This question comes at an interesting time in the sports world.
In contact sports, there’s debate about what constitutes appropriate contact. Thus, as we better understand the long-term effects of injuries, such as football, there’s a desire to make the sport safer and control as much as possible the contact that occurs. Even in a non-contact sport such as baseball, there’s a debate about whether it’s appropriate for a batter to be intentionally hit, and if so, how far should players be allowed to police this aspect of the game themselves before the league gets involved.
In the course of competition, there are excesses to the competitive spirit that need to be properly controlled. Where that line is, though, is subject to debate.
In general, the Church sees the good of sports, as they help bring people and society together (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1882). When we’re young, among our first experiences working as a team is on a CYC or youth team. Such experience will lay the groundwork for us to work on team projects in school, the workplace and family life. Sports also bring us together for enjoyment and to discuss a favorite team or the recent big game. References to sports pepper our daily conversations. Further, sports help to build ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally with habits that affect our entire lives.
In these regards, it’s evident why the Church endorses and supports sports. But the Church doesn’t determine which sports are good and which are concerning. Instead, she asks us to help society in this ongoing conversation.
One area that needs discussion is the health of the athletes themselves. While the Church doesn’t say we need to absolutely protect our health, she does say we need to act responsibly to maintain it (CCC 2288-9). Which risks sports-wise, then, are responsible and which are not?
Next, we need to consider that what we expose ourselves to becomes our thoughts, our words and our actions. While nothing is wrong with the virtues listed that sports help to develop, we need to consider the effects morally. If we want to build up virtue in ourselves, what level of violence hinders that growth?
It’s a healthy conversation that the sports world and society are having about these issues. As Catholics, we’re encouraged to be good athletes and fans. Part of this is considering these questions and, in the light of faith, giving our thoughtful response to them. Competition will be shaped around these conversations, and how we treat athletes and ourselves as fans will be a reflection of our moral character.
Father Mayo is pastor of St. Raphael Parish in south St. Louis.