Bob Sheppard’s Stadium Cathedral
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
Bob Sheppard was the vocal embodiment of Yankee baseball. For many players and fans, he elevated the game into a kind of religious experience. The iconic announcer, who served as the public voice of the Yankees for over 50 years, died this week at the age of 99.
"The Voice of God," as he was fondly called, announced each player’s name "clearly, concisely, and correctly." Former Yankees player Paul O’Neill once likened Sheppard’s voice to "the organ at church." Sheppard himself described Yankee Stadium as "a cathedral for baseball people."
For Sheppard, this kind of metaphor wasn’t just rhetoric. He led a deeply spiritual life as a cradle Catholic who was active as a lector in his Long Island church. Even as he became frail with illness and age, he continued to take daily communion at home. His decision to pursue speech as a vocation was encouraged by Vincentian priests while attending a Catholic high school in Brooklyn. He reflected on his faith in an interview with Busted Halo:
"I have a very special love for the Blessed Mother and always have had, it started when I was young I think and I can remember many times at St. John’s Prep Chapel going in to the church there before a baseball game and asking the Blessed Mother to allow me to get a couple of hits that afternoon (laughs). And she did! (laughs) She was good, very good to me."
Sheppard loved reading and wrote poetry. In 2008, he drafted this poem in commemoration of the last baseball game ever to be played at the old Yankee Stadium:
Farewell, old Yankee Stadium, farewell
What a wonderful story you can tell
DiMaggio, Mantle, Gehrig and Ruth
A baseball cathedral in truth.
(Photo: Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)
K’naan Waves His Flag
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Some of the best story lines coming out of this year’s World Cup aren’t about sport at all. They’re about people rising above their circumstances, creating something new, defying their genre, being recognized for their talents.
A Somali-born Canadian who grew up in Mogadishu before immigrating to North America at the age of 13, he takes an unexpected
tact tack when writing lyrics. K’naan doesn’t see much sense, he says, in glorifying the violence and strife that surrounded him in his childhood like many American rappers:
"There wasn’t a voice that understood the, ya know, the gratitude that comes from survival. There wasn’t a voice in music that was doing that."
There’s much more to K’naan’s story, his art, and his approach to life. Here are three strong pieces I found helpful in learning more about him. Over at Sound Opinions, he demonstrates some Somali poetry styles to Greg and Jim and talks more about his responsibility in addressing the violence and reality he witnessed.
Also, this 2005 profile piece by Sue Carter Flinn in The Coast covers a lot of ground. And it’s fair and thoughtful in the language chosen and scenes described. It has just a little bit more. For example, read Eliott McLaughlin’s description of a story K’naan often tells:
"At age 11, he accidentally blew up his school with a hand grenade he mistook for an old, dirty potato."
Now read Carter Flinn’s account:
"One day after school, at age 10, during the daily ritual of washing the Qur’an lessons off an ancient wooden slate, he uncovered a live grenade that exploded and destroyed half of his school."
And, giving CNN its props, check out the video to the right. I enjoyed watching K’naan just actually sit and talk about his work and how he’s processing his recent success, especially his song being honored at such a big event.
I hope you enjoy this week’s Friday video snack.
Bahrain Women Educate WNBA’s Mistie Bass
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
"They were used to being coached by men who tended to discourage them. But I saw nothing but tremendous potential, and I tried to nourish it. I made it clear that I was invested in the team’s improvement, and the players made it clear that they were serious as well. … Coaching them really drove home the point that if you give with no intent to receive, you will get so much more in return."
Bass goes on to say how she transcended her own preconceptions about Islam through the real relationships she developed with her players. Her essay reminds me that sports can be a powerful way to forge bonds despite differences in language, culture, and religion.
We’ve been talking as a production staff about the meaning and purpose people find through sports — whether they’re athletes or fans or both. With the World Cup fast approaching, we’re wondering about the significance of sports in your own life. Is there a spiritual dimension to sports for you? What ideas do you have about how SOF could open up a conversation about this topic?
(photo: Mistie Bass/Chicago Sky)
Title Fight: The Boxing Rabbi
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Checking up on the results of the Manny Pacquiao fight on Sunday, my attention was diverted by another headline: "aspiring rabbi claims piece of 154-pound title." Not exactly what one expects to see on ESPN.
"When I got the title shot, I was really focused and it’s very satisfying because I have been dreaming about this since childhood. I am very, very proud to do this for Israel and Brooklyn and to show that Jews can fight."
Yuri Foreman, who emigrated with his parents from Belarus to Israel and now lives in Brooklyn, is in the final year of his rabbinical training. The undefeated boxer said of his multi-tasking disciplines, “It just shows that you can do many things. You can be a world champion and you can be a rabbi,” but later commented, “Boxing is something I probably would not advise yeshiva (school) students to do but this is what I do.”
I can’t imagine the discipline it takes to simultaneously study to be a rabbi and an elite athlete, but I marvel at the accomplishment and would love to be in the yeshiva when he returns to school.
Swimming at the Top of the World
Trent Gilliss, online editor
A thoroughly inspiring lecture from a man who has been called the human polar bear. Lewis Gordon Pugh has swum in unimaginable places, including long-distance swims in all five oceans, in order to call attention to climate change.
Here, he talks about his most recent feat: swimming one kilometer (nearly 20 minutes) in minus 1.8 degrees Celsius water at the North Pole in order to raise awareness of the melting polar ice cap and rising water levels. For every one hour he spent training in cold water, he spent four hours in “mind training” — visualizing himself at every phase of the swim and willing his brain to raise his core body temperature.
If you only have a few minutes and can’t watch all 19, I recommend dropping in at the 10:25 mark to watch a short film about his journey. It’s quite moving.
The Olympic “Ritual Frame”
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
I encountered an interesting blog post today called “Olympic Ritual and Religion, hosted by a Religion-less State." The article begins by pointing out that "Religion-less" China didn’t hold back when evoking the "implicit religious sentiments" of the Olympic Games in the Beijing Opening Ceremonies (perhaps the article’s author might be interested in hearing our recent program "Recovering Chinese Religiosities”). The part I found most interesting was focused on Pierre de Coubertin, who is credited as the founder of the modern Olympic Games:
As a French Catholic who never felt the need to leave the practices of faith, Coubertin was powerfully aware of the power of ritual and liturgical form. In one of his most insightful moments, he insisted that without the “ritual frame” provided by the Opening and Closing ceremonies, the Modern Olympic Games would simply become another set of World Championships—and the world already had enough of those. What it did not have enough of was religion, religion as a ritual practice, and that is what his version of modern “ambulatory” Olympics (a new city and host country, every time) were designed to provide.
(Photo: ♥ China ♥ guccio/Flickr)
Out of the Dojo
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer
Some months ago, one of our listeners pointed me to The Ultimate Black Belt Test, a surprising, rigorous training regimen for martial arts teachers that combines intense physical training with transformative ethical practice. Members of the UBBT program have to fulfill such varied requirements as walking for 1,000 miles and undertaking an environmental clean-up project.
I was so intrigued by the idea, what with my own practice of martial arts during my teens, that I decided to speak to the founder of the UBBT, Tom Callos. He’s written and spoken about his reverence for Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hahn and architect Samuel Mockbee, two model people who have brought social engagement into their respective practices.
In this narrated video, featuring an interview with Tom Callos playing over the beautiful photographs of Bill Whitworth, we explore this rigorous program and see some of its own engagement in the world.
Winning without the Juice
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
I’ll admit it. I have a love-hate relationship with sports. I spent most of my high school and college years training. Wrestling ruined me; wrestling saved me. I have a soft spot for the power of sport forging relationships and understanding in ways that no other brokered therapy session ever can.
Brushing aside the Roger Clemens hearings, I happened upon this New York Times video report and charming slide show about Shamila Kohestani, once captain of the Afghanistan national women’s soccer team who is now attending a private high school in New Jersey on a soccer scholarship. She’s trying to catch up in her schooling to prepare for college. And she’s playing competitive basketball for the first time — an observant Muslim in long sleeves and leggings. What a great lesson in modesty and fortitude, compassion and graciousness for her teammates.
For me, this story evokes a particular memory of a former teammate, Dean Mielke. Affectionately called MilkDud, he was the only one of 13 ranked wrestlers who had a losing record at the time — zero wins and 18 losses, all of them by pin. For six continuous months, four hours per day, he got pummeled on — even by the lighter weights.
But he stayed. He didn’t quit. And eventually he endeared himself to everybody, ergo the nickname. Once, in a tight team dual, we needed him not to get pinned and give up six team points. “You’re a wraaaccckin’ machine,” we told him. “Don’t get pinned. Fight off your back no matter what.”
He spent almost six full minutes with his shoulders levitated centimeters from the mat with
his his mouth covered by his opponents’ armpit and chin in his ribs. At the final buzzer, he jumped up, arms in the air, and a huge grin on his face. He was defeated by 13 points, and he was proud of himself.
When I think back to that season and all the championships and victories, I only remember one thing: MilkDud’s victory. Yeah, I’m misty writing about it, and that’s why I tear up every time a team comes together in a movie or an athlete prevails during the Olympics.
Thanks, Dean, for the lesson. I’m a better father for it. Shamila’s teammates will be the better for knowing her too.