The role of humility on the playing field

JOHN GALLAGHER
SPORTS EDITOR

That highlight reel can’t load fast enough if you’re an athlete. The video buffers, and there you are: your team, your achievements, your best plays for the public to witness. Especially with Franciscan University’s increased media athletics coverage this year courtesy of the Baron Broadcast, our exploits are published by both article and video for the world to take notice.

Humility is often difficult to come by amongst athletes; a partially justifiable dose of pride seems to come with the job description.

The role of an athlete is unique in that we spend uncanny amounts of time representing Franciscan University both on and off the field of play, and not a single one of us was ever hired for the position. Our athletic achievements alone earn us a spot on the team bus, in the starting lineup, and at table for a post-match meal.

We earn a jersey based upon our ability to deliver. I far from dismiss the role of virtue and faith in the world of sports, but not a single Franciscan athlete earns a role on a roster for his or her faith. Playing time caters to talent, not ethics. And no one can convince me that a role based heavily upon production isn’t a dangerous one.

Thankfully, our university operates under a policy that no athlete, no matter the extent of his or her individual ability or athletic potential, will remain on a roster should he or she compromise the integrity of the team. Even so, we spend vast amounts in a position gifted to us on the basis of ability before demeanor.

I daresay that no other role on campus beside that of athlete is filled with so little a background examination. No other soul at Franciscan University is allowed to represent the faith without a rudimentary inspection by some established authority, to ensure that he or she has one.

For the sake of continuity, the disconnect between the expectancy to produce and the lack of faith assurance begs the hypothetical situation of an athlete interview. Were spots in a starting lineup to be granted only after an interview, how many of us, author included, would be left to fill the bench because of a lack of character?

Any job interviewer, indirectly or otherwise, tests the character of the individual he or she interviews. Perhaps thankfully, athletes often slide past this part of the process; to say the least, character is far from the determining factor in earning a jersey, Franciscan possibly as an exception.

It’s backwards. Athletics is backwards. Our playing time is based upon our ability to perform, not our ability to influence. We’re praised for our abilities to slide penalty kicks past the keeper, to serve untouchable serves, to break course records, to string championships together like in the long run they actually matter.

At the end of the day, even though we crack the starting lineup, it’s evangelization that takes the bench. It’s faith that plays second fiddle to forehands. I’m so thankful for the fact that Franciscan University gets this structure of faith before athletics, and yet so disappointed that we act often alone in this prioritization.

The next time you want to catch an athlete off-guard, ask him at what point during his last game did he realize he played for a cause greater than a Division III university. Ask him how he’d score his ability to spread the Gospel at his most recent victory or defeat. The pause which follows is the sound of faith sliding up the ladder of importance, to take its place between who we are and what we do.