Americans in general and conservative and/or Christians especially love sports. I mean love sports. I mean love sports in a way that sometimes seems to trump family, faith, country. That is not an exaggeration. Many people, primarily men, find a very significant parts of their own identity based on the sports teams they follow. Many people are fervent in their support of "their team" and in opposition to other teams. This includes people who follow pro sports team in places they don't live and never have lived or even visited as well as college sports at colleges they did not attend. We pour incredible amounts of time and money into following sports.
More and more it seems to me that we are seriously misplacing our loyalty to the sporting world.
Exhibit one. ESPN reports that several teams are interested in signing former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. Ray Rice is an incredibly talented running back, a favorite of fantasy football enthusiasts. He also was caught on film clubbing his then girlfriend in an elevator, knocking her unconscious and then dragging her limp body out of the elevator. Hitting a girl is cowardly and reprehensible. To hit one in such a way and so hard that she is knocked out is something even worse, if possible. To then drag her out of the elevator to try to cover your behavior is so unacceptable that words fail when trying to describe it. TMZ reports that he is working out like a madman. Great, he will even be stronger now. Perhaps next time he attacks a woman he will kill her instead of "just" knocking her out. No one much cares though, as long as Ray runs the ball across the goal line people will scream and cheer for him. He is hardly the only or the first athlete to beat up women, he just was unlucky enough to get caught on film. Had he not, I am sure he would already have been back in uniform for some time.
Exhibit two. NFL players refusing to stand for the National Anthem. That is fine in and of itself but the reasons should concern us. One player, Colin Kaepernick, says he won't stand until we see real change in how blacks are treated. No one knows, least of all Colin, what that means or when it will be accomplished but his faux nobility is shown to be a sham when he wears socks depicting police officers as pigs, which brings to mind the "Black Lives Matter" protesters chanting for pigs in a blanket and other slogans wishing death on police officers. Another NFL player stood with a raised fist in what appeared to be a sign reminiscent of the black power movement. These are people who make millions of dollars, lots coming from white fans, to play kids games and they cry about oppression of black people. I wonder how much of their salary goes to directly helping black people or do they think that buying a seventh car is "fighting the man"?
Exhibit three. The NCAA has decided to pull out men's basketball tournament games out of North Carolina because North Carolina thinks men shouldn't be allowed in women's restroom and locker facilities.
The NCAA said it will relocate the men's basketball first- and second-round games that were scheduled for March 17 and 19 in Greensboro.
Exhibit four is more generic but when you watch sports, especially at the pro level, it seems a lot of athletes are more concerned with preening and strutting about than playing the game. Guys who make a relatively routine tackle jumping up and down like they won the Super Bowl, intricate end zone dances, ornate "handshakes" after home runs. Sports exalts and encourages self-glorification that we would find repulsive in a different setting.
All of this stuff has happened recently but at the same time stuff like this has been going on for years, In these more recent years it is obvious that sports is becoming like the rest of the entertainment world and turning into a change agent to warp the minds of fans. We have seen rampant cheating in college and the pros, players in college getting paid under the table, players in the pros using steroids from baseball to cycling. The games are not about fair play and competition, they are about the money and the money we are talking is huge. As long as "we" win and "they" lose, we are usually willing to turn a blind eye to grossly immoral behavior. Win at all costs is about as counter-Gospel an attitude as one can have.
So the question is, why are people who ostensibly hold very different values from what is on display in the sporting world, especially the higher you go from high school to college to the pros, suddenly willing to turn a blind eye when it comes to their favorite sports team and players? It is a clear double-standard and it is one that saps a lot of effort and energy away from worthwhile activities and onto worthless activities that simultaneously work at odds with what we claim to believe. I used to follow sports religiously (pun intended) but as the last few years have gone by it has become less and less interesting to me. It is now to the point that I am not really even casually checking scores for teams I used to support.
As I thought about this I came to see that organized sports is a lot like organized religion. Both are money driven, inordinately concerned with self-perpetuation, sources of tribalism where Yankees-Red Sox is replaced with Protestants-Roman Catholics, and dominated by larger than life personalities. The larger the organized sporting institution the worse it becomes, just like in religion. It turns out a lot of the same things I dislike about organized religion apply to organized sports.
Ultimately the time and effort and emotion and money we invest in sports is wasted and now more than ever it is politicized in a way that I actively oppose. It is high time that Americans and especially my fellow Christians start to look deeper into our obsessions with sports and ask why it is we subsidize something that is so contrary to our own values.