Pope Francis addressed members of the National Football League Hall of Fame on Wednesday, encouraging them to promote the values of sportsmen not only on the field but also within their communities.
“Teamwork, fair play and the pursuit of personal excellence are the values – in the religious sense, we can say virtues – that have guided your own commitment on the field,” said the Pope, meeting with the hall-of-famers on June 21.
“Yet these same values are urgently needed off the field, on all levels of our life as a community.”
He addressed the need for role models in the world, especially for youth, teaching them to live out their “God-given gifts and talents,” showing how to bring out the best in each person and leading the way to a better future.
“They are the values that help build a culture of encounter, in which we anticipate and meet the needs of our brothers and sisters, and combat the exaggerated individualism, indifference and injustice that hold us back from living as one human family.”
Established in 1963, the American Pro Football Hall of Fame is located in Canton, Ohio, the same city where the NFL was created about 40 years earlier. It contains 310 members, 7 of whom will be formally inducted in August.
Present at the group meeting with Pope Francis was Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, and six other hall of fame inductees: Chris Doleman, Franco Harris, Floyd Little, Ronnie Lott Curtis Martin, and Jim Taylor.
They presented him with a signed helmet and jersey with “Papa Francesco” written on the back.
In welcoming joke, the Pope noted his own love for soccer, which in much of the world is called “football.”
“I am an avid follower of ‘football’, but where I come from, the game is played very differently,” he said.
Pope Francis is a member of the Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro, located in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. The club, nicknamed the Saints of Boedo, was founded in 1908 by a group of young men, including a priest.
Being a fan of sports himself, the Pope has reflected on the virtues of sportsmanship before.
Last October, at a Vatican conference called “Sport at the Service of Humanity,” he said the values fostered by sports not only promote health and recreation, but also the ability to play on a team, and to humbly win or lose.
At the end of his address to the NFL Hall of Fame delegation, Pope Francis expressed hope that their visit to Rome will increase their gratitude for these gifts and enable them to share it with the rest of the world.