In the last issue of Christianity Today Shirl James Hoffman wrote an interesting article entitled “Sports Fanatics: How Christians have succumbed to the sports culture–and what might be done about it.” His basic premise is that sports, particularly those that involve proving oneself to be better than someone else or violent, and even more particularly the ones that have become massive industries unto themselves, do not fit well with a Christian worldview or Christian practice. A faith following after that of Jesus is one of humility, self-sacrifice, peace, and love. Sports, on the other hand, are full of pride, arrogance, violence, deception, and even hatred.
It was a good article and makes some great points. This is an issue I have wrestled with since seminary when I took on the task of defending competition in one of my ethics classes. Since then I have become less competitive than ever and have been much less invested in following the teams I like than I was in the past (though I did revert a little with the Vikings in the playoffs).
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the article, and it wasn’t really with his article, was the three opposing viewpoints they had in response to it. (I’m not sure if these are in the online version or not.) The first guy was the head of a national sports ministry, and his was okay, though it mostly just said Shirl made good points but we should remember that people forge deep bonds through sports. Then, the next two guys pretty much said nothing and na-na-na-na-boo-boo in respective order. I wondered, did they just not try very hard to get good responses or are there no intelligent counterpoints to what is said in the article?
I’m still thinking on this one, but here are a few things I’m considering.
- Sports may be about proving you are superior at a given task to other people, but that does not automatically translate to proving that one person has greater value than another. According to this reasoning we should stop giving grades, grants, positions in a symphony, and granting people positions based on their skills period.
- Sports (and competition in particular) drive you to work hard and improve. If this is done for the express purpose of showing someone else up then that is an impure motive, but how many athletes push themselves primarily because they want to be better than they were. Again, we don’t tell people to stop reading because they know enough or to stop researching because their next discovery will be better than the one before. This unfairly singles out competitive sport.
- I’m not sure the culture of sport in America just says “oh, whatever” about cheating and deception. True, there are some who don’t care about steroids, illegally acquired practice film, recruiting violations, and the like, but it seems to me most people are somewhere between annoyed and outraged by these things, not accepting of them. The fact that some people resort to cheating doesn’t mean sport is wrong.
- I am wrestling with what he says about football. It is violent and people have severe injuries and shortened lives because of it. I think the stronger, bigger, and faster athletes get the more dangerous it’s becoming. Not sure what else to think about this one.