Each week in The Holy Huddle, Doug Hankins takes a look at the goings on of the sports world from a distinctly Christian perspective.
Quick. Name the connection between LeBron James and Tiger Woods. Here’s what I came up with:
- Both are notable professional athletes.
- Both are child prodigies in the sports arena.
- Both are multi-millionaires.
- Both live in the state of Florida.
Yes, those facts are true. But consider this fact as well:
- Both are hated in the sports world.
Sports hatred is deeply embedded in the American sports culture—as American as apple pie. So what happens when Christians are deep within the culture of American fanhood? Is it okay for Gospel-bearers to participate in a culture of sports hatred? Should Christians hate LeBron and Tiger, the Yankees, Duke, or The Lakers? The Holy Huddle answers no and wants to suggest a way for Christians to operate in the midst of a hateful sports culture.
Sports Hatred Is Deeply Embedded in American Culture
Why is this sports hatred acceptable in America? I want to suggest a few reasons:
- Hatred is rooted in our sports jargon. Ever hear of the phrase, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend?” or “This is the team we love to hate?” (See this and this). Or “I support two teams: my alma matter and whoever is playing against our rival.”
- We link team success to our sense of self-worth and identity. The win-loss column becomes personal during the season. The problem with this approach is that when fanhood defines one’s identity, wins and losses play out differently. Every win is a win for us and every loss is our loss. And the collateral damage in this awkward marriage of self and sport is the opposing team. If my team (my self) is defeated by another team, I view the opponent as someone who opposes me. The enemy of my friend becomes my enemy.
- Sport is our culture’s religion. The schizophrenic schedule of lows and highs is, in part, what reinforces our love affair with sports fanhood. Our team becomes the cruel mistress that gives us just enough pleasure to overlook the pain that she inflicts. The sad reality for some fans is that their fanhood moves beyond season tickets to the ideals of wardrobe coordination, Facebook status updates, and calendar priorities. But if our team is our god, then the opponent is the devil.
- Key figures in America encourage sports hatred. Sports writers encourage hatred, coaches demonstrate hatred, players hate other players, and owners benefit from hatred. Why wouldn’t sports fans pick up on these cues and play along?
- Rivalry is based on hatred and hatred is good for business. Sports hatred generates millions of dollars in television ratings revenue, ticket sales, media ads due to online and print journalism, and viability on ESPN highlights. For example, the fact that the Redsox hate the Yankees is not only widely known, it is also widely accepted and, in many cases, promoted as good.
So What Should Christians Do?
Should Christians abandon the sports world as a lost culture unto the Gospel? I think not. Instead, Christian sports enthusiasts might want to adopt a simple discipline:
Root for teams, not against them.
If you are a Christian who is a fan of the Boston Celtics, as I am, it would be good to adopt the posture of rooting for the Celtics. However, keep in mind that it does not make you more of a Boston fan to root against the Heat. It just makes you look like a jerk.
In talking about the trajectory of the Gospel, the apostle Paul says this:
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Don’t be a jerk. Root for teams, not against teams. And in so doing you will demonstrate the Gospel of graciousness in the fallen sports culture.