A winning combination: teamwork and good sportsmanship

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By Barb Arland-Fye
Editorial

Caitlin Clark and her teammates on the University of Iowa women’s basketball team experienced a heartbreaking loss April 7 in the NCAA Championship game in Cleveland but remain undefeated in invaluable life skills: teamwork and good sportsmanship. The Diocese of Des Moines, in a post on its website last year, identified teamwork and good sportsmanship as traits “that her Catholic alma maters — St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School and Dowling Catholic High School, both in West Des Moines — try to instill in all of their students.”

Teamwork and good sportsmanship are all the more essential for Clark, a phenomenal basketball player, as she deals with the immense pressure that a hero-worshipping public has placed on her. Hero worship can burden its recipients with unrealistic and unhealthy expectations. Pope Francis knows that experience. One year after his election to the papacy, he strenuously objected to being placed on a pedestal. “Depicting the pope as a kind of superman, a kind of star, seems to me offensive. The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps calmly and has friends like everyone else. A normal person” (The Guardian, March 5, 2014).

In the decade since then, Pope Francis has dealt with both attractors and detractors, keeping his eye focused on growing in his relationship with God, with other people and with all of creation. Clark would benefit from following his lead, if she is not already doing so.

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She is moving in the right direction, acknowledging and appreciating her relationships with others and her responsibility to serve as a role model for the young women who will follow. In a message posted on her Instagram account, she wrote: “Words cannot express my love for my teammates, coaches and fans and our university — Thanks for making my dreams come true…”

Muffet McGraw, retired head women’s basketball coach for the University of Notre Dame, described Clark, whom she tried to recruit, as “unselfish. Yes, she’s taken a lot of shots, but she also led the nation in assists last year, and I’m sure that she’s in the top five this year … She has the charisma and that leadership that allows people around her to thrive. That’s, I think, the thing that sets her apart. It’s not all about her” (OSV, April 7, 2024).

We live in a culture that easily turns on its heroes when they slip up, showing no mercy if they fall from the pedestal. For Catholics, however, mercy is a core value of our faith. At every Mass, we ask, “Lord have mercy” … “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” … “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.”

We need to redirect our penchant for hero worship and hero bashing toward appreciating the gifts and challenges of all of our sisters and brothers on this pilgrim journey on earth. A column that Jean Bormann, director of Development and Communications for L’Arche Clinton, wrote for L’Arche USA’s newsletter, Hope Signs, speaks beautifully to this point. L’Arche is “an inclusive community where people with and without disabilities share life and build friendships.” Bormann wrote, “One of the first things I learned in L’Arche is to look at others appreciating the gifts God gave them not the gifts we want them to have. This applies to all people, not just those with intellectual disabilities.”

Yes, let’s celebrate Caitlin Clark’s amazing gifts, along with the gifts of her teammates and coaches and congratulate them for the exciting ride on which they’ve taken us this year. Then, let us pray to see Christ in everyone we encounter and appreciate the gifts they have to offer. We will enhance our teamwork and good sportsmanship skills and draw closer to experiencing life as heaven on earth.

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor
arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org


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