Monday, February 19, 1996

What's Wrong with Sports?

Note: I wrote this before God saved me. Some of these things I may disagree with now.

Americans are obsessed with sports. Stadiums and arenas dot the country. Any newspaper worth its salt has a section on sports, while television and radios carry up-to-the-second coverage. School children compete to "make the team" and prove their athletic abilities.

Is this obsession what God would have for Americans? Are sports a harmless habit or a hazardous addiction? The answers to these questions are not simple. But following you'll find a list of Biblical principles which should help you evaluate your relationship to sports.

1. Competition is unbiblical. Before you disagree, let's define competition. Competition is "having the goal of winning by causing another person to lose."

Philippians 2:3-4 (NASB) commands, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also for the interests of others." 1 Corinthians 13:5 agrees: "[love] seeketh not her own..."

Instead of competing so you will win and someone else will lose, why not play so both of you win? This requires a mental attitude of not caring whether you win or lose. When a game becomes "serious" it is no longer a game!

One problem with competition is that it teaches children they are only valuable when they perform well. The good players often ridicule the poor players, and even parents can reinforce this when they speak highly of a good player but reserve only a "good job" for their own child. This can lead to lack of self-acceptance.

Even for children who are good in sports, a competitive environment can drive them to a lack of self-acceptance. They think, "I'm only worth something when I do well, so I've got to keep ahead of everyone else." When they cannot measure up to their own standards, they usually berate themselves (at least in their minds, and often out loud).

Another pitfall competitive children (and adults) face is pride over their athletic abilities, which is also forbidden in Philippians 2:3.

2. Sports can become gods. It is possible to become so enthralled with sports as to make it an idol. Although most Christians involved in sports would deny it, we can put games before God all too easily. What else are we to assume of Christians who spend more on tickets to games than they tithe to their church; who spend more time watching, listening to, reading about, and playing sports than they do reading the Bible and praying? In Phoenix, many people have plastered "Go Suns!" signs in their windows. But I have yet to see a "Go God!" sign in a window! Perhaps a friend of ours was correct when he suggested the names of sporting games should be changed to "foot Baal", "base Baal", etc.

3. Sports usually have no eternal value. Face it: kicking a ball around usually doesn't promote relationships. Especially when you've just been flattened by a linebacker and you're really wishing you could return the favor. The exception, of course, is when a game is played in a friendly, non-competitive way such as between family members. But watching a game on television as a family does not build relationships, because the only interaction is usually, "Hey, you're standing in front of the T.V.! Sit down!"

4. Children's sports can easily lead to peer dependence. When a child (or adult) plays on a team, after time he or she will develop a cohesive, loyal attitude toward the other team members. Cohesiveness is necessary for a team to be successful. The problem arises when a child carries the loyalty into other areas than sports. For example, imagine that the "star" player of a team uses the word "cool" a lot. Other children on the team will imitate him. If one player is disrespectful to his parents, the other players may talk that way to their parents. In short, the cohesiveness of a team multiplies the negative effect of peer pressure.

5. Certain sports are physically dangerous. Some sports can expose players to an unnecessary risk of physical injury. Football is the most hazardous, but injuries of baseball, basketball, and soccer players are not uncommon.

6. Sports in which girls play can be "defrauding." The worst in this regard are sports played between teenage boys and girls. The combination of immodest clothing worn during most sports and the physical contact necessary for certain sports can cause a male onlooker or player to have improper thoughts, violating Job 31:1, Phil. 4:8 and Matt. 5:28.

7. Historically, sports were the hobby of heathens. In fact, the word gymnasium comes from a Greek word which means "to exercise naked." Athlete comes from Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, skills, and warfare.

8. Hero-worship can develop, especially among children and teens. Some sports fans begin to "worship" a player or team. They may hang pictures, talk constantly about their hero, wear special clothes promoted by this person, or go to great lengths to get an autograph. Besides the obvious waste of time, money and energy expended on these pursuits, the "worshipper" may follow the hero's example in other areas. And many times sports figures live sinful, selfish lives. Should we emulate someone for their awesome abilities or their Christlike character?

9. Selection of team members can be very destructive. One of the worst inventions of informal sports is the method of choosing teams. Typically, two captains are chosen. They get to pick who will be on their team. Invariably, the best players are chosen first, and the clumsiest are left until the end. This develops an attitude of pride in the best players and a feeling of worthlessness in the "wimps." Drawing straws, casting lots, or even "eeny, meeny, miny, moe" is a much better way to pick players.

Are there any "safe" sports? Absolutely. Many "normal" games like volleyball, baseball, relay races, and tug-of-war can be played in a friendly, relationship-building way. Instead of competing with each other, the two sides can work together towards the goal of allowing everyone to have a good time. To discern whether a sport is one you should be involved in, use the following checklist as a guide:

This sport:

allows everyone to have a good time

builds relationships

is not an idol to me

does not promote peer-dependence

does not lead to hero-worship

does not cause pride

does not harm a poor player's self-acceptance

uses a random method of picking teams

does not cause defrauding

is physically safe

Daniel has been homeschooled for twelve years and lives with his parents in Phoenix, Arizona.

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