March 6, 2008
Every once in a while someone stands up for a principle and the story makes the news. The Wall Street Journal once carried the story of Eli Herring from Utah’s Brigham Young University. In 1995, he was judged top senior offensive tackle. He was a sure thing for the first-round draft pick. But the 6-foot-8, 330-pound tackle walked away from a pro career with the Oakland Raiders. He turned down an annual six- or seven- figure salary. Instead, he chose to become a math teacher for $20,000 a year. The reason: the NFL plays on Sundays. Herring would not. Sunday belongs to the Lord.
His story made the national news precisely because his decision is so unusual. Sunday worship is rapidly being replaced by other activities. The culture of the Super Bowl has seeped into the Little League. In the last 25 years, sports leagues for young people have grown 400 percent. Not a week goes by without some game scheduled for a Sunday. Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day and Palm Sunday are no exceptions.
Sports play a positive function in the growth and development of the human person. Sports require discipline and concentration, preparation and long hours of practice. These help the individual to form those qualities that lead to success. When the young participate in sports, they grow in self-confidence. They experience a sense of belonging to a wider group. They learn good social skills
For many parents, sports have taken on a heightened importance. They want their children to have the best possible life they can. Sports have become one avenue for children to get recognition and perhaps pick up a college scholarship. Parents willingly get up early, drive long distances and sacrifice their own leisure time to make sure their children live up to the heavy demands of organized sports.
With the increased interest in sports, sports fields and arenas are in greater demand. Scheduling games on Sunday relieves some of the tension. But it does create a conflict. What do parents do who value attending church on Sunday and still want their children to be part of organized sports?
Parents who want their children to play sports are most concerned about preparing their children for life. This is a good thing. Yet, life itself includes freedom and choice. Scheduling games on Sundays can sometimes crowd out the time for the religious observance of Sunday. If children do not play sports on a Sunday, they may even forfeit their chance to play on a team. Recreation on Sundays has always been allowed by the Church as a proper way to enjoy the Lord’s Day. However, an overemphasis on sports, especially when it interferes with Sunday worship, diminishes the personal freedom first of the parents and then of their children.
Parents have an obligation to make their voices heard in town meetings, school offices, and recreation facilities. They need to speak up for the family. Families should have the space to fulfill needs other than sports. If parents simply hand over Sundays to coaches, they give up a good portion of their freedom and the freedom of the children to find meaning beyond this world and its rewards.
“When Sunday loses its fundamental meaning and becomes subordinate to a secular concept of "weekend" dominated by such things as entertainment and sport, people stay locked within a horizon so narrow that they can no longer see the heavens” (Pope John Paul II,
Ad Limina Address to the Bishops of Australia, March 26, 2004, n 3). The great Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, once said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." The question is, “What is the prize really worth winning?” When sports compete with Sunday worship, we lose a healthy environment for the development of the whole person.
This is the third in a series of four articles on “Reclaiming the Lord’s Day as Sacred.”