Central Idea: Our Lord challenges us to find appropriate and life-giving ways to confront injustice and sin.
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.”
I think I am going to miss college football this year. There, I said it!
Almost seventy years ago, one of the best college football teams was the University of San Francisco Dons, a Catholic Jesuit institution. Nine future NFL players were on the squad, including three of them who would eventually end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They are the only college football team ever with that distinction. Even their PR person, a man by the name of Pete Rozelle, would change the face and, indeed, the prosperity of professional football. They were a force to be reckoned with. If you don’t remember that University ever having a football team, well, there is a reason for that.
After their final regular season game in 1951, finishing a perfect 9 and 0, the Dons headed home to Frisco from Los Angeles with spirits high. Over the course of the season they had outscored their opponents 338-86. They had achieved their goal of a perfect season and now they could sit back and await the fruits of all their hard work, a Bowl game, probably the Orange Bowl. Back in the day, there weren’t fifty different Bowl games. There was no Chick-Fil-A Bowl, nor Alamo Bowl, nor Papa Johns.com Bowl, nor the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl (a real name). There were only a couple, and only the elite needed to apply. So, expectations were high as the team pulled into the train station. But the proverbial rug was pulled out from underneath them. There were no adoring crowds, no pep bands, nothing. The fans had already heard the news. The Dons did not get a bowl bid. The “official” reason given was that their schedule was just too weak, which is somewhat ironic because many schools were afraid to play them because they were so good. The real reason they weren’t invited was much more ominous, much more revolting, much more appalling. Indeed, it was downright evil, pure and simple.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that ‘every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
The real reason the Dons were not asked is that they had two African-American players on their squad. It seems incomprehensible in 2020, but back in 1951, having black players was taboo, especially in the southern cities where the bowl games were played. So, the Dons were offered a brutal choice. They could play in a bowl game, if and only if, they left their black teammates at home. Think for a second what you would have thought if you were asked to do that. As one of the players said, “They insulted us by even suggesting it as a possibility.” The vote was unanimous: if they all of us cannot go, none of us will. A noble stance, no doubt. However, things were not that simple. In another brutal irony, that single team vote was the death sentence for football at the University of San Francisco. The revenues generated by a bowl game would have kept the program alive. Without it, the team was doomed. So, merely two days after finishing with a perfect season, the program shut down… forever. End of the program, end of football, end of story.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.
If he refuses to listen even to the church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Today’s gospel is about how we approach and confront evil and sin in our lives. And the Dons give us a great example of how to do that. Instead of taking the easy way, the wide and safe path, the team put their reputations and their futures on the line because, as we now know, it was simply wrong to do otherwise. In doing so, they called out an evil establishment, an establishment of hate, an establishment of injustice, an establishment of sin. Their story stands as a testimony of how ordinary men did an extraordinary thing and stood up against a discriminatory system. They did so even though it was costly to them. They did so at their own expense.
The call of the Scriptures is first of all to stand up for your beliefs, stand up for your principles, stand up against sin, injustice and hate. Second, find healthy and life-giving ways to confront evil. Lastly, trust in God’s justice to see you through.
Again, amen, I say to you,
if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
Twelve years ago, fifty-six years after that fateful vote, at halftime of the Fiesta Bowl, a group of grey old men trotted out to the center of the field and formed a circle. Some of them were so crippled that they sported walkers. The crowd in the stadium gave them a standing ovation. They were the surviving members of the 1951 University of San Francisco Football team. They were honored with a special ceremony over a half a century after they were snubbed, slighted and insulted.
They finally, triumphantly I might add, made it to their bowl game.