By Andrew Bagnard & Ben Donohoe
Charged with the responsibility of promoting the spiritual lives of a group of professional football players, the Rev. Fr. Stephen Barber, S.J., became the chaplain of the Los Angeles Rams this season.
Barber was first contacted by the Rams in July and was invited to the team’s training camp at the University of California, Irvine. Barber met with three of the team’s coaches and with the Director of Operations Kevin Demoff. At the end of the meeting, the Rams said they would like Barber to be the team’s Catholic Chaplain.
“I didn’t ask how they found me, but they did,” Barber said. “As soon as we met, it was like we were old friends.”
The night before home games, Barber visits the team’s hotel in Downtown Los Angeles where he celebrates Mass for the team and any other individuals invited by the Rams organization. On gameday, Barber prays with the team in the locker room and then joins the team on the sideline.
Barber said he has enjoyed his experience thus far. He said, “I’m meeting great people—coaches, the coaching staff, the trainers, all of the people in the organization.”
Barber has particularly noticed the vastness of an NFL organization. “You realize right away that it’s a huge, complicated business; and as you know, professional sports is first and always a business,” he said. Furthermore, Barber compared working in an NFL setting to starting at a new company and having to meet many new people.
Barber also recognized the large amount of workers needed at each NFL game. “It’s a great learning experience for me, for example, how many people are connected to just getting through a game,” he said. “Once you’re down in the middle of it you see how many people it takes to get a professional football game up and running. It’s amazing.”
Barber continues to familiarize himself with many of the players on the team. He said, “I’m the rookie. I’m the new guy. [The players are] very gracious and generous and open.”
Because many of the players have had to move from St. Louis to Los Angeles, Barber has communicated with some of the players about the changes they have had to endure. “Getting used to having your headquarters in Thousand Oaks, coming Downtown to play and getting used to the freeways [is]a lot to learn about Los Angeles,” Barber said.
Although Barber tries to communicate with the members of the organization as much as possible, he is limited to the amount of downtime he has with the players, for they are usually focused on their job.
“We don’t have a lot of casual time to just hang out,” Barber said. “They are [here]because they’re working. Even at the hotel, they’re going to meetings [and]talks.” Furthermore, Barber said the mass and the players’ spiritual rituals are all a part of their game preparation.
Barber said that sports are another way for athletes to profess their previously developed faith. “People of faith do a wide variety of things—some people are in politics, business or sports.” Barber views the starting point as faithful men or women who then choose to test the professional sports world.
“My good friend [placekicker]Greg Zuerlein grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, went to Catholic High School,” Barber said. “He was born and raised in the faith, so nothing about that changed when he became a professional athlete.”
Barber has integrated Ignatian spirituality into his role as chaplain. “I gave everyone at mass the Holy Card picture of St. Ignatius. On the back is the Prayer for Generosity, so that’s our team prayer now that we say at the conclusion of every Mass,” he said. “I’m slowly introducing them or reintroducing them to who St. Ignatius is, who the Jesuits are and why they’re important.”
Barber hopes to continue his role in the future. “I enjoy most the camaraderie and intensity of being involved with the team. I’m learning a lot about the professional sports that I had observed like anyone,” he said. “It’s a real privilege. I enjoy it and I’m meeting great people.”