I love sports, always have, and sadly I know I always will. I think sports teaches you hard-work, it provides you with a great supportive community of like minded friends, and it also helps you to see yourself as you really are. Often there is no better way to learn humility than when you put up a cool reverse layup and it is swatted half-way across the court. All in all, I think in a general sense, playing sports is healthy. My problem, however, is that sports can often cause you to dangle dangerously close to the edge of the “cliff of obsession.” I have found when the sports bug bites you - trivial things start to twist and morph you. I have seen grown men regress into kindergarten mentality when it comes to arguing with other men over their favorite color: “I like blue!” “I like green.” “You are both wrong, scarlet is the best!” (And we thought women on Pintrest were crazy?) Or think about this: kids in high school, both guys and even more rabid girls, now determine who their friends are by how good they are at throwing a round piece of leather through an orange metal ring. Now doesn’t that seem a little deranged?
But I have to tell you what saddens me the most is when people finally do fall off the cliff. It happens all too frequently in our society, and people like this are easy to spot because they have lost all ability to think and count. It is really weird.
NON THINKERS (Federal Headship Fallacy, Muhammad Ali Syndrome)
Since I am a pastor, I see things theologically and a very interesting concept to me is the “Federal Headship of Adam.” What this teaches is that Adam, the first man, represented all of mankind when he was placed in the Garden of Eden. When he sinned, all of us sinned - - God calls this vicarious association. Somehow in the mind of God, I am joined with Adam in his rebellion in the Garden; because he ate the fruit, I ate the fruit. Theologically this is considered true truth (Romans 5:12-14). But Federal Headship should not be applied to any other situation in life, especially sports, because you turn crazy. Some people like Superman and watching movies about him; but if they were to walk around in red underwear and cape all day, we would think they escaped the asylum. Some people like Sponge Bob, but it is ludicrous to think you can live underneath water wearing brown shoes and flipping hamburgers on a hot grill. But somehow, when it comes to sports we forget that Federal Headship does not apply: we think if our team wins, we win and we are the champions. We think if we yell louder or talk to the players while watching tv, we are connected to them. And when we beat our rival, we rub it in their face because in our mind “We are superior!” It really can become dangerous: I have seen people abandon friendships and bad-mouth family all because of team loyalty. I have seen people go into months of depression because their team lost, or their favorite player got hurt. Hey sports fans, the players on your favorite team don’t even know who you are! And guess what, they don’t even care about you. But somehow, we must still believe! They are “My Team!” (yeah, you and another one million of the most dedicated fans)
The “Muhammad Ali Syndrome” is worse. Ali’s favorite chant was, “I am the greatest! I am the greatest.” About 20 years ago I got a signature from him and he couldn’t even stand up, his body was racked by a terrible disease. But he still said and so did the people around him, "That he was the greatest." Sadly, because we play in a YMCA basketball league and score 10 points we instantly think, “We are the greatest!” We catch a touch-down pass in a high school football game and we are the next Jerry Rice. We listen to 20 hours of sports talk a day, and we know more than Troy Aikman. “We believe we are the greatest,” and so many of us really believe it!
NON COUNTERS & PLAYING BAD ODDS
Think about the time, money and effort to make your kid “the greatest?” I have major regrets because I was blinded by the Ali Syndrome for at least 20 years of my life, and in that time I barely read a book, I worked silly jobs so I could keep my time open to play more sports, and I never properly evaluated what I was good at. But think about the odds of being the greatest: (Take High School Basketball for Example)
- 34,450: these are the number of men’s High School Basketball Teams.
- 346: these are the number of men’s College Basketball Teams.
- 30: these are the number of NBA Teams.
Over the years parents will pay thousands of dollars, and drive hundreds of miles to give their kid a shot at the big time. What are the odds? Think about it? That’s the problem, we don’t. And then when our kids graduate high school, they don’t know how to meet with God, Sunday is just another day to play, they rarely experience real hard work, and after it is all said and done they become depressed because we told them they "really" have a shot.
So are you saying my kid doesn't have a shot? The real question is, “Why is this the highest goal for your kid? Why do we determine significance by dribbling skills, passing accuracy, and 100 meter dash time?” Sure, having your kids play sports is healthy, but that isn't the end for which God created them. In our quest for stardom, we have more often than we can be honest about, sacrificed them on the altar of athletic arrogance. It is killing our kids. They made the team so they think they are special (that is...better than those nerds in band), they made the winning shot so they are significant, they have their name in the paper, so they have arrived. But do they know Christ? Do they understand godly humility? Do they have any hunger for his word? (Nah, it's Sunday, we need to go to Newark for a tournament)
One more thing: the college basketball tournament is coming up, what are the odds that your team will win? Don’t mean to burst your bubble, but March Madness is designed to disappoint. If we can watch it for enjoyment, great! But don’t watch it to prove your superiority: It has failed me personally for the last 40 years…I am an Ohio State fan, so I know!
My final point: Enjoy but don’t obsess, somehow when you fall off the cliff you lose a part of your soul that you can never get back.