By Chad Bonham: CSJ Managing Editor
I’m a huge sports fan. Have been since I was about eight years old when my dad took me to my first Major League Baseball game back in 1979. It was opening day and the Houston Astros beat the Atlanta Braves 2-0. I became a lifelong fan. Later, I added the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Lakers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane to my list of favorite teams.
In college, I worked in both athletic media relations and as a sports writer, which is basically something that would never happen in the real world. For me, it was an amazing experience to see how both sides of the equation worked. Ultimately, I ended up on the journalism side and developed into a fairly prolific feature writer for various magazines and websites.
But when I started focusing on Christian athletes and coaches, my approach to fandom changed a little bit. I still had my favorite teams, but I also started rooting for individuals who shared my values and weren’t afraid to tell the world that they loved Jesus. Guys like Tim Tebow, Albert Pujols, Drew Brees, Kyle Korver, and Adam Wainwright may not have played for a team I usually rooted for, but I wanted to see them succeed — so their platform would increase and so they would have greater opportunity to share the gospel with the world.
Add to that list two-time MVP and 2015 NBA champion Stephen Curry who over the past few years has become one of the biggest names on the NBA stage. More than his amazing ability to hit crazy three-point shots and break down defenses with his ball-handling skills, I have admired his Christian witness and his commitment as a father and husband. He’s clearly not perfect (nobody is), but overall he sets a solid example for those around him and isn’t shy about telling others what he believes.
This might be an unpopular take, but in the wake of the 2016 NBA Finals, I was personally disappointed to see the negative stuff that was aimed at him. But that’s not exactly what this blog is really about. It’s really just a microcosm of the way we as a culture have distorted the purpose behind sports in the first place.
It drives me mad to see that right after a big game (like the Super Bowl or Game 7 of the NBA Finals), most social media isn’t littered with congrats and celebratory remarks for one team, but rather demeaning, derogatory, and in some cases hateful comments against the other. It’s like we have become a nation of anti-fans who look for someone to root against or mock when they fail or criticize when they don’t perform to our expectations.
We have really got it messed up in this country. We’ve completely lost the true essence of what sports is all about and what the word “sportsmanship” means. Basketball, for instance, is a game that was ironically invented by a man who intended it to be used as a way to share the gospel of Christ with others. Look it up. That’s the James Naismith story. Yet 100 years later, we’ve turned basketball and other sports into this overly important thing that fuels our pride, gives us a misguided sense of identity, and creates false idols in our lives.
And what’s most disappointing is that much of this is coming from Christians who are so wrapped up in their favorite teams that they don’t have any problem checking their faith (and a Christ-like attitude) at the door when they get decked out in their gear and turn on the TV to watch the game. Straightforward smack talk or passive aggressive eye rolls and sarcastic responses litter the internet for everyone to see. And somehow this is how we show our passion for sports?
Sports are awesome. They can teach us a lot of amazing things about life. They are fantastic for kids who need to learn about communication, respect, teamwork, adversity, and physical and social development. They can also bring people together and be great for communities all across the nation. But they’ve become something else that isn’t good, and I’m just as guilty of getting caught up in the negative aspects that surround competitive athletes at all levels.
One other thing: I’ve met a lot of athletes and coaches in my line of work and I’ve heard the same story over and over. They won it all (e.g. the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Masters, etc.) and were empty the next day. Or they lost a big game and went into a dark depression because their identify and self-worth was wrapped up in achievements.
We as sports crazed fans do the same thing. If our favorite team wins, suddenly we have self-worth. Suddenly life has meaning. But when our favorite team loses, that feeling is violently reversed and we feel like losers or feel like somehow we have been let down.
Here’s a news flash. After LeBron James won the championship, he went home and faced emotional issues just like you. After losing in the championship game, Stephen Curry went home and dealt with family concerns just like you. Both woke up the next morning and were no greater or no lesser in God’s eyes than 24 hours before. But you wouldn’t know that by reading a few hundred random Tweets labeled #NBAFinals.
Here’s another news flash. You are going to get up in the morning and have some good things happen and some bad things happen. You are going to spend the day in a broken world. Whether your team won or lost, you (just like Steph and LeBron) are still going to be in need of a Savior. That’s the reality for everyone.
And until we start to understand the relevance of sports and put our fandom in its proper place, they will collectively continue to serve as nothing more than a distraction from what really matters in life — loving God and loving people. Everything else is otherwise meaningless.
I’m still going to root for the Astros and the Golden Hurricane and the Dallas Cowboys. But I’m going to try my hardest to not let my passion for sports ever overshadow my passion for Jesus and the calling that God has placed on my life. I challenge everyone reading this to join me in doing the same.
(Photos: Noah Salzman – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32037975; NBA Entertainment)