By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published August 7, 2008
The media has already focused their attention on the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China, that will take place during the next several weeks. These events will remind all of us of the significance and the almost universal enjoyment that people find in the world of sports. The 29th Olympiad represents the ongoing tradition that began in ancient Greece of the competition that brings together many of the world’s most accomplished athletes. People everywhere find such contests both entertaining as well as important for national identity and pride.
Local communities also find athletic competition equally important for neighborhoods and families. College, high school and grammar school sports programs are among the most important activities in which our youngsters participate. Sports programs provide opportunities for character development, for lessons in fair play, and just for community fun.
I love sports, and what I may lack in athletic talent, I try to make up for in enthusiasm. I enjoy participating in sports and watching sports on television, as do so many others in our nation and throughout the world.
Our local Catholic schools proudly and enthusiastically encourage our youngsters to participate in athletics, and I endorse those programs wholeheartedly. The sports programs provide a healthy release of youthful energy and impart important lessons of moral and spiritual development. Our schools have excellent programs in a wide range of sporting activities.
Sports, however, like so many other institutions have endured many public scandals and public embarrassments. From the use of performance-enhancing drugs, to crooked referees, to the scandalous behavior of some of the most prominent sports heroes and heroines, the athletic world has endured more than its share of public humiliation and shame. Some of the sports programs that involve our youngsters have witnessed overly aggressive parents, dishonesty among adult leadership and young athletes who mistakenly have believed that winning is even worth cheating or unsportsmanlike behavior.
Occasionally even in our Catholic schools, the sports program can exercise such pressure and loom so important that youngsters may be tempted to forget that in the end sports is about having fun and being engaged in an activity that is intended to be character-building and faith enriching. No school sports program is more important than the lessons of honesty, integrity and faith that they are intended to inspire in our youngsters.
All of our Catholic schools athletic activities should help our youngsters value their faith, their relationship with others and the dignity and importance of trying their best. The intensity of our sports program schedules should never make it impossible for our youngsters to attend Sunday Mass or other important family activities. Parents who are often willing to travel great distances or make incredible sacrifices to attend a sporting event in which their youngster competes should also be willing to make similar efforts to attend Mass with their children.
A very few youngsters who excel in high school or college athletics may find a career as a professional in a particular sport. Most of those who engage in these activities—even those with obvious and special talents and abilities—will follow other professions in life. What they take away from their enjoyment in school athletics, in addition to the joy of being a part of a team or a school program, will be the lessons of hard work, integrity, honesty, fair play and respect for others—and for those in Catholic schools, I am hopeful that the lessons of faith and spiritual strength that these programs must also seek to instill will be an enduring legacy.