Ivy League Football Champion Addresses Crucial Nature of Fatherhood
Pro-life counseling, speaking, books and other media are now regular parts of Tyler Rowley’s life.
Football has provided some lasting life lessons for onetime player and, now, full-time pro-life speaker Tyler Rowley. Even the things that most players dislike — such as the grueling practices — he sees as great blessings.
Rowley’s two older brothers, Kyle and Travis, were All-State players at Bishop Hendricken High School in Rhode Island. They then went to Brown University and were part of the 1999 Ivy League Championship team with a 9-1 record. Tyler followed in their footsteps, not only by earning All-State honors, but by being part of another 9-1 Ivy League Championship team at Brown — this time in 2005.
Tyler Rowley played fullback at Brown, where it was his job to lead the way for other offensive players to make progress down the field. Now as president of Servants of Christ for Life, he takes the pro-life cause and “leads the way” with talks to youth, community events, sidewalk counseling, and other pro-life activities.
One of Rowley’s latest endeavors is the new book, Because of Our Fathers, a collection of stories from contributors such as Father Paul Scalia and Super Bowl champion Matt Birk on how their fathers have helped them to appreciate the Catholic faith.
Rowley is the father of three children and the brother of Father Brendan Rowley of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island. He recently spoke of his new book, family, growth in the faith, college football, sidewalk counseling, modesty and his plans for the future.
What do you think of the Ivy League canceling the 2020 football season due to COVID-19 concerns?
When you look around the country at other colleges playing football, it’s disappointing to see the Ivy League not doing so. I don’t see why, with all the safety measures other conferences are deploying, football games could not be played in the Ivy League. I think it was reactionary and a bad decision.
It’s especially sad for the seniors who have worked so hard to get where they are, only to have their collegiate careers cut short by a year. It has been my experience in football that the pain, hard work and disappointment of defeat leads to growth as a person, so I hope the pain and disappointment of a lost season ultimately helps these players grow into better people.
I remember counting down my final games as a football player, a sport I played since the age of 6. It can’t be easy to have your career abruptly ended without a proper good-bye to the sport that did so much for you. Maybe the takeaway is a deeply Christian one: to live every day like it is our last and never to take our blessings for granted.
Is your insight into suffering one of the ways you’ve been able to connect faith and football?
It has been my experience, since I was young, that pain and suffering in sports can lead to great things in the interior life of man. In fact, I’d say that this came across at a fairly young age while playing youth sports, especially football.
When I was playing youth football, we had coaches who were very intense, very “old school.” You ran laps if you were late. You hustled every moment of a practice. Respect for adults was paramount. We weren’t even allowed to drink water — outside of one short break — until our two-hour practices were over. That’s why my prime memory of youth sports — aside from the wins and losses — is the tremendous difficulty of enduring a long season and the personal growth that came through experiencing the sufferings involved.
As young kids we were playing in extremely hot or cold temperatures; being yelled at by coaches; doing a lot of hitting drills. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was an invaluable lesson and an early education in redemptive suffering — the idea that we can use our pain to grow in virtue — and, most importantly, closer to Christ. It gave me a glimpse of what the cross means.
It may seem like I’m overstating the impact sports had on my faith, but I can very clearly remember several times as a young kid running seemingly non-stop wind sprints, being absolutely exhausted, and telling myself that there was a greater purpose for the pain than mere physical conditioning.
This is one of life’s greatest lessons. There will always be things we experience that we would never choose for ourselves, but we can look back and actually be grateful for the pain and suffering because it helped to create a better you. As St. Paul says, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope …”
How did these lessons factor into getting Because of Our Fathers published?
Well, the very first publisher I sent the idea to was as short and negative as he could be. He flat out thought it would not sell and seemed eager to tell me so. Perhaps I showed some of the perseverance learned in sports by not giving up.
I was eventually introduced to Mark Brumley at Ignatius Press and received a much more positive response to the book idea. The final product, Because of Our Fathers, has been selling well. As a “New Release” it has been No. 1 on Amazon for the category “Christian Men’s Issues.”
In the conclusion of the book, you tell a story about sidewalk counseling. Have you experienced the same highs and lows of pro-life work that Father Alan Benander spoke of?
If you take an analogy from sports to sidewalk counseling, your record every year is a losing one. However, that doesn’t mean you stop giving your best effort to the mission at hand.
Mother Teresa has that famous saying of how God does not ask us to be successful, but rather to be faithful. It can also be said that our real success on the sidewalk is found precisely in faithfulness. If saving every child from the sin of abortion is your only measure of success, you will quickly get discouraged. All you can do is learn from your failures, get better and never give up. I think Our Lord is pleased when that is our attitude in anything.
Even though you were a practicing Catholic, you had a conversion of sorts. How does that story go?
The teachings and sacraments of the Catholic Church have aided me in a lifelong conversion that is most certainly ongoing. There was a period of time in my late 20s in which I made a more deliberate effort to understand the depths of Jesus Christ and what it means to be Catholic.
I can remember a specific event that had a big impact on my approach to the faith: I was out with some friends late one night and I was encouraging one of them to do something morally compromising. When he refused, I asked, “Why? Who cares?” His response really shook me. “My parents,” he said.
I thought about his answer a lot in the following days. It became clear to me that a good life was the ability to be virtuous, not because others are watching, but because you owe your life to others. Yes, to your parents, but ultimately to God. That really was a turning point in how I understood my life.
I quickly turned to spiritual reading. I couldn’t believe how much deep philosophical and theological wisdom I had deprived my younger self of. Ironically, the top two books that helped me the most, at least early on, were written by Protestants. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel both clarified, for me, the logical and historical realities of being a follower of Christ.
Those works led me to St. Augustine’s Confessions, Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, Frank Sheed’s Theology and Sanity, the writings of St. Francis de Sales, Fulton Sheen, Pope Benedict and the early Church Fathers. I also enjoyed the works of the modern apologists like Scott Hahn, Tim Staples and Patrick Madrid. As others will tell you, it’s not long after reading such men that a person starts to understand the truth of the Catholic Church.
One of the motivations for writing Because of Our Fathers is the overwhelming gratitude I felt to be born into the one, true faith. I cringe at the thought of other men giving up their lives in Christ after receiving such a priceless gift.
What were some of the things that your “conversion” resulted in?
It resulted in trying to live closer to God, whose incomprehensible nature was made a little clearer to me, and in being more aware of my sinfulness. It also resulted in meeting my amazing wife, Nichole, which led to the joys of our lives, our children: Gerard, Fulton and EveMarie.
Why did you choose fatherhood as the topic of your book?
As I say in the book: Evangelize fathers, evangelize the world. Fathers are, by God’s design, responsible for passing on and protecting life. They’re the ones who start the lives of their children, and they’re the primary ones who guard their children from any danger that would prevent their lives from continuing.
That same thing can be said of supernatural life, or being in the state of grace. There’s research in the introduction of my book that clearly shows a father’s own practice of the faith has a huge impact on whether his children practice the faith. Fathers are the connection for children to the outside world; so, what they do becomes the norm for their children as they go out into the world themselves.
In the introduction of Because of Our Fathers, I make the stark claim, “The world’s biggest problem is the ruin of the Catholic Church, and the Church’s biggest problem is the ruin of fatherhood.” I also write of the Holy Family and how the first thing God does after the Incarnation is to give Jesus a father: St. Joseph. This is something all men should consider. If ever there was a family that did not need an earthly father, surely it was Our Lord and Blessed Mother. Yet if Jesus needed a father, how much more do you and I need our fathers?
The Holy Family, therefore, becomes the model for every family. It is the icon of the relationship between God and his people, as Pope Benedict said. Whenever a father and mother and their children move about the world, they are walking icons of God.
People marvel at the beauty of families precisely because they ae glimpses into the life of God. This is why the enemies of the Church hate the family and want to destroy it. Their primary target is the father. Their weapons of choice: abortion, contraception, divorce, surrogacy, extreme egalitarianism, feminism, pornography, homosexuality. All of these things mitigate the role of the father and reduce the number of families.
Unity, order and love are qualities of the family. They produce virtuous citizens with traditional values. The enemy hates that. That’s why there’s the attempt to destroy the family and replace it with the coercive power of the state. It’s never been more important to vote for candidates who respect life, family, order, integrity, subsidiarity, responsibility and tradition.
A major characteristic of the world today is immodesty. Despite Our Lady of Fatima addressing displeasing fashions, the topic of modesty does not come up much today, outside of Colleen Hammond’s book Dressing With Dignity. What do you think of that?
Today, modesty is the oddity. How many things in our modern world are backwards like that? Fathers are the ones who need to guard against the evil of the culture, including the hypersexualization of everything — even children.
Fathers should be turning over tables in protest against our culture’s attempt to push such despicable images onto our children. Our secular culture demands that happiness be found in sex and wealth. This is how they are able to market happiness to young, impressionable children and make a profit.
The result, when people look for happiness in empty promises like this, is a lot of pain and suffering. As St. Augustine said, “You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” I think what we’re seeing today is a lot of restless children — because not enough fathers are there to guide them to God the Father.
What are your plans for the future?
I’ve done public speaking in Rhode Island — especially to young audiences — and I hope to speak a little around the country about the stories in Because of Our Fathers once things get more opened up. I’m also working on a follow-up to the book and a separate book with Abby Johnson.
The Church is a never-ending ocean of truth, and because of that, there is a certain excitement that every Catholic should feel about the future, because every day there is another book you can read, saint you can learn about, spiritual teaching to get closer to mastering, and aspect of the interior life that needs to be refined.
There truly is never a dull moment for a Catholic. Even the seemingly dull moments are spiritual tests that can be used to augment personal holiness. For example, someone reading this article right now may be thinking, “Wow, this guy is rambling and boring.” Good! Pray for me, and suffer through my boringness; you will be a better person if you endure it gracefully.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.
His book Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic, 2015)
contains numerous Catholic sports interviews,
most of which have appeared in the Register.
His latest book is Apostolic Athletes.