November 8, 2013


Bullying in the NFL, and a rosary that meant everything

They are so often put on a pedestal by some people, though many of them would argue they are really no different than the rest of us.

It should come as no surprise that many share stories of long days and countless hours honing their God-given gifts, which has allowed them to achieve the success they have in life.

The world-class athletes we see excel on their respective stages are role models to some, but we think there’s an important question that is sometimes left out of the conversation when discussing these men and women: How do they live their lives away from the field, off the court or out of the limelight?

Some deeply personal stories have brought very different athletes to the front of sports pages—and websites, Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media—in recent days, and they offer poignant lessons that are worth sharing with our children, young people and all of society.

Could anyone have ever imagined incidents of alleged bullying in the National Football League (NFL)? If you did, it probably didn’t involve hulking linemen weighing more than 300 pounds, and standing well over 6-feet tall.

But that’s exactly what is being reported in Miami, where offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the team on Oct. 28 for unspecified reasons.

It was learned this week that teammate Richie Incognito, also an offensive lineman, had been allegedly bullying Martin for quite some time.

Media reports paint a picture of a profanity-laced voice mail, and racial slurs in text messages, among other things.

Incognito was suspended by the team on Nov. 3.

Other recent cases of bullying, including some through social media, have sadly led to some young people taking their own lives.

The message here should be simple: Bullying has become a big problem, and the NFL case and other recent examples that have made headlines should help all of us in society work together to address this issue—which affects young people and adults alike in all walks of life.

While he has not been bullied that we know of, professional tennis player Juan Martin del Potro made headlines in recent days, too.

Del Potro, a native of Argentina, and one of the world’s best at his craft, was robbed recently while signing an autograph in Paris outside a train station.

The robbers took his suitcase, which included his passport, money and other belongings.

But del Potro also lost one of his most prized possessions, a rosary blessed by Pope Francis when he met him in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on May 15 after the Holy Father’s weekly general audience.

“I carried my rosary everywhere,” said the 25-year-old del Potro. “That’s what matters most to me.”

In a feature recently published in The Telegraph, a British newspaper, columnist Simon Briggs shares an insight into del Potro’s priorities in life. Faith is at the top of the list.

The tennis player said speaking to Pope Francis, who like him is from Argentina, during his trip to Rome was special.

“It was a big moment for me, maybe the biggest moment of my life,” del Potro said. “I was able to speak to him about tennis and about his career. Everybody knows I am Catholic, and this was a fantastic opportunity to speak to him and hear what he is doing for the world.”

This from an athlete who has won several world class tennis tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 2009.

Del Potro admits there are challenges to life as a professional athlete, but his faith, he says, is at the root of everything.

“I go to church in Argentina and I try to keep it up during the tournaments. Sometimes it is difficult to find a church, and then there is the problem that people follow you everywhere. But I try to be close to one whenever I can,” he said.

“I am very Catholic. I am trying to be a good person every day, and do what my parents teach me when I was a kid. Some athletes can change because it’s not easy when you became famous too fast. The money, the pictures, the fans following you everywhere. You can have everything you want. There are different temptations every time, but you have to be calm with your focus and your work.”

When it comes to faith and athletics, del Potro is one of the athletes who is a role model.

—Mike Krokos

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