From a young age, sports have played a major role in my life. From playing soccer, basketball, and baseball growing up to watching ESPN every morning, it is safe to say I lived, ate, and breathed sports.
There is so much to sports than play and enjoyment. It is a chance to build a community and grow together, provide options for the poor and vulnerable, build solidarity, and even an opportunity to help us protect the environment.
The second Catholic social teaching is call to family, community, and participation. “Catholic Social Teaching argues that human beings are fulfilled in community and family” Sports help humans reach this fulfillment because they bring communities together and make families.
I was born in Boston, and it will always be home for me, even though I no longer live there. I’ve always known Boston to be a big sports city, but I never saw how much sports meant to the community until the events in the week immediately following the marathon bombing in 2013.
The first game in Boston after the bombing was a Bruins game. Normally at a professional game, someone comes to sing the national anthem. This time, there was a performer, but no music. The crowd sang the national anthem with the performer, and I remember people talking afterward about the effect it had. It not only showed a symbol of unity for the city of Boston as a community, but it also showed how we are united as a country to fight against the act of terrorism that had occurred just a few days earlier.
The most powerful response to the bombing occurred the Saturday after the bombing. The Red Sox had returned from a road trip, and David Ortiz was making his season debut. Ortiz is a beloved figure in Boston, and the speech he made that day, was one of the most powerful speeches I have ever heard, and still gives me chills every time I watch it.
That season, the Red Sox weren’t playing simply for a paycheck or the fans. They were playing for a city that needed help. For a city that was devastated by an extreme tragedy and needed something to help them cope with the trauma. After they won the World Series that year, they brought the trophy to the finish line at Boylston street and placed it on the finish line. That was a sign that sports had come to unite the city as a community to move on and recover from the bombing in April.
“The rich and the poor have equal dignity, for “the Lord is the maker of them all” (Prov 22:2).” This quote from paragraph 94 of Laudato Si helps explain the fourth Catholic Social Teaching, which is options for the poor and vulnerable. In sports, everyone has a fair chance. It doesn’t matter of you’re the rich kid living in a mansion, or the kid living in a one-bedroom apartment with a single parent. If you can play, you will make it onto the field or court.
In the NBA and the NFL, most of the college players that are drafted are not those who had everything. Rather, most of them are players who did not have a what would be considered a good life growing up. Many of these athletes lived in small apartments with a single parent who worked multiple jobs to make sure their children had the opportunity to play sports. Once these athletes make it to the professional league, they often praise their parents and say how thankful they are for them because they know they would not have made it without their parents.
Devin and Jason McCourty are twins who play for the New England Patriots. I went to the same catholic high school as them in New Jersey. They grew up with a single mom, who worked multiple jobs to make sure her boys stayed in school and had the equipment to play sports. Catholic schools are very large financial commitment. Devin and Jason could have easily gone to their local high school, but they probably would not have played football at Rutgers or made it to the NFL had they done so. Our high school is one of the best in New Jersey, and continually produces DI athletes. Devin and Jason’s mom knew St. Joe’s was the best place for them to succeed both academically, and athletically, so she sacrificed so her boys could achieve their dreams.
Catholic social teaching teaches that solidarity is about loving our neighbors locally, nationally, and internationally. When most people think of sports, they think of what they see on the court or the field. They don’t think about what athletes do when they are not playing their sport to benefit the community.
“Social problems must be addressed by community networks and not simply by the sum of individual good deeds (Laudato Si paragraph 219).” A huge problem today is childhood obesity. As of 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. A problem like this cannot be tackled by the deeds of a few people. It takes an effort from the community to make a difference. Children are more likely to be active when they see the athletes they look up to working hard and playing well on tv. With that said, the NFL has a campaign called NFL Play 60. With this campaign, NFL teams work with local communities, and the players from the team go to local communities and help the children get active.
Another area where you see athletes helping their neighbors in the community is after natural disasters. After Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017, the athletes for the various sports teams in the city could have gone and simply showed up to play, do their job, and go home, without much judgement from the community. What they did, however, was the exact opposite. Gerald Green is an NBA player who plays for the Houston Rockets, and is from the Houston area. When Hurricane Harvey hit, he went on social media asking if anyone would be willing to give him a boat so he could help people. He did not need to do this, but he did because he cares about his community and his neighbors.
J.J. Watt is another Houston sports star that immediately tried to help the community after Hurricane Harvey. Right after the hurricane, he set up an online fundraiser to raise money to repair more than 600 homes, more than 420 childcare centers and after-school programs, and to distribute more than 26 million meals. He raised $200,000 in the first two hours the fundraiser was open, and in the end, he raised $41.6 million.
As I have gotten older, I have come to know there is more to sports than the product on the field or court. The players aren’t simply playing for the fans paying to see them in person or those at home watching on tv. They are playing for the city, for those hit by tragedy, and to be good role models for young athletes. “Around these community actions, relationships develop or are recovered, and a new social fabric emerges (Laudato Si paragraph 232).” Athletes are a part of the community where they play as stated above. When a new player joins the team, there is excitement for what he or she will bring to the team, but he or she also becomes part of the community through charity events. The players interact with fans through various camps, school visits, visiting children in the hospital, etc. They will be judged by both by what they do on the field or court, and by what they do in the community, and this will have an impact on the community. New relationships will form, and old relationships will change based on the fans’ interactions with players. There will be a new social fabric that will hopefully benefit the community.
A big reason why I want to be a physical therapist is my love of sports. Since I couldn’t achieve my own athletic dreams, I wanted a career where I could hopefully help other athletes achieve their athletic dreams, but now I see there is more to sports than making it to the professional level. Professional athletes have a responsibility to make a difference in the community because there are so many people that look up to them. They need to be there for the community in times of need and make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in sports. As a physical therapist, my responsibility is not only helping my patients get back to their sport, but it also includes making sure they understand the responsibilities that come with being an athlete and are ready to carry them out. When I die, I want to say I made a difference in the life of my patients. To be able to say that, I will need to help them be men and women for and with others.
Created with images by Ben White - "untitled image" • RitaE - "background panorama sunset" • chelsea ferenando - "untitled image" • Tim Marshall - "untitled image" • NASA - "untitled image" • chrisreadingfoto - "team huddle togetherness" • Adrià Crehuet Cano - "untitled image"