I’ve often thought about the wild and easily observed idolatry that our culture — Christian and nonbeliever alike — ascribe to sports, athletes, and teams. Go to a college football game — any game, anywhere — on a Saturday in the Fall, and you will see worship. Fans with faces painted, cheering fight songs, and oftentimes yelling unimaginably horrible things at the opposing team and its fans. You will see rabid fans, both Christian and secular. There is often no distinction. And we know there should be.
I am a fan (and scholar) of sports and its place in our culture. However, unlike most fans, I don’t have a team. I watch as objectively as possible to see what will happen and how. The reason that sports are so popular is that, unlike films, TV programs, and video games, sports are unscripted and exciting to the point of exhilaration. It’s easy to see the draw of the unknown and be thrilled by the possibilities, the “Cinderella stories,” or the “huge favorite” suffering a loss to the underdog.
How then can we teach our students how much is too much, and how far is too far in their passion for sports? Here are some ideas.
- As with any passion, moderation and discipline is the name of the game. An all-day tailgate for your favorite team, the game, and then the after party is pretty normal the world over, be it college football or Premiere League soccer. Fan culture and behavior is pretty universal, regardless of sport or venue. With the possible exception of golf, fan behavior can often get rowdier and bawdier as the day toils on, the libations continue to flow, to say nothing of their team’s good/bad performance. Students can get swept up in such culture without even knowing it’s happening because sports inspire such passion. Therefore, we need limits and boundaries before we get swept up.
- If we are tailgating, we need to be mindful of our language, behavior, and, yes, what and how we consume. Peer pressure gets more and more difficult as emotions escalate. Make a plan before the game, so that temptation will (hopefully) be held at bay. Have a “wing man/woman” to hold you accountable. Jesus surrounded Himself with 12 people, and often they let him down. However, the model is that “iron sharpens iron” if we allow the process to work.
- I’m a little unqualified to discuss “fantasy sports” culture, as I’ve only been involved in a few fantasy leagues in my life. But the point is still relevant. Sports fans — male and female alike — overindulge fantasy sports the way some people overindulge Facebook and Twitter. The actual games are no longer enough, so they spend hours a day, for entire seasons, “researching” their drafts and lineups, and even hold events where travel and huge sums of money (or more extreme, tattoos) are involved. Binging on anything is forbidden in Scripture, as it leads to abuse of the temple of God (our bodies) and the abuse of our ability to worship Him. Especially as it pertains to leagues that involve students, consider the example you’re setting.
- Finally, sports are fun and corporate. Paul often mentions finishing strong and “winning the race.” Sports have always been a rallying activity in societies, but as with all recreations, we need discipline. Sports are for teaching healthy competition, teamwork and fairness. When we corrupt them into bitter rivalries, hateful language toward opposing teams/fans, and
abusive behavior with our bodies, we not only made sports an idol, but also we lessen its ability to reveal to us the heights of physical possibilities for human achievement.
All in all, it’s OK to yell and scream for your team at the game, but remember that it’s just a game. And remember what your actions and attitude says to your students. Sports is not a place for worship. That is reserved for God alone.