GUEST COLUMN: Transforming athletes into something greater

The following is adapted from a Sept. 2 talk by Linda Del Rio at a Vatican seminar organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture: “Sports at the Service of Humanity.” Del Rio spoke to the group of international delegates during a session titled “Overcoming the Throwaway Culture to Promote the Culture of Encounter and Fraternity.”

When a sportsman’s career is in its final stages, our society tends to move away from athletes as their physical abilities naturally diminish. This throwaway society results in the sportsman losing his or her feelings of self-worth and humanity. When the adoration of their skills and celebrity are gone, privately and publicly, the enterprise and corporate-driven endorsements motivated by egoism and self-interest are also gone. The sportsman is tossed aside. Pope Francis cited dangers in a “throwaway culture” as an intrinsic evil.

At the international economic seminar in July (“Towards a More Inclusive Economy, July 12), His Holiness used the example of wine being transformed into brandy as it passes through an organizational still. He stated: “It is no longer wine, it is something else: perhaps more useful, more specialized, but it’s not wine!” Maybe this is our answer, the athlete transforms into something or someone greater to society. We as educators, sport leaders, pastoral directors and organizations, should educate, and change our academic programs by adding majors in coaching and leadership for the future of the phenomenal platform of sport. Sport teams globally have the availability to sustain future goals for athletes, and the resources to educate and prepare athletes and their families for the end of the first phase of the “winemaking.”

Before any ball is kicked off, first baseball pitch thrown from the pitcher’s mound, basketball tipped off, or a hockey face off, the playing field is level. In the spiritual realm, there are no home field advantages, for in sports, as in life, we find the ground leveled through our faith. It is important for athletes to set their sights on heaven where Christ sits in the place of honor, not on the World Cup or Super Bowl. And when their life is revealed, they share in all the real glory. Today’s athletes—even with all the super-smartphones, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and media at the speed of light—they need, and actually are hungry for, a straight forward encounter with God.

I’ve been in the sport world in different capacities for 34 years: speaking with young athletes on campuses; married 30 years to my husband Jack, a former professional football player and now coach on the Denver Broncos’ football team; our son Luke is a quarterback at Oregon State, and our three daughters played at a high level in high school. I witness the easy entrapment of the invincible persona that engulfs players when all is going well. The public views you differently and have a nonrealistic view of your life. This worldview does not embrace that we are servants to the same God. Our joys and sufferings are the same, but magnified in the public eye.

Jack and Linda Del Rio, center, with Varsity Catholic missionaries in New York, when traveling with the Denver Broncos to the Feb. 2, 2014 Super Bowl.

We are losing the ability to contemplate and listen to creation, the way God intended us to through his love for all of us: where we are and exactly who we are. We should never lose, as Pope Benedict called it, the “rhythm of the love story of God with man.” We can agree that athletes should live in wide open spaces of grace, and not fear a dark society that believes death is not a part of eternal life. Let us continue to fight the good fight of this throwaway society.

Linda Del Rio serves as global ambassador for Fellowship of Catholic University Students ( and executive consultant to Varsity Catholic ( She is married to Denver Broncos’ defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Follow Linda Del Rio on Twitter @magnifi28.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash