News Journal: The best message is give us a good, clean show

When you write a column that is usually about politics, government, and the financial industry, grumpiness is an occupational hazard.
You mean you’ve noticed?
Well, today I am putting on a happier face because I want to write about the person I nominate as the most welcome new sports commentator of the year.
Pope Francis.
It seems he loves football (which only Americans call soccer) as much as President Obama loves basketball. So it was only natural for him to invite members of the Argentina and Italy teams to the Vatican before an exhibition match organized in honor of his Pontificate. “Dear players,” he told them, “you are very popular. People follow you, and not just on the field but off. That’s a responsibility.”
“Football has become a business” he continued. “Take care it does not lose its sporting nature.” He told them he hoped “we’ll see families in the stands again.” And he asked them to pray for him, “so that I, on the field upon which God placed me, can play an honest and courageous game for the good of us all.”
As a church-going Catholic and an avid sports fan, I smiled my way through the news accounts of Francis’ meeting with these world-renowned players. He has made me feel that way, actually, since he chose to take the name of St. Francis of Assisi and began to turn the Vatican upside down by moving out of the Papal Palace into a modest guesthouse.
I thought it was great that, when told admirers had put up a life-size statue of him in the cathedral in his hometown of Buenos Aires, he got on the phone and told them “get that thing down immediately.” I like his no lace, no frills dress and his new popemobile – a Ford instead of a Mercedes.
The cynics may tell you it’s all PR. Maybe, but it is hard to be continually in the public eye and consistently maintain the same, down-to-earth persona. And he has sure done a masterful job of confusing the insiders who used to control PR in the Vatican. As in, “We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist.’ But do good: we will meet in heaven.” Or “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
Even if some of it is PR, I believe the world needs a big, healthy dollop of this kind. Maybe it can offset the PR that seems to justify everything from insider trading on Wall Street to the latest bad behavior by your athlete of choice.
Addressing this very problem in July, Pope Francis said to a huge audience of young people in Brazil, “You are often disappointed by facts that speak of corruption on the part of people who put their own interests before the common good. To you and all, I repeat: Never yield to discouragement, do not lose trust, and do not allow your hope to be extinguished. Situations can change, people can change.”
He also told them, “Worldly possessions, money and power can offer a moment of intoxication, the illusion of being happy, but in the end they dominate us and lead us to ask for more each time, to never being satisfied. And we end up feeling full, but not nourished. It’s very sad to see youths that are full, but weak.”
Pope Francis had a huge impact, I’m sure, on the three million people he spoke to in Brazil. He had a similar impact on the football players he met with in the Vatican.
One of them was Lionel Messi, who – outside the United States – is probably the most famous athlete in the world. He has set all kinds of goal-scoring records and has literally hundreds of millions of fans.
“Respect for others and the opponent is the basis of everything, on the pitch of life,” he said after the meeting. “The best way to respond to Francis’s appeal is to put on a clean show tomorrow, on the fields and in the stands.”
A good message for us all.
Ted Kaufman is a former U.S. Senator from Delaware.