One topic of conversation that frequently comes up between my sports-fan husband and me (particularly now that his favorite team, the Denver Broncos, drafted he of the Bible verses on his cheeks, Tim Tebow) is the role of faith in sports. We’re both often bothered by the theology of prayer on the pitch (or field, or court, or whatever, but the alliteration of pitch just worked well there)– what does it say to nonbelievers, for example, if you pray over the loudspeaker, or even in the locker room, for no one to get injured, and then someone does get injured? I remember standing on the sidelines in my band uniform, waiting to perform at halftime at a high school football game, when a classmate of mine was tackled hard, breaking his femur so badly the end of it was literally stuck in the field. Was that horrific injury a problem of faith? Did that player not have enough? Did the person who prayed before the game not pray the right words? Was God rooting for the other team?
This morning my husband emailed me a link to this article, “When did God become a sports fan?” from CNN’s website. He said: “interesting read. won’t learn anything, but interesting that CNN’s talking about it.” Very interesting indeed!
From the get, the very idea that God would be helping a MMA fighter win stuck in my craw. Really? The God who designed our very bodies? You think that God would be fond of a sport that involves beating the very crap out of someone? That that God would be proud to be credited with your victory as your opponent is left so groggy he has to be led out of the ring? Call me a hippie pacifist if you want, but I just don’t get the idea that God’s a fan of MMA fighting.
Beyond my issues with violence, though, the idea that God picks sides really confuses me. As my friend Ryan Byrd blogged today: God sends good things to both the evil and the righteous. He doesn’t pick teams on whom to bestow blessing, because God is interested in blessing everyone.
I also particularly liked this point from the CNN piece:
Tom Krattenmaker, author of “Onward Christian Athletes,” says many evangelical athletes who publicly thank Jesus for victory have nothing to say about other issues such as the pervasive use of steroids in sports or racial discrimination against aspiring minority coaches.
“It’s an incomplete Christianity that’s brought to bear on sports, ” Krattenmaker says. “They are blind and silent on the larger moral issues that vex the sports sector.”
It would actually be really refreshing to hear a Christian athlete chime in on one of these more major moral issues and how their faith informs their views on those issues, rather than simply weighing in on whether or not they think God is on their side when they win or lose.
Ultimately, I think I come down on the side of devout Catholic and Seattle Mariners baseball player Mike Sweeney, who, as mentioned in the article, is not a fan of the sort of loud-mouthed “God made us win” rhetoric we so often hear from players of faith. Sweeney says:
“If I’m facing Andy Pettitte on the Yankees and I’m praying for a home run, and he’s praying for a strikeout, I don’t think the result is going to show who has greater faith…It’s easy being a Christian when you’re hitting .345, but you let me know who you really are when you’re hitting .245 and going through the valley…Saint Francis of of Assisi says preach the gospel at all times and, when necessary, use words. That’s something I’ve tried to live my whole life.”
I’m reminded of several of my favorite tennis players, like Roger Federer, who epitomize grace on the court win or lose. I have no idea if Roger is a Christian, but his gracious attitude toward his opponents shines in every single interview I see with him. Those kinds of things speak to me much louder than a point to the heavens after a big score or Bible verses embedded in eyeblack.