Sports offer opportunities for us to grow as persons Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes

After summer sports end, grade school, high school, college, and professional sports offer us fresh opportunities to reflect upon values that athletics helps to foster, especially in youth.

Recently on a sports talk show, the host lamented that there is much negative publicity about professional and sometimes college athletes regarding ways they give bad examples. He added that we don't hear enough about the good things such athletes do such as helping those in need and being good role models to youth in other ways.

Athletes as good role models

I immediately thought of Gale Sayers, Chicago Bears Hall of Fame halfback, who tried to give good example to the young.

Roberto Clemente, Pittsburg Pirates Hall of Fame outfielder, was another of many good role models. In 1973, he died in the crash of a cargo plane carrying relief supplies to earthquake victims in Managua.

In 1947, Larry Doby was the first African-American to play for an American League baseball team. This took courage. When he batted for the first time for Cleveland, he was so nervous that he swung at three pitches and missed each by a foot. Discouraged, he walked to the dugout with his head down.

Joe Gordon, an outstanding hitter and fielder, batted next. Gordon had a high batting average against this particular pitcher. To everyone's surprise, he missed three pitches in a row by at least a foot. Dejected, he walked slowly to the bench and sat next to Larry Doby and put his head in his hands.

No one knows for sure if Joe Gordon struck out deliberately. But it seems likely that he did, because every time Larry Doby went out on the field from that day on, he picked up Joe Gordon's glove and tossed it to him. When I was a boy, I treasured my Joe Gordon baseball glove. I suspect Larry Doby had a Joe Gordon's glove, too, that he treasured.

Teaching the young

As sports fans, we have opportunities to be good sports and give good example to others. The way we coach or watch our favorite team play is one of the most visible ways our faith connects with life.

We can teach the young that sports can be enjoyable and provide opportunities for lifelong friendships. Athletic competition, carried out with sportsmanship and fair play, can help to foster loyalty, respect, and cooperation. Much depends upon the coaches, players, parents, and fans' values.

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, St. Paul says, "Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one."

Pope John Paul II ended his Jubilee 2000 homily on sports with this prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, help these athletes to be your friends and witnesses to your love. Help them to put the same effort into personal asceticism that they do into sports; help them to achieve a harmonious and cohesive unity of body and soul.

"May they be sound models to imitate for all who admire them. Help them always to be athletes of the spirit, to win your inestimable prize: an imperishable crown that lasts forever. Amen."

Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.