We live in a messed up world. With all the poverty, hunger, war, unemployment, and general darkness on this crazy planet, I'll be the first to admit there are way more important things than how far someone can hit a baseball or how fast they can run a football. And as a Christian culture we've become very focused on the social and cultural issues (which is good). However, some of us have started to look down on sports fans because we spend a lot of time and energy paying attention to things that in the grand scheme of things are so trivial.
So for some unknown reason I've begun feeling the need to articulate the reasons why I follow sports. So here they are.
1. The stories in sports are tangible dramas of greater life stories. What I mean is whether it's a washed-up has-been like a Brett Favre who comes from the brink of retirement to have one of the best seasons of his career, or a Josh Hamilton who, through the grace and strength of God overcomes his struggle with drugs, alcohol and injuries to be a clear-cut MVP favorite, these stories are better than any fictional soap opera and are played out right before our eyes. How about Drew Brees leading the New Orleans Saints to bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to a city that had been devastated by one of the worst natural disasters in American history? Then there is this-due to his struggles with substance abuse and out of love and respect for him, Hamilton's teammates gave him Ginger Ale showers in lieu of champagne upon winning both the ALDS and the ALCS. Trust me, you can't make this stuff up!
2. Sports give Christian celebrities a platform to share their faith in Christ. I've heard many nay-sayers ask if a certain athlete is such a great Christian why is he/she making millions of dollars playing a game instead of trying to solve the great problems of the world. While there may be some truth to that, there is also something to be said for being able to share one's faith with millions of people because you have them as an audience. Athletes gain credibility by what they do on the field. What they do with that credibility is the reason I believe God allows them to accomplish great things. Former Colts Super Bowl Champion head coach, Tony Dungy, has written Bible study curriculum for use in men's ministries. Had he not been so successful on the football field, would we really care as much about what he thought?
3. Sports provide people with Christian role-models. Unfortunately, pop culture. offers little in the way of positive role models outside of the arenas of sports. Sure, there are Christian singers and actors (Christian singers are role models for Christian kids, but aren't as likely to be admired by a non-believing audience), but in the Hollywood scene their voices are drowned out by the Brangelinas and the Lady Gagas of the world. Well, okay...there's Kirk Cameron and .... uhhhh.... Seriously, though, to the Christian young man who is learning what it means to be a good person, to work hard, and put God first, there are people like Heisman Trophy winner and two time National Champion, Tim Tebow or Super Bowl Champion, Kurt Warner.
4. Sports salaries provide capitol for players and coaches to create opportunities for others. This year while watching the Texas Rangers, a commentator shared that Rangers DH Vlad Guerrero and his brothers have opened several businesses in the Dominican Republic which provide jobs for the local people. Among these are a block and tile factory, a supermarket, a livestock/vegetable farm, and a clothing store. During his playing days and afterwards, Packers and Eagles Defensive End, Reggie White (aka The Minister of Defense) used a lot of his playing salary to operate inner-city ministry opportunities in the Philadelphia area.
5. Cinderella. No, not the fairy tale. But where else can we visibly watch David defeat Goliath. Where can we see a third string quarterback like Tony Romo come out of nowhere as an undrafted free agent to become one of the best passers in the game? Where else can we see a team like the 2010 Texas Rangers defeat the New York Yankees who has more money tied up in between 2nd and 3rd base (Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez) than the entire Rangers player payroll.
6. Morale. Sports simply give people something to cheer about. Maybe it's crazy, but I've been in a better mood this week since the Rangers are now in the World Series. Whether they win or not, I know this was the greatest season in team history and I watched as many of the 160 regular season games as I could. How many other Ranger fans are feeling good this week because of what they've been able to accomplish?
Sure there are a lot of other things going on in the world. But for as long as I can remember I've been pretty well glued to the performance of some of my favorite players and teams. It has just been woven into the fabric of my life that I'm going to sit down and watch my teams play, regardless of what else is on TV. And while sports have become billion dollar industries, I still try to keep things in perspective about what more important stuff is going on in the rest of the world. What about you? Why do you follow sports? Do you think Christian athletes are wrong for making the money they do? If you were a Christian athlete, how would you spend your paycheck?