Category Archives: sports and life

The Day I Came to Love Iran: Reflections on the World Cup, Sports, and our Common Humanity

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have a confession to make. After I watched Iran play its first match in the World Cup against Morocco I was hooked, and I hoped that they would advance at least into the round of 16. The plucky Iranian team defeated Morocco, lost to Spain by a score of just 1-0 and tied Portugal today with a score of 1-1. Their fans cheered their team with the enthusiasm that any American would do for our teams in any sport, and many of their fans took the time to protest policies of the Iranian government and Revolutionary Guard. Honestly, eight or twelve years ago I wouldn’t have gotten past the blood sport of international politics and hatred of what I considered to be an enemy. But sports can help build bridges between people that might otherwise be unbridgeable.

I remember my first meeting with an Iranian, it was back when Iran was an ally of the United States and I was a Navy Junior ROTC cadet undergoing training at NTC San Diego. He was an Iranian Navy Lieutenant, since I recognized him as an officer I saluted and he replied. When the Iranian Revolution came I was stunned because I figured that the Shah must have been a good guy, but that was before I learned of how he had come to power and the CIA had overthrown a democratically elected government to put him in power and how he and his secret police did horrific things to the Iranian people.

Let me say as well that I never was a fan of the Ayatollahs or their stormtrooper like Republican Guard and their abuse of human rights or sponsorship or terrorism. That being said there was a moment in time that occurred after the attacks of September 11th 2001 when the Iranians offered their sympathy to us and support for us against Al Qaida. Instead the Bush Administration turned them down and then labeled them as part of the Iraqi and North Korean “Axis of Evil.” Of course that was an incredibly stupid act of hubris since none of the three actually had any connection to Bin Laden and Al Qaida and even more stupidly many Americans including me believed the lies.

But it wasn’t long after that when deployed to the Arabian Gulf about the cruiser USS HUE CITY that I saw Iranian regular Navy ships as well as Coast Guard vessels steer Iraqi smugglers out of their territorial waters and into our hands. The Revolutionary Guard Naval Forces were a different matter, some of their boats harassed our task force flagship, the HMAS Manora and we almost went to war before they withdrew. Of course we ended up invading Iraq which likewise was an enemy of Al Qaida throwing it into chaos and basically handing Iran’s hard liners a victory. But all of that is history.

I have known other Iranians and people of Iranian dissent. Every single one of them has been a wonderful human being. I may oppose the Ayatollahs and the Revolutionary Guards including their actions in Iraq, Syria, and supporting Hezbollah, but I do really believe that if the United States behaved with any kind of moderation towards Iran that the majority of people born after the Revolution and yearning for freedom would overthrow them. I think that the Iranian fans at the World Cup demonstrated more of what Iran is much more than the Ayatollahs or Revolutionary Guard. In fact even during this game there were large demonstrations against the regime in Iran.

I watched Iran’s games against Morocco, Spain, and Portugal and they earned my respect. They didn’t advance to the knockout round but they showed such poise and determination that I could not hope but to hope that they would make it to the next stage. I guess that partly because I have seen the United States do in the World Cup when we have made it into the Cup. I like underdogs unless they are playing against Germany, which I think I have mentioned that I have a rather strong attachment to, but again I digress.

I guess that what I mean to say is that I really do care for the people of Iran. Likewise I hope that the Trump administration will not blunder us into a war with them or push the Iranian people to support a government that most of them despise simply because they feel that they need to defend their country.

Maybe that doesn’t make sense to people who simply hate the Iranians and Muslims based on their nationality, religion, and race. But then I have really stopped caring what such people think about me because in spite of everything I look forward to the day that we can live in peace because having been to war I am tired of it.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Friends, Papillons, World Cup, and the Padre’s Pizza

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a nice day with our friends in the DC area and our Papillon dogs. It was very relaxing, I got to sleep late, enjoy a nice home cooked breakfast with our friends. After that I retreated to the basement where I watched two World Cup games, Mexico vs. South Korea, and Germany vs. Sweden with Pierre and Izzy beside me on the couch.

Since I have been a fan of the German Mannschaft since mid-1980s when I first took an interest in the soccer with Bayern Munich and the National Team I have become a more and more serious follower of international soccer. I have to say that I really get into well played games especially when my teams are playing and when games are close and my team is on the verge of either advancing to another round or being eliminated things can become very tense, not that the world will end or anything like that, but sometimes it feels like it.

It was like that today when Germany, the reigning champions had to come back to avoid being eliminated in the group stage for the first time since before WWII. In fact they have reached the semifinals the past four World Cups. Tony Kroos the German National who plays for Real Madrid scores the winning goal in the 95th minute, which not only kept Germany alive but set them up well to advance if they defeat South Korea and Mexico with wins or ties against Sweden. Needless to say I will be cheering for Mexico as hard as will be Germany on Wednesday morning.

After the game I went back upstairs, relaxed and socialized and then made The Padre’s Pizza.

What most people don’t know about me is that I worked some of my way through college and seminary working in pizza parlors. While I was on my first active duty tour in the Army I began to experiment with my own pizza dough and sauce recipes and over the years I have become quite well known to my close friends for it. It’s a lot of work because I take the time to craft each pizza, and despite the work I find it very relaxing and good for stress relief. I should do it more often at home.

I love doing it. I love making the dough to perfection, seeing it rise, and turning it into a pizza dough. I love cutting the vegetables so that they not only look good but cook perfectly. I love crafting the sauce with my own blend of spices. Then I love building the pizza so that when it cooks that it looks as spectacular as it tastes. There really is an art to it you don’t see every day.

Tonight I made large two 16″ New York style pizzas topped with mozzarella, provolone, Romano, and Parmesan cheeses, pepperoni, Italian sausage, fresh mushrooms, Roma tomatoes, and garlic, peperocini peppers, and Kalamata olives. I also whipped up a pizza crust which became garlic bread.

Sometimes people ask me why I don’t try to start a pizza parlor, but truthfully I do is truly artisan and trying to mass produce it would take away the fun and turn a stress relief activity into a chore. Likewise I will not answer the question of “when does a pizza become a pizza?” (An obscure Seinfeld reference.)

Now like last night everyone has gone to bed but me and Piere. I’m finishing this up so it will Post after midnight and I will go back to reading the book Seduced By Hitler: the Choices of a Nation and the Ethics of Survival. It was published in 2000 and while I have had it in my library for at least 10 years I never read it until this week. I’m about 40% through it and I will give a synopsis when done.

So anyway, until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Super Bowl LII: A Championship Game for a Dying Sport

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sunday was the Super Bowl which I watched with friends at Gordon Biersch. Truthfully watching football for me is more a reason to hang out with friends as the game of American Football lost its magic for me years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a well played, competitive, and exciting game; but truthfully I find most NFL games including many Super Bowls to be less than exciting. The hype about the games, the entertainment build up to them even in the regular season, the unending year road coverage and replays of games played the previous season, not to mention the faux patriotic military displays often paid for by our tax dollars make me tired. I agree with conservative columnist George Will, a Baseball man like me that “Football combines two of the worst things in American life. It is violence punctuated by committee meetings.”

I have always been a Baseball fan. While American football is simply a game to me, Baseball is a religion.

For me NFL football, with the except of the glory years of the San Francisco 49ers with Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, and coach Bill Walsh is not that special. Tonight’s game was a great game in which the underdog led by an unheralded backup quarterback complete a Cinderella Story, but for the most part the magic is gone.

My lack of real interest in the NFL has nothing to do with the abilities of today’s players; they are outstanding and player for player probably superior to the men who played before them. Nor does my disinterest have anything to do with the kneeling controversy which who I support because ultimately it has to do with the First Amendment. I think that as long as players are forced to be in the field that if they take a knee to protest injustice rather than standing while being even more disrespectful by scratching their ass or balls while acting completely disinterested during the playing of the National Anthem. I find the latter much more disrespectful and offensive than players that take a knee to protest real injustice, but I digress, I chased a rabbit there.

For me the fact is that despite the speed and violence of individual plays the pace of game is incredibly slow and the officiating seems to get worse every year and this is compounded by rules, such as what constitutes a completed pass, that are so subjective as to be a joke. I could go into other criticism of the NFL, it’s culture of violence, and of profit over the welfare of its players; especially over how it has treated its veteran players and their medical issues, particularly CTE and other brain injuries which are cutting short the lives of so many players. While the President of the United States mocks rules designed to protect players, this does matter; this is a game for God’s sake people shouldn’t die or have their lives shortened because they played it and played it well.

When I look at football and its future I see a dying sport. It won’t die tomorrow or even in the next decade but the game itself has to change or die. Tonight’s one that took a player off the field was a concussion injury to New England receiver Brandin Cooks.

The Patriots were denied their 6th Super Bowl title when Tom Brady fumbled with just over two minutes left in the game. They lost to time against a very tough yet under appreciated Philadelphia Eagles team led Nick Foles, by a quarterback who had been written off by most football commentators. Foles not only had a great post season, but a very good Super Bowl, even catching a touchdown pass.

For a Super Bowl, so many of which are disappointing this was a very good one, the underdog won. Philadelphia finally got a Super Bowl title. Their offense pounded the Patriots and in the end their defense sealed the deal breaking up Tom Brady’s Hail Mary pass to Rob Gronkowski with not time left on the clock. While for me it will never have the magic of “The Drive” of the 49ers but it was a great game, especially because New England and the Belichick-Brady cult lost, not that there is anything wrong with that.

I watched it wearing my full Bayern Munchen kit, Thomas Mueller jersey, with matching sweats. Honestly I enjoy watching European, particularly German Bundesliga football to American football. Let’s face it, American football is much close to up-armored Rugby than it is real football because the only people allowed to use their feet on the ball are kickers, punters, and players acting as a kicker or punter; if a regular player kicks the ball during the game it can be a penalty. Really, if players can’t kick the ball how can it be football? That’s no criticism of the players or this Super Bowl, it’s just my opinion. Maybe for truth in advertising the NFL should call the game Gridiron Ball or Up-Armored Slow Paced Rugby. Admittedly that may not help ticket sales or even more television and advertising revenue but it would be more truthful, and who but the President doesn’t like the truth.

Congratulations to Nick Foles and the Eagles. They deserved this win.

Until tomorrow and reality,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Saturday Football in Munich

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Judy and I arrived in Munich Saturday morning and then did a few things that we needed to do. Our hotel room wasn’t ready when we got there so we walked down to our favorite local restaurant and had lunch, meeting up with people we have gotten to know over the past few years there, before getting our room.

Judy was exhausted as she didn’t get any sleep on the flight so she took a nap as I picked up a few things that we needed for our stay that were not cost effective to pack for the flight. After I did that I took a shower and changed my clothes and proceeded to the hotel bar to watch football.

Of course, who wouldn’t watch football on Saturday afternoon? Actually, I seldom do, unless it something really special, but I digress, for you see the football I like the best is called soccer by Americans, and I love watching the high performing teams of the various European leagues as well as the Champions League. My love for the game began during my first tour in Germany and somehow I became a fan of Bayern Munich, and I have remained one since. The fact is that they are the European equivalent of a team like the New York Yankees. They have won about 26 Bundesliga cups, and four European Champions League titles. Many of their current and former players play on the highest level national teams in the sport.

While Judy slept I went down to the hotel bar to watch the Bayern game against Mainz. The outcome was not a surprise and Bayern defeated Mainz by a score of 4-0. I also got to watch highlights of other games going on. While I was watching the game I was able to join in the conversation with the others around the bar. For me it was really cool, since I was the token American and conversing in German with the local fans of Bayern around the bar. I have to admit it was a lot of fun, as was being able to converse with Bayern fans at the fest and at a local restaurant later. Most were taken aback by my ability to speak with the intelligently about the team, and the league in German, especially when they found out that I was American. One diehard even asked how I became aBayern Munchen fan which I had to explain went back to my first tour in Germany in the mid 1980s.

Today I will go to Dachau and in the evening Judy and I will go to meet a couple for dinner in one of towns just outside of Munich.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Cubs Win Epic World Series and Remind us of All that Can Be

cubs-world-series

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late W.P. Kinsella wrote: “Baseball is the most perfect of games, solid, true, pure and precious as diamonds. If only life were so simple. Within the baselines anything can happen. Tides can reverse; oceans can open. That’s why they say, “the game is never over until the last man is out.” Colors can change, lives can alter, anything is possible in this gentle, flawless, loving game.”

For five hours last night all the cares of the world didn’t matter. Not the raging anger of Donald Trump, not the election, not the wars and bloodshed in the Middle East, not terrorism, not the economy, not anything…  except what transpired on the baseball field in Cleveland. In Game Seven of an epic World Series two teams with a combined 174 years of not winning a World Series battled into the 10th inning as the weather got worse and the rain began to fall. The tension throughout the game was electric, the mood swings as the Cubs took a 5-1 lead and then the Indians scored three runs with two outs in the bottom of the 8th inning to tie the game took one’s breath away.  Watching these two teams battle it was if time itself no longer existed, just the game, a game which transfixed the nation as no sporting event has in recent memory.

Kinsella wrote something profound  in his classic baseball fantasy The Iowa Baseball Confederacy: 

“Name me a more perfect game!” Matthew Clarke had been fond of saying to his son. “Name me a game with more possibilities for magic, wizardry, voodoo, hoodoo, enchantment, obsession, possession.” 

I have to agree, this World Series showed all of us something that no other sport can match in terms of tension, magic, and enchantment. People like to say that NFL football is exciting, but compared to this wonderful game, but the NFL has has degenerated into brutal test of strength, of declining talent, terrible injuries that the owners don’t seem to mind, with the joy taken out of it.

Instead last night we saw talented players play their hearts out, pitchers exhausted from overuse, hitters coming up big, and fielders making spectacular plays. The drama was played out as if it were a story out of ancient Greek mythology as immortals battled in front of watching mortals. I  wished that it could have gone on forever and that both teams could have won, but that is not baseball. A game may go into extra innings, but when it is over, it is over. Unlike politics when the game is over there is no recount: when the final strike is called, there is no court of appeals. As Bill Veeck said:  “Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off.”  But that being said there is always next year; which brings with it a hope that springs as eternal as the luxuriant green grass on the enchanted diamonds in every corner of the nation; diamonds whose foul lines theoretically extend to infinity, and whose perfection calls us to something better.  Those fields await us all if we believe.

This World Series, in particular this Game Seven also called us back for just a few hours to a better time, a time of hopes and dreams that have always captivated American, a goodness that dwells within us just waiting to be released again. And it can be again, if we decide to release the cynicism and hatred that has built up over the decades which has been on such display during this election.

What happened last night reminded us of Kinsella’s classic line in his book Shoeless Joe which became the film Field of Dreams: 

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

Congratulations to the Cubs and to their faithful fans. 108 years is an eternity to wait for this, and thank you to the Indians, and there fans as well, and maybe for you it will be next year. But whatever, this wonderful game reminded us of the fact that American is great, because America is good, and baseball reminds us of that good, and what could be again.  As Walt Whitman wrote: “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game — the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Swim USA


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There is so much for me to write about and so little time. I have been pretty busy the past week or so. But sadly there are far too many things that I want to write about but don’t have the time, so unless someone creates an eighth day to the week and gives us a twenty-eight hour day I don’t know how I will be able to do it. 

So tonight I have just a short thought. Tonight I watched the American men and women swim teams cap off an amazing Olympics as the 4×100 Relay teams took gold. The American swimmers won 16 gold medals of a total 33 medals. The highlights of their performance in Rio are too numerous to list, but the their accomplishments set a standard of excellence and sportsmanship that we all should try to emulate, even if we are not swimmers. 


The see Michael Phelps conclude his Olympic career with 23 Gold medals of 28, the most of any Olympian ever was amazing, even when he lost the 100 meter Butterfly to a young man who idolized him. But tonight, he as well as teammates Ryan Murphy, Nathan Adrian, and Cody Miller. Murphy swam a world record backstroke leg to set the Americans up for the win. 

The American women concluded their campaign with the win with the team of Kathleen Baker, Lilly King, Dana Vollmer, and Simone Manuel winner the 4×100 relay. Three of the four women were in their first Olympics, and Manuel, who took two gold and two silver medals in the games was the first African American to medal in Olympic swimming. That is very important from a historical point of view. During the Jim Crow era, African Americans were prohibited from most public and private swimming pools, and as a result, swimming was not a sport that African Americans had much of a chance to excel. As in so many other areas of life, in swimming, blacks were considered less capable because they were racially inferior. Simone Manuel, an American whose public demeanor made us all proud exercised the ghosts of Jim Crow and has set a standard for others to emulate. 

I cannot forget Katy Ledecky’s dominance of the freestyle races, nor Lilly King who stood up to a Russian swimmer who had previously been identified as a user of PEDs. 

I was happy to be able watch all of the swim meets and proud to see Team USA do so well and in the process be magnanimous in victory. 

So anyway, until tomorrow. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Bigger than Jesus? The Super Bowl at 50

  

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Judy and I watched the Super Bowl with friends last night at our version of Cheers, the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restuaurant. Now for Judy, she wasn’t doing much watching, as she is an artist and has no interest in football, she drew. For me the game is more of a social event. If pressed I would watch the game at home, but even so football for me is just a sport. Football, for all of its popularity is not the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, the church of baseball. 

Now speaking of church, if you look at the polls, the United States is one of the most religious nations outside of the Middle East in the world. But despite the fact that polls generally report that about 40% of Americans attend church weekly, actual church, or religious service attendance according to multiple studies is actually closer to 18% or about 52 million people a week, and that is all denominations. If the pols were right that 40% figure would be about 120 million people a week, but people lie to polls. 

According to pre-game estimates some 189.9 million Americans will watch the game. The total amount of money that will be spent on the game will exceed $15 billion. That number does not include the amount of money that will be spent on gambling, online betting, or Super Bowl pools. The National Retail Federation estimates that the average view or partygoer will spent about $82 on food, decor and team apparel. My friends, that is a lot of people and a lot of money, and if you measure faith by spending, that is a lot of faith. As Feregi Rule of Acquistion number 104 states “Faith moves mountains…of inventory.” 

But let this sink in for a moment and think about what this says about our culture. I mean really, the Super Bowl celebrates power, celebrity, money, and violence. Please do not get me wrong, I do think that football, like all team sports can teach good life lessons, the value of teamwork, hard work, and excellence. But that being said, there are many instances at every level those who promote the game teach the wrong lessons. In college many players are given a pass on academics in order to maintain their eligibility to play the game. The use of Performace Enhancing Drugs plagues the game, and drug testing regimes of the NCAA and NFL are woeful. Acts of violence committed off the field by players, and sometimes even coaches are commonplace, and many go unpunished or with a slap on the wrist. If everyday people committed these acts they would not be rewarded with massive contracts, and in some cases sponsorships that pay great amounts of money. Even so there are many players who are outstanding citizens who lead exemplary lives, and who give back to the community. One can never forget them even as we offer legitimate critiques of the football culture at many levels.

Then there is the physical cost to many of the players, those crippled so badly that they can only walk with great pain and difficulty, those that suffer from CTE and other brain injuries, including various forms of dementia. It seems that every moth that more and more of these stories are coming to light. The late Ken Stabler, the legendary quarterback of the Oakland Raiders was the latest big name player to be known to suffer for this. The lives of many NFL and even Super Bowl greats are littered with such tragedy, and until recently the NFL did little or nothing for the men whose on field performance and sacrifice made it what it is. One has to wonder how different we are from the ancient Romans who rebelled in watching gladiators slaughter one another, with little hope of survival. 

But all that being said, the Super Bowl and everything associated with it is great entertainment, even when the game is not that great.  The truth is that as for teams playing in the Super Bowl I had no dog in the fight, and I was not impressed with either team’s offense. Neither Peyton Manning or Cam Newton were impressive, Manning because he is not what he once was, and while the Bronco’s defense was outstanding, Carolina played a conservative game never took advantage of Cam Newton’s running ability. Thankfully the game was not a blowout, and it did hold my interest, but it was nowhere close to being one of the greatest games ever played.  Denver won, but despite that I was not impressed. I have seen a lot better played football and Super Bowl games. 

But then maybe that is a metaphor for where we are in our society. We spend our time and money to be entertained watching a game that profits the NFL, which since the 1960s has been tax exempt, and its Fortune 500 advertisers, much more than it does the players who sacrifice their bodies and minds on the gridiron, or the stadium employees who work for a pittance at every NFL venue do, even when the game fails to measure up to the hype.

By the way I wonder just how much money Payton Manning was paid to say that he was going to “drink a lot of Budweiser” after the game? I mean really, a rich guy like Peyton drinks a crappy mass produced beer? But then there is no accounting for taste, and it could be the effects of one too many concussions. But I digress…

But as Rule of Acuisition number 69 says, “Ferengi are not responsible for the stupidity of other races.”  I think that the NFL has figured that one out. Who knows, maybe unlike the Beatles, the Super Bowl might actually be bigger than Jesus. I doubt if you will hear Roger Goodell or anyone in the main office being quoted as saying that, as it might be bad for business, and that would be tragic. 

Anyway, until tomorrow. Have a great day.

Peace, 

Padre Steve+

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