FTP producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., is a Holy Cross priest, production consultant, filmmaker and film buff. But there's more.
He was a competitive swimmr at the University of Notre Dame, earning both All Big East athletic and academic honors.
He currently serves as one of the two Los Angeles Dodgers chaplains and also celebrates Mass with some of the visiting NFL teams in Los Angeles to play the Rams or Chargers.
Father Vince's dream is to eventually chaplain the Olympic Games.
With the Super Bowl coming up this Sunday, between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles, I decided to get his perspective on faith and football. -- Ed.
Who are you rooting for in the Super Bowl?
I'm rooting for the Chiefs. Even though I have more friends who root for the Philly Eagles, I'm still a Midwesterner at heart.
How long you've been doing Masses for teams, and which teams have you done them for?
I believe my first request to celebrate Mass was for the Buffalo Bills in 2015. That was only a year after saying Mass for the Los Angeles Dodgers on a rotational basis.
If one does a capable job, word passes between the sports, and it's a "we'll call you" situation.
Additionally, I worked with the two Los Angeles teams (Rams, Chargers), Chiefs, Las Vegas Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts.
My dream come true would be to eventually preside at a Mass for the Chicago Bears.
What's your impression of how important faith is to NFL players?
I would say faith is very important to NFL players.
Christianity, in particular, requires a personal sacrifice for the greater team. The same is true in football, more so than in the three other major American team sports of baseball, basketball and hockey.
There's not much one player can do on his own on any given play without the help of teammates.
As one of the most violent sports, too, players have to make their peace with God. NFL players are the modern-day gladiators: major injuries are sometimes life-altering and potentially lethal.
The explosion of prayer after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin's on-field cardiac arrest during Monday Night Football caught the media by surprise. As someone who's interacted with NFL players in a faith context, were you surprised?
I was not surprised in the slightest. I've seen faith not only in players, but executives, coaches and staff members.
This is one of the reasons why I attend at least one NFL game per season. You see players cross themselves or kneel in prayer when the cameras are not on them.
I didn't follow the media reacting to the public prayer for Mr. Hamlin. It felt like I already had a window into that world, and the rest of everyone else was catching up.
What stories can you share from your experiences with NFL teams?
I can say every team has a collection of gentle giants. They might be terrors on the field, but the Protestant service and Catholic Mass both have a pacifying effect and bring out the best in the players.
I can say my experience with various NFL teams changed my perception of certain narratives perpetuated by media and opposing fans.
The often-vilified Raiders are nothing but class acts. They're the one team I've celebrated multiple Masses with.
Also, the love-'em-or-hate-'em Cowboys are very generous. They treated me to a team dinner, ride on one of the buses, field pass and free tickets.
Dallas also used to have the most attendees at our online faith-sharing hour when that was a ministry during shutdown.
We know most Christian NFL players aren't Catholic, but what percentage of them are, in your estimation?
I would say just below the national average of Catholics, so 15-19%. The more unfortunate division, however, is amongst racial lines.
Usually, the setup is to say Vigil Mass at the team hotel. Simultaneously, there's a Protestant service in an adjacent ballroom.
Most of the players attending the Protestant service are black. At Mass, I usually see coaches and staff, lineman and kicking units. They're typically white.
I would rather the times were staggered, as is the case with most Major League Baseball teams. For the sake of unity, some baseball players encourage each other to attend both. I'd like to see that ecumenical movement for football, too.
Many people think players pray to win. Is that your impression?
At the Masses I preside, we open the Prayer of the Faithful for free intercessions. I've never once heard an attendee pray for a win.
Again, it's a dangerous sport, so the most common petition is for the safety of players, both teammates and opposing players.
I do wish that, for a change, players from the losing team thank God in their weakness as St. Paul did this past Sunday. That would really get the media churning.
Here's a brief scene from Any Given Sunday, Oliver Stone's 1999 movie about pro football, starring Al Pacino as a coach and Jamie Foxx as a quarterback.
It's not a particularly family-friendly film, which makes this sincere scene about faith and prayer -- and dealing with inevitable disappointment -- all the more surprising:
Image: Father Vince, Family Theater Productions
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Content Manager at Family Theater Productions.
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