Paterno’s Legacy?

Admiring, respecting, and cheering for Joe Paterno became a lot more complicated in the last years of his life. For my entire life, I had looked at Joe Paterno as a symbol of all that was right with college sports: loyalty and tradition, a focus on academics and personal development, and excellence on the field. It was so easy to root for Penn State since their players did not get in trouble, they embodied selfless teamwork with their plain white uniforms and they pulverized opponents with good old-fashioned smashmouth football.

Then, suddenly, everything got crazy and the idea of rooting for Joe Paterno became a whole lot murkier. When Jerry Sandusky was accused and eventually convicted of horrendous sexual crimes against children, it became unclear how much Paterno and other Penn State administrators may have known. Our country’s media scrutinized the Penn State “football culture” and the shine of Joe Paterno as a coaching legend was now marred considerably. I remember questioning whether Paterno should have done more, but I was still a bit shocked when he was fired. I honestly was unsure whether the Penn State Board made the correct decision.

Now, after reading Joe Posnaski’s book about Paterno, I am struck by new new observations about the longtime Penn State coach. First, it is obvious that Paterno was not perfect, and that some players greatly disliked him while playing for the Nittany Lions. It is also obvious, however, that Paterno did impact the lives of his players long after their playing days were over. Secondly, I now believe that Paterno was a scapegoat. While he certainly could have done more, Paterno deserved better than a dismissal via telephone call after more than a century of leadership at Penn State.

The tragedy of the situation was highlighted by a question Paterno’s nephew asked: “Dad, does this mean we won’t be Penn State fans anymore?” The childhood innocence in this question is so striking. This young man wanted nothing more than to cheer for his favorite football team, but the horrible actions of one adult, and the questionable actions of another group of adults had now complicated this simplistic idealism of Happy Valley.

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A Challenge of Kindness

Today on my 36th birthday, we hosted a Rachel’s Challenge Assembly at Hempfield. Rachel was one of the thirteen victims tragically killed at Columbine in 1999. I remember  watching the news about Columbine while working in the Flash office at Millersville. The devastation of that day remains 16 years later as a reminder of one of the seminal moments that rocked our country’s innocence.

Yet out of the ashes of tragedy, a wonderful legacy has been sustained. As I listened to the messages of all the people whose lives Rachel had touched while she was alive, and reflected on the five challenges posed to us by the presenter, I realize that Rachel understood that small acts of kindness truly do change the world; in fact, they are the only way to change the world. It is so easy to become overwhelmed and frustrated by the constant horrors we see in the world; it is so easy to become apathetic and take on a “what can I do” outlook; it is so easy to become too busy and get caught up in the craziness of daily living.

But I vow from this day forward to remember the gloves that rested upon Rachel’s dresser. The gloves that were left at a subway restaurant by a homeless woman. The gloves that represented a missed opportunity to do something kind. The gloves that reminded Rachel to always step out of her comfort zone and at least try to help others, even if in a small way. I resolve to remember those gloves as I become cynical, as I get caught up in my own busy live.

I resolved to live my life in a way that takes on the challenge to create a chain of kindness so that Rachel’s legacy can live on.

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Faith, Fanaticism and Fundamentalism: Searching for the “Truth”

“How can you say that your truth is better than ours?”

– Mumford and Sons

Fanaticism- Wildly excessive or irrational devotion, dedication, or enthusiasm

Fundamentalism- Strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles

These two words are often linked with religious movements, and when put together, they shed light on a key aspect of human nature. At our core, we seek answers about the meaning of life, searching for a higher power in which to believe. Because our humanness makes us reliant on our senses, an abstract idea like faith often does not suffice. And that is where fanaticism enters the picture. Throughout history, people of “faith” have latched on to religious leaders with wildly excessive and completely irrational devotion in hopes of finding the “truth.”

Take for instance the anabaptist movement of the 1500s in Munster, Germany. Martin Luther and others rightly accused the church of abusing its power and going astray from its original mission.  As is often the case, a religious movement took a crazy turn that led to tragedy. While the leaders of this movement had a valid argument about adult baptism, their actions were soon corrupted with violence, polygamy, and greed that left the followers of this movement either dead or clinging to life.

America’s version of religious fanaticism can be seen with fundamentalist Mormons. When Joseph Smith founded Mormonism, he may well have had great intentions, and felt he was truly a prophet. However, as in the case of similar religious movements, many Mormon leaders have taken the beliefs to the extreme, often focusing on the doctrine of polygamy, a practice that has led to rape, incest, poverty, and, in the worst cases, murder.

And perhaps mainstream Christianity is just as guilty. While the crusades started with the admirable goal of spreading the gospel, the ended up becoming polluted with pillaging of villages of and murdering of innocent people.

In today’s world, the most obvious portrayal of this phenomenon is radical islam, where some are willing to sacrifice their own lives in the name of Allah, killing innocent people throughout the world.

In the end, the question of faith comes back to the question sung about by Mumford and Sons:  “How can you say that your truth is better than ours?” In their search for the truth throughout history, people have continuously latched onto fanatical voices that profess concrete answers to abstract questions.

But when it comes to faith, perhaps there are no concrete answers. Perhaps, one must look inward for a truth that speaks to his or her heart rather than outward to voices that proclaim to know this “truth.” With so many voices out there, some fanatical and others more level-headed, how can there be only one truth? Even mainstream religions that all seem to know the “truth” must admit that they can’t all be right.

While I have wrestled with my faith, I recognize that I only come with a Catholic perspective because it is the tradition of faith in which I was raised. If I were raised in a Protestant, Muslim, or Jewish family, I would undoubtedly approach my faith from one of those perspectives. For something as important as faith, and salvation, how interesting that the approach we take is based on something as arbitrary as the family and culture into which we were born.

And this thought brings us back to the very core of religious fanaticism and fundamentalism that has pushed people into inhumane acts against their fellow man. God gave humans the gift of faith, but, due to our own weaknesses, we need tangible answers that faith sometimes cannot answer, and sometimes those tangible answers have led people to bigotry, intolerance, and violence. Instead, perhaps people should look inward and ask how their truth could possibly be better than someone else’s.

 

 

 

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Frozen Moments in Time: The Magic of Sports

Being a sports fan is all about the moments.

Not just any moment, but “the moments.” The ones where you’ll never forget where you were and who you were with.

Yesterday, before the Eagles-Lions game, I found myself recall one of those “moments.” I was taken back to 1995 when, as a 16-year-old kid, I attended my first Eagles playoff game with my Uncle Jim. Before the game, he took me to the “Big A,” a South Philly sports bar,  where I sat at the bar sipping a soda with a  bunch of my older cousins. I’ll never forget the words he said to me as we went into the game: “just remember, you had fun with your uncle Jim.”

After heading into the game, the day got even better. Despite the trash talk the Lions had engaged in all week and prospects of facing Barry Sanders, Rodney Peete came out and led the Eagles to a huge lead. The one specific moment I’ll never forget came on the last play of the first half when Peete hoisted a hail mary into the end zone that Rob Carpenter snatched out of the air. At the end of the day, our Eagles had won 58-37, creating a memory that will live in my mind forever.

As I tuned in on TV yesterday, little did I know I would be witnessing another magical moment that will live in my mind forever. The blizzard-like conditions left virtually no visibility, taking me back to watching the fog bowl with my dad in 1988. Witnessing  Lesean “Shady” McCoy, the same kid who carved up the Hempfield defense in the PIAA playoffs early on in my teaching career, dice through the Lions defense all through the fourth quarter made me realize what a special player he is and what  special team this has turned into.

And the best moment of the day: as McCoy raced into the end zone for his second touch down, and I erupted in a boisterous cheer, I turned to see and hear my two sons, Ryan, 4, and Andrew, almost 2, yelling out their own versions of the E-A-G-L-E-S cheer. At that moment, I realized I will get to live out so many sports memories with my boys, memories that they will never forget.

Then today, Roy Halladay’s retirement announcement brought me back to other of my favorite sports memories, both courtesy of the “Doc.”

Moment # 1- While watching game 1 of the Flyers-Blackhawks Stanley Cup Finals, I get a text from my brother that I need to switch to the Phillies game. Three innings later, and I had witnessed absolute perfection.

# 2- Right after we had bought our new house but before we moved in, I was at the house doing a bunch of work and had the Phils-Reds playoff game on the radio. After six innings of no-hit ball by Doc, I knew I needed to watch this, and we had no tv here yet. So I headed to Hempfield Rec, and watched the game while running on the treadmill.

I will never forget the simultaneous eruption of hundreds of people, all listening on our own headsets, whose workouts were interrupted by the second no-hitter in postseason history.

Just like the frozen field at the Linc yesterday, these, and many moments like them, will remain frozen in my mind forever…I will never forget the people I was with, and where I was when I witnessed these moments.

As I look at Ryan and Andrew, I can’t help but smile knowing there’s a whole new generation of “moments” to relish and treasure together.

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Moving Beyond the prison of bitterness: A reflection on the Legacy of Nelson Mandela

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
-Nelson Mandela

27 years.

27 years of unjust imprisonment.

27 years enduring inhumane treatment.

Most men would break. Most men would embrace nothing but hatred. Most men would strike back with the same unjust inhumane actions they had endured.

But one man didn’t. One man responded to the inhumanity with a renewed sense of purpose, with a message of unity, with a guiding leadership that provided a stark contrast to the racist regime that had plagued his country.

Nelson Mandela may have died today, but his 95 years on this earth may have been as impactful as any that has ever stepped foot on this planet. If one man can endure the 27 years of isolated imprisonment, then perhaps there is hope for all of us that we can survive our own struggles and emerge with the same sense of purpose that Mandela displayed right up until he delivered his final breath.

 

If one man can unite a country that had been divided by ignorance, perhaps there is hope that we can all come together and find a common ground, to look beyond our differences and see that we are all the same tiny specks of dust in a timeless universe.

If one man can forgive the hatred he faced, perhaps there is hope that we can move beyond our own prejudices, our own grudges, and our own ignorant mindsets to find true peace in our own lives.

For, above all else, Nelson Mandela’s life teaches us that the worst type of imprisonment is the hatred that can ensnare one’s own mind. And true freedom comes only when we can move beyond the bitterness that creeps into our weak, frail human minds.

 

 

 

 

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The spirit of Christmas through Children’s eyes

“Yeah, lights!”

This simple phrase tonight reminded why being a parent is the most rewarding vocation in the world. As I drove our minivan (yes, I said minivan– cool went out the window with kid # 2) around the neighborhood tonight to check out the Christmas displays, the shouts of glee from the back seat warmed my heart (and erased my short-term memory as you’ll read later).

With every house we approached, Ryan, a four-year old would scream and clap his hands, to which his one-and-a-half year old brother Andrew would belt out his own cute little version of “yeah.”

This magical moment was enough to make me forget the meltdown this morning that had me gritting my teeth, and wanting to kick a hole in the wall. Made me forget the whining, crying, and refusal to get dressed in the shirt I had picked out. Made me forget the relief I felt after dropping them off at daycare and heading off for a day of facing ninth graders…yikes!  Even made me forget the constant time-outs that had to be divvied out last night to both boys for fighting, throwing food, and a number of other “nefarious” behaviors.

I can think of no better way to end a stressful day and stressful year than to experience the magic of Christmas through my children’s eyes. For every frustrating moment that comes with parenting, there are moments like this that make all the tantrums worth it.

Just don’t ask me if I still believe this tomorrow morning when Ryan won’t wear the shirt I picked out for him :).

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“Where Were You” When Innocence Crumbled for a Moment

Every generation has its seminal moments. But only a few of those moments have forced  an entire country to pause, and question the very essence of life. Only a few moments that a country collectively remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing…the moment innocence crumbled.

50 years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, brutally murdered right before the eyes of thousands of Texans there to greet him. An entire country stopped in its tracks, questioning how such an atrocity could occur in the United States of America. This charismatic young president, though with faults and weakness of his own, symbolized a new vibrant America. More importantly, he symbolized hope.

And in the blink of an eye, shocked citizens all over the country heard that hope crushed as they listened to news reports declare, “President Kennedy is dead.”

And in the 50 years since, those of that generation, my generation’s parents and grandparents, have never been able to forget that moment. Not simply because one man was killed, but because hope and innocence seemingly died with him.

Each generation has its moments. For my generation, it was 9/11. I, along with everyone else, will never forget that moment we realized that evil reigned just as it had on November 22, 1963.  Just as Kennedy represented hope, New York, though it also had its faults, represented the grandeur of modern America.

As millions of Americans watched the towers crumble to the ground, we all felt our own hope, our own innocence crumble as well.

Each generation has its moments where the entire world stands still. And in the years that follow, the members of those generations must grapple with the reality that its innocence, at least for a moment, had crumbled.

 

 

 

 

 

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