Last week, Colorado Rapids fans were shocked by the news. Team captain Sam Cronin and starting left back Marc Burch — waived and traded. Three games into the season. To the worst team in the league for two players, money, and an international spot. And so goes the typical script in professional sport.
Unless it’s a name that we are really familiar with. Or, a sport that we follow very closely, we usually don’t think about what these things mean. As a long-time chaplain in sport, and specifically with the Colorado Rapids, there is no end to the stories of unexpected trades and moves that happen. Athletes, coaches, staff — and their families are often affected by these things in ways we don’t imagine.
Pastoral colleague and friend, Rev Brad Strait, recently wrote about this experience of frayed community. I am not sure what your context is, perhaps the closest parallel is an unexpected firing and subsequent unemployment.
But imagine living in that tension? Well, it’s part of being in professional sport.
Certainly, but it’s a shadow side that we rarely consider. For some it is different. The multimillion dollar contract softens a change or transition. But not all sport carries that lucrative of an offer.
Imagine: you’ve got a no trade-clause in your contract, as a long-time veteran you’ve earned it. You just purchased a home. You’ve been looking at school options for your child whose just reached school age. Then you walk into work — no you haven’t lost your job. You’ve been totally uprooted. You have 2 days to report to a new organization. A new city. Wife and children left behind. Pack the house. Get on Zillow — look to sell, look to buy. Say goodbye to friends. Or, maybe a church. Our family. The local coffee shop where they knew you by name. Break things off with the person you’ve been dating. Start over. Try again. 11 years in the league and 6 different teams. 6 different cities. Broken leases. Broken hearts. Another fray to the patchwork of the heart.
But don’t take my word for it, this article by Meg Ryan of the Star Tribune, gives you a sense of how it feels.
For all the glories that we perceive in professional sports, most of us wouldn’t trade our comfort of stability and peace for the frayed community that happens frequently. At one time, sports fans bemoaned free-agency. The loss of familiar faces and loyal players, we’re not as sentimental nowadays. Free-agency means maybe my team can get the great athlete here. Insane contract offers means maybe we can entice the successful coach to come here and lead our team to success.
As chaplains, we are tasked with honoring and upholding that which is sacred. And in professional sport, what is sacred is the person. We would see a person whole, connected, flourishing. But often, we see the environment and world of sport leaving one feel frayed and disconnected from authentic community. Who will love me? Will I be accepted? Who can I trust? Who isn’t after me for my talent? For my money? For my fame? Who will accept me for who I am — who I really am behind this physique and veneer that always has to perform?
Much of our work as chaplains involves putting people back together again — restoring them. Taking the frayed community and piecing it, connecting it one strand, one thread at a time.