The question at hand is, “How should we redeem sports such that the weak can endure mistreatment and accept failure with courage?” Many of the weak who are mistreated, humiliated, and abused by a success-obsessed sports culture end up hating sports. Sports fans, on the other hand, feel justified in rejecting and ostracizing the sports hating minority. Let us consider a military analogy.
A young man named Joe joined the Army. Throughout Basic Training, Joe endured illegal life-threatening hazing practices at the hands of his superiors. After Basic Training, Joe was deployed. In a fierce battle, his platoon pulled back leaving him to be captured by the enemy. After spending a year in a POW camp being tortured, Joe escaped. When he got back to the USA, instead of being greeted with cheers, he was arrested. Joe was tried for going AWOL (his platoon lied about his whereabouts). Joe felt betrayed and humiliated by his country. Joe’s dishonorable discharge effected his employment possibilities (no one wants to hire a deserter). Everywhere he went, Joe talked against the US military and government. He even burned US flags in protest. Joe thought his hatred of the US was justified. The onlookers only saw a traitor worthy of nothing but contempt.
Just as veterans such as Joe are seen as traitors, so are those who hate sports. I have been perceived in this very way. On one occasion, after I said that I did not like sports, a fan asked me, “Are you a communist?!”
In many ways sport fandom and team loyalty is a lot like patriotism for one’s country. To despise one’s nation is an act of rebellion against the providence of God, but blindly to idolize it is an act of rebellion of another sort. Patriotism, rightly understood in a Christian worldview, is a natural recognition of God’s good providence and his sovereignty in determining our place, rootedness, and story… The rootedness of sports is evident in cultural choices of sporting passions;1
Just as Joe’s complaints and protests against the United States did nothing to improve its armed forces, complaining against sports culture does nothing to redeem it. Complaining, protesting, and withdrawing from sports merely allows the evil elements within the culture to flourish.
Jesus’ call for us to be the salt of the earth and light of the world means that we should not simply condemn sports culture and withdraw form it and that we should not uncritically absorb sports culture. When we do either, we are hastening cultural decay and darkness and forfeiting Christian distinctiveness. 2
I repeat my calls for adult Christians to become coaches, for Christian athletes to come alongside the weak and downtrodden, and for fathers to support and encourage the weak for the sake of the Gospel, and for the sake of God’s glory being displayed through the arena of athletic competition.