Guidestar for Catholic Athletes

shutterstock_2120476The glamour of being a sports figure has always caused young men and women to become objects of adulation.  This combined with fame and wealth makes it difficult for them to resist sin.

The much needed support of family and friends breaks down during the season causing stress and sometimes aberrant behavior.  And, with all the media attention, athletes often find themselves seduced into believing that they are invincible and beyond moral constraints. The use of drugs in professional sports in order to perform well is indicative of the temptations that these people are subjected to.

It is easy to see how professional athletes can go astray – especially when the only activities available to alleviate these pressures are lap dances, night clubs, betting or drugs.

Such behavior is not new to professional sports. However, it exists to a much greater degree today.


To combat temptation, many sports teams in the past enlisted the aid of unofficial chaplains to be available for the players.  They also allowed religious services in the club house. The New York Met’s, for example, had a priest celebrate Mass for the Catholic players before the team played a Sunday game.

Role modeling by players and managers was also recognized to be vitally important.  Who can forget the great example of the late Dodger great Gil Hodges?  His example on the field and off, as well as his regular presence at Mass, in Brooklyn, inspired his team and the entire Borough. As a player and manager Gil’s Christian example was a guide for the team and for their youthful fans.  It acted as a deterrent to poor behavior.

Professional athletes involved in murders, domestic abuse, criminal conspiracies et. al. are not the kind of role models Americans want for the youth of today.

Almost fifty years ago, The Monkee’s sang in the lyrics to Mrs. Brown, “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?”  Perhaps today our plaintive cry should be “Where have you gone Gil Hodges?”

There is a group of Catholic athletes who want to fill the void  for young athletes left by Gil and others like him.

Ray McKenna, a Washington lawyer, created an organization to do just this. He formed theCatholic Athletes for Christ, (CAC) in 2006. Ray wanted Catholic athletes to have another choice other than self-indulgent behavior. He was interested in pros becoming more like Crispin than Caligula.

Specifically, he wanted to:

  • ·         To provide solid Catholic role models
  • ·         To work with the Church leadership and Catholic organizations
  • ·         To minister to Catholic athletes, coaches and staff
  • ·         To reverse the moral crisis in sports today
  • ·         To create a network of Catholic athletes, coaches and staff
  • ·         To organize sports conferences, pilgrimages, retreats and days of reflection

So McKenna set out to enlist the aid of prominent Catholic athletes for his cause. He began by approaching Lou Carnesecca the basketball coach of St. John’s University in New Jersey. He instantly became a board member.

Sal Bando, the All Star third baseman and captain of the World Champion Oakland Athletics, also became interested. Both became members of the organization’s Athletes Advisory Board.

Other board members are:

  • Mike Piazza, arguably the greatest catcher in major league baseball history
  • Mike Sweeney, a five time Major League Baseball All-Star who played for twelve years with the Kansas City Royals. He is the current board chairman.
  • Jeff Suppan, the board’s vice chairman, is a former Major League Baseball pitcher who, in 2006, helped lead the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Championship and was named Most Valuable Player of the National League Championship Series
  • Jack Del Rio currently the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos. He spent 11 years playing linebacker in the National Football League and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1994.
  • Craig Stammen, who currently pitches in the major leagues for the Washington Nationals.
  • David Eckstein, Major League Baseball infielder for 10 seasons and helped lead two teams to a world championship – the Anaheim Angels in 2002 and the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006.
  • Lauren Bauer, a member of the 2001 National Championship softball team.
  • Jack McKeon, former manager of the Florida Marlins, he led the team to a world championship in 2003.
  • Darrell Miller, the leader of Major League Baseball’s Urban Youth Academy, which is designed to re-energize baseball in the inner cities.
  • Alyson Habetz, the assistant head softball coach at the University of Alabama,
  • Chris Horn, former wide receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, and Carolina Panthers.
  • Terry Kennedy, a four-time all-star Major League Baseball catcher.
  • Vinny Rottino, a former Major League Baseball player.
  • Eddie Gaven, a professional MLS soccer player with the Columbus Crew.

All of these current and former professional athletes are deeply committed to the mission ofCAC. Male and female, young and old, regardless of the sport – they all share a devotion to the Catholic Faith.

Catholicism is not always welcome in the popular culture – and professional sports are a major part of the popular culture. The Catholic Church’s opposition to gay marriage and abortion is politically correct heresy – pun intended – especially among the media. Even though CAC takes no position on these issues the very fact it represents Catholicism is controversial in some quarters.

Athletes need positive role models to help reverse the moral crisis that exists in sports.

CAC works with athletes at all levels of sports in an effort to promote a Catholic sports culture.  It has, for example, established Chapter programs in many Catholic high schools in the United States. Its members are sometimes referred to as Catheletes.

CAC wants to help Catholic athletes to live their faith. By doing so maybe the nightly news ‘films at eleven’ will show more pro sports figures praying than perp walking, more acts of domestic compassion and less acts of domestic abuse.

Because Gil Hodges was so respected as a role model, he had the support of the entireCatholic community, in Brooklyn. For example, when he was in a batting slump, the priest asked everyone at Sunday Mass to pray for him.  The prayers worked, he got a hit that very afternoon.

Just imagine how much good can come from CAC!  Good example and prayers for Catholic athletes can go a long way for all of us.

image: Jeremy R. Smith Sr. /


Fr. Orsi is the Chaplain and Research Fellow at Ave Maria Law. He has has authored or co-authored four books and over 300 articles in more than 45 journals, magazines and newspapers. Michael P. Tremoglie has written for the Phila. Inquirer, Phila. Daily News, Phila. Bulletin, Washington Times, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others. His work has been featured on the Rush Limbaugh radio show and referenced in academic journals and during legislative hearings. He has been a frequent guest on radio and television including Bill Bennett's Morning in America and Fox News Special Report.

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