July 20, 2024

Sports Connections, Priceless for Our Health

“I did not choose to be a fan of one of the least successful franchises the NFL has ever known. The Lions were given to me, as teams so often are from father to son.” Taylor Plimpton (Sports Illustrated, November 28, 2011)

A heartfelt piece was published in Sports Illustrated emphasizing the highlights of sporting interests that contrast to the ongoing events at Penn State. Terry McDonnell poetically wrote “In My Tribe” — an article on courage, integrity and fair play in sports.

Generally no one says it better than Sports Illustrated. Until I’ve read SI, I often say a major sporting event is not done. As sportsman, sports fan and mental health professional, I want to add to what SI offered.

Last week a reader commented on the “We Are Penn State” blog saying there is also the joy of playing a game. Very true! That might be best seen watching our kids follow a soccer ball around, chewing on grass, or laying down in the outfield in a tee ball game. We watch and often become friends with other fans / parents, even those cheering for other teams. Today some people may root for collegiate and professional athletes on opposing teams.

Coaches typically add value. A coach does this work to teach sportsmanship, cooperation and team work. Winning of course but many don’t say at “any cost.”  For the most part coaches are volunteers or underpaid, yet positive models for our children. We can be grateful for their involvement.

Stemm, Siler, Murphy, Janzaruk, Bellamy, Hoover and Ronzone are names from my past that the reader won’t know. But these names ring with honor in my head. Their day at a time, sport to sport influence continues in my life today.

Teamwork and camaraderie are integral parts in the journey of athletes. Even in individualized activities such as golf, wrestling or track, the athlete is part of a larger whole.

Recently Yale Quarterback Patrick Witt was invited to interview for a Rhodes scholarship. His Yale football team was scheduled to play the rival game with Harvard the same time as the interview. He requested a different interview time and the request was denied.  Witt chose his teammates and his responsibility to them first, over the Rhodes interview. Some thought him foolish to choose the game. I suggest they don’t know what it’s like to be with a team, don’t understand the value of that camaraderie and don’t know how, in its strongest form, it speaks to our soul.

Sports have a unique language. People know it. Find a stranger and there is frequently a common thread that will be understood and a conversation begins. Day to day we get together to talk of last night’s game. I see a Lions hat and start a conversation of Bears and Lions, games we commonly know.

Relationships are standard — like the one of author George Plimpton and his son Taylor, also in the same issue of Sports Illustrated. Name the team!  Family and friends unite around that team legacy. I remember clearly the first time I took my family to a White Sox baseball game. As I exited the Dan Ryan and turned onto 35th Street, I saw old Comiskey Park and started crying.

In that moment, I had this memory of my dad taking me to a game at the same park and how that was being repeated. The reaction was unexpected and now in itself a fond memory.

My son and I talk of our Sox history. Fox, Melton, Fisk, Ventura Thomas, the 2005 Championship and now, Ventura again. We go to the park and remember: sitting behind the godfather, back to back to back homers off Randy Johnson, and the play inevitably shown on the big park screen of Fisk tagging out two runners at once at home plate. It is part of our history and language.

We have friends that tailgate for every Purdue game. Yes they want Purdue to win but it seems more important that they are with their friends and allies these 6 times per year. This happens at stadiums across the nation.

Go to the sports parks. Observe the pictures being taken with friends and family. These will have significance for them. Being there is a special event and it is being marked by a picture often framed with the field in the back ground.

My friend Jamie tells of listening to the Red Sox baseball games with her grandmother. When Jamie visited grandma and the Red Sox were playing, the game would be on the radio. Grandma remembered the championship in 1916 and hoped they would win another. Grandma would listen and sometimes swear at the radio about a play. She died in the mid 90s.

So when the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, after 86 years of futility, Jamie visited grandma’s grave site and tearfully placed a Red Sox pennant on the head stone. She noticed other headstones also with Red Sox Pennants in that same cemetery.

That act was repeated in the Midwest by White Sox fans in 2005. Cubs’ fans will do the same when their next championship comes. The memories, emotions and language, all happen because the connections are more important than the victories. We relish the connections and rarely want those victories at any cost.

We get involved in our sports and are disappointed with a villain of the week. We are Penn State and we (and Penn State) are much more than that.

Sports Illustrated published an expose on Walter Payton, the greatest running back in football. Payton played for the Chicago Bears and was a long time hero of mine. It took a while before I could finally read the article.

I admired him even as I knew only my image of him. The article pointed out stories of his painful humanness.  We can get self righteous (usually it is about the opponent) but we also remember and notice the ongoing list of sportsmanship, courage and integrity from teams and players we’ve cheered for and the experiences we’ve had during those times.

Check out both Sports Illustrated articles: McDowell’s “In My Tribe” and Plimpton’s “In Thanks of Turkeys” — expect you will be moved.

Cheer for your team and your friend’s team. Support fair play, sportsmanship and courage. Enjoy and treasure the memories!

What is your sports story? What is your sports connection? Comment here. Or share via the contact form at www.solutiontherapycenter.com.  I’d love to hear from you.


We Are Penn State

“There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.” French ProverbIntegrity from Dictionary
“Character is much easier kept than recovered.” Thomas Paine

Did these Penn State events that unfolded last week make you aware of your humanness? Do you now think more of integrity? Much as we said “We are all New Yorkers” at the time of 9-11, it seems true that “We (too) are Penn State!”  We all have a heightened awareness of integrity and of the necessity that our children must be protected. We know winning is that important!

Some of the winners we make into icons. Paterno, Rose, Tiger, Ali, Armstrong, Sweetness, Marion, Magic, OJ, Kobe, Knight, ARod — the list goes on to be much longer. These and others have been on pedestals only to fall, as pieces of their lives have been revealed to us.
In our minds, we have this idealistic picture,  an image of what we want them to be. We lift them up and believe they are more than athletes or coaches.
NBA star Charles Barkley once pointed out that it is up to parents and family to be primary role models, not sports figures. Don’t we agree with that simple statement? It is a guarantee that some of the current icons will also fall and remind us their integrity is not as we imagined. It seems to happen frequently.  We make it about home runs and yards gained, often forgetting sportsmanship and honesty. It is fair for athletes to be role models but important to remember that family and friends need to be primary in that status.
It’s important to remember we never know who those icons are — not really. We are Penn State.
We are up if our team wins; down if it loses. We project grand meaning on victory and and may be depressed with defeat. We buy team gear often with a player’s name on the back; we attend, watch and listen to all that talk; money flows to the teams and the media.  Big time college coaches are paid princely fees, more than Nobel Prize winning professors and more than their so called boss, the president of the university.
At times, it seems people believe if their team wins, they are somehow a better person and, yes, better than someone who supports a losing team. People have been injured inside and outside of stadiums because they wore the wrong hat. Professional athletes often make huge amounts of money; even as we now know, they are not necessarily good role models (see Kobe and A Rod). Though athletes may do significant good, as Armstrong has, we can’t be sure of their broader behavior or of their integrity. They are just humans.
Competition is part of our culture. Of course we want to win. We must however be careful of this desire to win doesn’t include uses the tools of cheating, of looking other way, of protecting bad behavior, of protecting the institution — all in the name of winning. Penn State is not the first, nor will it be the last, to disappoint in the name of victory. We are Penn State.
We want the winners and the icons. JoPa was an icon to many. Yet how can some of those same followers explain that six years ago they wanted to fire him. They were losing and the football team seemed to regress. Fickle aren’t we? We are Penn State.
Iconic coaches routinely walk out of lengthy contracts, breaking their word to the college, to the players, accepting a better deal elsewhere. Then this same iconic word breaker is, in fact, welcomed with open arms to the new school and demonized at the old.
The next school and fans rationalize the coach’s integrity. Promises are made again and sometimes the same coach repeats the behavior, for the next better deal.  What does this tell our students, our society about the place of trust and honesty? Winning at any (moral) cost is too often the norm. We are Penn State.
Hours of talk radio, listening to analysis of the sport of the moment. Do we put too much on to winning?
How bad is it? The lead story on Monday morning is typically a poll asking us: “who is the best team?”  People vote; people call in with blather; media jockeys talk endlessly about whether the poll was right or wrong; they give opinions incessantly. Gosh it’s a vote, not a game! We are Penn State.
I say support victory with sportsmanship and integrity. Penn State is now more attuned to this goal. In this way I hope — We are Penn State.
Crisis breeds opportunity. Penn State will likely grow and improve through this event. Is that not the case in life too? We rarely welcome the crisis; yes the growth is always optional. Pick the growth!
Hold Penn State accountable, forgive and allow and let them grow. Help them protect their children as we protect ours.
Root for your team and understand that  sportsmanship and integrity, can and need, to participate fully as teammates.  We are Penn State.

What is your responsibility if you witness or suspect child abuse?
Indiana’s law (http://www.pcain.org/indiana_laws.asp) says you must report. Some schools, businesses and agencies have rules that say you must talk to your supervisor. That’s ok, but reporting incidents directly to authorities is still your responsibility. A supervisor is twice removed. The supervisor did not see or hear the event but rather hears it. from you. Also a financial part is now included as too often the supervisor wonders if reporting would somehow hurt business (what if the abuser is a best customer).
If you suspect child abuse or neglect report it immediately to: Child protective Services or law enforcement. If something is happening now…call  911. Protect our children.

Living: Defining Age

“May there be just enough clouds with your life that you have a beautiful sunset.”  Grandma Viola Stouder Frederick

Have you thought of how you’d like to leave this world? If given the choice few people would choose a long and lingering illness. Some indicate an accident with instant death; others prefer not to wake up from a good sleep.

Aunt Charlotte, 93 years old, was my dad’s sister. She lived life with graciousness and joy. Married 65 years, her home was on the farm belonging to her husband’s family — an Indiana historic farm, recognized in this way because for over 100 years it was owned by the same family. Aunt Charlotte raised her two sons on this remarkable land; she  continued living in that big house until a few years ago. She then moved in with her son, and only early this year moved to more restricted living.

Over the last several weeks of her life, Aunt Charlotte gave her children and grandchildren a gift. They had the chance to say good bye. Even as she struggled   with memory, she maintained a connection with the people closest to her. As the grandchildren hugged her goodbye, they knew she knew them. She waved them out the door.

The story of her passing is most pleasant. She gathered with other residents for lunch. As she ate, she began to feel a bit tired. Returning to her room, she lay down for a nap. The staff found her later in the forever sleep. It seems a good way to die, in a natural sleep.

Aunt Charlotte loved the big farm house and the farm itself. Her pride  of that farm and it’s beauty was in part because of its age. A winding dirt road led up to the two story farmhouse; large trees in the front yard overhung the path and bathed it in shade. I loved the wraparound porch, where you could look through the trees   and see the mailbox setting a bit askew on the county road. The house had additions and of course the old now unused well. It had a junk pile, some sheds and the Hoosier icon — the barn with a rusty basketball hoop on the side.

She, like my Uncle Bob, had this twinkle in her eye, this appreciation of the day even as days of her life were often full of work with the farm and family.

In the 1930s, years before she married Uncle Paul, my aunt and my mom were good friends. My sister’s middle name is Charlotte; I always knew she was named after Aunt Charlotte. My cousins are only now aware of that connection.

The vision of mom and my aunt as good friends is a pleasant way to think of them. It reminds me of the spirit in mom  when she was at her best.

Fred and Jay, my cousins, tell stories of their mother with the respect, a little awe, and a lot of love. I treasure the image they offered of her turning in the hall and waving good bye for the last time to her grand children, just days before she moved to her sleeping space and her death.

How do you define old? How you feel? How you see people? How is life at a given moment? Ninety-three is certainly considered old.  In a way Aunt Charlotte always felt old to me, after all she was 30 years my senior. The other side of it was when I got to those ages I understood them differently. Still my perception was of her with energy, smiles, love and a zest for life.

My gerontologist friend, David, and I had a brief debate about use of the word “old”. On the one hand I suggested that word not be used, at least not as an excuse to not do something. I say do not focus on age but rather pay attention  to what your body and your mind tells you; if it says do not throw a ball because of risk of injury — don’t throw a ball. But do not say “I am too old to throw a ball.” Attend to the awareness, here and now of your body and mind. Don’t say aloud or silently: I am too old to play ping pong, or too old to dance.

David counters to honor the word “old”. It is part of our natural progression. He challenges me to use it in a healthy way contrary to society’s underlying push to first become an adult as soon as possible and then remain one forever. He adds the word “old” in this society has become an undesired state of being, a word we avoid as in “don’t become old.” If you wonder how society does this, check much of TV programming and advertising. David wondered aloud “at what age do we become old” and wears that tag for himself with honor and   humor. He challenges the notion “you are only as old as you feel” while I think there is much wisdom in the idea. I have met people that at 40 seem “old” and others at 75 that do not. Either way, it begs for the definition of what “old” is for each of us and similarly how can we honor, not avoid the term.

So lessons from my ancestors are to do and do daily. Maintain as often as you can that twinkle in the eye which comes from appreciation of challenging life with the best every day. Much of the twinkle is from doing both the work and the fun of life.  Be with your family, play, dance, work and recognize the interconnection.

It is nice to be here.