Religion and Basketball: The Unlikely Pair Making Change

Grace Manning ’21

Opinions Editor

Over the past few years, I, along with many Catholics of my generation, have struggled to find reasons to be proud of our religion. Our experience with Catholicism has involved scandal, abuses of power, crime, ostracization and often hate, which features prominently in the media and shapes our view of our faith. It makes it difficult to be confident in our beliefs and hopeful for the church, when our lives as young Catholics have been shaped by such events and actions. However, last week, something happened that seemed to me, for once, to be a step in the right direction in the church evolving and becoming true to its values. The Pope, an avid basketball fan, extended an invitation to five NBA players to come to the Vatican to discuss social justice, inequality and racial issues. While initially shocked by the invitation, Kyle Korver, Sterling Brown, Anthony Tolliver, Marco Belinelli and Jonathan Isaac all agreed to sit down with the Pope and converse on Black Lives Matter, systemic racism and economic imbalance. Pope Francis, a Jesuit, notoriously shifted the church’s stance from emphasizing religious teachings and condemnation of abortion to issues prominent and pressing today which include those of immigration and displacement, economic concerns and social inequality. Earlier this year, he announced his support for same-sex unions and for equal rights to be given to same-sex couples. While this seems to many to be obvious, it was a huge move for the Catholic church, which has historically refused to acknowledge same-sex couples as legitimate. Pope Francis has written his belief that racism is a “virus” that continues to plague the United States and the world, and he admits that he was disturbed by recent events in the states such as the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others. 

The NBA players, who are all union members and who participate in BLM protests, were moved by Pope Francis’ desire to learn about their personal experiences with racism and discrimination. According to a New York Times article on the meeting, Jonathan Isaac was provided a sense of acknowledgement that the issues he is fighting for are incredibly important. An admirer of the Pope’s devotion to his work and of his selflessness, Isaac understood that Pope Francis’ encouragement to keep fighting for social justice and reform was a meaningful one. 

Hearing of this event was a breath of fresh air when it comes to the Catholic church. It gave me hope that there can be members of the church in positions of power who understand the need to make great change, even if it means looking at themselves and at their positions in a critical light. Even if it means putting other things aside that were historically at the forefront of Catholic conservative concern, to turn to the people and to face issues that can benefit from the support of the institution. I have felt that the church doesn’t focus enough of its energy, resources and influence on facing contemporary challenges or on listening to the concerns of the population, but a gesture like this one from Pope Francis, makes a statement. Aside from the importance of the discussion itself, the action serves the greater purpose of telling the world that the Catholic church hears the concerns of the black population and that it is truly interested in finding ways to address them. Rather than keeping itself aloof and above the masses, the Pope is recognizing the significance of people standing up against injustice and I believe that he is saying, “we will stand with you”.

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