Friends have divided over it. Marriages have been strained by it. Fights have been started over it. Some have even been killed by it. The “it” is a fanatical dedication to a sports team. It is often said that college football in the South is more like religion than sport. Yet worldwide you will find passionate fans of many sports teams who cheer their name, wear the colors, and sing the fight song. The sports field is a great place to find camaraderie and entertainment. Individuals, teams, and games are a wonderful source of inspirational stories, quotes, and illustrations. Even the apostle Paul used boxing and running to illustrate Christian principles.
But sports fanaticism has a dark side and one that Christians should consider. Fanatic, from which “fan” derives, can be defined as “marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion” (Merriam-Webster Online, “fanatic”). A true fan sees little or no wrong in their team but highlights every real or perceived fault in other teams, especially rivals. Whether the fanaticism is directed towards a sports team, political party, or politician, the person is either unwilling or incapable of seeing things in perspective. Their view is clouded by their obsession. They cannot see why everyone does not share their view and believe everyone is ignorant or evil who disagrees with them.
Allegiance or Idolatry?
To have an affinity for a sports team or hobby is not wrong. To love a team, enthusiastically support them, and follow them is not wrong of itself. Fanaticism is hard to separate from idolatry. There are people whose year will be considered good or bad not by their relationship with family and friends, success in endeavors, the growth of the Lord, or any virtuous thing but by how their team did against a rival or in a championship game. Some will have their year ruined because a rival did better than their team. So a few hours out of a year will determine whether it was a good or bad year? Whether I am happy or sad?
Sometimes our relationship with our sports teams and God can flesh out where our heart really stands.
- When attending a football game, some can sit in the cold and rain during overtime and double overtime but complain when they feel the preacher went “over” when proclaiming God’s word.
- Some can endure rain delays or watch a baseball game on a hot day with no complaint if the game goes into extra innings but gripe when the song leader chose some extra songs or the service ended later than usual.
- Some can recite team rosters, history, and key points in past games but have trouble identifying Bible characters, telling Bible stories from memory, and discussing key teaching of scripture.
- Some can read blogs, magazines, and listen to sports radio for hours about their team, recruiting, predictions, and game recaps but are bored at the thought of reading the Bible, doing their lessons, or listening to sermon audio on subjects they need.
It’s not that keeping up with one’s team or sport is wrong, it is not. The issue is when we give inordinate attention to what is passing away and less attention to what is eternal. We can enjoy the eternal and the temporal but never let what is passing eclipse what is really important.
Christians must also guard their tongue when discussing sports. I have some good friends at a rival school that love their team. I love them more than I love my team. There is friendly poking back and forth at work and with these friends. it is friendly give and take but in the end we value our relationship with one another more than any team and will not insult or demean one another.
But some turn nasty and vindictive and that is where the fun stops. I block some Christian friends on Facebook during football season because they speak with such venom about their rivals and perceived injustices against their team. Some cannot love their team without hating on someone else’s team. Sadly, I used to fall into that category and I repent of my folly and shortsightedness. Can you let your light shine and glorify God when your words are hateful and launched with an intent to hurt? Can you enjoy your team without hating on another team? Can you walk the high road when someone hates on your team?
Keeping First Things First
I love the Fall. I love football. I love my team. I love its history and I love watching the games. I love a loud stadium. I love it when we win. I love championships. I love everything about it and feel like a kid at Christmas when Fall arrives.
But I love God, His children, and His work more. In this area of my life it must clearly be evident to all. If I’m proud to wear my team colors I must be more zealous to show the glory of the Lord in my word, my priorities, and my life.
O’ Worship the Team
Sung to the tune “O, Worship the King”
O’ worship the team,
You make me so proud.
I faithfully sing,
The fight song so loud.
With venom I’ll speak of our rivals to all,
For grace seasoned speech isn’t used in the Fall.
I tell of your fame,
Your history I know.
I yell out your name,
And cheers proudly crow.
I don’t know much Bible after all of these years,
And don’t speak of Jesus for fear of the jeers.
O’ where is my love?
And what do I serve?
Do I look above,
And feed on His word?
Let all loves in life fade when I seek Your face,
And let my example reflect Your good grace.