: Roughing the Passer. Loss of 15 yards. Automatic first down. 

Illegal Forward Pass
This might be a stretch, but I'm going to call this on Sports Illustrated for naming Deion Sanders Sportsperson of the Year. While it was exciting to follow Neon Deion once again, really? SOTY?? Coach Prime finished the season 4-8. Yes, it's an improvement over 1-11 from the year before, but he also brought in 86 new players. Guys on the 2022 team was strongly encouraged to pursue playing opportunities elsewhere.  

This is an illegal forward pass, loss of a down. I am all for advancing exposure and opportunities for those who are part of an HBCU. I will admit the hype around Coach Saunders was electric. He is nothing short of charismatic and engaging but to get to be the Sportsman of the Year given what so many other athletes accomplished and achieved in 2023 in not right.

Penalizing myself
If I were to throw the flag at myself, I would most likely getting called for running pass interference. I've run my own illegal substitution at work. Hopefully, I would never been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct but I've certainly been offsides.

The truth of the matter is we need more officials. There isn't a high school sport out there not looking for more help. If you want to contribute to the game or help out in other ways—keeping book, running a clock, or posting to social media, opportunities await. In the meantime, I invite you to think about the rules of the sport you play and how those extend beyond the game. Makes life a little more colorful!

Photo Credits

Monday, December 4, 2023

Announcing Rev. Bob Dowd, C.S.C, the University of Notre Dame's 18th President:

At an alumni event during the Stanford vs. Notre Dame game weekend, a friend asked me who the next University president would be. Alumni and friends have been asking this question for years—only now it's a legitimate one. And that is because on October 13, 2023 Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C. announced he will step down at the conclusion of the 2023-2024 school year to return to teaching and ministry at ND. Father Jenkins has served in the role since 2005. I said to my classmate, "I have a few ideas in mind, but I know that I really do not know." Today, however, is a different story. I know. You (now) know upon the annoucment that Father Bob Dowd, C.S.C.  has been named the University's 18th president. 

I got the update from my Uncle Jay and good friend, Mike. I gave an audible gasp upon reading what my Uncle Jay sent: a screen shot of a tweet from "The Observer."

I wasn't expecting this announcement...not right now, nor about Father Bob. My colleague, a fellow Religious Studies teacher asked if everything was okay. "Yes! Notre Dame has a new president," I said. He asked, "Does that person have to be a Holy Cross priest?" "Yes," I said. "That's too bad, he replied." "Not in this case. It's great news," I added. I meant it.

Father Bob Dowd was one of two Holy Cross priests on rotation for weekday/weeknight Masses in Farley Hall. While our Sunday liturgies were well attended at 10:00 p.m., the Monday and Thursday masses gathered a smaller crowd. Consequently, we got to all know one another—through a welcome presence (we sat on the floor), casual conversation and personal intentions. Each of us knew Father Bob was happy to be there. He smiled naturally and remembered our names. I was always impressed with his voice—it's clear, but not deep. Safe to say he has always been youthful—in appearance, energy and demeanor. In what *may* have been an effort to look like he had gone through puberty, sometime that first year he grew a mustache. The women in Farley wondered how he did that.

The other message was a screen shot of a tweet from ND Football beat writer, Mike Berardino. It complied "Father Bob facts" They are: 

  • Ordained in 1994
  • Political science PhD from UCLA
  • BA in economics from #NotreDame ('87)
  • Author of "Christianity, Islam, and Liberal Democracy: Lessons from Sub-Saharan Africa"
  • Research interests include religion, development, and political culture.

My list is different. I would like this post to serve as a testimony of my own "Father Bob facts." These are off the cuff and what I came to know as a student.

  • Humble Heart
  • Servant Leader
  • Good friend of Bishop Pat Neary, CSC. 
  • Committed to the work of the Alliance for Catholic Education (the ACE teaching program) and the Center for Social Concerns (CSC)
  • Assigned to East Africa
While you can (and should read) about his academic research, accomplishments and administrative experience, I can speak to his priesthood. I believe those attributes are well suited for the presidency.
  • Jesus was the servant of the servants. And, Christian discipleship is predicated on the willingness to lead by serving one another. A humble heart helps make that all work. Jesus' entire life modeled humility and servant leadership; it's what I have seen in Father Bob. 

  • They say you can judge a person by the company they keep. I always knew Father Pat and Father Bob were close. Contemporaries in the Congregation of Holy Cross, both men are ND alums and were ordained not too long after graduation. Father Pat was the other priest on that Farley Hall rotation—lucky us! He was recently named a Bishop for the Diocese of Saint Cloud. In short: see earlier paragraph about servant leadership and humble heart and put a check by the names of these Church leaders. 

  • I love that so much of Father Bob's academic research and own experience is tied to Africa. He will bring a global perspective to the question and concern of Catholic identity to Notre Dame. The Church is alive—it is thriving and growing in Africa. It is diverse and dynamic, both rich and poor. It is essential that the Catholic Church's outreach and commitment to Africa be known, shaped, broadened and appreciated. 

  • On the domestic front, Father Bob gave of his time and talent to serve the Alliance for Catholic Education. He sees teaching as ministry (he himself is an associate professor of political science) and an essential arm of the Church in the US. He conspired with us on many a retreat. Grateful for those memories.
The University has had only three presidents in the last 70 years. Father Bob will follow other servant leaders, each with their own pastoral gifts and administrative assets. I hope in this time of waiting and preparation, both Father Bob and the leadership of the University can help one another to live out the words of Father Basil Moreau, CSC: "Make God Known, Loved and Served." AND, I hope he really likes football.....

Photo Credits
CSC Shot