A few weeks ago I wrote a blog on the idolatry of sports in America. I wanted to follow up on the subject because it is a bigger issue than people really think it is. Many people struggle with finding their purpose in this world, and so they turn to sports to get a sense of transcendence and to add meaning to their life. Their job is not fulfilling, their spouse has let them down, their kids are rebelling and life is not turning out how they hoped it would. So passion goes out the window and purpose is found in the trivial and temporal things of this world.
This is where sports enters in and fills a void for a variety of reasons. First, it is socially acceptable to be a “sports addict” or to consume as much sports as possible in America today. This is not the case with alcohol, drugs, pornography or even possessions. If you obsess over and become addicted to any of those things, friends and family members will eventually intervene. But if you obsess over your favorite team, they’ll support your addiction through buying you paraphernalia and tickets on any major holiday.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard of people staying at home all weekend during football season and not interacting with anyone. They will barely get up to go to the bathroom or to eat. If it was alcohol or drugs causing this behavior we would call for help, but since they are “just” watching sports it’s ok. After all, it’s football season.
One of my favorite books is The Broken American Male by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and in this book Shumley talks about our obsession with sports (especially males). He says, “Why is it that a man who shows little to no emotion in almost every other area of life suddenly shows such indescribable passion when watching football, baseball, or basketball? Because his team makes him feel good about himself. He may be a loser, but his team, well, they’re winners. And by attaching himself to them, he achieves greatness by association. Being a sports fanatic allows him to live vicariously through his favorite team and feel heroic.”
So what’s the big deal? How does having a passion for a sports team effect you and I spiritually? Isn’t being passionate about sports harmless? I would say enjoying sports as an entertaining pastime is one thing, but being passionate about sports leads to something else. Jesus says in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And our passion for sports leads us to storing our minds with meaningless knowledge rather than Godly wisdom. I hear people tell me all the time how hard of a time they have memorizing Scripture, or even reading it for that matter. I would say part of this is linked to our passion. And being passionate for something as trivial as sports will not lead to living life to the fullest. Proverbs 15:14 says, “The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.” Eugene Peterson translates it this way: “An intelligent person is always eager to take in more truth; fools feed on fast-food fads and fancies.” We are knowledgeable about things we are passionate about. I know for me, even after attending seminary and being in ministry for close to five years, that I still probably know more about sports than I do about Scripture. I would say this is the case for a lot of people.
One of my best friends (who gave me permission to share this) also highlighted this for me yesterday. During work he and another friend of ours began playing a game that involved sports knowledge. The goal is to keep exchanging names of sports players until you run out of names (without the help of Google). This particular list was retired or inactive baseball players. Here is the list they came up with during work yesterday:
andy van slyke
moises alou sr.
ken griffery sr
ken griffey jr
jose cruz jr
tony la russa
todd van poppel
shoeless joe jackson
benny the jet rodriguez
d angelo jiminez
paul lo duca
That is 427 ex major league baseball players from memory. And yet most of us can’t even name the 66 books in the Bible. I’ll do a little exercise: Which one of these is not a statement made by Jesus in the Bible:
a) Go tell that fox, “I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.”
b) The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
c) Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
d) Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Maybe that’s not a fair quiz and maybe random Bible trivia is not all that important to your spiritual development. But we sure love random sports trivia and devote a ton of time to memorizing random statistics all for something that is meaningless in the end. At the end of my life I want people to say that I had one glorious obsession, and that was Jesus Christ. I don’t want people to say that I loved the Baylor Bears or the Miami Dolphins (random, I know). I want people to say that I was passionate about knowing God and Scripture. I don’t want people to say I was passionate about basketball. I want people to say I worshipped God, not sports.