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Local prep athletes, remember the Pope’s words

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September, 2013

The end of August and beginning of September means the fall sports season — particularly the high school football season — is here.
The lessons that sports can teach apply across all types of competition, including all of Ohio’s high school fall sports. Cross country can teach endurance and fortitude, golf can teach patience, tennis can teach focus, volleyball, soccer & field hockey can teach teamwork.  Football can teach all the same lessons, but for good or ill, it is the one played under the brightest lights and before the largest crowds.

High school football in this archdiocese far outdraws any other sport in fans and media attention, meaning that our Catholic school football players have the greatest opportunity to witness to their faith as athletes. While we’re known in the GCL and elsewhere for our successful teams, a message Pope Francis delivered recently to the Italian and Argentine soccer teams can speak to all athletes. It needs to be about more than winning.

“This is a social responsibility. Let me explain,” the Pope said. “In the game, when you are on the field, you find beauty, generosity, camaraderie. If a game is missing this, it loses its might, even if the team wins.”

The Pit at Elder will hold more than 10,000 fans on a given Friday night. Catholic Central’s Hallinean Field might have a smaller crowd. Whether you’re playing in the Crosstown Showdown, at home or on the road, the opposing teams will be looking at you, as a Catholic athlete, with the same scrutiny.

They may ask, “Do those Catholics play the game with beauty, generosity and camaraderie?” By doing so, you will live up to the Pope’s call of social responsibility for athletes.

The pope also went on to remind athletes that everyone from the biggest star on the team, to the role players on the bench, is a human being first.

“Before being champions, you are men, human beings with your talents and your defects, heart and ideas, aspirations and problems,” Pope Francis said. “Even if you are stars, remain men both in your sport and in your life.”

Sometimes a star athlete may begin to feel bigger than the team. Sometimes a player riding the bench may begin to question his worth. Pope Francis though asks athletes to remember their nature as human beings, created in the image and likeness of God.

Finally, the pope asked athletes to be aware of the role they play. All athletes of course, from the runner at a lightly attended race, to the quarterback playing for state, have an opportunity to witness to the faith.

“Be aware of this and set an example of loyalty, respect and altruism,” Pope Francis said. “I have confidence in all the good you can do among the young.”

The pope was speaking to professional soccer players on the world stage, but to many of the young people in our archdiocese — those in grade school and junior high — the varsity football team’s audience can look just as big. The young men at Bishop Leibold, for example, may dream of playing for the Alter Knights just as much as young Argentines dream of playing for the World Cup.

Catholic high school athletes — football players specifically — remember you’re out there with a chance to win more than just a perishable crown. You have a chance to be a real force for good among the young.

So before kickoff on Fridays, or before the starting gun, first tee, starting whistle, etc., take a moment and remember Pope Francis’ words.

“You have a chance to be a real force for good among the young. “

Previous Wrestle & Prevail columns

Perfection is Possible, but not on our own
Dreams of a father: My hope for my soon to be born son
Remembering our biggest fans — Mom and Dad
No words can fix what happened in Boston, only God’s love
How I spent my Super Bowl Sunday
Proper understanding of sports can lead to stronger faith

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