I’m a sports fan.
For anyone who knows me this isn’t much of a shocking statement to start a column. I make no secrets about my loyalties to West Virginia University, the St. Louis Cardinals, the San Francisco 49ers, the Carolina Hurricanes, and a random collection of athletes from multiple disciplines of athletic competitions. I’ve been around sports almost my entire life, either as a fan, a participant, or a writer.
What I enjoy most about sports is the competition of determining the better team on a given day. I would say the thrill of victory, but in my playing days … I didn’t get to experience that one too often. (I’m the spitting image of a benchwarmer if there ever was one.) To be honest, sports isn’t just about what we see on the fields of play. It is also about the commodore that exists between friends and fans in celebrating their teams accomplishments and, of course, reminding Cubs fans that they have already been eliminated from World Series competition.
There is a lot to love and enjoy about sports.
However, I wonder if sometimes we, myself included, take our passion for sports too far. Sometimes it seems that our enjoyment of athletic competition is almost a worship experience where the quality of our day (or life) is determined by what happens on the field. Indeed, sometimes it seems that sports, especially in North America, is the god we chose to worship and obey.
We treat our coaches and players like saviors who will redeem our lives through athletic success. Every fan base has their sacred coaches and players. Those individuals who are talked about with reverence and awe for their accomplishments. While there is certainly nothing wrong with respecting and admiring the contributions of an important player or coach, sometimes our response to these individuals borders on making them an idol and treating them as if they have redeemed our existence. They made our lives better because they came to our team or won a big game. I think about here in Kentucky and John Calipari who is treated as almost like a savior among some in the Kentucky fan base since arriving in 2009. I also think about other individuals such as Nick Saban or Bear Bryant at Alabama and Oliver Luck at West Virginia who are also treated as saviors among their fan bases. We make these individuals our gods who can do no wrong in our eyes (as long as they remain with our team, of course).
But, we also worship our teams by allowing their wins and losses to determine how we will live. This is because we become completely identified by our teams and their successes. The team becomes engrained in our personalities. Instead of sports being a hobby or a release from the world, sports becomes an unhealthy passion where everything is determined by how a certain team plays. Take for instance the Alabama fan who believers their life is now improved because the Crimson Tide has won another national championship or the Florida fan who cannot get over his team’s performance in the Sugar Bowl. Of course, this isn’t the only way we identify with sports. We also identity so much with our teams that we treat the opposing fan base as the enemy and someone not to be treated with respect. Sometimes we take a joke too far and denounce anyone who would dare root for the rival team. Think about Harvey Updyke, an Alabama fan, who allowed his worship of Alabama to allow him to allegedly destroy a landmark on Auburn’s campus. Every fan base has individuals who are too committed to a team and their performance.
When sports becomes our god or starts to take on godlike qualities in our lives, we, especially followers of Christ, need to take a step back and reflect on why it is that we enjoy sports and what they mean to us.
One of the big things that we need to remember is that it is just a game. It does not determine my life if West Virginia loses to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl. I can be unhappy that the team lost and even frustrated the defense failed to show up, but I have to be willing to recognize that it is just a game. It cannot determine how I will live or interact with others. I must be willing to, in a way, leave what happens on the field so that it doesn’t affect how I live and interact with others.
To do that, however, we all have to be willing to put sports into perspective. We have to remember that following sports is a hobby and cannot determine everything about us. Sure, enjoy sports and everything about them, but we have to be willing to draw a line between what is acceptable and what is dangerous to our faith, especially as Christians. The moment that sports feels like worship and becomes too engrained into who we are then we have a problem that needs to be addressed.
Sports are fun and enjoyable. It is a great way to relax and step away from the stresses of the world. However, we must be careful how we view sports, especially if we begin to worship our teams as they are our god.