"I sought among them for a man that might set up a hedge, and stand in the gap before me in favor of the land." Ezekiel 22:30

Monday, November 30, 2015

Virtual Vestibule: If Bishops Wore Stripes

Or Why You Should Respect Sports Officials


Originally posted on 7.31.15 at the Virtual Vestibule

Heckling the officials. It’s as synonymous with sports as popcorn; as inevitable as a game’s final score. For some fans, it’s almost a hobby.

As you begin reading this post, stop and think for a second: are you the sort of person who, when attending a sporting event, will heckle the officials over the calls he or she makes or doesn’t make?

Really think about it.

If you never say anything to the refs, great! Stop reflecting. Maybe you consider yourself the person who might yell about outrageously bad calls, but nothing else. Or maybe you engage in some “friendly bantering” during the course of a game. Maybe you throw out the relatively harmless “get your eyes checked” line or something similar. However, if you’re the person who yells at the refs about every little thing, well, I’m sure there’s a confession time near you.

Now, imagine if the next time you went to a Blues game you saw Archbishop Carlson down on the ice outfitted in a pair of skates, a striped shirt, and a whistle. Would that change your behavior? Imagine the next time you were down at Busch Stadium and saw your pastor dressed in black – not in his black clerics, but in the black uniform of an umpire. How would you respond after the inevitable missed call on strike three? Would it be any different?

Luckily, these are hypothetical situations and you don’t have to worry about transgressing against Canon 1373 at your next sporting event. This is not to say that sports officials are on the same level as a priest or bishop, but there is a lesson to be learned.

As Catholics, we have a duty to respect legitimate authority. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says:

“The duty of obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will.” (1900)

To be clear, the context of this section is in reference to civil authorities. Yet, the case could be made that an sports official has similar duties as a civil authority with respect to the particular game being played by enforcing the rules of game, ensuring fair play, etc. In a sense, “the game” with its rules and regulations becomes its own little “state,” the players, coaches, and fans are the “citizens,” and the officials, umpires, and referees act as the “government.”

Unfortunately, it seems that many people don’t respect sports officials like they do competent civil authority, or any other sorts of authority. Can you imagine parents yelling at their child’s teacher about bad grades in the same way they yell at officials for a bad call? (Hmmm… setting a good example and charity in sports… sounds like future blog post ideas.)

I would know. In addition to playing organized basketball from 5th grade through college, I’ve been reffing basketball since 2006. Just since the beginning of January 2015, I have officiated approximately 175 youth basketball games. While I don’t keep precise track, I know that a game without vocal complaints from parents or coaches is the exception, not the rule.

There are many reasons for the lack of respect, but let’s mention three:

  1. A game is just a game after all. A foul or a strike called by an official is not nearly the same as a citation from a police officer and you probably won’t complain to the cop the same way you complain to an official. That wouldn’t end well.
  2. Officials are human. Despite the training, education, and experience, we do make mistakes. Plus, a game requires lots of calls. The more calls, the more chances of error.
  3. Yes, it’s true – some officials are just bad. They might be inexperienced, not familiar with the sport, or have a personality incongruous with the activity. I’ve seen games get out of hand simply because an official does not have enough patience or backbone.

However, none of these reasons justify some of the poor behavior exhibited by many fans, parents, coaches, and players towards the officials at sporting events. This is especially true in youth sports.


The next time you attend a sporting event, imagine the man in stripes is a man of the cloth and respect him as such, even if he’s not very good. The refs are a legitimate authority, despite their poor eyesight. And after all, it is just a game.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Virtual Vestibule: The Stadium Encyclical You Haven't Heard About

Originally posted on 7.15.15 at the Virtual Vestibule 

The new encyclical, Laudato Si’, promulgated by Pope Francis has been heralded as a groundbreaking document. Others have lamented the fact that it was ever written. Having not read the entire thing word-for-word I cannot argue one way or another, and I don’t intend to, although in what I have read it clearly does address the need to protect the environment. In our American parlance we might say it advocates for “going green.” The proper reaction is to read it in light of the consistent teachings of the magisterium for centuries: that we are commanded to be good stewards of the earth.

One sentence that gets to the heart of the issue is from paragraph 222: 

“Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption.” 

That can sound lofty and far-fetched. It’s easy to think that these problems can be addressed through local, state, national, and even international policies. It can be challenging to follow this command in our daily lives. Furthermore, Laudato can also read like an article in National Geographic when it laments the lack of access to clean drinking water in many parts of the world, among other things. That is not a problem Americans typically face. So, how can we localize Laudato?

When talking about the protecting the environment and “going green” we don’t often think immediately of sporting events and their impact. Such conversations tend to focus on manufacturing and automobile use, two areas where undoubtedly some pollution does occur. However, one need only ponder the amount of electricity used during a single game at stadiums like Busch Stadium or the Scottrade Center to quickly realize that the sporting events held there have a large impact on the environment. Additionally, one might consider the waste generated, the fuel used by the fans to attend the game, and even the amount of water required for all the restrooms. And let’s not even talk about NASCAR racing.

This is not to say we should not have sporting events, that they’re not needed, or anything of the sort. In fact, it’s probably safe to say most professional leagues and franchises — if not all — realize the impact they have on the environment and have embraced their ability to make positive changes. No doubt you noticed on your last trip to a Cardinals game just how many recycling receptacles are around. These efforts when taken together are a good thing and should be continued.

Renderings of a proposed riverfront stadium in downtown St. Louis – via HOK
Yet, we also see in our St. Louis community an on-going and passionate debate (at least among sports fans) over whether or not to build a new billion-dollar stadium north of downtown. Much of the discussion boils down to two main points: how to pay for such a stadium, and whether or not building it will keep the Rams in St. Louis. It seems a foregone conclusion that the powers-that-be need and want a new stadium.

But why? We already have an existing stadium in the Edward Jones Done that is a mere twenty years old. Sure, it’s nice to see the computer renderings of a shiny new stadium on the riverfront with the potential to revitalize the immediate area. But at what cost? In his new encyclical, Pope Francis repeatedly laments the “throwaway culture” of our modern world. If not a “throwaway” mentality, what then is driving this desire for a new stadium? It’s not the need to accommodate more fans. It’s not for safety, or because the stadium is beyond repair; a twenty-year-old stadium cannot be so far outdated that the idea of renovation should be dismissed out of hand. Yet, that’s the impression. What does it say about us? Pope Francis may have an answer.
“A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment… Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things… and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures.” (222)
On the other hand, there may be good reasons for building a new stadium. You could reasonably make an argument in light of Laudato that the expense of heating and cooling a domed stadium and the potential harmful effects on the environment are enough to build a new, open-air stadium. That’s reasonable, though it seems to be a forgotten point in the debate.

At the very least, our community should be having a discussion about the merits of building a new stadium, especially now that we have the lens of Laudato Si’.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Two Important Updates

The months since I last posted here at A Man In the Gap have not been unproductive.

The first update to share is that I started blogging for the Virtual Vestibule, the official blog of the St. Louis Review and the Archdiocese of St. Louis. In fact, I have my own special section called "Heavenly Hoops" where I get to write about sports from a Catholic perspective. I'll be adding my recent "Hoops" posts to AMITG over the next couple weeks. That will help to bolster the "sports" section of this blog, which has been lacking over the past couple years.

The second update, well, it's soon to come. You'll have to stay tuned! More to come before the end of November.