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Many religious teachings advocate the lessons, and even the blessings, that can come from adversity. So it was that, in the shadow of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro during the Olympic Summer Games, I experienced an epiphany. Somewhere in Olympic Park, between passing Andy Murray near the tennis venue and walking into the gymnastics venue for the women’s team final, my iPhone was, shall we say, “separated” from me. Whether this was an act of mischief or an act of negligence remains unknown, though since Murray was the last person I spotted when my iPhone was still in my possession, he is at least a person of interest.

There I was at one of the most high-profile sporting events in the world, about to watch one of the most dominant performances in the history of Olympic gymnastics competition, and I had nothing to do but sit and watch.

It was glorious. Without the compulsion to try to snap a signature photo, without the urge to capture a winning moment on video, without feeling the need to tweet about how flawless the U.S. team was, and without announcing that I was at the event to a world that didn’t really care, I was absorbed by the competition. In other words, I was totally present.

Several days later, I applied my new Zen approach to sports-watching at the most anticipated event of the Olympics. Usain Bolt would be running the last individual race of his Olympic career, and it would take only 9.8 seconds. I was able to give it 100 percent of my attention. I wanted to absorb every tenth of a second, and import into my memory bank both the exhilarating atmosphere and every visual image, both tight-focused and panoramic. There would be many professionally shot videos and photos of Bolt’s performance available.  For me to be even marginally distracted by taking photos myself would diminish the value of being there. 

My theory was apparently not shared by the overwhelming majority of my fellow spectators, as every digital device in the place was raised when Bolt took his place in the blocks. However, I have an indelible image of that race. I can picture, without resorting to photos, where the eight competitors were at any given moment of those 9.8 seconds, and the hair-raising moment when Bolt hit full throttle.

I am not advocating against a few still shots and videos to capture the mood and scenery, which in the future might help transport you back to the event. But I am saying we shouldn’t let our mobile devices prevent us from fully appreciating the event live.

In a previous era, it was impractical, if not impossible, to take 200 photos of any particular event. What is it about our current culture that compels us to try to document every moment of our lives and share it in real time with 1,000 of our closest friends? Whatever it is, it does not compare with the thrill of being totally focused on the moment.

Part three of my spiritual metamorphosis took place in another noted religious shrine, Wrigley Field, during the World Series. Did the fans in Chicago really think they might get rare footage akin to Babe Ruth calling his shot in 1932? This is 2016, and everything in the place was being filmed by multiple professional cameras. The signature moments of the World Series—such as Rajai Davis’ and David Ross’ home runs in Game 7 in Cleveland—are available on YouTube for posterity. Being in Wrigley Field for a World Series game is an opportunity that comes around every 71 years. Soak it in! And, to my delight, a surprising percentage of the crowd did just that.

Accordingly, there is no need for me to lament the loss of my old iPhone and invoke an old movie title to “blame it on Rio.” Instead I’ll say this: Thank you, Rio. Thank you for forcing me to rediscover the beauty of keeping my iPhone in my now-more-secure pocket at a sporting event and completely absorbing the action through the lenses of my own eyes.


Bob Latham is a partner at the law firm Jackson Walker, L.L.P., and a World Rugby board member. A compilation of his best columns titled “Winners & Losers: Rants, Riffs and Reflections on the World of Sports,” is available for purchase at amazon.com.