Sports, Solidarity, and #BlackLivesMatter

gdfgEarlier this week, ESPN hosted its annual award show, the ESPYS.  This year’s show—usually a lighthearted celebration of sports’ greatest athletes and accomplishments from over the previous year—got off to a poignant and powerful start.  Four of the NBA’s top stars, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James, Dwyane Wade (who recently joined the Chicago Bulls after 13 years playing for the Miami Heat), the NY Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, and LA Clippers’ Chris Paul, joined together in a call to action in the face of escalating racial tensions and heartbreaking violence, including the tragic shootings that killed 49 and wounded dozens of others at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile by police officers, and the sniper attack in Dallas that gunned down five police officers and wounded seven others.  In this three-and-a-half minute moving speech, these world-class athletes told their peers and fans that we need to join together to “educate ourselves, explore these issues, speak up, use our influence and renounce all violence and, most importantly, go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources, help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them. We all have to do better.”

In making this claim, these four men communicated their desire to pick up the mantle of other activist-athletes like Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens, Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe – and especially the recently deceased Muhammad Ali, perhaps the most courageous activist among all those in the pantheon of sports heroes. Anthony and Paul are less known for their social views, although Carmelo did share some mighty words on this summer’s violence just last week.  Wade and James made headlines for their demonstrations after the deaths of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin a few years ago, but James was criticized for his silence in the wake of the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.  Read More


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

CCHD: Putting the Gospel into Practice by John Gehring: “At a time when 1 in 6 Americans live in poverty and extreme income inequality is growing, a contribution to C.C.H.D. is a powerful way to affirm Catholic identity and empower those struggling to lift themselves out of difficult situations.”

“Getting” Pope Francis, or Not by Michael Sean Winters: “Here, too, we see the greatest point of continuity between Pope Francis and his two immediate predecessors, both of whom, in different ways, were rooted in the Communio school of theology we associate with the Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar. The Christian proclamation is first and foremost about God and His accomplishments and only consequently about us and our obligations, moral and otherwise.”

The Christian Intellectual by R.R. Reno: “Love and freedom. There’s nothing uniquely Christian about these qualities in an intellectual. Socrates had both. But grace perfects nature and helps us overcome our weaknesses. The Christian intellectual may not be welcome today as a Christian, but it’s as a Christian that he can be salt and light.”

TJP Sits Down with Coach John Beilein by Dennis Baker, SJ: “I do the Examen all the time during the season.  That helps me put things into perspective—how grateful I should be for the life I’ve been blessed with.  Sometimes I write my Examen down with my iPad.  I have pages and pages and pages during the season.  So I think it’s just the overall appreciation of understanding your purpose in life, understanding God’s will for you.”

The Triumph of C.S. Lewis By Fr. Robert Barron: “He was not someone to whom religious conviction came naturally or effortlessly; he had to work his way to it, in the face of often harsh opposition, both interior and exterior. This very personal struggle gives him credibility with the millions today who want to believe but who find ideological secularism and militant atheism enormously challenging.”

When Children Are Traded by Nicholas Kristof: “A first step to address this issue would be to make adoption agencies responsible for children they bring to America, including finding new homes when adoptions fail. If we have rules about recycling bottles, we should prevent children from being abandoned and recycled. The larger point is a more basic failing in America: inadequate child services. Kids don’t get the protection they need from predators, nor the nutrition they need, nor the books and reading programs they need for mental nutrition. The threat to the food stamp program, whose beneficiaries are 45 percent children, is emblematic of this broader problem. Children don’t have votes and are voiceless, so America’s most vulnerable become its most neglected.”

The GOP’s Cruel Crusade Against Food Stamps by Norm Ornstein: “I would love for all sides to find common ground here: Provide the kind of job training that will enable people to find work and move out of poverty while helping them with the basics of food, shelter, health care, and transportation. But to cut, slash, and burn that aid mindlessly without regard for the human cost is stupid, cruel, and reprehensible.”

Father Albert Foley: How one priest took on the KKK by Kristen Hannum: “Everything changed for Foley in 1943, when, as a young Jesuit, he was assigned to teach the class ‘Migration, Immigration, and Race’ at Spring Hill College in Mobile. His research—which included interviewing local black Catholics and wide-ranging reading—opened his eyes: Segregation was sinful. He looked to the church fathers and social justice teachings to better understand his new realization and to discern what should be done.”

The Habit of Gratitude and Hopefulness by Christopher C. Roberts: “We are praying that a good community of peers will be in place when they become teens. And we are trying, gently for now, to prepare our girls for being different from the surrounding culture in sometimes uncomfortable ways. I hope for the moment that we’re laying in the spiritual and psychological resources to see us through whatever’s coming.”

Now and Then I Feel It’s Working by J. Peter Nixon: “There is always a temptation as a parent to think that your children are clay that you are called to shape. The truth is that we are merely stewards of something precious that ultimately belongs to God. If he can call a prodigal like me back to him, he can certainly do the same for my children if he so chooses. In the end, faith is his gift to give, not mine.”

How Children Succeed: You Should Read This by Jason King: “We need grit to be able to confront sin—personal, social, and original sin—and keep going.  We need grit, but we also do not develop it by ourselves.  We need a community that is safe enough for us to develop trust and confidence in our decisions and actions.  We also need a community that fosters vulnerability, one not closed off to adversity, not closed off to others.  We need the Church to help us become disciples who perpetually pickup our crosses and follow Christ.”

The pope is forcing us to redefine ugliness by Benjamin W. Corn: “Because our aesthetic standards are arbitrary, our definitions of beauty have shifted slightly, over time, to encompass, for example, anorexic-appearing fashion models with little resemblance to the shapeliness of Botticelli’s Goddess of Beauty. There is one vital point in that dynamic: the arbitrary—including our ideas of what is beautiful, ugly, visually acceptable, or socially stigmatizing—can change. And each of us can contribute to that change.”

In Central African Republic, thousands turn to bishop for protection by Barb Fraze, CNS: “More than 35,000 people are living on the 40-acre diocesan compound in Bossangoa, Central African Republic, seeking protection from rebels who are targeting Christians, said the local bishop.”


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

New Front in the Fight With Infant Mortality By Eduardo Porter: “Pregnant women, across the country and anywhere along the income spectrum, will for the first time have guaranteed access to health insurance offering a minimum standard of care that will help keep their babies alive.”

A Call to Moral Theologians: Biotechnology Needs More Attention by Brian Green, CMT: “Hurlbut’s overarching point of was the importance of moral reflection on our growing biotechnological power. Calling cloning and stem cells issues that have the genuine power to change the course of civilization, Hurlbut emphasized the importance of engaging these issues in the right way, because once a path is chosen we may effectively become locked in to the moral outcomes.”

High-School Sports Aren’t Killing Academics by Daniel H. Bowen and Collin Hitt: “Despite negative stereotypes about sports culture and Ripley’s presumption that academics and athletics are at odds with one another, we believe that the greater body of evidence shows that school-sponsored sports programs appear to benefit students. Successes on the playing field can carry over to the classroom and vice versa.”

Why Russia Is Growing More Xenophobic by Ilan Berman: “More and more, Russians from across the political spectrum are identifying with (and organizing around) a national identity tinged with racism.”

Lead Still Major Problem Worldwide by Kevin Clarke, America: “Even though lead poisoning is entirely preventable, lead exposure causes 143,000 deaths and 600,000 new cases of children with intellectual disabilities every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).”

Vatican Insider Interview with Bishop Robert W. McElroy: “The statements, the actions and the gestures of Pope Francis have illuminated the scandal of global poverty not with harshness, but with a gentleness of truth that stirs the conscience to recognize realities that one already knows, but prefers not to recognize.”

Don’t abandon the women of Afghanistan By Paula J. Dobriansky and Melanne S. Verveer: “The international community must work to ensure that women’s gains in recent years are protected and that Afghan women continue to make political and economic progress. Any future support for the country’s government must be explicitly tied to continued defense of equal rights and continued progress of female citizens.”

Remembering Genocide in Kigali by Kerry Weber: “Perhaps one of the most notable characteristics of the Kigali Memorial Centre is its simplicity: a small fountain; a stone courtyard; some gardens, with water fixtures flowing through them. And the long, brown slabs of brick marking the graves of 250,000 of the men, women and children who died in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.”

Vatican’s media adviser offers ‘Top 10′ ways to understand Pope Francis by Carol Glatz, CNS: “No matter how some media may want to spin it, Pope Francis won’t fit into the political categories of left or right, and he will challenge everyone with the truth of the Gospel, said the Vatican’s media adviser.”

When We Don’t Feel Like Loving Our ‘Loved Ones’ by Michael Wear: “In some areas of Christian culture, our vision of loving the stranger is expanding while our vision of loving those closest to us is restricting.”

Assad’s War of Starvation by John Kerry: “The world already knows that Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons, indiscriminate bombing, arbitrary detentions, rape, and torture against his own citizens. What is far less well known, and equally intolerable, is the systematic denial of medical assistance, food supplies, and other humanitarian aid to huge portions of the population. This denial of the most basic human rights must end before the war’s death toll — now surpassing 100,000 — reaches even more catastrophic levels.”


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

7 Questions: keeping college students Catholic by Michael J. O’Loughlin: “Katie Diller: Young adults are filled with passion and they are thirsty to live radically. Atheism can seem radical to students who might be shrugging off a flavorless experience of growing up Catholic. We have to talk about the mystery of faith in our lives. Pope Francis keeps encouraging us to go out of ourselves, to live mysterious lives in solidarity with the poor. Encounters with that mystery of love and self-sacrifice will always inspire curiosity about the mystery of Jesus and the Church.”

The Spirituality of Sports Fanaticism by Michael Rossmann, SJ, TJP: “But what makes something like the Olympics so beautiful, however, is that it unites people from around the world – athletes and fans both. Even if we might cheer in a special way for our own country, we can all stand in amazement at someone like Usain Bolt. I once watched the World Cup with a group of people from thirteen of the 32 teams that played that year, and while we would give each other a hard time if our countries competed, we were united in watching this display, even when we were not united by language, religion, sex, occupation, or personality.”

Syria crisis: Incendiary bomb victims ‘like the walking dead’ by BBC News: “A BBC team inside Syria filming for Panorama has witnessed the aftermath of a fresh horrific incident – an incendiary bomb dropped onto a school playground in the north of the country – which has left scores of children with napalm-like burns over their bodies.”

Catholic schools provide a beacon of hope to Washington families by Cardinal Donald Wuerl: “Our faith can never be relegated to just an hour inside church on Sunday. As Pope Francis has urged us, we need to “go out” and bring Christ’s love and hope to our communities and our world.”

Francis’ comforting phone call to Argentinean rape victim Alejandra Pereyra: “The Pope’s telephone call at 15:50 local time on Sunday 25 August caught Alejandra Pereyra di Villa del Rosario – who lives in the Province of Cordoba, Argentina’s second biggest city – completely by surprise.”

Our fantasy: A Congress that gets stuff done by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein: “A little more than a year ago, we published a book about American politics — and particularly Congress — titled “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.” In our book and in these pages, we lamented the ideological divides in Washington, which had become almost tribal in nature, and the skewed nature of political polarization, emphasizing a Republican Party gone off the rails.  Unfortunately, little has happened in the time since to lift our spirits.”

Five myths about millennials by Mark Glassman: “Millennials also set loftier social goals than prior generations. Each year, a survey conducted by the University of Michigan asks high school seniors to rate their life’s ambitions. Data compiled by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University, shows that millennials rated ‘contribute to society,’ ‘correct inequalities’ and ‘be a leader in the community’ higher than baby boomers did when they were younger.”

Francis and the Very New Evangelism by Thomas C. Fox, NCR: “The Very New Evangelism preached by Francis is simple, practical stuff. It’s about what it means to live the beatitudes in today’s life.”

How Dr. King Shaped My Work in Economics By Joseph Stiglitz: “Much of my scholarship and public service in recent decades — including my service at the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration, and then at the World Bank — has been devoted to the reduction of poverty and inequality. I hope I’ve lived up to the call Dr. King issued a half-century ago.”


Three Lessons from the Manti Te’o Hoax

We Notre Dame football fans have had a bizarre and emotional ten days.

First, on January 7, Alabama slaughtered the Irish in the BCS National Championship game, 42-14. This part wasn’t that bizarre, admittedly, but it was quite disappointing. Then, head coach Brian Kelly, who had previously insisted he had no interest in jumping to the NFL, almost jumped to the NFL to coach the Philadelphia Eagles before saying he’d stay at the school. Feelings of betrayal gave way to relief.

Finally – please, let it be “finally” – on Wednesday, it was revealed that star linebacker and Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o has been caught up and/or implicated in a stunning hoax that involves a dead girlfriend who apparently never existed. (This has been too confusing to summarize here, but a quick Google search will get you up to speed.)

The game feels like it was played six months ago.

Since the news about Te’o broke Wednesday evening, I have been refreshing my Twitter feed constantly. I watched a 45-minute press conference held by Notre Dame’s athletic director Wednesday night, glued to my computer screen. I have read scores of articles as bits of information have come to light. I have spent comparatively little energy on anything else.

This morning, suddenly craving a bit of quiet, I walked over to the church next to my office, a few minutes before the noontime Mass began.

I tried to stop thinking about it, which never works, and paid intermittent attention at best during the liturgy. But I did leave with three lessons in mind.

1. I need to be careful to avoid that blurry zone between admiration of a sports star and idol worship.

I like sports and outstanding athletes for a handful of reasons, including the fact that sports can provide terrific ways to develop virtues: teamwork and others-centeredness, discipline and perseverance in the pursuit of a common goal, leadership and integrity. Athletes who embody these traits can be legitimate sources of inspiration.

Throughout the 2012 football season, Manti Te’o appeared to exhibit – no, incarnate – all of these characteristics. He was excellent on the field despite great personal trauma. And he was always humble during interviews, deflecting praise while leading the team to an undefeated regular season.

I started saying some pretty over-the-top things: He just won’t let us lose the championship. He’s the best player Notre Dame has ever had, and one of the best people. He is single-handedly leading the Irish back to national prominence.

Unconsciously, I turned Te’o into a demigod, a superhero I could trust to always save the day. My blind faith in him resembled the unexamined, magical religious faith of childhood. He could do no wrong.

The past 24 hours have offered a harsh reminder of the peril of believing humans to be divine. It’s not fair to them, or to God. It’s especially silly to admire someone so fully whom I’ve never met, and know only through television features and online news.

This brought me to the second and third lessons:

2. The Internet is good at connecting people, but it can never replace face-to-face relationships.

Te’o and Notre Dame insist that the linebacker was tricked by an elaborate scheme, in which a handful of people worked together to fabricate the online personality that Te’o believed to be his girlfriend. Yes, he considered someone he had never met in person to be his girlfriend.

This notion clearly confused Notre Dame’s 58-year old athletic director during his press conference last night. But it’s not that surprising for Millennials. The simultaneous privacy and distance the Internet provides can make emotional intimacy feel easier online – the other person can’t see you blush. But that sort of intimacy is just a shadow of the real thing, which can be embarrassing and awkward because it’s more vulnerable.

Te’o’s story is an extreme and frightening example of what can happen in online-only relationships, but it serves as a reminder that face-to-face interaction will never be obsolete.

3. I need to care less about the exploits of 21-year olds I will never meet.

I will always love sports. I will always love Notre Dame, a place that formed me more than almost any other. I will always love Notre Dame football. But I need to take a step back and practice some detachment.

College football is a game played by kids. My attention to it should be proportional to its importance in the grand scheme of things. That would leave more time and energy for news that really matters, among other things. For instance, I somehow missed that more than 80 Syrian students were killed at Aleppo University yesterday. But I did spend about half an hour sifting through biographical details of the guy who is the supposed hoax ringleader.

As the story develops and then recedes into memory, I hope I can internalize these lessons and live them. After all, the 2013 season is less than eight months away.