When media worship The King

Cavs fan react to The Decision

Overheard in a newsroom last night:

“This is the biggest deal since Jesus rose from the dead.”

“Yeah, but Jesus didn’t post double-doubles on a consistent basis.”

Watching some of the reactions to LeBron James’ decision to go to Miami, you might have thought Lebron was Judas Iscariot.

I live 5 minutes away from the Lambeau Field and saw something similar when Brett Favre moved to the Vikings. The prevailing opinion in Green Bay is that the Packers are their own religion (duh). When we visited one church, the ushers handed out Packers schedules with the bulletin and the pastor announced to thundering applause that he had become an official Packers fan. So I wasn’t surprised at the attention paid to James’ announcement last night.

One of the most poignant columns came from Will Leitch of New York Magazine: “Never Has Being a Sports Fan Felt So Stupid.”

Loving sports, by definition, requires a certain suspension of disbelief and logic. We are all pouring our hearts and souls into cheering for men (and women) who do not care about us, who are not like us, who are not the type of people we would ever associate with (or even meet) in real life. We deify them because it is hard to find people to deify in the real world: Sports spans every age group, ethnic group, political persuasion, and all else that serves to divide us, separate us. We cheer for athletes because sports does not matter, not really. We cheer because sports is, ultimately, harmless.

…But never has it been laid more bare, and never did it feel so empty. It felt like a break, the moment when the tide crested, when we looked at the games, and their players, and ourselves, and wondered: Why in the world are we watching these awful people?

Religion-turned-education Associated Press reporter Eric Gorski poked at the Miami Herald‘s religion reporter Jaweed Kaleem:

@jaweedkaleem LeBron religion story?
@egorski well, it would complete quite the ‘trinity’ if he says yes!

I haven’t seen any religion ghosts in the coverage, but there are still probably some themes out there for potential story fodder.

For instance, I’d be interested in reading a story on how we understand (or misunderstand) loyalty vs. betrayal. Reading some of the vitriolic reactions, I couldn’t help thinking that some people hold an unbelievable sense of entitlement to a free agent.

Fans act as though they were still in high school, where athletes and teams are very much tied to the actual school. The city doesn’t own the Cleveland Cavaliers, for instance.

Or maybe there’s an angle on narcissism vs. humility. Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t remember other athletes donating money made during a press conference to a charity. In my mind, its speaks more about the level of obsession of sports fans than it does about James.

Or, you know, maybe there’s an angle on idol worship. Professional sports is a business; athletes and teams make transactions; fans just eat it up. It’s no wonder colleges are spending more than they have in the past on recreational facilities than on instruction.

Okay, maybe I just want an excuse to write about James (who wants to feel left out?), but weigh in if you can think of other angles for reporters to explore.

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  • Jerry

    “This is the biggest deal since Jesus rose from the dead.”

    “Yeah, but Jesus didn’t post double-doubles on a consistent basis.”

    I’m reminded of the furor when John Lennon made that famous comment about being more popular than Jesus. Maybe that comment passes without uproar because society is more secular or sports more holy. I’m not sure which. Or maybe both?

    maybe there’s an angle on idol worship

    I think the desire to find an ideal in a secular society rather than in religion is notable and worthy of further exploration. We expect perfection of sports figures, politicians and the like and react with outrage when they fail to walk on water. That is a gigantic religious ghost that typically floats around unnoticed.

    I’m reminded of one of my favorite Sufi stories that I think applies here:

    The story is about how some people came upon Nasruddin one night crawling around on his hands and knees under a lamppost.

    “What are you looking for?” they asked him.

    “I’ve lost the key to my house,” he replied.

    They all got down to help him look, but after a fruitless time of searching, someone thought to ask him where he had lost the key in the first place.

    “In the house,” Nasruddin answered.

    “Then why are you looking under the lamppost?” he is asked.

    “Because there is more light here,” Nasruddin replied.

    I think there are many ways of interpreting that cautionary tale, but one is the human tendency to look in the wrong places because they are more familiar with the wrong place compared to the right place.

  • http://AandBCounseling.com Don Ibbitson

    I have been a huge hockey fan all my life and they used to say about Phil Esposito that “Jesus saves but Esposito gets the rebounds”. Phil, who is still active and lives here in Tampa, used to make a good living scoring so-called garbage goals out front of the net. If people do not know the one true God and King, they will find and make substitutes in the natural realm. Lebron a “king”? Michael Jackson as the “king” of pop? I feel sad for anyone who has the need to elevate people to this type of status. I hope they figure it out this side of heaven. After all, the king of pop did meet the King of Kings. I hope and pray that went well for him.

  • Dave

    I’m from Northeast Ohio, and I will be so glad when LeBron James is no longer a national celebrity.

  • http://www.catholicradiointernational.com/ Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Check out the Creative Minority Report’s parody on it — using Archbishop Raymond Burke.