Category Archives: Sports

Dean Smith, healer

“John, you should never be proud of doing the right thing. You should just do the right thing.”
Dean Smith, quoted in an article by John Feinstein

With North Carolina alumni, college basketball fans, and people around the world, I join in mourning the death of Dean Smith. And I give thanks for his life and witness.

I am not a big fan of basketball. When living in Iowa, I attended the high school games because they played a key role in the life of the community. My wife follows Duke, her alma mater, faithfully; so I follow enough to talk with her intelligently. My sons follow the Cleveland Cavaliers, pretty faithfully; and again, I follow enough to hold my own in conversations.

I recognize Dean Smith’s amazing work as a basketball coach, even if I fail to understand the intricacies of his contributions.

Covenant 08 24 10 Ghost RanchI mourn  Dean Smith, the human being. The child of God. The healer.

Margaret Aymer preached at the Riverside Church today. What I took from her sermon is that Jesus came to bring healing. Healing. Not a cure. Healing of dis-ease. Healing by Jesus involved recovery from physical symptoms, but it also involved restoration to community and renewal for ministry working to transform systems of oppression, violation, and exploitation. Jesus frees, invites, challenges, dares those who would follow him to do likewise.

Dean Smith did. His work on a basketball court is legend. His work as a teacher helped see that his players graduated. His style built lasting relationships with athletes at North Carolina and coaches and athletes and supporters of opposing teams. As my wife posted, “Even though we still sing “to hell with Carolina,” Dean Smith deserves all respect. Condolences from a Blue Devil to all Tar Heels.”

That would have been enough. But there was more. Much, much more.

Dean Smith worked for healing as he challenged the systems that wounded and oppressed his sisters and brothers. He put himself on the line for racial integration and justice in basketball and society beginning when he was a student in high school. He opposed the war in Vietnam and Iraq and supported a nuclear freeze. He supported the rights of the LGBTQ community. And he opposed the death penalty.

As Rick Reilly wrote, twelve years ago:

In a state that gave us Jesse Helms, Smith’s is a rare voice speaking out against the madness of a war in Iraq and the hypocrisy of the death penalty. It’s a spiritual thing for him. “One doesn’t kill,” he once said. “I heard that in church.”

Though he served in the Air Force, Smith was proud to see two of his daughters march in Washington against this war. “This is not a just war,” he contends. “I certainly hope we don’t go. This would be horrible.”

In a state that sends thousands of Marines to the Middle East, that’s a big target to paint on your shirt. But Smith has never scared easily. Speaking out against the death penalty, he once pointed at the governor of North Carolina and declared, “You’re a murderer. And I’m a murderer. The death penalty makes us all murderers.”

Dean Smith was many things. Son. Teammate. Husband. Father. Coach. Teacher. Innovator. Opponent. Friend. I give thanks for all of these.

But mostly, I give thanks that Dean Smith was a healer.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Capital Punishment, Current Events, Death Penalty, Sports

I trimmed

Each sport has its own tradition. Some have many.

In hockey, when teams make the playoffs, the players grow “playoff beards.National Hockey League players stop shaving when their team enters the playoffs and does not shave until the team is eliminated from the playoffs or wins the Stanley Cup.

Reports indicate that the New York Islanders started the tradition in the 1980s. The practice has grown and spread to other hockey leagues and to fans.

I am among them. When the Pittsburgh Penguins make the playoffs, I let my beard grow. I have not shaved for over 25 years. Never one to take things to an extreme, I don’t shave for the playoffs. I simply stop trimming my beard until Pittsburgh loses. That gives me a bit of a head start on some of the players, but as a fan, their guidelines do not fully apply to me.

The Penguins had a great season and entered this year’s chase for Lord Stanley’s Cup as one of the favorites. My beard grew as they progressed. I had hopes of not trimming until the Pens reclaimed the Cup. It did not happen.

Pittsburgh lost tonight. They left the playoffs, swept out by the Boston Bruins.

I trimmed.

photo (25)

photo (20)

See you along the Trail.

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Thank you, Brittney Griner

Check out a related post on Jason Collins.

As with pro basketball, I do not follow college basketball on my own. I pay enough attention so I can  hold conversations with my wife who rather avidly and faithfully follows both the women’s and men’s teams from a university in Durham, North Carolina. The result is that I do know who Brittney Griner is – although I could not run down the details of her amazing career.

Earlier this evening, I posted about Jason Collins coming out of the closet.

I am grateful to my friends Margaret Aymer Oget and Shaya Gregory Poku for reminding me that Brittney Griner left the closet on April 17.  In doing so, they helped me realize that I should have posted about her actions as well.

The words I wrote about Jason Collins apply to Brittney Griner as well:

But as of today – and that today should have been April 17, Brittney Griner is one of my heroes. 

I give thanks for the witness and courage and faith and grace of Brittney Griner. I pray that her actions will make life better, safer, fuller, more human, and more humane for the people I know and love and for all the LGBTQ members of the human family.

A number of questions need discussion as we ponder the different reactions to the same act of coming out by Brittney Griner and Jason Collins. For starters:

  • What role does sexism play?
  • What role does patriarchy play?
  • Are female athletes stereotyped as lesbians?
  • Do female athletes who come out fuel male fantasies while male athletes who come out fuel male fears?
  • Does a greater level of tolerance related to sexual orientation exist in the WNBA and women’s sports than in men’s sports? If so, why is that and what role does it play?

No doubt we need to address other questions – many other questions. For now, those make a good beginning.

And for me, one part of the answer lies in thanking Margaret Aymer Oget and Shaya Gregory Poku for raising these questions for me, no matter how poorly I have addressed them at the moment. And another part lies in saying:

Thank you, Brittney Griner.

See you along the Trail.


Filed under Current Events, Sports

Thank you, Jason Collins

Check out a related post on Brittney Griner.

I follow professional basketball just enough to talk about the sport with my sons. Before today, I did not know who Jason Collins is. I still don’t know much about his playing career or his ability.

But as of today, Jason Collins is one of my heroes. In an article published on the Sports Illustrated Web page and soon to appear in the print version, Jason Collins left the closet:

I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.

With those words, Jason Collins broke a barrier in sports. He became the first openly gay male athlete to acknowledge his sexual orientation while still active in a major American team sport. I encourage you to read his full statement, but here are some quotes that spoke to me:

The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn’t wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully?

I learned that long ago. Again and again, life has reminded me of that reality. Sometimes I live according to Jason Collins’ wisdom; I hope to do better.

My parents instilled Christian values in me. They taught Sunday school, and I enjoyed lending a hand. I take the teachings of Jesus seriously, particularly the ones that touch on tolerance and understanding.

I give thanks for his parents and the support they and his faith provide. I pray that all may know such support from family and friends.

Some people insist they’ve never met a gay person. But Three Degrees of Jason Collins dictates that no NBA player can claim that anymore. Pro basketball is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who’s gay. In the brotherhood of the NBA, I just happen to be the one who’s out.

What is true about NBA players is true for me is true for all of us. Whether we know or whether we do not know, we have all met an LGBTQ person, we have all met many LGBTQ persons. We love LGBTQ persons. LGBTQ persons love us. I know and love LGBTQ persons. I am blessed that LGBTQ persons know and love me.

I give thanks for the witness and courage and faith and grace of Jason Collins. I pray that his actions will make life better, safer, fuller, more human, and more humane for the people I know and love and for all the LGBTQ members of the human family.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Current Events, Sports

For tonight

After today’s win in St. Louis, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in first place in the Central Division of the National League.

The first place Pittsburgh Pirates.

They have not had a winning season since 1993.

The first place Pittsburgh Pirates.

That is a record for futility unequaled in any of the four major sports.

The first place Pittsburgh Pirates.

Last year they were at or near the top of the division until late in July.

The first place Pittsburgh Pirates.

A late August and September collapse washed them out of the wild card spot.

The first place Pittsburgh Pirates.

It is early in the season.

The first place Pittsburgh Pirates.

They have only played 25 games.

The first place Pittsburgh Pirates.

137 games remain … but for tonight, they are:

the first place Pittsburgh Pirates!

See you along the Trail.

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Let’s go Bucs!

The Pittsburgh Pirates have enjoyed their best season in years. For a significant part of the season, they remained in the pennant race and then the race for a wild card spot. They faded as the season progressed. Now their record stands at 75-77.

The last time they won 75 games was 2003.

With ten games left to play, they need to win six to have their first .500 season since 1993.

I join the crowds cheering for mediocrity.

Let’s go Bucs!

See you along the Trail.

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Congratulations Sean

Sean completed the 2011 Ironman Wisconsin in Madison a short time ago. I am impressed. I look forward to hearing his stories.

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Team Sean

Sean participates in the Ironman Wisconsin in Madison, WI tomorrow. I am impressed by the dedication he has shown to prepare for this event. It is very exciting. I will be glad to hear when he has finished. His mother and his aunt will be present in Madison as his cheering section. Actually, I think they are there now. And I wish I was. But it did not work out that way.

We came up with the idea of creating a group “Team Sean.” We made a sign and then invited folks to take pictures of themselves in various places and post the signs on his Facebook page. Folks did. The picture posted here is an example: Joel in Dublin with one of my favorite libations. I put another on Sean’s page.

I am very grateful to our friends who have participated. It has been fun to see the pictures and good to know that so many folks will be thinking of Sean and the others who are doing a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run tomorrow.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Family, Friends, Photo, Sports


“The ball is really bouncing around out there.”

That seems a rather obvious observation to make about a basketball game.

If it was bowling or billiards, bouncing balls might seem worth a comment. Balls should not bounce in billiards or in bowling.

But basketball? Seems like bouncing is pretty much in order.

Or maybe that’s just me.

See you along the Trail.

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Goals met, foot protected

Whenever I try to get back in the exercise groove, I have a tendency to overdo things – to go too hard too quickly. Where this usually plays out is in a blister on my foot. This time is no exception.

So today, instead of doing nothing and instead of going all out, I took it easy and spaced my walking. I made it to the gym, but went 20 minutes on the treadmill instead of 40. I needed some groceries so I walked around the store for about 20 minutes. I found a couple of other times to walk just a little bit longer.

I suppose I did not make the letter of the goal for focused exercise. But I believe I achieved the spirit. I did eat well. And I did make 10,392 steps. I am calling that all three goals met. Four days.

Neither the Cavaliers nor the Pens played today. I did a Netflix video about Bonhoeffer.

At the gym, I watched the Phoenix Los Suns game against San Antonio. It’s a pretty good gesture. And now I am hooked. I am watching the end of their game and they will be my second team.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Exercise, Sports