God and Sports
My oldest son & I attended a NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Party at Gardner-Webb University last Sunday evening (March 17, 2019). Since GWU won the Big South Conference, they will be playing in their first NCAA tournament appearance. This event is a big deal for my little Baptist college. CBS Sports broadcasted from GWU’s party. Reporters from various local news outlets we’re there. Congressman McHenry (NC’s 10th District) and Gov. Cooper made well-wishing video appearances at the party. ESPN Game day personalities & bus will be on campus this week. So, GWU making the NCAA Tournament is a huge deal. In the midst of this hubbub, a fellow GWU alum & friend posted on Facebook his indifference towards GWU’s tournament appearance. This friend stated his pride in the strides GWU has made in the arts, but he bemoaned how the arts have suffered for the sake of athletics. My response was that both the arts & athletics are important to form well rounded individuals. Both the observations of my friend and myself got me to thinking about God, education, and sports. Let’s ponder the relationship between God, education, and sports through my words. Please keep in mind that these words reflect my personal opinions and convictions; I may be wrong.
We live in a society infatuated with sports of various stripes. Football, basketball, baseball, soccer, cheerleading, etc. The minds of many, from young to old, are consumed by sports. Think about the fact that the term “fan” is derived from the word “fanatic.” Sports have become an idol to many, devouring their time and attention; God is not the focus of their fanaticism. I often joke that NC’s state religion in ACC basketball.
For me, one example of this fanaticism, especially among children and their parents, is “travel ball” sports. Before I offer my critique let me first say that my blanket statements do not apply to everyone; there are always exceptions. My exposure to travel ball began while working with teens at a former church. One of the teens & his family would miss multiple Sundays, because they were traveling hours away for their teen to play soccer in tournaments or against another travel ball team. This first exposure has not sat well with me. I’ve ran into similar issues at Dallas Baptist; the excuse as to why one family did not attend Sunday morning worship was travel ball games on weekends. Supposedly, this family attends another church’s worship service on an alternate day. Travel ball can be a good thing; children playing hard and pushing themselves can be a good thing. Although, sadly, when parents and young people put sports above God and the fellowship of his believers, I fear they’re on the verge of idolatry.
In a similar vein, I fear that sports have been elevated above enabling our children and young adults to be properly educated. Don’t get me wrong: sports are important to helping children and young adults to better themselves. Sports help teach young people to work together as a team, as well as teaching other social skills. Sports can also help teach them perseverance, endurance, persistence, and overcoming adversity. These attributes are important in building good people and good citizens. Although, sports are only one means to help young people develop; the firm didactic and psycho-social education that children receive at school is extremely important. My mother, a single, hard working mother, instilled in me the importance of education. Although my mother has always been bright, she got married and became a parent shortly after finishing high school, like many of her generation. She has physically worked hard through out her life just to make ends meet. As I was growing up, my mom urged me to get an education, so I wouldn’t have to work as hard as her for the rest of my life. With this urging, I excelled in school, from elementary school to graduate school. I’m biased, but I feel that an education is extremely important. With this in mind, I fear that the temptation is there for students, parents, and educators to put athletics ahead of classroom instruction. I’ve run into this with my ball practice for my oldest son. At the first practice of the season for his ball team in a new community, my oldest pushed and played his heart out, but this practice started at 7:30 P.M and lasted well past 9 P.M. I felt as though I was the only parent at the practiced concerned that my early elementary school aged child was practicing past 9 P.M. My mind was flooded of thoughts of how staying up late may affect his performance and behavior at school the next day.
The fanaticism associated with sports fans can steal our focus from God and other important areas, such as education. Sports are not bad within themselves, but just like other forms of idolatry in America, it’s about what we do with it. TV, money, sports, etc. by themselves are not bad, but they can replace or take away from God. The question is what holds our devotion and heart. What holds your heart?