John Sexton, NYU President Emeritus, returns to St. Francis
Presents Baseball as a Road to God at Citi Field
The rain washed out a night of New York Mets baseball April 25, but there was no stopping John Sexton from delivering his talk “Baseball as a Road to God” at a special St. Francis College presentation at Citi Field, hosted by Mets Owner Fred Wilpon.
During the talk, Sexton, who is now President Emeritus of NYU, compared the way fans in different cities reacted to adversity and long periods of losing.
In Brooklyn in the 1940s and ’50s, “They responded with the virtue of hope: ‘Wait ‘til next year!’ was the cry. They didn’t give up. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves,” said Sexton, adding that Dodger fans even referred to themselves as ‘dem bums.’
He contrasted that with Boston, where Red Sox fans met their losing streak with whining and feeling sorry for themselves, then after many years blaming a curse. Sexton said that reaction personifies one of the seven cardinal sins, despair.
For Chicagoans, he said the fan response was like Jackie Gleason’s famous character, The Poor Soul, and seemed fitting for a place that is proud to call itself The Second City. He added that after their World Series win last year, the attitude was best captured by a T-shirt he saw that read, “Anybody can have a bad century.”
People in Philadelphia, Sexton said, had a different tact, “They just said, ‘we got rotten teams.’ They were ultimate secularists. There was nothing spiritual about this.”
Taking his talk to a personal level, Dr. Sexton detailed about a major conversion in his life, moving from a Brooklyn Dodgers and Mets fan to the cross-town Yankees. He said he was at a point in his life where he needed to choose for which team his son would root.
Sexton said he evaluated the situation like a ’50s Catholic. So, even though the Mets were winners at that time and the Yankees were abysmal he choose The Bronx.
“I wanted the monuments. I wanted the hagiography. Ruth. Gehrig. The saints. I wanted traditional with a capital ‘T’ because that was our tradition. So I gave him the Yankees.”
Sexton made his confession, with all apologies to Wilpon, who attended the lecture and has generously supported St. Francis through a major, matching grant for the Robert J. McGuire Scholarship. There are now 45 McGuire scholars at St. Francis College with about 15 more expected to receive funding next academic year.
The talk was the sixth part of a series of lectures hosted by Sexton to help raise money for scholarships at St. Francis. Before he was president of NYU, leading that university on a journey of citywide and international growth, John Sexton first taught for and chaired the Religious Studies Department at St. Francis College.
Sexton served as the 15th President of NYU from 2002 to 2015. In January 2016, he was succeeded by Andrew Hamilton and became president emeritus.
During his presidency, NYU was noted for the single largest expansion of tenured and tenure-track arts and science faculty in its history; creating an unrivaled global academic network, including the opening of successful degree-granting campuses in Abu-Dhabi and Shanghai; restoring engineering after a 40 year absence; the advancement of NYU’s medical center; record gains in student admission; record fundraising; the creation of important new academic programs; an unprecedented period of faculty and student honors; and key capital investments and long-range planning.
From 1966 to 1975, he taught religion at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, New York, where he was chair of the Religious Studies Department.
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