Succumbing to “Sportianity”

By Julie Roys


           Imagine missing your daughter’s wedding to attend a college football game!  That’s what Mr. and Mrs. Reese, two avid University of Alabama fans, did.  When asked to explain their decision, Mr. Reese said, “I just love Alabama football.”
            Most of us are horrified by this story.  Yet, how many of us have missed church Sunday morning to attend a child’s soccer game?  Or, opt out of ministry because it conflicts with sports practices?             

            Americans are obsessed with sports – and we Christians are no different.  True, we try to redeem our obsession.  We highlight the character-building aspect of sports.   And, when given a platform, we use it as an opportunity to witness. 
            Yet, as some critics point out, we Christians more often succumb to the perverse values of the sports culture than we actually confront this culture with the way of Christ.  For example, in 2002, the president of a small Southern Baptist university, an ordained minister, admitted he fixed a grade to allow a star basketball player to play.  In 2007, major league pitcher Andy Pettitte, an outspoken Christian, admitted that he used steroids.  More recently, Tim Tebow appeared shirtless in GQ, seemingly bowing to an industry that makes sex symbols out of sports stars. 
              Author Shirl James Hoffman refers to this co-option of Christianity by the sports culture as “Sportianity” – a term first coined by eminent sportswriter Frank Deford.  According to Hoffman, sportianity is a “concoction of triumphal evangelism blended with worldly Darwinian competition, and crafted to appeal to those for whom a love of athletics frames their lives.”
            Don’t get me wrong.  I love sports – when properly enjoyed.  I’m inspired by athletes like Olympic Gold Medalist Eric Liddle who viewed running as worship: “When I run,” he said, “I feel God’s pleasure.” 
            We Christians need to re-evaluate our participation in the American sports culture.  Are God’s values preeminent or ours?  And, is sports a means for us to worship God, or a means to gain worship for ourselves?  Those are my thoughts.  

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