Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Phoenix

I've been having trouble finding the words to respond to everything that's been happening in our country and the world. This poem is what finally came out. Every day it feels like we're adding another layer of dirt on all of our values. I go from anger to fear to sadness and back but I do my best to try to always end up back at hope. 

The Phoenix
Did the phoenix rising from the ashes really need to burn?
Did we really need this mess to show what we still have to learn?
That our state is more divided than our states are united
That our past wrongs and our present both have yet to be righted
That the cracks that we’re now seeing started in the foundation
That it’s those who work to fill them who will strengthen our nation

Let our hearts be sewn together so that we may all believe
When they come for any one of us it’s all of us who bleed
They want us to build a wall but we were told, “Love thy neighbor”
Even if she has a different skin I don’t have to hate her
If your happiness is found in someone else’s misery
Then that’s when a a tear slips down the face of Lady Liberty

When it feels like all this madness will just tear you clean apart
Try to listen for the beat that comes from our collective heart
As this storm continues blowing we’re the ones who build shelter
We don’t have to look around because we’ll each be the helper
We will find our country’s greatness and make strength out of weakness

Know that ashes are just ashes and that we are the phoenix

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


I stood in the San Francisco airport on Sunday and listened to a man named Ahmed tell us about his nephew, Mustafa, who had been detained. Mustafa, originally from Yemen, has a green card and has lived in the United States for almost thirty years. Hours later Mustafa and Ahmed finally embraced outside of customs as throngs of people cheered.

I listened to a woman tell us that she was a Muslim and a proud American but that now she’s afraid that she can’t practice her religion out in the open. Then the surrounding crowd broke out in a spontaneous chant of “Yes, you can.”

I watched two little Muslim boys yell out, “Tell me what America looks like” and be engulfed by the response: “This is what America looks like.” You and your sister in her hijab and the Jewish man standing behind you and the little black boys holding the sign that says “Fighting for the soul of my country”—you are what America looks like.

A week earlier I stood outside San Francisco City Hall with thousands of people and listened to a woman speak about our rights. And when she mentioned that she was bisexual and transgender she was met with nothing but applause.

I watched the little black girl near me listen to that crowd of thousands, of mostly white faces, chant “Black Lives Matter.” Because her life matters.

I walked next to my brother, a 6’8 man in his bright pink shirt, and passed by another man holding a sign that said “Cut my salary and give it to her.” He wasn’t there accompanying a woman; he was just there to say that my value is equal to his.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next four years. I’m pretty afraid of what’s going to happen in the next week. But I know that if I stand up for you and you stand up for me there’s a chance that together we will make it through. And there’s a chance that maybe we can keep the heart of this country intact. Because it was that heart I saw when, after hours of being held and questioned and being made to feel like he wasn’t wanted in this country, Mustafa walked out of that airport to a thousand people chanting his name and welcoming him home.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Machine Team

Stanford Volleyball will be playing in our 20th Final Four this week. That’s a lot of years of great players coming through this program and you’ll hear all about some of them if you turn on ESPN Thursday night. You’ll hear about the four freshmen we put out in our starting lineup who all carry significant loads for us. You’ll hear about our 6’8 opposite who is the bane of every opposing outside hitter’s existence. You’ll definitely hear about our redshirt senior, Inky Ajanaku, who’s led this young team here. But I don’t want to tell you about them right now. I want to tell you about the Machine Team.

That’s the name we’ve given our “B team”—the players who play on the other side of the net in practice and who stand on the sideline in games. They’re the ones who our starters have to go up against every day and if they ever let up we stop getting better. They have to be a machine. I’ve always felt like you get the true measure of a person when you watch how they act when they step onto the other side of the court. “Strong leaders” can get quiet; “hard workers” can stop going for balls. But the reality is, if you can only be a good teammate on one side of the net then you aren’t actually a good teammate.

These kids we have are the BEST teammates. They come into practice every single day ready to get better. They’re mindful of what they’re working on and what their teammates are working on. They bring a genuine joy and excitement for learning and competing. They bring their A-game every time we play six-on-six and it forces our starters to do the same. We’ve improved dramatically over the course of this season and it has as much to do with them as anyone. The moment those players on the B-side lose motivation is the moment a team’s progress starts to stall. Practices start to drag and the joy goes out of the process. But they never lost the motivation and we never lost the joy.

Then, of course, there are the matches. The Machine Team is always ready for game day. They have chants and dances for every person and situation and they are 100% in it from the first whistle. In our regional final last weekend there were 6000 Wisconsin fans yelling for their team and I could still hear our bench cheering on their teammates.

There will be little kids all over the country watching this weekend, dreaming about their own future. They’ll want to grow up and hit like Inky or fly around the court like Morgan. And I hope they do. But I hope they also see the eight kids on our bench at any given time that are throwing a dance party on the sideline and I hope they want to be like them too—good teammates above all else. They don’t give out trophies for that, but if they did, I’d give every last one to the Machine Team.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Who Do You Want To Be?

This is an article originally written for USA Volleyball in 2013. I wrote it after watching kids across the country and the world and how they often treated each other. I wanted to address bullying not just in how it affects the victims but to describe the actual choice bullies are making about themselves. You can find the original article here:

Who do you want to be? 

No, really.  Stop.   Actually think about what kind of person you want to be.  What do you want to bring to the world?  What kind of impression do you want to leave on the people you’ve touched in your life? 

Maybe those feel like really deep questions but you’re answering them every day with everything you do and every interaction you have.  So it might be a good idea to think about what your answers are.  Because you can tell yourself you want to be the kind of person that makes the world better but that means absolutely nothing if it doesn’t come out in how you treat the people around you.

            When I say the people around you, I mean all of them.  It’s easy to be nice to people you like or those with authority over you or someone who’s higher up in the “social hierarchy”.  But you know what?  How you treat other people has nothing to do with who they are; it’s about who you are.  So when you laugh at the unpopular girl at school or ignore the awkward kid on your team, it says nothing about them and everything about you.  And it does not make you better than anyone else.  Bullying never makes you cool; it just makes you a jerk.

            Do you have any idea the power that you have?  Every day when you get up in the morning, you have the ability to make other people’s lives better.  With one word, one smile, you can brighten someone’s day and make the world a happier place.  But every time you make someone feel bad about themselves, every time you judge someone for being different from you, every time you make someone feel like they are alone in this world all you do is make the world a little bit darker.  So what do you want to do?  Do you want to go to bed at night knowing that you’re responsible for a little more love and light in the world or for a little more pain?  That’s the choice that you have every day and you will be remembered for that choice.

Thursday, October 6, 2016


There are a lot of people right now with a need to be heard. And I'm sure every one of them has a compelling reason for raising their voice. But when the noise is this great, nobody gets heard. Anybody can scream into the void; it takes real strength to sit quietly and listen even, and especially, when you don't agree. Let's practice that.

(Original Text)
What if you took today
And just listened?
         Listened to the anger and felt all the pain beneath it.
         Listened to the foolish and found something they could teach us.
         Listened to the wise ones and reflected but kept silent.
         Listened to the “other” and responded free from violence.
         Listened to your self and then searched your own views for flaws.
         Listened to those hurting and joined in to help a cause.
         Listened to the Earth and heard the wind skip through the trees.
         Listened to the rhythm that surrounds both you and me.
         Listened to the child who has not yet become hateful.
         Listened to your own breath and above all else were grateful.
What if you took today
And just listened?
How would what you heard
Change your tomorrow?

Friday, July 1, 2016


I’m not going to the Olympics.

This is the reality of our sport and the story you don’t see on TV—we have 25 players on our Women’s National Team and we can only send 12. We’ve all trained, all made sacrifices, all worked for years together knowing the whole time that there’s a chance we won’t see our names on that final roster. But knowing what we’re getting into doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. I think it probably always will.

In the week or so after I learned I wouldn’t be in Rio I was sad and I cried but more than anything else I felt lost. Adrift. Like I had been on a four-year long voyage and we were finally nearing our destination when someone told me—actually, you don’t need to go the rest of the way. After four years of focusing solely on navigating this path, it was just over. I had put my heart into this and I just didn’t know how to take it back out.

But at some point, as the days have gone by, I realized that I’m still me. Being an Olympian would’ve changed my life but it never had the power to change that. Who I am has already been defined, not by the rosters I’ve made or the medals hanging in my room, but by the way I tried to approach every day—ready to work, to learn, and to serve my team in any way I could.

I gave everything—everything—I had, in the pursuit of this dream.  And I say that not with bitterness but with conviction and with pride. I don’t regret one moment of it and I will not hang my head. Because dreaming big dreams, going all in and then falling just short doesn’t make you a failure. The failure lies in holding back and staying small.

So half of my teammates and I will watch from afar as our Olympic team goes after a medal in Rio. And I absolutely hope that they get it. This is my family. They represent everything that we’ve built and struggled for over the last four years. I love them, I wish them all the success and I will forever be grateful to be a part of Team USA.

And as for me—this isn’t where my story ends. This was just one chapter. One surreal, challenging, fantastic chapter. Now it’s time to write the next one.