Pardon the Interruption, we are a SportsNation
Desperate times call for desperate measures. If I cannot get one of you readers to engage me in a heated Lebron vs. MJ vs. Kobe GOAT debate, I might actually have to talk about something that really matters!
I miss sports, and so do you. If you are like me, chances are fairly high that you have taken to watching old clips of sports highlights you vaguely remember to witness the thrill of the competition once again. Once it had been announced that they would move up the date of the long-anticipated 90’s era Chicago Bulls Documentary “The Last Dance,” it was almost as if I could audibly hear North America’s collective sigh of relief.
Because misery loves company, recently, I did a brief online search in hopes of finding a decent article on how society is coping without the luxury of organized sports in the wake of COVID-19. I would not have to search long before finding a few articles of note. I started by reading The Atlantic’s “What Are We Going to Do Without Sports?” with the title line of “I Miss Sports So, So, So Much.” Then I wandered over to an entertaining article from the USA Today that covered the “5 worst proposed ideas to bring back sports during the coronavirus pandemic.” Finally, I ended my reading trek by going through one last, albeit more somber article by the NY Times entitled “The Games Will Come Back. The Moments We’ll Miss Are Already Gone.” My intention is far from casting any negative light on any of these writers or their perspective on the topic at hand - all were valued and enlightening in some way. However, I would like to investigate two simple yet obvious questions:
- Why do we love sports so much?
- What is it that we miss when we don’t have them?
Yes, we love sports because they are entertaining (must be, with the North America market pulling in 83.1 BN in revenue in 2019 according to Statista), but what are the deeper reasons? Without reaching too far, I would love to offer a couple of thoughts on this. I believe that sports offer us something that we find to be idealistic. There is something about athletes clinging to the peak of their physical and mental primes and sacrificing everything to achieve a common goal with a team or individually that awakens something inside of us. That “something” is a mental and often spiritual personification of how we view ourselves or how we wish to be able to view ourselves in many cases. In a recent talk to husbands, Dr. Ronnie Goines offered, “Sports show the modern man’s desire for discipleship, which is why we wear jerseys of our favorite players. We are essentially saying, ‘If I were playing this sport, I would play it like this guy, I would do it like him’”. For this reason, we know that it is with great intentionality that Paul would often parallel our lives with that of athletes as he wrote in the New Testament (see 2 Timothy 4:7, Galatians 2:2, and 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, etc.).
Additionally, we have found in sports many of the desirable things that we look for in religion: a sense of pride stemming from faith, belonging, heritage, a common goal, and a champion. We have a natural bend towards looking for something that we can pass on to those that we love; to our children and to our children’s children. We all know families that have been Cowboys, Yankees, or Lakers’ fans for generations. In a similar fashion, we see in God’s Word that the same “passing on” of spiritual heritage happens whether we intend for it or not, just as in 2 Kings 17:41 which reads, “They feared the LORD but also served their idols. Still today, their children and grandchildren continue doing as their ancestors did”. No matter what you might have previously thought, we are all inclined towards evangelism in some way. Our nature is to tell our closest friends and family why they should believe Michael Jordan is the GOAT and why there is no other OR why Aaron Rodgers may end his career as the greatest quarterback in football history. We have become evangelists spreading the good news of our chosen champion. For us that know Christ, let us not forget that we have the Champion of Champions which we have the opportunity to spread the good news about.
God's my strong champion; I flick off my enemies like flies. Far better to take refuge in God than trust in people; Far better to take refuge in God than trust in celebrities. Hemmed in by barbarians, in God's name I rubbed their faces in the dirt; Hemmed in and with no way out, in God's name I rubbed their faces in the dirt; Like swarming bees, like a wild prairie fire, they hemmed me in; in God's name, I rubbed their faces in the dirt. I was right on the cliff-edge, ready to fall when God grabbed and held me. God's my strength, he's also my song, and now he's my salvation. Hear the shouts, hear the triumph songs in the camp of the saved? "The hand of God has turned the tide! The hand of God is raised in victory! The hand of God has turned the tide!" I didn't die. I lived! And now I'm telling the world what God did. - Psalms 118:7-17 MSG
Now that sports have taken respite, we can properly examine what it is that we miss most about them. As I have taken the time to observe society, one conclusion is that we most miss the “safe space” that sports and entertainment seemingly created for us. When we are enjoying sports together or even arguing over our favorite player or team, we most often are not talking about politics, family shortcomings, or personal goals gone unfulfilled. While divorce proceedings have been halted due to most courts being closed to civil cases, the American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers have predicted a spike in divorces on the horizon evidenced by the increase in inquiries of divorce as well as an increase in divorce filings in states that allow electronic submission. In a 2004 study of Toronto residents under quarantine during the SARS epidemic, depression was observed in over 31% of the respondents. Many times, we can wear our fandom like a mask and protective cloak that can help keep “real-life issues” at bay. Sports and entertainment get to be a distraction and sometimes even a numbing agent. In the absence of playoff games, discussions of player legacies, and theories on who might be cheating, we may be forced to face things that we could actively avoid before: namely ourselves. What real hurts, resentments, and disappointments have been covered up by an avalanche of distraction that we now have time to consider? What intimate conversations have we been fearing but longing for that we now have space to initiate? We may miss our favorite pastime but while they are gone there is an amazing opportunity ahead of us to redeem the time (Ephesians 5:16).
Furthermore, we are invited to face things that we never had any intention of avoiding. In my earlier browsing of online articles, there was one more piece that I was able to read. It was an article from Desiring God entitled “Keep Him from His Knees.” I would encourage you to check it out (if interested, it is written in the style of the CS Lewis classic “The Screwtape Letters”). In a portion of this article, the writer places emphasis on how the enemy of our soul distracts us from the spiritual disciplines that we intend to pursue by the use of redirection. Personally, there have been many times that I have been redirected from prayer because my most immediate desire was to browse Twitter looking for sports opinions that differed from mine. There have been times where I have traded time in solitude with God for an episode of ESPN’s “First Take” or “Highly Questionable”. Now that those options have mostly been taken away or made much less attractive I have been able to direct my time intentionally back into pursuing my relationship with God through the exercise of these spiritual disciplines. Many of you have as well; be encouraged, because God is pleased to call us back to himself during this time of Great Pause. The invitation provided in James 4:8 (“draw near to God and He will draw near to you…”) is for a time such as this.
How will you fare when the world starts to approach “normalcy” once again? Consider this, “In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.” - Dave Hollis