If you’re anything like me, you mark the four seasons by sports seasons rather than calendar dates and weather. It’s not spring until first pitch or fall until opening kickoff.
But 2020 has upended everything in the sports world.
And it’s forced me to reflect like never before about priorities and rhythms of life.
Where do sports fit? How important are sports — really?
I’ve played, watched, coached, refereed, administered and reported on sports most of my life, so you might assume sports are really important for me. You’d be right, but what I’ll attempt to do is challenge you with some surprisingly deep food for thought — no matter how important sports are to you personally.
Here’s my overall thesis, and I’ll spend the remaining time defending it in ways I pray will help you:
Sports could be the second-most important thing in your life (after only your relationship with Jesus) to the extent that they function as a primary means of glorifying God.
Sports should be the least important thing in your life to the extent that they function as a primary means of drawing you away from God.
Read those statements again.
I think most discussions about where sports fit as a priority bypass this framework and jump directly to personal opinions.
But let me show some examples of how this could play out, by some of the primary roles involved in sports. I’m sure you’ll be challenged and encouraged.
Importance of sports: God-glorifying vs. Self-destructive
- Loving teammates self-sacrificially.
- Disciplining the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit.
- Extending grace even to a hostile opponent.
- Discipling others through the athletic environment.
- Sharing the Gospel through the platform God has given.
- Abusing teammates for selfish ends.
- Destroying the body through illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
- Getting revenge on a hostile opponent.
- Focusing only on getting ahead at all costs.
- Turning people away from God through actions and comments.
- Using common team support with other fans as a bridge for the Gospel.
- Connecting with rival fans to show that Gospel love transcends human difference.
- Displaying virtue no matter how the team is doing (humility in victory, loyalty through repeated failure).
- Living out moderation and healthy perspective among over-the-top fanatics.
- Idolizing players and completely compartmentalizing sports from faith.
- Hating rival fans and descending into tribalism.
- Constantly failing to discipline emotional reactions to team performance
- Spending inordinate amounts of time obsessing over all things team-related.
- Loving the players as image bearers of God and always seeking their well-being
- Teaching and modeling excellence on and off the field.
- Sharing how faith and sports connect to the fullest extent permitted.
- Always respecting the rules of the game and those who enforce them.
- Treating players like cogs in a machine to achieve a winning result.
- Cutting corners in preparation and failing to teach or model good sportsmanship.
- Sacrificing integrity to try and win at all costs.
- Treating referees, opponents, media, etc. poorly.
- Serving in the role to make sure players can safely enjoy a fun game.
- Enforcing rules fairly and professionally.
- Creating an environment that illustrates how healthy boundaries enhance freedom and enjoyment.
- Staying patient and calm in the face of adverse reactions from players, coaches and/or fans.
- Doing the bare minimum through lazy effort merely to earn a paycheck.
- Unfairly targeting certain teams or players with tighter or looser enforcement.
- Exercising power and insisting that all others acknowledge that power.
- Lashing out at even fair and calm requests for clarification.
- Establishing leagues/programs/events with Christ at the center.
- Helping coaches and players see the God-glorifying potential in their roles.
- Humbly staying behind the scenes to ensure the maximum enjoyment of everyone else.
- Treating every person involved with the utmost respect, from world-class athletes to the clean-up crew.
- Abusing authority to structure leagues/programs/events primarily around administrative convenience.
- Treating coaches and players as less-than and demanding their submission.
- Micro-managing every minor detail and creating a miserable work environment for empoyees.
- Displaying negligence on important issues (legal, compliance, safety, etc.).
- Telling the truth in the most appropriate way.
- Treating interviewees and sources with respect at all times.
- Sharing the love of Jesus either explicitly or implicitly through media to the fullest extent possible.
- Finding and sharing sports stories of redemption and faith.
- Sensationalizing stories to gain more followers.
- Disrespecting and/or misquoting interviewees to fit a pre-conceived narrative.
- Presenting stories in ways that fuel negative responses (deeper fan tribalism, hatred or idolatry of player, etc.).
- Seeking and showcasing stories that glorify sin.
If you’re a parent, you can live vicariously through your kid to accomplish your own athletic dreams (and possibly destroy his/hers), or gift them a healthy framework on sports.
If you’re an athletic trainer, you could harm your athletes with improper treatment, or care for them through appropriate, professional training.
Concession stand workers. Equipment managers. Camera operators. Facility personnel. Bus drivers. Security. Custodians. Ticket scanners. Scoreboard operators. Everyone — these principles apply.
The bottom line: How important are sports?
If you’re called by God to fulfill a sports-related role, do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) and consider sports an important part of how you love God, love others and make disciples.
If sports have become an idol in your life, they keep destroying your priorities, they completely consume your thoughts … or your money … or your time, then you should make sports a much less important part of your life.
So, how important are sports? As important as God wants them to be for His glory and your good.
I’d encourage you to pray and seek God’s wisdom to understand how important sports should be in your life, and ask Him to use sports to grow you into the person He’s created you to be.