A week ago on Sunday, as the divisional playoff game at Arrowhead was getting underway, my family gathered for Mass at my mom’s house. In her ninetieth year, she is weakening and because she has been unable to get to church, one of the few places she would leave home to go, we brought church to her. In attendance was my nephew’s family, including five little boys and a baby girl. I suspect they were a bit perturbed to be missing pre-game activities, yet they obediently participated in the Mass. When I asked if there was anything in particular they wanted to pray for, they bypassed their great-grandmother’s health conditions to pray for Chris Jones and others on the Chiefs’ injury list. Amidst the sea of red jerseys, I asked if we should also pray for the faithful fans of Houston who have never gotten to experience a Super Bowl and have been waiting through two franchises and five decades. They, of course, looked at me as if I was deranged. It was clear to them, that day, that the Chiefs are good guys and the Texans the wicked enemy. In their piety, it was Armageddon: God’s army of angels must defeat Satan’s evil forces that come to wreak havoc—we must send them back down to hell or Texas. Fortunately, it went the way mythical battles should: the good guys overcame adversity to claim victory; the forty-four-point flip is a conquest for the ages.
Once in a great while, a six-seed in the NFL playoffs—last slot available in the postseason—goes on a run of upset victories to make it to the conference championship game or even the Super Bowl. The 2019 Tennessee Titans are one of those rare teams as they beat each of this season’s four AFC division champions. It was an amazing season, in which Coach Mike Vrabel rallied players to grip a winning attitude, impressing critics who saw them rise from a 2-4 start and propelling team members to tremendous accomplishments on and off the field. We will remember these titans for a long time. When my little Chief fans/relatives learned that I presided at Mass with the Titans team in their Kansas City hotel this weekend, they wanted to disown me as traitor, only granting forgiveness after our hometown heroes triumphed again.
Remember the Titans, the movie starring Denzel Washington in 2000, portrayed another rarity that offers a strong message for us. As you may recall, the chief characters were football players for a southern high school that was being racially integrated fifty years ago. Student-athletes had to overcome tremendous adversity in dealing with stereotypic diversity between white privilege and black poverty. From their hard work, challenging coach, and reliance on each other, they found unity and an attitude reserved for champions. Overcoming imagined enemies in each other and recognizing that they had to conquer their own demons, they became mighty, mighty titans.
It’s a good image for us to take to heart as we honor the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend and attempt to tackle racial, social, and civil injustices; the Drum Major for Justice compels us to overcome prejudices and advance the rights of all citizens. From slavery to lynching to segregation to unjust incarcerations, history teaches us to unite our energies to enhance the content of our character and conquer bona fide enemies that cripple our society. Let us keep the dream alive as he, from another realm, continues to challenge us to overcome demons and establish true justice through right relationships with one another and with God.
Football is one enterprise that has helped our society claim numerous victories over racial injustice. It has helped us find unity, from teammates that work together for a common goal to fans that broaden perceptions and sometimes conquer personal prejudices. In this hundredth year of the NFL and golden anniversary of The Chiefs’ last Super Bowl appearance, we can follow the example of mighty titans, like Dr. King, and perform like champions that gain victory by creating a more just society.
As our Kansas City team has now brought home the Lamar Hunt Trophy and prepares to keep matriculating down the field to conquer Super Bowl LIV for Chiefs’ Kingdom, let us be unafraid to take on even greater challenges so that we may also establish God’s Kingdom of justice!