Are Holiday Sports Strengthening Secular Culture?

Frank Deford at Sports Illustrated has an article up about the role of sports in holiday celebrations. “[S]ports are pretty agnostic when it comes to religion,” he says, and he has a point.

From Thanksgiving football to the five games the NBA has scheduled for Christmas Day this year (to begin their shortened season), sports are making inroads as yet another secular focus for traditionally religious holidays.

Image courtesy of shutterstock

Deford writes:

All that old-fashioned Currier and Ives/Norman Rockwell stuff — with the family gathered around the turkey and then the Christmas tree — is nice, but winter holidays are now primarily for gathering the family around whatever games are on television.

The occasional conflict occurs for observant athletes, as when Sandy Koufax famously sat out a World Series game on Yom Kippur or when Brigham Young University women’s rugby team said they wouldn’t be able to play for their sport’s championship because a vital postseason game was scheduled on a Sunday (a day of rest). But from the fan perspective, these games are one more way to celebrate that doesn’t involve sectarian beliefs. (Religious ones, at least. I can’t speak to any differences in college football loyalties.)

Is the shift a symptom of an increasingly secular culture or one of the causes for it?

I’m inclined to say it’s a bit of both, a feedback loop probably initiated by league bigwigs hoping to pull in more advertising money. And while I don’t exult in the stress placed on religious athletes who may have to choose between job and faith (even if I think said faith is silly), I’m all for more secular ways to celebrate the holidays.

About Megan Wells

Megan Wells is an IT tech and sports blogger in Chicago.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JTBMQYMFVZMKNCXIMISICQ3Z6E Anonymous

    similarly, kids rec sports games being held on Sundays has made a dent in church attendance.

  • Good and Godless

    I cannot help but think that the same part of the brain responsible for religious faith is firing on all cylinders for the devout sports fans.  Devotion, exclusion, allegiance and conflict with those who are different. Seems like sport fans/religious types are the same.  Agnostic? far from it. 

    • Charles Black

      How many sports fans have killed in the name of their sport?
      So they aren’t the same then in that respect.

      • Good and Godless

        Hundreds – remember it is not just the odd beating death of a Phillies fan. You have to count the soccer riots. 

        • Charles Black

          True but when you count the number of people killed in religious wars they don’t compare.

  • Anonymous

    Hated sports as a kid, hate them even more now.  Organized sports are the devil’s handiwork, I tell ya.  I especially hate how professional athletes are paid such huge sums of money while teacher, who are tasks with teaching our young, are criminally underpaid.  It was only made worse with the “anyone can do it, let’s give them ALL a trophy just for being on the field” mentality of the 90s.  I’d ban sports for young kids if I could.

    My holidays will NEVER be about sports.

    • Kevin_Of_Bangor

      Boooooooooooooooooo on you!!!

      Would you rather have young kids sitting around becoming fat lazy adults?

      I loved teaching ice skating and ice hockey to children and I will still gladly give my expert skating advice to young children today to help them excel at a sport they love.

      Go be grumpy somewhere else.

      • Ray

        The way sport is hyped is probably more responsible for fat lazy adults than anything else. I’d like to see people participate in sports rather than sit around and watch them. I live in Canada where they say hockey is the national sport. If it is then it is the hockey played on backyard rinks and in local arenas by kids and adults who play just because it’s fun. The national sport is not reflected in the NHL.

      • Anonymous

        My point was “organized” sports.  Personally, I’d ban sports in a heartbeat but yes, there would be fewer heartbeats if that were to happen.  But honestly, what ever happened to neighborhood pickup games of kickball or basketball or Mother May I or 123 tag or any other number of active games that kids just played to have fun?  That gives them just as much activity as some coach yelling at them to get better.  As a kid, I spent HOURS outside with my friends, running around the backyards (which are all fenced in now), making up games like TV Guide Tag and other games that involved running, jumping, climbing, etc.  Kids these days don’t seem to do that unless there is an adult telling them how to do it.

        Yes, nurturing the love of a sport is a wonderful thing and teaching kids a sport they love is priceless… but in my experience with kids, most want to be active but to just play… but they are so busy being driven around to this activity and that activity that they don’t have time to just hang with their friends and play some innocuous game for fun.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Heck, even those holy roller good ol boy NASCAR drivers work on the Sabbath.

  • Charles Black

    I should have known why the christian right don’t like sports. It diverts people’s attention away from religion & of course they don’t like it.

    • Ray

      I’m on the atheist left and I don’t like those sports taking over and interrupting my down time. Bad enough when 60 Minutes is over an hour late starting because there is 5 minutes of football left to play but on the holidays it’s sports or religion. As it stands I just turn the TV off during the holidays. It’s not really important to me but it is annoying.

  • BrentSTL

    When it comes to the NBA, a Christmas Day game or games isn’t unusual. It actually dates back to the earliest days of the league in the 1940s: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NBA_on_Christmas_Day

    The NHL, on the other hand, does not play on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day – and it’s been in the last several CBAs. Teams who are scheduled to play on the road on Boxing Day don’t have to be at the game site until early in the morning of the 26th. You may remember, of course, the many Blues-Blackhawks games on the 26th. Some really good times, whether it was at the old St. Louis Arena or Chicago Stadium. ;)


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