Do We Bring our Faith to the Sport Field?


sportsI am sure you remember this song we all have sung so often at Mass:

“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord; We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.

“And we pray that all unity; May one day be restored.

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

I wonder: Will people always know we are Christians just by watching us?

Often, that indeed would be true. When we worship together, when we have fun together at events such as a parish picnics, when we celebrate together at weddings or mourn together at funerals. That’s some of our best stuff. Outsiders could walk away from those times and understand there is something special about Catholic people and the community we form.

Then, sadly, there are other times …

I have four children, and each of them participated in sports when they were younger. By my estimation, they played more than 1,500 games of soccer, basketball, volleyball, baseball and softball from kindergarten through eighth grade, and most of those were with parish sports teams. I saw most of those games as a coach, a father and a fan.

That means hundreds of times when a whole bunch of Catholic people were together in one place — and not always acting the way Christians ideally should act.

I’m ashamed to admit I occasionally didn’t exemplify the best in Christian behavior. But I’m just part of a big club and certainly not the exception to the rule.

If you have been involved in parish teams, then you know what I’m talking about.

Parents don’t always find satisfaction just in supporting their own kids. They’ve been known to complain openly about the play of the other team, complain incessantly to referees and about referees, even mutter unkind things about their own teams. Parents who coach often put winning above all other things; coaches often give most of the attention and playing time to the most talented young players.

At their worst, parents can be damaging in the way they embarrass others and themselves. Coaches can demolish a young person’s self-esteem.

One of our daughters was a dedicated basketball player who never missed a practice and always tried hard, even though she wasn’t one of the more accomplished players on the team. One Saturday my wife drove more than a half-hour to one of her games only to see her — one of just eight players on the team — play fewer than six minutes in a 32-minute game.

I have seen abhorrent antics from parents on the sidelines, often bad enough that the groups had to be separated to prevent something beyond embarrassing. Before long, boys and girls adopt their parents’ attitudes and behavior as they assume it must be right if their role models are acting that way.

Where is the love?

Seriously, we have more in common than such behavior would suggest. The boorish parents of Team A love their kids just as much as the screaming parents of Team B. Why can’t we recognize that we’re all just people supporting our children and hoping they do well?

Instead of shouting about some perceived (and inconsequential) injustice on the field of play, why can’t we support all the kids at play? We should recognize special talents on the other team and compliment those players. We should applaud when the other team does something well. We should show concern when any player — ours or theirs — is injured or fails in a way that causes her to hang her head in guilt or shame.

We should behave in a way that makes others see something special in all of us.

Remember the Golden Rule: Treat others as you want others to treat you. That’s not just something that we hear at Mass. It’s supposed to be a way of life — even at the soccer field.

And maybe, just maybe, someone will say, “Those Catholics sure do love each other.”


About Author

Mike Eisenbath has been married to Donna for 30 years; they have four adult children and two grandsons. He was an award-winning sportswriter for 23 years, including 18 at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch with duties that included covering the St. Louis Cardinals and Major League Baseball. Severe depression forced him out of that career. He continues to write, with a monthly column in the St. Louis Review and his website featuring reflections on topics such as his Catholic faith and mental illness. Mike is a frequent speaker and radio guest involving those subjects. Among his three books is Hence My Eyes Are Turned Toward You: Confronting Depression With Faith and the Prayer of Jehoshaphat.