I just wrote this Christianity Today piece on football violence in light of the NFL’s nearly $765-million settlement with injured players. It’s stirred up a bit of interaction on Twitter, so say the least. Here’s a slice from the essay:
A sizeable portion of evangelicals do not follow boxing or mixed-martial arts due, in part, to their violent nature. Many believers may not be ready to immediately swear off their college football team or favorite pro franchise, but the NFL’s concussion settlement may cause an increasing number of believers to feel less comfortable with the violence of the game and to distance themselves from it until it is reformed and made safer. There is no reason it cannot be.
A few thoughts based on the response to the essay.
1. Football is not the same as the gladiatorial games, no.
2. But football is violence-intensive, like the games. The point of the game is to use violence. Violence is not incidental as in, say, badminton (!) or basketball. It is an integral, even essential, part of the game. That’s why I made the connection in the CT essay between the games and football. One seeks death, the other seeks violent contact.
3. We should care about human beings made in the image of God. This is true for adult athletes, and it is true for children. There is precious little research on the effect of head trauma on young athletes. Whatever Christians conclude about football, they should in every case support research on brain trauma. Information is not bad. It is good.
4. I don’t want, personally, to see football ended. I would like to see it changed. I imagine that this would mean a great deal less contact, more of a flag-football kind of game. That, as I see it, would preserve the electric beauty of the game while safeguarding its players.
5. If we reflexively respond to concerns about football violence by dismissing them, we are in one of a few possible states: 1) apathy, in which we don’t think; 2) anti-intellectualism, in which we take pride in not thinking; 3) idolatry, in which we worship football (or whatever else) and therefore refuse to hear concerns. All three states are regrettable.6. I have over the years watched a lot of football. I’m a basketball guy, but I’m also a red-blooded American man. Football, as I said in the piece, is a blast to behold. I assure any and all that I have the requisite football bona fides, which means that I have watched far more of it than I ever needed to or thought my body could physically handle!
7. I didn’t pursue writing this piece. I was asked to write it by Christianity Today. I’ve largely stopped writing about football violence, in part because I’ve said my piece, and in part because I’ve been surprised to see how little interest there is among fellow believers in thinking about the game. The whole thing has been funny, because I–known to a very few for being an enthusiastic promoter of rock-ribbed biblical manhood–have been identified as one who is helping “wussify” American men. (I actually addressed that concern in the piece, and noted my own thirst for contact sports, but hey–who actually needs to read the article, right?) This has meant that I’ve received encouragement from some unlikely folks. Which is fun.
8. There is no area, outside of salvation, that evangelicals take more seriously than their sports. We are very nearly obsessed with sports. We love cultural engagement; we enthusiastically quote Abraham Kuyper’s “Every square inch of the cosmos is Christ’s!” dictum for the 7 billionth time. And yet, when it comes to our favorite things, we shut cultural engagement/worldview thinking/ethical reflection down faster than the eye can blink.
9. Therefore: if you claim to be a Christian who brings all of life under the dominion of Christ, you need to either ante up and make good on that claim–or else leave it aside. There’s no middle ground.
10. I rejoice that many football players love Jesus, are preaching the gospel, and are using their platform to spread good news.
11. I warmly and unworriedly recognize that some will disagree with me. Mine is surely a minority position, so let that be said. There are many who have played the game and are living very productive lives. Furthermore, football violence is tough to sort out. It calls for careful thinking. Godly people can disagree on this issue and its outworkings. I said that in the CT essay, and I say it again here.
I could say more; I’ll leave it here.