Tuesday, February 27, 2024

MasterClass on Hope and a Hole-in-One

My friend, Missy received a year-long subscription to MasterClass as a gift from her neighbor. What a wonderful, ingenious present. Launched in May 2015, MasterClass is an online learning platform that streams lessons delivered by recognized masters of their craft. It is proud of profess "Our instructors are the best in the world." Check out the list of teachers; MasterClass tells the truth. 

Missy told me about George W. Bush's class on "Authentic Leadership." A long time fan of 43, I leaned in and watched the trailer. I laughed so hard and was so impressed by W's affect, I signed up for the 30-day trial.  I was genuinely interested to hear what he would have to say about making tough decisions, building a team, public service, personal diplomacy and his latest passion: art. I had no idea that President Bush's MasterClass would relate to golf and the feat of a faithful friend. I'm glad it did. Here is the story.

I don't have an official leadership or title at work. For example, I'm not a school administrator nor do I have any aspirations to work as an athletic director. Heck, I'm not even sure I will work as a head coach again. This might explain why my mom asked me why I enrolled in this particular class. I told her that I think we all benefit from learning more about leadership. I figured the other topics could speak to me and be of some benefit. It was...it is. 

I loved hearing W's insights on leading the country and a company—the Texas Rangers. As much as I kept thinking of how the course connects to different aspects of my own life, I couldn't help but think of my friend Malia and how these topics would be of interest to her. Why? In January 2024, Malia was named president of the Olympic Club—a private athletic and social club in San Francisco, CA. She is the third female president in the club's 164 years of history.

In my 10+ years as a member, I have served on three different club committees. I appreciate learning from and witnessing multiple styles of leadership among the committee members and chairs who seek to make the club even better. Full disclosure, Malia happens to be a good friend, and one of the reasons our for our friendship is not only golf but our shared interest in club governance. In committee roles, I have been privy to Malia's due diligence toward all matters that pertain to the club. She works tirelessly toward clear and consistent communication between staff and members. She is gracious and respectful, smart and visionary. She will remember your name and your story. She smiles and says hello. She is a lot of fun. In short the club is in very good hands. 

As written in The Olympian Magazine, Malia said she grew up in an athletic family. She added, "I'm the weakest player of the group. So everyone wants to partner with me because of my strokes." All joking aside, like her parents, Malia has hit a hole-in-one. That is until Sunday February 25, 2024 when she hit her second ace. 

Standing in the tee box on the seventh hole of the Ocean course, she didn't think she hit her ball right. Regardless, we followed the path of the ball. I saw it bounce on the right side of the fairway just short of the green. It started rolling and didn't stop until it found a home in the cup. One of the women in our foursome said "I think it went it." The other woman agreed. We told Malia to use her rangefinder to look on the green for the ball. It was nowhere in plain sight. Ever one to play the odds, I said "Malia, both Brook and Bonnie are pretty sure it went in. I think if  the two of them saw the same thing, we must have something there." She laughed. She smiled and kept (relatively) quiet until we could confirm what we just saw. As we approached the green, we all knew what happened. We were able to capture on video her victory path toward the hole. She reached in and there it was: a hole-in-one. 

I can't tell you what that must feel like as I keep wishing on my birthday for my first one. However, to witness one is exciting enough. #Adrenaline city. And when something this exciting—surprising, joyful and unexpected as a hole-in-one happens to a person, it's just not the event that makes the impression, it's everything else about it, too.

Malia's first concern was to follow the due process that this was a certifiable hole in one. Because Hole 7 is under repair, all tees have been moved to one singular tee box. Ever mindful of protocol, Malia reached out to the head pro who worked with another staff member to get the green light. She did. And for anyone who asks, yes, she hit a hole-in-one from the championship tees. 

After the round, during which Malia hit for the cycle—eagle, birdie and par, our group accompanied her to the pro shop where she thanked the staff members for their help. They handed over an OC pennant, commemorating the feat. We then went to the Champions Bar where she greeted folks with an introduction and the big news."Enjoy a beverage of your choice, on me" she said. To see the reactions of other club members—the smiles, the fist bumps, high fives and hugs was what made the ace that much more special. What hole? What club did you use? It was awesome to see the unsuspecting people around us meet Malia under the most auspicious of circumstances ;-) 

I had to leave the spirited gathering to celebrate my sister Sarah's birthday. After our dinner, I asked Sarah—an artist and painter— if she would be interested in watching the final chapter of George Bush's MasterClass, entitled "Happy are the Painters" with me. I read the description 

Join President Bush in his personal studio in Maine. The former president concludes his class by sharing why he decided to start painting and how he views learning as a lifelong pursuit.
This session focused on not only why he started but why he continues to paint. In addition to his love of learning, Bush used the words of another world leader who took up painting after his time in office to explain why it's his passion today. Churchill said

Happy are the painters, for they shall not be lonely. Light and colour, peace and hope, will keep them company to the end of the day.

Though these words appeared on the screen beside the artistic work of Churchill, I couldn't help but connect his sentiment to what occurred on the golf course earlier that day. I thought back to Malia's hole in one. With 20/20 vision, my mind's eye sees  her standing in the tee box, her stroke, the arc of the ball mid-flight and the result of her effort. 


We golfers are the painters of sport. Each round is characterized by its own number of strokes. The golf club is our brush. We can only play in the light. Indeed, the game is an exercise in hope. It never leaves me lonely.

During the round, one can feel inner turmoil. Many strokes are toiled and exacting. But there's always some part of the experience that offers an inner peace—the beauty of the course, exposure to the elements and the changing of seasons that time with the game affords. When the strokes are smooth—light and easy, fluid and fun the painters, I mean golfers are very happy.

How lucky are we to keep company with friends to the end of the day? Friends we may have met through this artistic medium that we celebrate and honor in many ways. But for whom on Sunday, February 25 we did for a singular brush stroke, a hole in one. 

Congratulations, Malia or as many people call you—Madame President. Time for us to figure out what is your presidential number....

Photo Credits
The Olympian

Saturday, February 24, 2024

An Additional Lens for Sports Fans: Art But Make It Sports

This question is going to sound ridiculous. Hear me out. When you go to a game or watch sports on TV, what are you looking for? Obviously you aim to see an athletic contest, a victory and a defeat, a display of talent, athleticism, grit, good sportsmanship, and so forth. But what else do you pay attention to? A specific athlete? the star players? I would argue that what captures our imagination reflects who we are and is worth further consideration. Though I have long believed this to be true, PBS Newshour brought this to light in meaningful and unique way.

Part of me thinks it's amazing that anyone goes to games anymore. Between the cost, the time and effort, let alone the comfort of my couch and the high def of my TV screen—it is just so easy to stay at home. Another part of me is amazed at how many people do in fact not only go to gamea but watch them on TV, live-streamed and more! Clearly, sports offers us something more than entertainment. It is not a mere diversion. So what is it that we are seeking? What are we finding?!

If you are a coach, it's hard not to pay attention to how other coaches comport themselves before, during and after the game. How do they talk to their players? How do they respond to bad calls? to mistakes their athletes make? As someone related to referees, I can't help but take notice of the zebras on the gridiron and the hardwood. Do they move the game along? 
How often are they talking to athletes and to coaches? For my friends in the dean's office at school, I know they are always looking at how other student bodies demonstrate school spirit—both in what they say and how they say it. And, as a teacher of Sports and Spirituality, I am perennially on the hunt for moments of grace, inspiration, selfless play, undeniable sportsmanship, respect, stories and more. This blog has been in the works since 2009 because I have found it. 

But I never find it on my own. Quite often friends, family, fans and colleagues share ideas, examples, stories and situations that might resonate with my vision of sports. For example, on #SuperSickMonday, the day after Super Bowl LVIII, a colleague shared a segment from PBS Newshour about an artist who pairs photos from sports games with nearly identical paintings from history (often religious). According to their social media platforms (Twitter, Instagram, and a website), Art But Make it Sports aims to "turn Art into Sports (and vice versa) | “Everything I didn't know I needed" - follower testimonial | No AI used | See inspiration? DM/tag us." This digital media project was launched in 2019.

I strongly recommend that you watch the video for yourself.  (Here's the link. Hopefully it gets you to the time stamp, but if not, the piece begins at 48:55). The curator, LJ Rader admits "I try to see things through a sports lens, even if it is a piece of fine art....trying to figure out what could that moment of art be in sports? What could I compare it to, image wise, that might make someone look at it and say "Yes. Yeah, I get it. I can see the parallels here?!" 


Rader admits that people are not used to seeing art and sport talked about (and put together visually). I have to admit, I hear the same exact thing when I mention sports and spirituality. His reasons for the connection he finds between the two aren't much different than mine. However, the spiritual life is often abstract and needs to be made visible and concrete. And yet, Rader enjoys the challenge of connecting abstract art with sports, as well.

I have told my students that one of my goals is to include a work of art (usually a painting or a sculpture...sometimes a photographic image or a song) into every class. Why? Christian Wiman, the author of "My Bright Abyss" explains it well. He writes, 

The purpose of theology, the purpose of any thinking about God, is to make the silences clearer and starker to us, to make the unmeaning — by which I mean those aspects of the divine that will not be reduced to human meanings — more irreducible and more terrible and thus ultimately more wonderful. This is why art is so often better at theology than theology is. 


Art But Make is Sports has not only made my job a whole lot easier, it has provided an additional less for how I see each game. 

Photo Credits
All images art from Art But Make it Sports.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Analytics Aside: Five Lessons from Super Bowl LVIII

I woke up Sunday morning with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. I said to myself, "it's Super Bowl Sunday" and this one is special. Why? It's not every year, that your team is in the NFL Championship game. I loved hearing from friends throughout the country with text messages like "Thinking of you today!" and "Go Niners." I went to Mass in my Niners' gear and took note of how many others in the congregation did too. I found my way to the grocery store and was delighted to see extra staff on hand as people got the goods for the second biggest feast day in the US (Thanksgiving Day is #1). I put on my CMC jersey. I packed my Super Bowl snacks and arrived at a super spirited party, knowing the next four hours plus would not be easy. Sadly, that premonition proved to be true. But not all was lost at Super Bowl LVIII. I gained a few insights and life lessons. They are not about questionable calls. You won't find much by way of analytics. Regardless, I think these are a few worth sharing.  

"Super Bowl" is two words and a proper noun.
As a teacher, you have certain tools in your toolbox. The words of William O'Malley SJ, the author of "Building Your Own Conscience" have served as one of the better ones. He writes,  "The first step toward wisdom is to call a thing by its right name. Then you'll handle it as it deserves." I would like to add that writing and spelling it properly are important too.

Maybe I missed the memo, but it seems that proper nouns and the usage of paragraphs are out of fashion for writers under the age of 18. Though social media cares little for the rules of grammar, I cannot and do not let this bad habit slide in my classroom. I have told my students paragraphs are important because they help you, the writer organize ideas and the reader to understand them. Furthermore, proper nouns indicate importance and mark distinction. The Super Bowl is not "Any Given Sunday." It's the NFL championship game. Thus, its title requires differentiation and discipline.

We all watch in our own way
I attended the friend of a friend's annual Super Bowl party. The hostess happens to be an identical twin. I had no difficulty telling them apart because one twin only came down for the halftime show. A die-hard Niners fan, she couldn't watch the game with others for several reasons—she gets too nervous, the crowd's commentary can be off-putting, and she really wants to watch the game. I came to find out she is not an outlier—I know many people who do the same.

When it comes to watching a sporting event we care about, fans have their preferences. For example, good sound is incredibly important to me. I am an info hound and I want to hear the commentary. I need those around me to remain positive. I can't handle it when others rip on the players and critique with unbridled authority how and why they are messing up. I have a hard time staying calm. If you are telling me a story about something during a key play, I won't listen. Why? During a championship game—the World Series, the Super Bowl, etc. the stakes are just too high.

Over the years, I have come to terms with who I am in these environments. I hope I'm a fun and knowledgable companion—but I know I can be overly emotional, tense and on edge. While I can handle being with others, I live by the principle we all can and should watch in our own way. No apologies required.


Super Sick Monday
I went into work the day after the Super Bowl with my head hung low, licking my wounds and wishing things were different. But at least I went to work. According to the Morning Brew "16.1 million employees are expected to take off work the day after the Super Bowl, according to the UKG Workforce Institute. In all, 14% of US employees plan to miss at least some work on “Super Sick Monday,” 

Perhaps you have heard, but many believe we should observe a national holiday the day after the Super Bowl. I am down with that, and here is my suggestion / solution for how that can happen.

President's Day is observed in the United States on the third Monday in February. Why not move the holiday to the second Monday in the month? The rationale for the current date is because Lincoln was born on February 12 and Washington on February 19. While I understand the goal of honoring a day between the two birth dates, given the larger context of who and what President's Day honors, the distinction is nominal.

One third of the American people watched the Super Bowl—a number that is not decreasing. In short, a lot of spirited gatherings and house parties that involve overeating, drinking, gambling, yelling, jumping, screaming and more make for a work force that is not optimal come Monday. What do we lose by aligning President's Day with Super Bowl Sunday? Maintaining the status quo is a zero sum gain.

Tennyson had it right...
Whether you return to work on Monday or Tuesday after the Super Bowl, those of us on the losing side know it's not easy. As a Niners fan, losing Super Bowl LVIII was especially tough. Sports fans know the window of opportunity is so small. We have gotten close in recent years and this year we got that much closer.

I knew I would have to face my colleagues and recount the loss. One coworker said, "I would rather lose in the playoffs that get all the way to Super Bowl and fall short." I understood what she said. The two weeks between the AFC and NFC championship games are filled with hype. The amount of attention and energy given to your team is astounding. To lose in the playoffs means you are free of the distraction two, three or four weeks sooner.

I asked my students to weigh in on this matter: agree or disagree. They each said it is antithetical to the nature of the game to not go all the way. One student added, it's like that saying, "it is better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all." I responded "so Tennyson had it right. I have to agree."

What could be more American?
In Sports and Spirituality, I have a project centered around the Super Bowl called Faith and Football. A minor theme is "What could be more American?" We address what the Super Bowl—positively and negatively— reveals about our culture. Unfortunately the events surrounding the Chiefs' victory parade—an altercation that resulted in gun violence that killed one woman and injured two dozen others reflects one of the darkest truths of our society. Respect for human life is not a given. It is too precarious, and continually under threat. The fact that a public celebration ends in shooting, death and injury is beyond tragic. It is unacceptable. It's hard to say this, but given the number of shootings we have had this year one must conclude: it is American.

In Conclusion
The second that Mahomes connected with Hardman, I stood up, I thanked and hugged the host and I left. I would be lying if I told you I enjoyed the game. As much as I loved the morning and the two weeks building up to the game, once the clock started running, I was a nervous wreck. I did not enjoy the game. I was hoping for a parade on my 50th birthday. You read that right. The city of San Francisco announced—pending a Niners win— that it would host a victory parade on Thursday, February 15, 2024. School would have been canceled (maybe?!) and I could enjoy the milestone with the Gold Rush, etc. The Chiefs had their own plans.

I called my Dad to talk about the loss. He ended the conversation by telling me that he was already hopeful for next year. A number of our starters would return and we had that much more experience to draw from. In fact, the Niners are the betting favorites for next year already. Super Bowl LIX takes place on February 9, 2025. I'll still be 50... no need for a parade, I'll take the sixth Lombardi trophy for the Niners. Gladly. There's always more to learn, question, hope for and discover.

Thank you to the San Francisco Forty-Niners for a great season.

Photo Credits
Prayer Service
Super Bowl LVIII
Brock Hug
Pointed
Super Sick Monday

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Can We Talk About Juju?

I am a religious person and a spiritual person. I'm not superstitious (I learned the hard way on that one. Guatemala, 2007). I've never used a Oujia board or seen a psychic. Nary a tarot card or Zodiac sign will be found among my possessions. I don't dabble. BUT, I don't mess with juju. Do you? And what I really want to know is: Can we talk about it?

To be honest, I thought the word was made up. I think it's a fun word to say. Turns out, there's more to it. According to Britannica

Juju is an object that has been deliberately infused with magical power or the magical power itself; it also can refer to the belief system involving the use of juju. Juju is practiced in West African countries... It is neither good nor bad, but it may be used for constructive purposes as well as for nefarious deeds. 

Juju operates on the principle of spiritual contagious contact based on physical contact. The underlying belief is that two entities that have been in close contact have similar properties even after being separated. It then becomes possible to manipulate one in order to reach the other. 

It is thought that spiritual similarity can be created by deliberately placing two things in physical contact. The underlying belief is that spiritual assimilation and fusion will take place, with one entity absorbing the qualities of the other. Amulets, charms, and mascots are all common forms of juju. Usually worn for protective purposes, those objects have been infused with a particular type of energy, and wearing them is expected to create paths and possibilities for the wearer, as well as guard them against ill fortunes and evil spirits.

Wow. And yet, when I think how and when I reference juju...this description rings true.

For example, I am most sensitive to the juju when I gamble. If I don't like the feel of the table or if a person joins it and brings new juju, bad juju, I will walk away.

Like many sports fans, I am mindful of the juju. For example, when people ask "If we win the Super Bowl, what day is the parade?" I can hardly answer the question. I have no problem with pundits and fans making predictions, but to talk about real possibilities and plans? No can do. Bad Juju. 

Combine sports and gambling—which many of us do—and the juju takes on a life of its own. The movie, "Silver Linings Playbook" captures that dynamic perfectly. I too have blamed certain people for messing up my team's juju.

So what gives? Or rather, why give into the juju. "I Don't Want Your Good Juju" a post featured in the National Catholic Reporter, captures my question... and my answer.

Futhermore, I don't pray to roll my point on craps. I don't ask God to guide my hand in Blackjack when I decide to split the eights. I will never pray for my team to win the game—parlay or not. I will however ask God for the health and safety of all athletes. I am happy to pray that my team uses their talents to the best of their abilities and glorify God in the process. I pray for a game that is fair. Do I pray for a game that is fun? why not!

Prayer is raising our hearts and minds to God. It is fundamental to my relationship with the Lord. Prayer is communication—listening and yes, asking. But I don't see God as a slot machine who grants my wishes—as much as I might want them to come true! Prayer is so much more. It is sacred and holy. Authentic prayer is as raw and it is real. And, I believe it's worth making the distinctions. 

In short, I save prayer for the big stuff, for the real stuff. As much as I enjoy gambling and love sports, they have their place. Obviously sports enhance my life. They make it more meaningful and fun, but they don't control it (I am sensitive to the fact that others might feel differently e.g. Kyle Shanahan and his family. I think Brock Purdy is sincere when he thanks Jesus for the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl). And thus, it is in that same spirit that I can tune in to the juju and tune it out. 

I hope Super Bowl LVIII is a great game and my team plays to the best of its abilities. May the best team win and the juju be kind ;-)


And just to prove there is a prayer for just about everything, here's a Super Bowl Sunday Prayer

Dear God, As we gather with family and friends to enjoy the NFL championship game, may we recall the truths and qualities that make sports wholesome and good. May the virtues of preparation, experience, teamwork and determination be on display. Not only on the field but within our lives. Enable discernment, trust, good conduct and sportsmanship. Establish grace in both winning and losing and fill us with hope and anticipation for the new season yet to come. Amen.

Photo Credits
Allegiant
Tiffany and Pat
Jackpot

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Timely Words, Timeless Message: Thank you, Nick Bosa

Nick and his brother Joey Bosa attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida—one of the top ranked football high schools in the country. Had he gone to a Jesuit high school, I have to wonder: Would he have given his affective halftime speech in Latin?


How's that? As football fans know, the 49ers played a terrible first half against the Detroit Lions in the 
NFC Championship game. Trailing 24-7 at the half, one has to wonder what was said to spark the change that led to 27 unanswered points and the biggest comeback in NFC Championship history. Turns out there were a few—and the 2019 defensive rookie of the year / 2022 defensive player of the year gets credit for the ones that stuck.

According to NBC Sports BayArea, Bosa told his teammates to “do your job.” He said, “That’s all we need to do. Just do your one-11. In that first half, there were break downs. One guy each time. Obviously it’s hard for me to know exactly what’s going on, but you just got to do you job.”

Coming in to work on Monday morning, colleagues were relieved, exhausted but excited about the 34-31 win. At the lunch table, people kept talking about Bosa's message. Why? We get it. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone in the American workforce—teachers and students included—did the same?!

When it came time to share his speech in Sports and Spirituality, the motto of Jesuit High in Portland, Oregon came to mind. These three Latin words are etched into their cornerstone. They serve as the name of their alumni magazine. I would like to know how often coaches and athletes, teachers and students reference it: Age Quod Agis. Translation: Do what you are doing. 

Age Quod Agis might be even more important in 2024 than when the school was founded in 1956. The world of distractions has increased while our attention spans have not. To do what you are doing is a discipline. I could argue it is a spiritual discipline, too. 

In its most practical form, Age Quod Agis also means "do your job." Every player on the team has a specific role. Every position has its own demands and requirements. The QB need not do what the center does. The safety should not do what the defensive end is doing. However, sometimes, we feel like we have to do it all. Other times, it's easy to put our tasks onto someone else. No. Do what you are doing. Do your job. 

According to the LA Times, "rousing half-time speeches make a difference in a game’s outcome is a myth." I get it, but you and I probably name one, two or three instances when the legend stands tall. And I believe 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa gets credit for his valuable contributionHis words stuck because they were on point. That reminder was necessary. Those timely words emerge timeless. From the Roman Empire on...

Photo Credits
Nick then and now
Pillar (I took this photo!)

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Enter the Dragon—Christian McCaffrey and the wisdom of Bruce Lee

It's Saturday morning and the grind of the your weekday routine in on pause. Weekends... sleeping in... free time, it feels like a luxury. You wake up and ask yourself: Do I go to the gym? It's cold outside and warm in bed. Who wins the battle? Someone, somewhere has created a list of why you should put your shoes on, pound the pavement, and pump some iron and get going. Thanks to ESPN, I found another one.

Last Saturday, I almost lost that battle, but the day's forecast forced my decision. I made it the sixth floor and it was remarkably quiet. I'm someone who prefers a crowded, but not packed house. I like talking to acquaintances, watching how hard some people push it and reminding myself I can always do a little better. I had to look to the TV screen up above for that support.

To my utter delight, I saw within one minute two of my favorite people: Christian McCaffrey and Bruce Lee. I couldn't look away.

SportsCenter updated a story about the influence the martial artist Bruce Lee had on the mental and physical training of Broncos great Ed McCaffrey and his son Niners running back Christian. 
Their input, their realizations, connections and reflections are so good, I'll let them speak for themselves. Furthermore, this profile put CMC in a new light. While watching the NFC Championship game, I couldn't help but notice the stretching, bending, and harnessing of energy which Lee models. The master's influence lives on!

I began teaching about Bruce Lee in Sports and Spirituality when I learned about his philosophy vis a vi his daughter, Shannon—the author of Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee. In an interview on NPR, she said, "for those of you who are unfamiliar with this quote of my father's, it first came into understanding around the practice of martial arts, which we will use as a metaphor throughout this book for living one's most engaged life. But most important to me, the idea of being like water is to attempt to embody the qualities of fluidity and naturalness in one's life." Released during the lockdown of COVID, I found its message poignant to our times. CMC connects it to his style of play, his role on the team and approach to the game.

Several of Lee's teachings, as highlighted on the video are worth remembering, practicing and passing on.

  • The meaning of life is that it is to be lived.

  • Defeat is a state of mind

  • If every man would help his neighbor, no man would be without help.

  • Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.

  • Water keeps moving!

  • And of course, the best: Be formless, shapeless...like water. 
    You can read more, here.

If I meet an professional athlete, I try to offer a thoughtful or creative comment. I know I can always say "I'm a big fan" or "thank you for the 2014 World Series" but I try to make a connection. When and if I meet CMC, I know EXACTLY what I will say: Be water, my friend. Given the outcome of Super Bowl LVIII, I may add something else.

If I had not gone to the gym that morning, I would not have seen this video. In this year of the dragon, "Enter the dragon." 

Photo Credits
Yellow shirt
Niners

Saturday, January 27, 2024

An Inside Look at Aryna Sabalenka's Personal Training: It's Not Complicated

Congratulations to Aryna Sabalenka, winner of the 2024 Australian Open. Coming into Melbourne as the defending champion and number two woman in the world, this is Aryna's second Grand Slam title. I describe her as one of my favorite players and I know others feel the same way. One reason might stem from her favorable profile in the Netflix series "Breaking Point." And the release of Season 2, Episode 1: The Curse offers a lesson for any and everyone. No tennis shoes required.

Season 2 begins with the first major of the year—the Australian Open 2023. Going into that tourney, Aryna had been a Grand Slam semi-finalist five times and a finalist once. Winning is hard enough. Carrying the desire she to prove her father right is a whole lot more. 

Sergey Sabalenka passed away suddenly in November 2019 at the age of 43. He told Aryna that she would win a Grand Slam before she was 25. Aryna, the eldest of two girls said, “I’m just trying to fight because my dad wanted me to be No.1. I’m doing it for him so that’s what is helping me to be strong right now."

Aryna turned 25 on May 5, 2023. The Aussie Open was the last Grand Slam event before that milestone birthday. Aryna fulfilled his prophesy when she defeated Donna Vekić 6-3, 6-2.  For Aryna, seeing her family name on the trophy and wall of fame was the honor she sought. Mission accomplished.

Start at minute 30:30 to 31:44 of Breaking Point.

In addition to intense training, continued high level competition, stretching and massage, Aryna's personal trainer Jason Stacy noted "we started working on her breathing. Breath control is emotional control. If you can just take a second, you lower your heart rate by how you're breathing, think more clearly, make better decisions." 

This practice, this focus is so simple. To me, it is so obvious, and yet it's such an important reminder. Time and again, I realize that what we need to do to stay healthy, focused, and on point really isn't that complex. My sense is that an entire market exists based on wanting it to be—but it's not.

Look to great athletes and listen to them for reassurance. For example, when asked: What do you think people would find most surprising about your wellness routine? Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs said, "No surprises, the rules are the same for everyone – eat well, sleep well, hydrate, stay active, remain positive and driven." Only thing worth adding might be to focus on breathing.

The word spirituality comes from the Latin, spiritus or breath. We have it in us to develop a healthy spirituality, which can lead to a living faith. A starting point is to bring intentionality—practice and purpose to our breathing. 

A warm congratulations to Aryna Sabalenka! I would love to hear how your practice of breath control paved the way for another Grand Slam title. Here's to many more.

photo credits
Aryna and her Dad
Victory
Number One


Sunday, January 21, 2024

23 and Me: How and Why We Wear a Sports Jersey

One of my favorite scenes in "Silver Linings Playbook" is when the main character Pat Solitano, played by Bradley Cooper, asks his therapist for wardrobe advice. Thanks to IMDB, the conversation is here. 

Pat: Hey, my friend Ronnie is having this party on Sunday night and it's like a real hoity-toity thing. And his wife Veronica is a real stickler for... I don't know. My mom got this Gap outfit she wants me to wear, but I want to wear a jersey that my brother Jake got me from the Eagles.

Dr. Cliff Patel: Which jersey?

Pat: DeSean Jackson.

Dr. Cliff Patel: DeSean Jackson is the man.

Pat: Well, that settles that.

Choosing what to wear is one question, but when it comes to donning a sports jersey—deciding who to wear is another. And, as a sports fan, I think it is one that deserves careful consideration. Here's how. Here's why.


On Saturday, January 20 the San Francisco 49ers played the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional playoff game. Instead of joining friends at a local bar or my golf club. I caught all I could at my parish crab feed. I knew the dress code varied—semi-casual to slightly dressy—but I felt the time was now. Move over DeSean Jackson, it was time for #23, Christian McCaffrey.

I received my first and only football jersey this Christmas from my brother. When he asked what I would like for Christmas I suggested a couple of options related to the Niners. I thought he would opt old school, but instead he went big. So big, that I brought his gift with me to school to show my students. I was nervous and I was excited. As I unfolded the red and white, several of them said "that's sick." Read: awesome. Thank you, Mark!

I don't have it in me to wear clothing or gear of a team that I cannot stand behind. I won't wear anything with the name of a another school; I know who I am and I know who to whom I am loyal. For example, last weekend when I traveled to Duke University, I enjoyed my time in their bookstore but no purchase was made. One might want to get a hat or a shirt as a way to remember their trip—I get that, but it's not my style. Therefore, wearing something as official and specific as a player's jersey means a lot to me. 

I wrestled with several options, before I committed to the CMC jersey. I like so many of the players—past and present. I thought Should I go with a legend? or a player with a connection to Notre Dame? Am I partial to offense? Why not go defense?! I took my time and thought about who I want to represent. I asked myself, Who can I stand behind?

In short, I love McCaffrey's game. I don't know how the man makes so much happen on the field. His scoring, rushing, defensive and receiving stats are off the charts. His athleticism is unparalleled. I am in awe of the ways he breaks the tackles and gets open, how he gets back up time and again keeps moving. While I'm not a Stanford fan, I do appreciate what one of his former college coaches said about him. "Christian does the small things incredibly well. It's no surprise to me how all of that adds up. His game is the way it is because of his incredible attention to detail." I love his insight and admire his observation. From that point on, I decided: No DNA required, it's 23 and me.

After mass today, I saw the head chef and leader of the St. Vincent de Paul men's club crab feed. I thanked him for a great meal and another wonderful gathering. He said "I loved your McCaffrey jersey." An alum of St. Ignatius, I told I brought it to school and showed my class. He replied, "it is sick. It's awesome. Let's go Niners."

Photo Credits
Pat Solitano
Christian 

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Arthur Ashe Stands on Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA

The third Monday in January, honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., is the only federal holiday designated by Congress as a national day of service. In other words, Americans are encouraged to observe the holiday by making a positive impact on their community and live a faith that does justice. I always say it is "not a day off, it is a day on." It is a day to do—to give, to live the message of Dr. King and more. This year, I traveled to Richmond, VA to see the statue of the late tennis great, Arthur Ashe in appreciation for how he used his platform to share messages much like MLK's.

One of my favorite quotes from King speaks to his belief in service. He said,

Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

I believe when we lovingly and  generously give our time and talents in service to others we become so much more. I do not think King was overly idealistic about the power of service. An author, orator, leader and community organizer, Dr King  remains an American hero because he gave his life in loving service to others. But he wasn't the only one to weigh in on service and its importance. 

Arthur Ashe said, 
“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”

Perhaps he was speaking about King, but I also believe Ashe was speaking from the heart. The namesake of the main stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center, fortunately there is no shortage of information about his life. But for the purpose of this blog, however, I would like to share the story of the statue that stands in his honor in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia.

In 1996, the city of Richmond posthumously honored Ashe's life with a statue by sculptor Paul DiPasquale on Monument Avenue, a street that had been traditionally reserved for statues of key figures of the Confederacy. This decision led to some controversy in a city that was once the capital of the Confederate States during the American Civil War. However, the video short Arthur Ashe Statue Sets Precedent for Monument Avenue, explains how and explains why.

In 1992, Arthur Ashe publicly announced that he contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, He began working to educate others about HIV and AIDS, a disease that at that time was laden with social stigma. For DiPasquale, that heroism "created in my mind what looked like a social need to recognize this native son of Richmond, and of Virginia, born and raised here, who was an international star and world champion, three times over."

The sculptor admits "Monument Avenue didn't seem to fit." However, in talking to Ashe about this statue and what it should include in his mind "the question changed from Why put Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue? to Why shouldn't we put Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue to honor this man? And update Monument Avenue?"


Twenty eight years later, all of the Confederate statues and their pedestals have been taken down and removed from Monument Avenue. The events surrounding the murder of George Floyd prompted this change. 

DiPasquale adds "Monument Avenue is a long avenue. There is plenty of room for other heroes—but Arthur Ashe still stands on Monument Avenue." 

I traveled to North Carolina over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend to visit one of my closest friends, who moved to Raleigh and to meet up with two former students who are members of the Duke men's basketball team in Durham. Realizing I wasn't all that far from Washington, DC I asked my brother, sister-in-law and nieces to meet me in Richmond, VA.

When I was considering what we could do or see in Richmond, all I knew was that I wanted to see the Arthur Ashe statue on Monument Avenue. Visiting that space provided me with an opportunity to recognize this great American. My brother informed me that when he died, his body was laid in state at the Governor's Mansion, located in Richmond, VA. According to CNN.com, "He was the first person to lie in state at the mansion since the Confederate general Stonewall Jackson in 1863." Even in death, Arthur Ashe emerges a sober but true hero.

I returned to school the day after what would have been Dr. King's 95th birthday, eager to teach my students about Arthur Ashe—the story of his statue and how he lived out a message that resonated with MLK. I would like to know why he requested that his shoe laces be untied. I'm glad he played a game that I love. I remember those press conferences and his grace.

Maybe true heroes demonstrate grace like that of Richmond's own...

Photo Credits
Ashe at Wimbledon
Stadium
#GrottoNetwork

Sunday, January 7, 2024

To Call Them Cheaters is Just Too Easy: Michigan Football and Integrity

I think of myself as a positive person. I try to see the good in people, places, institutions and organizations and give them the benefit of the doubt. However, I have entered into new(ish) territory. I find myself actively, passionately rooting against a team: the University of Michigan Wolverines. Their entry into the College Football national championship has raised many questions for me. What's it like as an alumni of the school to cheer for a team like this one? How do you defend your alma mater? What do you think of Coach Harbaugh? For those who are Michigan fans: What's it like to stand behind a team that has a foundation of sand? And for me and others who share my misgivings: Is it wrong to cheer against a team (even when it doesn't affect your own?) And why should I even care?

From an early age I have had it out for USC and for the Los Angeles Dodgers. I never wanted to see their success, and on occasion I've delighted in their demise, but this one feels different. I feel my blood begin to boil. I went so low as to cheer for Alabama. I fear the worst on Monday, January 8 but hope for the best (the University of Washington story is so good). What gives?

Notre Dame and Michigan are natural, long time rivals. I learned the alternative lyrics to their fight song within two weeks of my freshman year. The home opener that Fall day, September 3 1992 resulted in a tie (17-17). While I never wanted a "Muck Fichigan" shirt—that's definitely not my style—I saw plenty of them. I don't think I have ever rooted FOR them but certainly not actively against them.I  know I am not alone. Ohio State, Michigan State, Central Michigan—any Big 10 school football fans share my sentiment. Here's why.

To refer to Michigan as a bunch of cheaters is easy. To me, however that label is short sighted. What grates me about this team is their utter and total lack of integrity. As written in The Sporting News

the 2023 season for Harbaugh and the Wolverines has now been marred by an investigation into sign-stealing allegations, a scandal that follows closely on the heels of another of alleged recruiting violations and lying to the NCAA during its investigation. His program has also come under further scrutiny when former quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Matt Weiss was fired after the 2022 season amid an investigation into computer access crimes.

They have violated sportsmanship rules, NCAA rules, and privacy rules. Their actions have led to a four game suspension for the head coach and the firing of others. At what point is enough, enough? or too much?!

There isn't a program out beyond reproach, but this one—
has yet to take responsibility for their actions. Were it my alma mater, I would keep a very low profile. I wonder, if they raise the championship trophy on Monday, how many people will see its tarnish? Will you?

Integrity is a catch-all virtue. It combines honesty with bearing responsibility. It builds trust and leads to human flourishing. Integrity is compromised when the truth is hidden. Since the beginning, Harbaugh has denied knowledge of the sign-stealing scheme and said he never instructed staff members to break NCAA rules. A friend said "he reminds me of 45...always feels he's picked on and is never responsible for his actions." Ouch. I wonder how things might be different, if Harbaugh admitted otherwise. He still hasn't, but recourse was taken. As written on ESPN,

"This is not a sanction of Coach Harbaugh," Petitti wrote. "It is a sanction against the University that, under the extraordinary circumstances presented by this offensive conduct, best fits the violation because: (1) it preserves the ability of the University's football student-athletes to continue competing; and (2) it recognizes that the Head Coach embodies the University for purposes of its football program."

Everywhere he goes, Harbaugh has taken programs from the red to the black. He works incredibly hard, he demands a lot of himself and his players. With Harbaugh, there is no confusion—he wants to win. It's his job to win. The perpetuation of offenses however sends the message: winning is the ONLY thing. It's not a matter of why you win or how you win, it's "Just Win Baby!" (FWIW: I would love to see Jim Harbaugh as the head coach of the Raiders—a team that thrives on disfunction). Thoughts?


If I went to Michigan, I honestly do not know how I could—in good conscience be excited about this team. I've asked people who I respect and trust to answer this question. I ask it from a place of curiosity and not judgment. I have yet to hear a principled response, most Wolverines waffle. They've lived with Harbaugh for eight years now. They've beaten Ohio State, too (I get it).

I'm not throwing stones.This is not newish territory for me. Super Bowl XLVII, featured my San Francisco 49ers against the Baltimore Ravens. A life long Niners fan (thanks Dad), I actually felt dirty—a moral slime—cheering for my team. This team was undeniably physical, but they played dirty...tons of penalties...a whole lot of very late hits. Losing in the Harbaugh Bowl was disappointing, but not in the way it could have been had I loved this team.The elder brother, John Harbaugh and the Ravens beat Jim Harbaugh and the Niners 34-31. Seems that the better Harbaugh won. (This team also didn't have a series of league offenses that went unaccounted for or left fans scratching their heads. That was one year later when Niner LB Aldon Smith was arrested for a DUI and played a game a few days later....Harbaugh explained why he allowed Smith to play. I did not support that decision. Niners lost and Smith went into rehab that week. I supported that one).

There could be a rematch of the Ravens and Niners in the 2024 Super Bowl. I will be thrilled if my team plays in it. They aren't perfect but I can say as a fan, they've made my job a whole lot easier. We fans hold our own responsibility and this game has brought that task into a new light.

Good luck to the University of Washington, Huskies. 

Photo Credits
Harbaugh
Michigan vs.
Bingo