The intersection of intensively competitive sports and spirituality is sometimes an enigma. Please understand, this is coming from a person whose soulmate coached 33 years. Our oldest son played college football. To this day, his brother is a mathlete who plays with numbers with similar veracity. This is not about judgment but more about marveling at human behaviors and how we integrate them with our beliefs. With current Mennonite ties, a peace church like Quakers and Brethren, I’d have to say, I’m just trying to make sense of it all.
I do fully resonate with idea of “playing with heart.” One of my two sons mentioned above once had to be carried off the field on a stretcher because he simply would not stop trying, as they say, he was known to leave it all on the field.
During my undergrad, I went to school with OSU linebacker Chris Spielman. We had some classes together. Later, Bishop Judith Craig, of the West Ohio of the United Methodist Church, appointed me to serve as clergy at Trinity United Methodist Church in Marble Cliff. The Spielman family were members there. In the midst of his love’s Stefanie’s cancer treatments, Chris’ “heartful and never give up” attitude was inspiring to all around him and the public he touched. Never forgotten. Tough tackling that was hard for me to watch, it became an incredible asset when he taught a nation about how to support a person dealing with breast cancer.
Note: Even though the hard hits were tough for me, I still remember my son’s sack in the Harvard stadium. I surprised myself by intense clapping.
The same son who liked athletics played lacrosse. Known as a beautiful, indigenously-rooted free sport, I was challenged by the constant poking with the sticks and the very rigorous rough-housing. Immediate family shares the story of me walking out of the Detroit Central Catholic stands at halftime to the next-door peace garden at the Catholic church. Scioto Irish found me praying.
Lifeguarding 12-plus years, I was a swimmer. I was told I’d come out of the block with a burst and sprint to the lead. Then, I’d look under my armpit while taking a breath, notice my advance and predictably slow my pace for others to catch up. Every time. For the trophy seekers, that was an abomination, at times. I’ve found this role of “catcher-up of the people” or “disparity crusher” or “reconciliation seeker” as a deep part of my call. It moves me to tackle injustice and to play the living of this life with big heart moves. Join me on this field, please.
Gwyn Stetler is a community minister and executive director at Family Promise of Delaware County.