I’m a football fan. Last Sunday the Super Bowl was on, and even though I did not particularly care for either team (in Philadelphia, we really hate all the non-Philly teams), I was excited to get home from the public meetings and watch the game. The second half is what I caught, and truly, it was entertaining. But, even as an avid Eagles fan and supporter, I received some peace from the Lord about a predicament I would be in if the Eagles should ever, fingers crossed, compete in the Super Bowl again. As you may know, Circle of Hope holds its Sunday meetings at 5 and 7 p.m. If the Birds were in the game, the two “events” would compete. For me, it’s OK to miss the first half, even if my beloved Eagles are playing. For me, it’s clear what’s more important!
For some of us, the decision not to watch the Super Bowl is ideological. The NFL is barbaric and violent. The commissioner of the league is unethical, caring strictly about profit and image, and rarely the welfare of players, let alone any sort of morality that extends beyond the league. He is ready to cover up scandals that hurt his goals—the difference between him and a Congressperson is negligible. The players can be narcissistic and selfish, putting others down for their sake. They can be cold-hearted and opportunistic, even cheating when the opportunity strikes. Moreover, they can be falsely sincere, idealized, and artificial.
A lot of my friends are in the camp of thinking football is pointless, too. Sometimes I get so emotionally wrapped up in the game, it is a wonder why I care so much about players I don’t even know that don’t even represent my city. Sometimes it seems like I’m just rooting for the laundry. It is pointless.
On the other hand, it’s fun and exciting. It’s great to get riled up with other people and root for the hometeam. Some of the greatest joy I have experienced has surrounded the success of my sports franchise (game one of the 2001 NBA Finals is my favorite sports moment ever). More than that, the parties are great times to get together and enjoy each other’s company. Sometimes the parties in our community as so great, that they make our mission feel like a distant second. If all my friends are at a party and not the Sunday meeting, why would I even go worship? It isn’t too extreme to think that football can replace the whole church!
Certainly, one could make a Christian argument against watching sports, and specifically football, as I hope to have demonstrated above. You could also make an argument for why watching it is crucial. I hope believers don’t fall into one camp or another. What would Jesus do? What would Paul say?
Perhaps there is another reason to watch sports. I told my friend Charlie that one of the reasons I watched the Super Bowl and why I watch football in general is to add a dose of “normalcy” to my otherwise abnormal life. Among other reasons, I watched it to relate to Philadelphia, a big time sports town. The last thing, I think, we want to do as Christians is to isolate ourselves from the world because of our esoteric tastes or extreme interests. I think we want to relate and know the world, so that I can do my part in its redemption. Jesus Christ did that himself when he came in the form of a person to relate to us. Paul says that he was all things to all people.
So for me, I want to be all things to all sports fans. I’m not sure I should devote a lot of time and energy to it, but truly, knowing who Pete Carroll was and why he called it the world’s worst play, and what #deflategate was all about, made me a little more relevant. I think it boosts my credibility. Talking about football endlessly, which is sometimes what I endure (and participate in) on local sports talk radio is probably not too helpful to the cause.
However, I don’t want to get legalistic about what to consume, nor do I want to make the mistake that the fundamentalists make as they essentialize our faith in one way or another. So despite the vile things that happen in the NFL, knowing about it, may actually prove to help me in our whole mission. I suppose you’ll have to know the world before you can change it.