The End of Athletics

Athletics are moving further and further from their true end: virtue and quality time with our children.

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One of the most iconic Hollywood movie scenes takes place on a farm in Iowa, namely, the Field of Dreams. In that scene, the final scene of the movie, the main character, Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, asks his father, John, to play catch. His father had been dead for years and now appears in the prime of his life. John returns to earth to play for the White Sox. Meanwhile, Ray finally gets to repair his strained relationship with his father. Death had only increased Ray and John’s pain. John had apparently squandered the time he had on earth as Ray says to his family, “I only saw him years later when he was worn down by life.”

As the Iowa sunset and music fade in the background, we see a father and son playing America’s game: baseball. We see a father and son spending quality time together, making up for the time that was lost. That movie scene has touched so many people, especially those men who never knew their fathers or perhaps had some falling out with them. We only have one life to live and one death to die. On our deathbed, we fathers will never regret spending too much time with our children. 

This is not the point of this article though. The point is that athletics are moving further and further from their true end: virtue and quality time with our children. One of my favorite things is throwing football passes to my son, Jude. My son doesn’t care that I cannot throw the ball like Aaron Rodgers; he only cares that I show up. 

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

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On October 29, 2000, Pope St. John Paul II preached a homily on the “Jubilee of Sports People.” He said, “Playing sports has become very important today, since it can encourage young people to develop important values such as loyalty, perseverance, friendship, sharing and solidarity.”

Later on, the pope issues a warning: “Every care must be taken to protect the human body from any attack on its integrity, from any exploitation and from any idolatry.”

Contrast Field of Dreams with another Hollywood movie: Blue Chips. In that movie, college basketball coach Pete Bell turns to a wealthy booster to attract the best talent through monetary gifts. Blue Chips debuted in 1994, and it is a foreshadowing of what is happening in athletics, especially college football. 

NIL, which refers to “name, image, and likeness,” now allows college athletes to make money off themselves. Players can be paid by various businesses thanks to the Supreme Court ruling NCAA v. Alston. Star college football players can now make millions. And backups can transfer to another program and make easily $100,000 to $200,000. So much for learning the virtue of patience. A college degree does not mean much anymore. Winning a championship with your teammates seems secondary as many of the top college players bolt for the NFL at first chance.

The integrity of athletics has also been compromised—and without penalty. Teams like the New England Patriots, Houston Astros, and now the University of Michigan football program can cheat and have few consequences. (These are the only ones who have been caught.) 

Furthermore, athletics is becoming more and more about money and the glorification of self rather than the cultivation of virtues. Tattooed NBA players look more like walking graffiti as they play one-on-one basketball versus a team sport reminiscent of the classic movie Hoosiers. And recently, Japanese baseball player Shohei Ohtani signed a $700 million baseball contract for ten years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the most lucrative sports deal ever. 

In addition to greed, athletics is also becoming more and more about promoting woke ideas. Who would have thought that a biological man could win an NCAA women’s swimming championship event? Who would have thought that the team Vince Lombardi coached for, the Green Bay Packers, would give money to Planned Parenthood? Who would have thought that various NBA and NFL players would refuse to stand for the American Flag? Professional athletics are clearly a reflection of our pagan society. 

Today, the image of a father and son playing catch has been replaced with another. Instead of dads playing catch with their children, it is fathers watching hours upon hours of sports and scrolling through articles. It involves fathers and mothers shuffling their children around frantically to practices and sports games. Family meals are rare in many homes. 

Unfortunately, many families choose their Mass time based on their child’s athletic event rather than vice versa. The Lord’s Day is no longer a day of rest for many Catholics but a day of “watching professional sports and watching their kids play sports.” In many homes, Sunday is focused on the adoration of the pigskin god rather than the adoration of the Eucharistic God. Fathers have become their children’s agents, perhaps looking for a return on their investment…even seeking fame through their children.  Unfortunately, many families choose their Mass time based on their child’s athletic event rather than vice versa. Tweet This

If Catholic parents put the same energy into raising a saint as secular parents do in raising a professional athlete, we would have an abundance of saints. Having spent over three years of my life researching and writing on over one hundred Parents of the Saints, I found seven hallmarks of these parents: Sacramental Life, Sacrificial Love, Surrender, Suffering, Simplicity, Solitude, and the Sacredness of Life. I found little to nothing about how these devout parents took their children to endless sporting events. The closest thing I found was John Paul II and his father playing soccer together. These holy parents were more concerned with their children’s interior life than their athletic life.

Don’t get me wrong, watching sports and having your children play athletics can be a great form of recreation, if it is done with moderation and if it does not compromise the Lord’s Day and your family’s “real quality time.” Some Catholic professional athletes are even using their platform to spread the Faith, which is beautiful. 

Still, Catholic parents have a far greater chance of raising a saint than a professional athlete, but often the latter seems more important. Fathers, grab your baseball glove and play catch with your son. Grab your fishing rod and go fishing with your daughter, as St. Louis Martin and St. Thérèse would. Spend time with your children, but do not watch them chase your athletic dreams as you seek to live vicariously through them. Do not waste too much energy on things that do not last or seem to disappoint. For the end of athletics was never about money or Marxist values, it was about fostering virtue and playing for the love of the game.


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