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Sports — do the right thing

Catholics should model, promote sportsmanship and fair play

“We want the rules to benefit our players and for the officials to always make the call in our favor.”

That statement from Solomon Alexander of the sportsmanship program of the St. Louis Sports Foundation came in an item he wrote nearly a year ago on adults who condone lying, cheating and stealing to secure a win for their team. Sportsmanship, civility, fair play, integrity and responsibility appear to be out the door.

Not quite, though. It’s the exceptions that make the news. It’s very disturbing to learn of the latest scandal with Major League Baseball. At least one team, maybe more, used technology to spy, steal and relay the pitch-selection signs of opposing catchers. Hitters then could prepare for a fastball vs. an off-speed pitch, making it much likelier to make hard contact.

We hope we would make the right moral choices if we were in pro sports. But as spectators, participants and parents who have children in amateur sports, there’s still opportunities to do the right thing. We bring our Catholic values to the field or court. The archdiocese’s Catholic Youth Apostolate CYC sports program, in fact, builds its efforts around three core values: faith, sportsmanship and service.

The CYC looks for random acts of sportsmanship to recognize, letting people know that the acts are noticed and that they appreciate the way they treat others with respect. Parents and coaches are expected to create a positive atmosphere for all athletes, officials, volunteers and other parents.

But we know that the proper respect and courtesy does not extend in all amateur games. It’s difficult for some, but keeping calm is the right option. We must respect officials and their authority during games. We should never confront or question coaches at the game. Booing and taunting are out. Refusing to shake hands or using profane language or gestures has no place in the game.

Also important is to teach children to play by the rules, deal calmly with conflicts and treat other players, coaches, officials and spectators with respect.

Our outlook doesn’t stop when we attend professional sporting events. There’s no room there either for bad behavior, especially when children are around. Even when an umpire makes a crucial call against our team, à la Don Denkinger in the 1985 World Series, we have to keep it in perspective. Similar missed calls happened before and after that, just not in key spots. And today it’s likely a video review would overturn it. That call aside, Denkinger was known overall as good at his craft — and it’s past time to let go.

In an address to a group from the Italian Gymnastics Federation in September, Pope Francis said sports should promote friendship, cultivate values and build confidence. He warned against an overly competitive spirit and violent attitudes. “Leaders and athletes animated by Christian faith can bear witness to the humanizing power of the Gospel even in sports environment and thus contribute to building a more fraternal society,” he said.

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