Star NFL Linebacker: ‘We’re Given Everything in the Mass’
Paul Posluszny of the Jacksonville Jaguars is his team’s and family’s good servant — but God’s first.
Anyone could guess that being named to the Pro Bowl roster would require years of dedication to football. What many might not guess is that someone with that dedication could be equally or more devoted to faith or family.
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ Paul Posluszny was selected for the Pro Bowl in 2013 after having been named an All-American at Penn State University in 2005 and 2006. These are high honors for anyone, but especially for someone who wasn’t sure he’d be good enough to play in college or the pros. Posluszny simply took football one snap at a time, not getting hyped up over possible success in the future.
This humble outlook has helped Posluszny not only in football, but in other areas of life. The 32-year-old Butler, Pennsylvania, native, whose surname can be translated as “obedient” or “dutiful” from the Polish, is profoundly appreciative of having been raised Catholic by his parents. Instead of seeing them as adversaries, his parents, in his mind, were people who should be respected, loved and obeyed.
Posluszny, who has been married for four years, now has two children of his own and is awed by the blessings of being a Catholic husband and father. He spoke of this and his football career with the Register, as the Jaguars’ first regular season game approached on Sept. 10 against the Houston Texans.
Last year the Jaguars were 3-13. How much of a turnaround are you expecting this season?
The ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl, but how do you get there? By making the playoffs. And how do you get to the playoffs? The surest way is to win your division. The Houston Texans have dominated our division, but we can’t look past any team. There’s no such thing as an easy game; all of them are important. By believing and acting on that truth, we can improve on last year’s record one step at a time.
Was football always your favorite sport?
I played football, basketball and baseball as a kid, and around eighth grade I started to excel at football. That may have been due to the prominence of the sport in western Pennsylvania, which makes it more likely that boys will work more diligently at it than other sports. In high school, some boys dropped basketball and baseball and devoted the winter and spring to lifting weights and running track — all with the view of getting better at football. I started doing this year-round thing, and in my junior year I got scholarship offers from colleges. I was thrilled and humbled at those and ended up choosing Penn State.
When did you start to think of playing professionally?
Even though Tony Dorsett had gone to my high school, I didn’t really think of playing in the NFL while I was in high school, and not even for a good part of college. When I first entered college I was just trying to think of ways to get onto the playing field. The competition in the Big Ten was intense, so making it into a game was a victory on an individual level. It wasn’t until my junior year at Penn State that I first thought of playing in the NFL. Before that time, I had always seen myself as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy.
You seem like a disciplined person who would like the structure of the military.
I crave discipline, order and purpose. Sports provide those things, and so does military service, so I’ve always had a good view of those two worlds. A bigger world encompassing those two is the Catholic world. If you’re looking for discipline, order and purpose, there’s no better entity than the Catholic Church. We’re organized under local pastors, then bishops, and then the Pope. We have set prayers for the Mass, Rosary, Divine Office and so forth. All this structure is for the purpose of sanctifying every member of the Church in order to be able to live forever in heaven.
There are patron saints for almost any profession a Catholic could be in, and for sports, one of the patrons is St. John Paul II, sometimes called “God’s Athlete.” He liked the outdoors and athletic activities — and he was also Polish, which my father, whose parents were from Poland, was so proud of.
For soldiers, a patron is St. Michael the Archangel. He’s the leader of good angels in the battle against evil ones. Then there’s the centurion who said he was not worthy for Jesus to enter under his roof, but that Jesus only had to say the word and his servant would be healed. This has been immortalized in the Bible, and also at every Mass, where we say those same basic words — with “soul” replacing “servant” — before receiving Jesus sacramentally under the roofs of our mouths.
Have you always taken the Catholic faith seriously?
Thanks to my parents, who had a very strong influence on me, I’ve taken the faith seriously for as long as I can remember. Kind of like football, there wasn’t a single moment with a huge revelation or improvement; I just kept progressing gradually.
My parents made it clear to me and all four of my siblings that being Catholic was an essential part of our identity. That message stuck with me in college, where my roommates were Catholic, too. At a time when parents aren’t around to tell you what to do, and when there are so many other things competing for your attention, my roommates and I kept going to church. We were starting to make our own decisions as men, and they were the right ones.
Obeying your parents is a good thing, but even better is when we have the chance to do the right things on our own and actually do them. That’s probably a result, not only of having obeyed your parents in the past, but also of actually seeing that what they’re saying to do is valuable and worth doing. You don’t just go through the motions; you interiorize the meaning behind what’s being done, and you see that it’s not just theoretically good or good for others, but good for you.
You really value not only the meaning behind the sacraments, but obedience itself.
Obedience is huge for me — having respect for parents, priests, coaches and leaders in other areas of life. My last name can even be translated from Polish as “obedient” or “dutiful.” In order for any group or society to function well, there has to be respect for right order. A football team with individuals who all made up their own plays instead of learning the playbook and running the plays called would be totally chaotic.
Of course, if you don’t understand a play, or think of a good idea, or have a grievance, it’s perfectly fine to talk with the coach about those, but at the end of the day, he’s the coach, not you. He’s the one in charge and will be held accountable for his decisions — and if he’s a good coach, he’ll know that making his players better will make his life much easier.
Father Andy Blaszkowski, who offers Mass for Catholic Jaguars and other team personnel, likes to talk about servant leadership. Jesus didn’t come to earth to be domineering, even though he had every right to demand things wherever he went. Instead, Jesus came to be a servant leader. He wanted to make us better, and he willingly suffered and died in order to make that possible. He had no hidden personal agenda and was totally open to whoever wanted to find happiness in following him.
The servant-leader concept can be used in the home, too.
The whole concept can be summed up in the question, “How can I help you?” Then we do good things for others, not with an expectation of getting something back, but because the good things are proper to do. That’s usable in the home; it’s really one of the easiest places to use it since that’s where people you love the most are. I might even love my family too much, in that my 2 1/2-year-old daughter has me wrapped around her little finger, as the saying goes.
The best part of my day is when I came home and my daughter runs to the door and gives me a hug. She has a 4-month-old sister already competing for my time, too. They are so special to me that I can’t even believe it. Before getting married to my wife, Elizabeth, in 2013, I thought having kids would be fun, but I didn’t know how profoundly I would love them. If I, a very imperfect human father, can love his kids so much, how much more does God the Father love us?
There’s no way to fully understand that love, but the priesthood gives us a sense of what it’s like. We’re given everything in the Mass, since we’re given nothing less than Jesus. This is done through the hands of the priest, as is being baptized, being forgiven in confession, and so forth.
Father Andy, who also has Polish heritage, goes to our home games. Before we take to the field, he puts his hands on my pad-covered shoulders and gives me a special blessing. There’s already a blessing at the end of Mass, but this one is longer and more specific, and after it’s given, I feel invincible.
What would you like to do after football?
I’ve thought about that a lot. I enjoy playing football, but I don’t think I’ll coach or get into broadcasting or something else closely related to the game. I’ll probably go into some sort of business, since that was my major at Penn State.
Football won’t last forever, but while I’m at it, I always want to seek constant growth and improvement. That’s what drives me professionally, and once my profession changes, I want to do whatever that is very well, too. The constant that won’t change — other than adding more kids — is my family, and the most constant thing is being part of Jesus’ Church — the Catholic Church.
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.