Welcome to “Athlos” a weekly blog which examines pillars of personal excellence and regularly brings together the worlds of Christian spirituality and sport.
“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives or your rich neighbours; if you do they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…”-Luke 14:12-13
Thank you, James McClean. Hardly a popular name in global football, my appreciation for this Republic of Ireland player is already significant as he brought into the public domain, the fact that he has autism. Also known under the broader name, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), autism describes the broad range of characteristics that may include development delays, reduced social skills or non-verbal communication.
McClean’s decision to take a closer look at himself took root in the fact that his own daughter was on the spectrum. As reported by BBC Sport and CNN, he noticed similarities between his traits and that of his daughter. He visited the relevant professionals and confirmed his own status as having ASD. As World Autism Awareness Day approaches on April 2, he saw it as opportune to share his journey.
Here’s the thing. This man is a national footballer for his country. To represent your nation in the world’s most popular sport is no easy achievement. Hundreds of thousands of boys, girls, men and women play this sport globally, but only the very best get chosen for national duty. So let me emphasize what we are seeing: someone with autism has achieved success in elite sport. This is courageous and inspiring.
It is a human tendency to label others. We often attach names like diabetic, schizophrenic or autistic. Yet, is a person to be defined by one quality or characteristic? Someone with bipolar disorder, for instance, may be loving, generous, kind, intelligent, friendly and compassionate. Why single out their mental condition as if that is the sum total of the entire individual? We have work to do.
It is therefore not surprising that Jesus in Luke 14 above welcomed those whom society typically labeled as unworthy or deficient. He had a habit of loving the outcasts and the marginalized regularly offering them grace, hospitality and benevolence. We would do well to imitate him.
There is an inherent beauty in accepting and embracing those who society perceives as less valuable.
If you were inspired by this blog, please consider sharing it with one other person today. To learn more about these and other related themes that promote the cultivation of an integrated inner self, read UNBEATABLE! which is available on Amazon in print and as an e-book.