What I Learned During the First Weekend of March Madness

basketball photo

My first trip to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2013. Kansas vs. North Carolina.

KEEP CALM, IT’S MARCH MADNESS.  –unknown

They call it March Madness for a reason. Unpredictable and erratic…causing ordinary and sane individuals to suddenly scribble out brackets, clear their schedules and spend hours plugged into an event that spans several weekends. Crazy, right? In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I am a Kansas Jayhawk fan–born and raised in Kansas. A KU alum, I have bought, paid for and wear the t-shirt. The 2014 NCAA tournament marks the 25th consecutive season that the Jayhawks have been a part of the madness. So…my madness has been going on a long, long time.

Every year I go into the tournament looking forward to the fun, the excitement, and often times the anguish of college basketball. I’m consistently impressed by the athletic abilities of these amazing young men. Time after time I find myself discovering new teams to root for and more reasons to vilify teams that aren’t on my top ten list. Each year I anticipate the ups and downs and without fail the tournament delivers. You’d think at some point the whole thing would become tiresome and pointless, but I haven’t crossed that line yet. I guess what I’m trying to say is that after all these years I’m still uncovering the lessons deep within the madness. For example, just the other day I learned something new about myself–I yell louder at the TV when watching basketball alone compared to when I watch with others.  Who knew?  And with that spirit of self-awareness, I offer these “noticings” after this first weekend of tourney play:

1. Life is not fair. Okay, we all know that, but sometimes it really hits you over the head.  Like with Harvard and Stanford.  Really? Not only do you have to be a “brainiac” to go there, chances are you’re well on your way to a successful and high paying career (and not necessarily in the NBA.) That’s a score. To top it off the guys on these basketball teams were both good-looking AND athletically gifted. What line were those dudes standing in and how can the rest of us get an invite. Yes, some people have it ALL and then some!

2. “Lebroning” has totally reached the college crowd. It occurs to me that in addition to team practice and free throw repetition, some coaches must be offering some type of drama course. Some of these players produce very convincing facial expressions and practically injure themselves throwing their bodies around while trying to win over a referee. I love how they act like an innocent bystander…even pointing out elbows and hands in order to avoid getting a foul call. Kudos, fellas. The Academy will be calling.

3. Yelling during free throws. Good gravy…I pray that those are college aged fans or maybe members of a team’s respective pep band. Otherwise, let’s grow up a little. Grown men and women (yes, ladies, I HEAR you) have no business screaming or booing a kid at the free throw line.

4. Speaking of pep bands…what is up with the face paint? For heaven’s sake. This year’s face painting has been especially noticeable. Now, I’m not a face painter myself, but I do recognize that there is good face painting and BAD face painting. Showing your pride through team colors—thumbs up. Looking like you’re trying out for some sort of zombie trumpet player role—thumbs down.

5. If you cry at the game…the camera will find you! When the camera zeroes in on some dejected player, my heart just withers. But you don’t have to be a team member to have your “boo hoo” moment broadcast all over the country. Coach’s wives and kids have become fair game as well. At least when we’re watching the game at home, no one can exploit our sadness 😦

6. Never before have I found myself rooting so hard against my own bracket. I play the odds when it comes to my picks and then find myself cheering for the upset. Every.  Time.  Yes, I have money on the line and yet I still can’t help myself. I get tired of the same teams winning it all year after year.

Sean with tickets to the madness.  Yes, it makes you crazy :)

Sean with tickets to the madness. Yes, it makes you crazy 🙂

7. This year, for the first time ever (in my case) the madness has caused lines to be drawn within my inner circle. I found myself second guessing beloved kin and friends (at one point I publicly announced that I was considering disowning my own son for going against my alma mater.) This stuff is for real!

So, bring on the Sweet Sixteen! I love it. It’s the lion and the lamb, the greatest highs and the deepest lows. We see teams rising to the occasion and others falling flat on their faces. Players and coaches getting caught up in the moment and commentators that make us want to pull our hair out or unplug the TV. (Have you noticed what flip-floppers these announcers are? Good thing this is basketball and not politics. Talk about playing to which ever team is ahead.) Yes, indeed this is March Madness! What else could grab die-hard fans and fun-loving onlookers and unify them into one massive sporting experience? My bracket is basically shot at this point, but I don’t care. Wait… I think that’s another symptom of the madness!

I wish I was at work instead of watching basketball.  Said NO ONE ever.  –unknown

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It Really is HOW You Play the Game….

Let me begin with this:  I don’t have an athletic bone in my body.  So, for many, I have absolutely no cred when it comes to talking about sports of any kind.  That’s okay, I don’t mind talking about it anyway 🙂  In fact, it’s not so much the sports aspect that caught my eye this weekend…it’s more the human reaction to it.  Look, they say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can pretty much get the gist of it by reading a chapter.  Satire, mystery, fiction, inspiration…you get the point.  And if the old adage also holds true—“you only get one chance to make a first impression”…then we all might want to check ourselves before, well…you know.

Anna&Kids

Flashback photo…Raising little Kansas Jayhawk fans.

So, here goes nothing.  Like most people, I’m a sports fan.  My favorite team in this great, big, wonderful world is the Kansas Jayhawks (for a myriad of reasons, but we’ll save that for later date.)  But I also  enjoy many different types of sports and follow several other teams as well.  In my community, circle of friends and in my family for that matter there’s a wide variety of sports fans.  Some of us live for football, hockey, and tennis.  Others can’t get enough NBA, golf and volleyball.  Personally, I’m a college basketball and baseball fan and thanks to my  kiddos, I have a great appreciation for soccer.  Different strokes  for different folks.  Amen, right?  Still, one of the things that always strikes me about some fans is their (my) deep, die-hard passion for our sport of choice.  We not only follow our designated tribe, but we support it with our time, energy and often, our money.  No judgement here…I’m right with you.

Where things get tricky, though, is when we start to dis each other and personally belittle our perceived opponents.  I can hear the groans and comments already…“this is why girls shouldn’t watch sports, you’re ruining the industry, this is how the game is played, if you don’t like it–don’t watch it.”  I hear you and I understand.  But it still begs the question, do we really accomplish anything when we put down our foes?  What does it prove?  Especially, if we’re on the winning end.  I’m asking….  It seems that anytime you give your heart over to something…there’s going to be passion and intensity.  Just like any relationship there will be huge highs and deep lows in fanhood.  And since our teams foster a family like comradery…things can get personal fast.  And not only do they get personal, but they can also get ugly.

This morning everyone is talking about the NFC Championship game and some of the post game antics.  It was a hard-fought game.  Can we agree on that?  Depending upon who you were rooting for (and for the sake of disclosure I will tell you that my team lost), you were either right there with this (now notorious) cornerback, Richard Sherman, or you’ve reactively thrown your support behind a man who many describe as THE  All-American quarterback, Peyton Manning.  It doesn’t take but a second to scroll through any number of social media outlets to see the reactions and commentary.  It’s been less than 24 hours since the hoopla aired, and arguments have been made on both sides.  Some have tried to rationalize and excuse the behavior by calling on player intensity and testosterone.  Others have written him off as classless and a thug.  We’re all entitled to our opinion, it’s how we choose to express it that matters.  In fact, I’ve been sort of surprised to see which side fans, sports gurus and radio personalities have signed on to.  It’s also been equally interesting to see where my own circle of friends stand on these events.

Personally, my heart hurts for Richard Sherman.  I saw his post game interview live like many other football fans.  His moment on national television, the replay of his butt slap, choking gestures and trash talk against Michael Crabtree were truly baffling to me.  Here was a man who had just demonstrated that he’s at the top of his game.  He played a key role in his team moving on to the Super Bowl.  I think the whole world expected him to be excited and amped up (and does it really matter who started it?) but using his airtime to disrespect an opponent…well it doesn’t add up, especially now that countless reports have come out about Sherman’s educational accolades, his communications degree from Stanford and blog writing/interviewing abilities.  In a world where image is everything and first impressions are lasting impressions,  Richard Sherman just cast himself as a football villain and in the hearts of many that role will last a lifetime.  Football players often live and die in the moment.  Whether it’s a consequence of personality or just the nature of the athletes who play the game, he has just categorized himself in a less than ideal light and he may spend his career (and life) trying to undo the damage of a few seconds on national television.

Unfortunately, fanhood means that we’ll never know the hearts and minds of those sports figures we idolize, but let this be a lesson to all of us.  The way you play the game…your game, my game…will be noted.  The world keeps records, it profiles and categorizes, and is not always gracious in forgiving our wrongdoings.  How much more important does it become for each of us to live our lives more thoughtfully.  Our words and actions are and will be judged.  That’s a fact.  If you don’t care, more power to you.  Still most of us, if we truly examine our hearts, want to know that we have lived life well.  As a sports fan, as part of a sports family and as a human being I want to live a life without regret.  We all have our moments…where we wish we had done things, said things, differently.  We can make amends and there are roads to reconciliation and redemption.  Thank God for that.  But wouldn’t it be better if we could just be better people?  If what spills out in our words and actions really reflect our heart wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t look and sound like self-centered, entitled, thoughtless, rude men and women?

I don’t mind telling you that I won’t be rooting for the Seahawks on Super Bowl Sunday.  In the same breath I can tell you that I also won’t be cheering on the Broncos either (I’m a Chiefs fan, and therefore diametrically opposed, you understand.)  Chances are, however, that as sports fans we’ll be checking in on the game, rating the commercials, and eating more than we should.  I’m going to keep Michael Sherman in my prayers and hope that he and all the other athletes on the field play their hearts out, take in and savor their moment in the national spotlight and finally, make good choices…because the whole world is watching (and I’m trying to raise sports fans.)

You have to learn the rules of the game.  And then you have to play better than anyone else.  –Albert Einstein

The Tribe Jayhawk

Still smiling, heart bursting, always a proud Jayhawk!

The Kansas Jayhawks lost the 2012 NCAA Championship game 67-59 on Monday night, but for so many the sting of defeat is already gone.  Maybe I’m speaking for myself, but I sense something different in the Jayhawk nation…something that I hope lasts for a really long time.  I’m talking about gratitude.  You see my alma mater has had a little problem in the past.  Believe it or not, people actually think KU fans are “arrogant” and “haughty”.  Some have even called us “snobby” (and these are the so-called nice comments from people I know and like–you can imagine some of the other names that get bounced around in less polite company!)

I’ll admit, we’ve been spoiled in the past.  Filled with expectations and on occasion, “hard” on our team.  However, this year fans watched, rallied and cheered on a team that was highly questionable compared to past teams and the season was initially dubbed a “rebuilding” year.  Nevertheless, the Jayhawk faithful rearranged their schedules to watch games, purchased additional cable/satellite packages to see them play on networks like ESPNU and donned their KU garb to support the team.  And something wonderful happened…we WON!  And we kept winning–games that polls, commentators, and basketball insiders said the Jayhawks couldn’t win.  That’s when the fun really started!  Around town, at work, in schools, and even before morning worship on Sundays, fans were talking about this unbelievable team.  We were bonding over the near heart attacks and close calls.  We were beaming at Thomas Robinson’s amazing season.  We were marveling at the transformed Jeff Withey who showed up to play this year (thank you Danny Manning and Andrea Hudy!)  We were developing an affection for Tyshawn Taylor during BOTH his ups and his downs.  KU fans were making room in their hearts for less familiar faces on the court–Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford, Kevin Young and many others.  Basketball fans were (re)discovering this team.  We were falling in love all over again with the Jayhawks…and isn’t that how love happens…when you least expect it!

The thing I have enjoyed the most has been the “love fest” we saw among fans during the NCAA tournament.  In some ways, the tournament was like undertaking a strenuous new exercise program.  There were heart bursting moments, heart attack inducing first halves, heart warming game finishes and ultimately a heartbreaking loss.  It was a real workout!  And post game, the sentiment that ran through everyone from the coach and players, to alumni and fans was true gratitude.  Coach Self gushed about his team and the love he has for each member.  The players spoke of each other like family (not just family, but a family that actually loves each other.)  Sports writers went on and on about how this season exceeded the expectations of so many.  And everybody talked about gratitude.  Gratitude for the effort the team put into the game, gratitude for the talent of the coach and coaching staff and gratitude for the overall “ride.”  This is not a “cinderella” story, the history of the KU basketball program is anything but that.  This is a story of finding $20 dollars in your pocket–you didn’t expect it, you don’t deserve it, you don’t know where it came from or why, but, man, isn’t it AWESOME?  What an amazing season…and just like that it’s all over.

Some people will read this and think I’m going over the top (and those who know me well, know that I’m known for such things.)  Still the whole experience reminds me of something I read once about tribal affiliation.  Many think that tribes are part of the past.  We’re civilized now, right?.  Advanced even.  Yet our thinking, our brain wiring retains some ties to ancient society  Years ago our survival depended upon being part of a tribe.  The tribe was our family.  It was a source of pride.  People were grateful for their tribe.  Nowadays, people equate tribes with regions of the country, brand loyalty, and of course, sport team affiliations.  Today’s tribalism is a source of social recognition, socialization and symbolism.  For myself, being a Jayhawk is not just about belonging to the tribe of my family (yes, we’re ALL Jayhawk fans!), but it’s a reminder of my personal opportunity to grow in education and life knowledge.  The time that I spent in Lawrence taught me so much about who I am and what I believe.  It prepared me for so many different experiences.  It opened doors and took me places that I couldn’t have imagined.  I’m part of the Tribe Jayhawk.  And so here’s where my personal gratitude to a school that I love comes full circle with the gratitude that I feel has infiltrated the hearts of so many Jayhawk basketball fans this season.

In this life, nothing is promised.  In the big scheme of things, college basketball (and sports in general) are like the wind—fleeting.  So when you have the opportunity to see gratitude (even if it’s in something as commonplace as sports), I hope that you’ll recognize it.  More than that I hope you make gratitude part of your every day life.  Nothing makes my heart sing like seeing those around me recognize the blessings in their lives–they are abundant if you just take a moment to look for them.

I don’t know what next’s year basketball season will be like.  Early reports show that the Jayhawks will have a good team.  I know that there are many fans who EXPECT the KU basketball team to be top-rated every year.  Regardless of early predictions, I hope that we will remember this season–and the spirit of gratitude that it brought with it!  A gratitude that made the Jayhawks a better team and the rest of us better fans.

Still smiling, heart bursting, always a proud and grateful Jayhawk!