We serve college athletes – thousands of them. We walk with them, laugh with them, cry with them, challenge them, and help them know Jesus and His Church. It is one of the hardest and most enjoyable jobs I know of. College athletes are, for the most part, an amazing group of individuals. They are driven, motivated, talented, and resilient. And for the all the hype they sometimes get, many people forget this one important reality of college athletes: they also are human.
As our staff across the country are seeking to serve athletes at dozens of athletic departments, we realize the uniqueness of this time – the time of COVID19. With seasons canceled or postponed (while some are still waiting in the unknowns), we are there along side the athletes as they deal with their life being drastically altered. I want to share what we are seeing, because I want all of us to understand the suffering of these young men and women that likely hides in the shadows.
As in many things, there is a spectrum in the response from athletes. Some are relieved that the stress and pressure of their season has been remediated, at least temporarily. Some of these who are happy about the reprieve are finding other things to do with their newly given time. But many athletes are not in such a positive state.
For thousands of these athletes, their exists a dark challenge, a confusion, a despair. You see, for most of their life, they have been an amazing athlete. In a culture that loves, and in some ways worships, athletics, good athletes are heaped with praise. I remember this myself growing up. When good athletes accomplish good things on the field of play, we receive awards, pats on the back, applause, praise, articles in the paper, etc. We experience a type of validation when we achieve athletic success. As this validation continues, as it no doubt has for years for college athletes, it develops a sense of worth that is connected to these very same achievements. This develops to a thought, usually subconscious, that goes like this:
“I am worth something when I succeed at athletics; when I fail, I lose that worth.”
As athletes no longer have a field of play on which to compete, they now look down the tunnel of worth and begin to question theirs. They have, at least many, intertwined their life and their sport so closely that they are uncertain how to cope with the sport removed. Many of them aren’t even allowed to spend time with the rest of their team, furthering the struggle – the community they share life with, they bleed with, they laugh with has been blocked from them (lots of teams are practicing and living in pods to avoid outbreaks of COVID19). This is real suffering for these young athletes.
And yet the Lord, in His goodness, is always present amidst suffering. We have seen athletes join Bible studies to find some community, to look for hope in their suffering. We have also seen athletes step up and lead their teammates in this spiritual journey by starting their own Bible studies or rallying teammates to join one they are involved in. They have prayed with teammates, spent time processing this difficult time with them, and sought to bring hope. It is a powerful sight to see this type of leadership. Student-athletes across this country that love their teammates and want them to know the hope and joy that is Christ.
And so together, our missionaries and student-athletes are helping those in dark places to encounter the love of their Heavenly Father – to realize this worth they perceive from accomplishments has been ascribed to a false cause. They are working to help these athletes know that their worth comes from something that can never change: the fact that they are sons and daughters of God who loves them unconditionally.
I hope to invite you into this mission as well. Pray for our athletes across the country who are struggling. Pray that they can know their true worth and use all the Lord has given them for His greater glory.