enjoying the world cup? check out the homeless world cup!

I’m really enjoying the World Cup.  As I type, I’m watching Argentina play Korea.  I’m not an athlete, but soccer is one of my most favorite sports to watch, because the action is constant and the rules, once you understand the whole “offsides thing” are pretty easy to understand.  I just read a Don Miller post about whether or not soccer is the unifying “beautiful game” its fans say it is.  Don says no.  But I suspect he hasn’t seen a film I’ve seen.  That film is “Kicking It” and it’s about the Homeless World Cup.  You can check it out now on Netflix instant streaming.  I reviewed it this time last year, and thought I’d repost that review in honor of the World Cup:

The other night, Jon and I Netflixed a really great documentary called “Kicking It,” which is about the Homeless World Cup. It was a great film, focused on six individual players from different countries as they make their way onto teams and to South Africa to play soccer.

At first, it may seem like a strange form of outreach, forming soccer teams of homeless people. I mean, aren’t there other, more concrete things they need beyond a recreational activity? But soccer is more powerful than it may seem. Just being on a team, having goals, getting to celebrate small successes is a new experience for many of the players, who are often lonely outcasts, estranged from family, battling addictions. One player from Ireland was attempting to end a heroin addiction, and being on the soccer team in essence gave him a reason to keep living, a reason for his mother to finally be proud of him, a reason to get clean. Another player from America had been abused and rejected by his family, and was dealing with lots of anger and abandonment issues, but being on a team was sort of his first experience in a functioning “family,” one that expected him to deal with his anger in more appropriate ways. Continue reading “enjoying the world cup? check out the homeless world cup!”

Does God root root root for the home team?

Image: NY Jets vs. Buffalo, Oct 2009 - 02, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from yourdon's photostream

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.

on serena williams’ outburst

I have watched a lot of tennis.  In fact, I’ve probably seen almost every grand slam in at least the past 10 years, thanks to my parents.  My parents are huge tennis fans who actually planned our family vacations around Wimbledon, so that when we were tired of spending the day out on the beach, we could relax in a cool condo watching the world’s best tennis players on the most prestigious stage in the world.  So yeah, I’ve seen a lot of tennis, and in all that watching, I can’t remember seeing anything like Serena Williams’ semifinals outburst towards a linesman, when she, with racket held up menacingly, said she’d like to shove the f***ing ball down the umpire’s f***ing throat.

Lots of commentary has focused on comparing Serena to he of the famous temper tantrums, John McEnroe.  I say, the fact that they have to pull out a geezer (sorry dad!) for some sort of comparison really says all there is to say: modern tennis players don’t behave like that.  Sure, Andy Roddick and Leyton Hewitt have been known to get a little verbal, but I don’t think I’ve EVER, in all my tennis-watching, seen them physically threaten an umpire in the same profane manner of Serena.  It may just be because modern tennis players have huge endorsement deals that they don’t want to lose, but they do not lose their shit on the court and throw a match because of bad behavior.  And if they do, they get fined, period.

Tennis is supposed to be a sport with class.  You’re gracious and friendly to your opponents, you’re generous with your fans, and you try to avoid throwing your racket around or denigrating the umpires.  And usually, I’ve always thought of both Venus and Serena, whom I love to watch, as very gracious players.  Intense yes, but they’ve been in the sport since they were kids, and they know how to act like pros.  Which is why I’m sure Serena’s outburst was just the product of stress and pressure and spotlights and frustration and adrenaline.  It’s understandable, but it’s still unacceptable for a player of her caliber and experience.  I am not saying that Serena owes me or anyone an apology.  She didn’t hurt MY feelings.  But perhaps sending a note of apology to the umpire would be an appropriate gesture in this situation.

Updated to include: Serena Williams has issued an apology on her blog.

kicking it, kicking homelessness

The other night, Jon and I Netflixed a really great documentary called “Kicking It,” which is about the Homeless World Cup.  It was a great film, focused on six individual players from different countries as they make their way onto teams and to South Africa to play soccer.

At first, it may seem like a strange form of outreach, forming soccer teams of homeless people.  I mean, aren’t there other, more concrete things they need beyond a recreational activity?  But soccer is more powerful than it may seem.  Just being on a team, having goals, getting to celebrate small successes is a new experience for many of the players, who are often lonely outcasts, estranged from family, battling addictions.  One player from Ireland was attempting to end a heroin addiction, and being on the soccer team in essence gave him a reason to keep living, a reason for his mother to finally be proud of him, a reason to get clean.  Another player from America had been abused and rejected by his family, and was dealing with lots of anger and abandonment issues, but being on a team was sort of his first experience in a functioning “family,” one that expected him to deal with his anger in more appropriate ways. Continue reading “kicking it, kicking homelessness”