One of the first big decisions for Stanford after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, was whether to proceed with the weekend's scheduled football game. Sports are a vehicle for testing our ethical principles. They often act as placeholders for larger contests.
The person called upon to stand on the 50-yard line and provide two minutes of inspiration at that game was Joanne Sanders, an associate dean for religious life and an Episcopal priest. She also occasionally gets called upon to bless Cardinal boats. She worked as a chaplain for the San Jose CyberRays and the 2002 Winter Olympics, and teaches a class on Sports and Spirituality, a project initiated with Jim Thompson.
If stadiums have been called modern-day cathedrals, the comparison does not sit well with Sanders. It's one thing for an athlete to get into a quasi-mystical zone. Dweck says it has to do with mindset; others might call it a form of spirituality.
But sports can also veer off into what Sanders calls "muscular Christianity." Most obviously in football, but also in other sports (including at the Olympics), evangelical Protestantism can be a problem, and some Stanford coaches have called upon Sanders and her colleagues for advice.
"We've created a monster with sports, and this is where I get ambivalent," said the former tennis coach. "I vacillate between love and hate. There's so much hero worship. In some ways, sports has gotten off the track."
But if hero worship is not a good thing, that doesn't mean there aren't the occasional heroes. For over a century, Stanford has been home to some of them, and that has always provided an inspiration to its scholars. At the 1908 Games in London, Sam Bellah and John Miller became the university's first Olympians. Bellah placed sixth in the pole-vault, and four years later, at the 1912 Games in Stockholm, he placed seventh. Go Cardinal, keep going.