This week, Sister Mary Jo Sobieck dials in from Chicago to talk about her perfect first pitch at last week’s White Sox game that made headlines across the country. We are also joined by Washington Post sports reporter Roman Stubbs, who discusses the ongoing controversies surrounding the University of Maryland’s athletic program following the sudden death of one of their football players in June.
Sister Mary Jo Sobieck on her “nun-believable” first pitch and deep love of sports
Last week, Sister Mary Jo Sobieck became a trending topic on Twitter thanks to virally-shared videos of her show-stopping first pitch at a Chicago White Sox game.
For most people, a Dominican nun with such impressive pitching skills is not something you see every day – but for Sobieck, playing sports has been a lifelong passion. Her students at Marian Catholic High School in suburban Chicago, where Sobieck teaches theology, know this very well.
“In the classroom, I have some credibility with the athletes. They knew that I had the skills, so to speak,” Sobieck tells David, adding that she is very active in the school’s team sports and with their student athletes.
“They’re really not surprised,” Sobieck says about her students’ reaction to her now-famous first pitch. “To them, this is just kind of a natural occurrence.”
Indeed, Sobieck is a skilled former college athlete who played softball as shortstop and center fielder.
“I would say my God-given gift has been my athletic ability, so a lot of it does come naturally for me,” Sobieck says.
“But I haven't thrown the ball in a long time like that. So I did practice...I had to get that angle right.”
Sobieck, who turns 50 later this year, grew up in a large, active family in which she was the youngest of ten children.
“I’ve been playing ball with my brothers and sisters since since I could walk,” Sobieck says. “That competitive spirit in me, it came from sport, but also because I'm the youngest of ten. I had to, you know, keep myself strong and agile with all those brothers and sisters coming at me.”
In addition to softball, Sobieck also played volleyball throughout high school and college. She was even an assistant varsity men’s volleyball coach for Marion Catholic during her first year at the school, but her focus has since shifted.
“As much as I love sports, as much as I enjoy being active and staying physically fit, my spiritual exercises are more important to me,” Sobieck says, explaining her reasoning for giving up coaching.
“My love for sports has transcended into a love for God and community,” she says.
“I hope people can see…beyond just the fact that I'm a girl and I’m a sister and I can throw the ball, [and also see] that I'm motivated by my love for life and my joy for the Gospel,” Sobieck adds.
WaPo’s Roman Stubbs on Maryland football
Roman Stubbs is a Washington Post sports reporter who has covered University of Maryland athletics and national college sports since 2014. Read his article regarding Jordan McNair's death and Maryland's inability to overhaul athletes' healthcare here.
Jordan McNair was a freshman on Maryland’s football team. In late May of this year, McNair collapsed during a team practice and died two weeks later on June 13.
It has been reported that the 19-year-old was showing signs of exhaustion and additionally suffered a seizure before being taken to the hospital. McNair’s cause of death was listed as heatstroke.
An external review of the school’s athletic department concluded in early August and resulted in multiple staff members being put on administrative leave. Shortly after, an in-depth exposé by ESPN revealed a “toxic,” borderline abusive culture underpinning the school’s football program, leading to even more questions surrounding McNair’s death and how it may have been prevented.
Now, Stubbs’ reporting reveals that a health care overhaul for Maryland’s athletes was on the table a year before McNair died, but was shot down by the school’s president, Wallace D. Loh. Had the NCAA-recommended medical model gone through, would McNair still be alive today?
Stubbs says there is no way to know, but there is plenty of speculation that the proposed health care model would have at least improved the culture of the athletic department.
“If you create this independent model...the system might not be manipulated by coaches,” Stubbs says. Maryland’s current model, on the other hand, has many doctors housed inside the athletic department, which Stubbs says may lead to conflicts of interest and other problems.
“We don't know how much that contributed to the culture of Jordan McNair maybe not feeling like he could speak up when he was struggling,” Stubbs says, “and so the thought is that maybe an independent model would have helped that culture…[but] the president completely mixed it.”
Maryland’s athletic scandal doesn’t end there, as Stubbs says there remains plenty of legal liability and more potential for Maryland to come under fire for the circumstances contributing to McNair’s death. There is at least one lawsuit pending against the school and three separate probes into the program.
“They're looking at not just the program itself, but the trainers who are out there. There's some liability on the line from them,” Stubbs says.
As for those at the top – “We don't know the fate yet of the jobs of the president, athletic director [Damon Evans] and the football coach D.J. Durkin, but there's a notion...by a lot of the community that none of them will potentially survive this,” Stubbs says.
“I think it’s a chaotic time at the University of Maryland,” Stubbs says. “My sense is that they need to not only do a thorough job [with the investigations], but they need to act quickly, or it’ll only get messier and messier.”
Listen to the entire show below.