Some Thoughts on Sports and its Fans at the End of my Sports Fast

I’ve been on a sports fast since the beginning of football season.  I haven’t been perfect as I’ve checked the occasional score or stat here and there.  It was impossible not to know who won big games since Facebook and Twitter give you up-to-date info and emotions on sports.  In addition, I would watch a game if I was with neighbors, friends, or if my wife and boys wanted to watch.  Still, my overall sports intake was cut down by more than half, and it was good for me.

Being on the outside of sports these last five months opened my eyes to a lot of issues concerning our American culture, sports culture, church culture, and family culture.  Below are some observations I’ve made and some lessons I’ve taken away from my fast.

1.  The Word “Fan” is Short for “Fanatic”

I’ve heard Colin Cowherd and others make this point, and I never knew how true it was until these last five months.  Reading FB statuses, Twitter feeds, and having conversations with people about their teams is a frustrating task.  Fans who think they are “objective” about their team and their team’s rivals are delusional.

I remember reading one fan predict the score between his team and his team’s rival.  “We are going to beat them by two touchdowns at least!”  “Oh yeah, you are on the road, you have matchup problems, it’s a rivalry game, and Vegas isn’t even giving you 14 points.  I’ll take the underdog.”  “You’re crazy!  We’re gonna smoke em!”  Sure enough, the rival team covered…and won the game.

All sports fans don’t just buy into a team, or a player…they buy into a narrative.  Not only is their team much much better (or sometimes much much worse) than what is actually the case, but other teams that would infringe on their narrative are much much better or much much worse than what is actually the case.  If you are a fan of a major SEC football program, then you argue that other SEC teams aren’t nearly as glamorous as they seem.  Your fanbase is the best and most objective, the rival fanbase is crazy, irrational, and it would be purgatory or worse to be associated with that team. (Does it amaze you the emotion we pour into what a bunch of 19 and 20 year old kids do with a football?)

Fans are fanatics.  They want their narrative to be true in the end, and they will cover up facts and reality to preserve that narrative.

2.  How I Watch Sports is a Witness to the Gospel

When I was in high school, I would throw objects across the room when my team blew the game.  I cursed out refs when they blew the 1999 NFC Chmapionship game for my Bucs (I get that Harry Potter forehead burn whenever I now see a “catch” where any part of the ball hits the ground).  If I wasn’t a Christian, I may have done some voodoo on Brett Favre.

In all seriousness, I’m glad I can watch a game like an adult now.  Sure, I get peeved sometimes, but it is usually if a player isn’t hustling, the ref totally blew a call, etc.  I don’t get mad if my team just loses.  I hardly ever raise my voice, type an ALL CAPS FACEBOOK STATUS ABOUT HOW MY TEAM WAS SCREWED!, etc.

I also never say that I hate another team, player, coach, etc.  How I handle myself during a sports game or in discussing sports is a witness to the gospel, and I know that my boys will imitate the way I watch sports just as I imitated my father.

Colin Cowherd says it best.  Like your team, but love your family.  Fans can easily switch these things around.

3.  I Appreciate My Father’s Sports Legacy More Than Ever

My own father was a sports nut, sure.  He was in 4-5 fantasy leagues…per sport (football, baseball, basketball)!  He could justify it since he usually made out with some winnings.  I joked at my dad’s funeral service that he and his friend, Bill Genovese, winning their fantasy basketball league nine years in a row is right up there with Cal Ripken Jr. or Brett Favre consecutive games played streaks.

Sure, my dad would react strongly at times, but he never went ballistic.  He never hated another team or player.  In fact, one of his best teaching moments was September 1997 when the Bucs played the 49ers at their home opener.  Both Steve Young and Jerry Rice got injured during the game.  When Rice was down, I began to cheer.  My dad immediately stopped me and said, “Son, even if we root against the other team, it is never funny when another team’s player is injured.  It is a serious matter.”  I have remembered that conversation these last sixteen years, and it has sobered my perspective on sports.

My dad was also an objective fan.  He never let his love for the Bucs, Braves, Lightning, etc. override his objectivity.  He was a great analyst of the game.  He appreciated plays by opposing players. (“Daniel, did you see what Daunte Culpepper just did?  What a play.”  Thankfully, the Bucs still won the game.) He only lost his objectivity when it came to lower-tier sports and teams.  Whether it was USF Women’s Basketball, Erskine College sports, Centre College sports, etc. he would let the “fanatic” come out a bit more.  I think he did this because he knew the games meant less and so a bit more liberty could be taken.

I still love my dad and think about him every day.  I’m glad he set a godly example, even though he wasn’t a Christian, when it came to sports.

4.  Sports Should Not be Idolized or Demonized

Our culture idolizes sports.  It was a shame that Richard Sherman’s rant received more headlines on MLK Day than the Doctor himself.  I’m sure Sherman thought that was a travesty as well.

Observing parents at little league games is quite embarrassing.  There is nothing mature about living vicariously through your child hoping that them scoring the winning point somehow justifies your existence.  Ugh.

I also have little patience for those who demonize a sport.  It is one thing to say, “Football isn’t my preference.”  It is another to say, “Football is the stupidest game ever invented and only serves barbaric purposes.”  Not only do such sentences deny the doctrine of common grace and general revelation, but it betrays that person’s ignorance.

Don’t idolize a sport (“If they eliminate kickoffs in football, all is lost!”) or demonize a sport (“If people stopped watching the NFL and shopped for organic food, this culture would be better off.”).  Be balanced.

5.  I Can’t Wait to Share Sports With My Sons

These last five months have not diminished my liking for sports.  I still cherish childhood memories sitting at Raymond James Stadium seeing Derrick Brooks, Mike Alstott, Warren Sapp, and John Lynch turn the Bucs into a Super Bowl champion.  I still cherish my autographed Tony Dungy book my dad got me for my birthday several years ago.  I think Peyton Manning is one of the best players to pay to watch.

I look forward to having my sons watch games, go to games, and root for…my teams?  Well, I hope they root for their dad’s Tampa and Florida teams, but they might end up rooting for Cam Newton and the Panthers.  And I have no problem with that.  I wouldn’t have a problem if one of my sons ends up getting a D-1 football scholarship to play for Florida State and go up against my Florida Gators.  I’ll just become a Noles fan.

Like your sports.  Love your family.  All for the gospel.

This Aint No Juice Fast

People brag about juice fasting, diets, etc.  For Lent, they give up social media, high fructose corn syrup, etc. for forty days.

I feel called by the Lord to fast from one particular thing, and it will go until the first week of February.

From now until Super Bowl 48, I will be giving up sports.

*Walks away from computer and sobs for 20 minutes*

I don’t know why this is happening now.  Couldn’t I prepare myself for this, you know, before the NFL preseason started?  It would have been nice to know I was going to do this before I picked every single NFL game and wrote down my predictions for the season which I planned to blog about next week.  Why did I confirm this on the day college football begins?

This isn’t really an ascetic or religious fast.  I don’t think sports are sinful.  I don’t get angry when my teams lose like I used to.  I’ve actually cut back on going to sports bars, listening to sports radio, etc.

Why am I doing this?  First, I feel called by Jesus to do this after thinking and praying about it.  It’s that simple.  Second, I preach in a church plant full of people who, for some strange reason, don’t care for sports.  One of the strengths of our church is community and loving culture.  I wonder how I might view community and culture in fasting from sports.

Third, I wonder if I will be a better husband and dad if I took a break from sports.  Saturdays and Sundays will be available to my wife and boys.  Fourth, I want to see how difficult it is to break away from something that is an addiction and idol for many of us.  I do think sports is an idol of mine.  I love the athleticism, drama, and pageantry of it all.  In addition, memories of my dad propel me toward sports, and sometimes I spend 4-8 hours watching football game just because I want to remember my dad.  But that is not a good excuse to waste a day away from one’s family…especially 16 times a year.

Fifth, I wonder what will happen to me personally.  Will I lose weight?  Read my Bible more?  Read more?  Invest in my college students and church more?  Love and serve people more?  Experience new things?  Love Jesus more?

Finally, will I finally get the message of Ecclesiastes?  Sports fans, teams, and players are driven by the desire to see a champion crowned in their sport.  We pour everything in that desire.  We judge, cheer, boo, and let out many other emotions as this goal is pursued.  Then, a champion is crowned.

“Hmmm, I wonder who will win it next year?”

The cyclical vanity of it all.

I appreciate Tom Brady’s honesty after he won his third Super Bowl in 2005,

“Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, ‘Hey man, this is what is.’ I reached my goal, my dream, my life. I think, ‘God, it’s got to be more than this.’ I mean this isn’t, this can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be … I love playing football and I love being quarterback for this team. But at the same time, I think there are a lot of other parts about me that I’m trying to find.”

I don’t like Brady. (Why is that?  I don’t even know the guy.  I like Peyton Manning, but he could be more of a jerk than Brady for all I know.) But I feel like him in many ways.  Most of my teams (Bucs, Gators, Lightning) have won championships.  I’ve been to amazing sports (and wrestling) events.  I have all these memories with my dad that I cherish.  But, I feel like I am trying to find other parts.  The next ten months will be crucial to my family’s future as we pray about our next ministry phase.  I am committing myself to several college students as I disciple them and open my life to them.  I am being discipled by one of the greatest men I’ve met.  I need to make sure my household is in order and that my wife is being discipled.  I have people looking to me for vision and answers on a number of ministry issues.

In summary, I feel called by Jesus to do this.  I look forward to watching the Super Bowl in five months, but until then I hope to have other things on my mind besides watching hours of TV sports, listening to hours of sports radio, attending hours of live sporting events, and talking for hours about sports.  No ESPN.  No Bleacher Report.  None of it.

But pro-wrestling isn’t a sport.  So I will still watch that.  :-)

Oh, okay.  No pro-wrestling either.  Happy?

Stuff that Annoys Christians: A New Blog Series

Last week I was at a workshop/conference put on by a Christian ministry with my boss and pastor.  Like any of these gatherings, there was a time of worship.  As we were leaving one of the sessions my boss remarked, “I don’t want to sound uptight, but I see why many folks see ‘contemporary praise music’ as shallow.”  I agreed and we started discussing our views on the matter.

Essentially, we couldn’t come up with any exegetical or systematic theological reasons for our distaste in the time of worship.  The lyrics weren’t unbiblical, and the only instruments used were an acoustic guitar and stand up bass.  Rather, we embraced the notion articulated by William B. Evans on contemporary Christian worship music, it’s tacky.  

After this discussion, my boss and I shifted the conversation to contemporary evangelical squabbles (Keller and Kellerites, Mark Driscoll, being ‘missional’, Sonship, the new urbanism, etc.).  Then, we came up a copernican theological revolution, a theological missile to end all Reformed wars:  they are annoying.  

In other words, I dislike twenty new Crossway books for the same reason I dislike Tom Brady:  they are annoying.  They might be competent and successful, but just as I dislike the average Patriots fan who wants to convince me Brady is ‘without question’ better than Peyton Manning, I dislike Crossway authors trying to find a 1,237 ways to be gospel-centered.

So, I’ll be having some fun poking fun at the evangelical sub-culture.  What are somethings that annoy you but have become the brunt of heavy theological debate?  N.T. Wright, Redeemer NYC, The Gospel Coalition, John Piper’s tweets, Mark Driscoll on The View, missional everything, covenant everything, Daryl Hart, Christians moving to the city, etc.  It’s all up for grabs!  

ReforMadness Final!

We are down to our final two Reform theologians.  After beginning with 64 Reformed theologians – from Martin Luther to Meredith Kline – we are down to (surprise, surprise) two no. 1 seeds:  John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards.

Calvin never really had any difficulty in getting to the final round.  In fact, only two people voted against Calvin, and that was in the Elite Eight and Final Four.  Douglas Kelly, Martin Bucer, Geerhardus Vos, Martin Luther, and John Frame have all fallen to the mighty Calvin.

Jonathan Edwards also had a relatively easy journey to this championship round.  Greg Bahnsen, Gisbertus Voetius, Charles Hodge, and Sinclair Ferguson didn’t pose much threat to Edwards.  Although, the Final Four matchup against John Owen was closer.

So, who do you got?  John Calvin or Jonathan Edwards?  Voting ends Thursday!