This was a really provocative article, especially for someone who has strong views on the subject. Below are some excerpts followed by my thoughts:
In fact, some Christian athletes and coaches are starting to recognize that football, at least as it is currently played, may be bad for one’s soul.
Tuck says his Christian faith keeps football in perspective for him. “A lot of people rely on the game for their identity,” he says. “My happiness and joy aren’t based on how well I play or if I get a sack. I should live a life that God is pleased with, not live a life total strangers are pleased with on Sunday.”
The sport with the biggest Christian presence, the most famous Christian athletes (the Tebows, the Kurt Warners) and the deepest penetration of chaplains, ministers and Bible studies is quite likely to corrupt a player’s Christian values.
One major reason for their moral indifference, writes Stoll, is that in the culture of male team-sport athletics, “the opponent is not seen as an honorable opponent but rather an obstacle, of little worth, to be overcome.” This dehumanization of the opponent is amplified by the rules of football. Stars in all sports are rich and worshipped as heroes, but only football adds to the money and adulation a level of violence and physical domination that is deeply at odds with Jesus’ message.
Stoll then asked how the linebacker would play against Jesus. “And the guy looked at me and said, ‘Ma’am, I’m as Christian as the next guy, but if I’m playing Jesus the Christ, I play the same way. I leave God on the bench.'”
As he wrote in his 2009 book, Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports, a century ago the Christian community “was still ambivalent about whether sports were legitimate leisure pursuits for believers.” While “the Christian worldview is based on an absolute, immutable, justice-loving God,” the culture of sports “is based on material success.”
No serious Christian argues that God cares who wins the Super Bowl.
Nobody I spoke with wants football to go away. They want it to be redeemed, and they think a little more honesty would be a good place to start. That’s what I got from running back Tim Hightower, who was cut by the Redskins over the summer. Like many in the NFL, Hightower is a Christian and a football player, but unlike many of his peers he doesn’t pretend that’s an easy combination. “There’s a lot of energy on the football field,” Hightower says. “If you mix that along with ‘I’m supposed to love my neighbor'”—he pauses, searching for words to cut through the dilemma he’s describing.
First off, there aren’t many people that say God cares who wins the Super Bowl. We do though. As we’ve said, God very much cares who wins.
Secondly, the article is right to point out the idolatry, the greediness, the self-centeredness, the corruption, the compartmentalization, etc. It’s all there in football because it’s all inside of us. Football is the not the only place that is corrupted by these things. Perhaps it’s just more noticeable in football. In the last quote, the author mentions everyone wants the sport to be redeemed but there’s really no talk of how to redeem it–other than removing the violence. That’s one piece of it but it’s still going to have all the rest of the problems. Professional basketball is not a violent sport but it has all the same dilemmas as football. I’ve read several articles in the last few years that have this same posture.
People lack a real framework to understand what redeemed sports looks like.
Thirdly, the violence in football is a concern. There is some violence in almost any sport but football has a lot of it. I’m not going to go as far as to say you can’t be a Christian and play football. I’m not there yet. The convergence of violence, sports, and Christianity though is something to ponder.