The Words of the Jones Family

Sports and the World

Farley Jones
June 15, 1986

The First Annual Striders International Track and Field Clinic

The recognition of the relationship between religion and sports is not new. As religion touches something deep within the human psyche, so does sports. As religion can become the source of powerful identifications and associations, so can sports. Sports can become the focus of rivalries between cities, between regions, between nations, between races, and obviously between competing ideologies. Why is it that sports has such power? Why is it that a Mary Lou Retton or a Carl Lewis attracts such interest and fascination? Why is it that many of us tend to become so identified with our local teams, both amateur and professional?

Certainly it is the position of most of the great religious traditions, and even of some modern-day scientists, that the human being is composed of internal and external dimensions -- mind and body, or spirit and flesh. In our imperfect state, however, these two dimensions are often at war with each other. The mind moves in one direction and the body another. While this conflict is not limited to religious seekers, one of its classic expressions is that of St. Augustine, who in his autobiography reports of praying devoutly: "O Lord, make me chaste, but not yet."

One challenge of the individual life, then, is to find union between mind and body. And, however fleeting such an achievement might be, it seems to me that this union is exemplified in the harmony, beauty, and grace of sports. The athlete is the one whose body responds perfectly to the dictates of the mind and who thus brings harmony and union between mind and body. The triumphant athlete symbolizes the quest in all of us to achieve personal wholeness and harmony, and to be completely unified in challenging that which must be overcome if we are to be victorious in life. Therefore, the union of mind and body in the performance of the athlete can be a symbolic ideal for one's larger life.

Beyond the individual level, sports captures something for the community as well. Individuals are created not only for themselves, but primarily for others. Each of us is meant in some way to be a meaningful part of a larger group, to work with others in achieving worthy goals, and in this context to display our individual gifts. Through sports we find both release from individual isolation and communion with our fellow man.

The experience of human community is embodied in the well-functioning team, which represents an ideal that goes far beyond the realm of sports. In both individual and team sports, transcendent ideals of human existence are made manifest.

Sports thus has unique characteristics that both represent and lead to the building of a whole person and a healthy society. Challenging oneself leads to self-realization and fulfillment, and conquering oneself is the beginning of conquering life. Insofar as it fosters the development of mature and self-confident individuals, sports plays central role in the health of our society.

Think of the significance sports has had for race relations. A fulfilled and confident individual can relate as an equal to others. The burdens of self- doubt and inferiority that entrench inequalities between human beings can be removed, and the basis of true relationship between individuals of different classes, races, and nationalities can be established. Insofar as sports has enhanced equality, it has enhanced the world. Sports is not just a recreational activity, nor just an adjunct to schooling, but a fundamental ingredient in building a healthy society and world.

Sports is an ancient and noble undertaking, with meanings and effects extending far beyond the cinders of the track and the foam of the pit. Each of you is a bearer of this proud tradition, carrying with you its major responsibilities and potentially great rewards. As you carry this tradition forward, may the Creator of all athletes and of all sports guide you and bless your way. 

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