1 of 4
Tom Smart, Deseret News
University of Utah Athletic Director Chris Hill, University of Utah President Michael Young, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Thomas S. Monson and Deseret News Publisher Jim Wall (left to right) honor President Monson as the University of Utah and the Air Force Academy play MWC football Saturday, Oct. 24, 2009, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Tom Smart, Deseret News

The first time I realized there are LDS Church leaders who love and follow sports was a few days after BYU won its first postseason football game. I had covered the 1980 Holiday Bowl, and President Thomas S. Monson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, sent me a gracious letter. I was surprised he had the time to even read about such things.

Over the ensuing years, I saw him at Utah, BYU and Jazz games and spoke with him on occasion. He was a worldwide church leader, as well as a follower of sports. I hesitate to call him a fan, only because the term nowadays has come to imply obsession.

His wasn’t that kind of relationship.

From the handful of interactions with him over the years, I saw someone who understood that sports can be enriching, if not taken to extremes. I never heard him complain about, say, the Jazz’s inability to beat San Antonio. He said nothing in my exchanges about the Utah-BYU rivalry. Yet he seemed to love the feel of good sporting events.

As I was walking into the Deseret News one December day for an annual Christmas dinner, I ran into him. He was kind enough to say his daughter read the sports section every day. Later that day, in brief remarks to the newspaper staff, he mentioned the Jazz in passing. A few years earlier, at a dinner for the newspaper, he read aloud a paragraph I had written on a Jazz game.

There was never bitterness or arrogance about any team, simply appreciation.

Of the many life lessons he provided, one of the simple ones was that sports without acrimony can be a sweet part of life. As another year rolls around, that might be a good resolution for all of us to make.