We love our sports in America, and I’m sure that’s just as true in other countries. This was in clear view Saturday as the most anticipated annual local rivalry game of the year took place in college basketball between my favorite team – the University of Kentucky Wildcats – and the University of Louisville Cardinals. I was glad when my lower-ranked team won the game. I nervously paced, clapped and yelled my way through the game in the privacy of my man cave with only my befuddled dog Callie watching in bewilderment at my unusual behavior.
Throughout the game I checked my Facebook news feed to read up on comments during breaks in the game action. I try not to be one of those rub-it-in-your-nose obnoxious winners or a whining sore loser, regardless of the outcome of the game. I’ll root for my team and if they win, I’m elated. If they lose, I’ll take it like a man. I enjoy a little smack talk about who will win. I’ll post on social media, but in a way that is respectful. Living in Louisville, I have as many Louisville fans as friends as I do Kentucky fans here, so to risk damage to relationships over any sports loyalty seems overboard, short-sighted, unnecessary and foolish.
It was with dismay, then, that I read some of the comments of fans on Facebook following the game. People were calling each other out by name and exchanging jabs that were unnecessary and unhelpful – potentially harmful to the long-term prospects of the relationship. How senseless! Are sports so important to us that we deem our team winning or saving face in the midst of defeat to be more important than our relationships?
The truth is that sports is a god in America. I mean that in all seriousness. The first two of the Ten Commandments are “You shall have no others gods before me” and “You shall not make for yourself an idol” (Exodus 20:3-4, New International Version). I believe that a great number of people violate both of those commandments regularly in their lives by having greater loyalty to sports and to their favorite teams than to Almighty God.
We see this play out when people would rather devote Sundays to their sport than to worshiping together with other believers. We see it when people can spend great amounts of money or time to attend or participate in sports, but they would only grudgingly drop a few dollars (if any) in an offering plate at church on those occasional times they muster the will to be present. We see it when parents allow the practice and game times of their children’s sports teams to win the scheduling conflict with participation at church and faith-related events. We see it in the cancellation of regular faith-related activities around events such as the Super Bowl (although I’ve never understood why some churches think they must create competing events for that time when they would not normally meet on Sunday). We see it when more enthusiasm is displayed about a game than about one’s relationship with God. We see it when losing a game or tournament upsets some far more than the prospect of their family, friends, neighbors and coworkers spending eternity in Hell because of not knowing Christ as savior.
It’s possible to be a sports fan and still love God more than sports, of course, but I honestly think countless people in our country have created a god of sports to be the idol at which they bow. In one swoop of misplaced loyalty, they have broken the first commandment by putting something else above God, and that something else of sports has become the idol of the broken second commandment which consumes their time, attention and loyalty. If someone is in doubt, they probably just need to look at how they spend their time and their money and at what gets them most worked up emotionally. Is it their relationship with God or is it sports (or something else)? If it’s anything but one’s relationship with and service for Christ, then you’ve created a god and an idol of your own making.
There is room for God and sports in life, but God doesn’t tolerate any loyalties greater than our loyalty to Him. He will not be mocked. Those who continue to create in their own minds and demonstrate by their behavior that their god is sports or anything else rather than God are in grave danger of missing out on the very purpose of this life and the next. That saddens me.
Sports can be a great part of a healthy, fun, exciting life. I believe God built the desire for it into our human nature. Like other aspects of life, though, it has gone too far when our love and devotion to it is greater than what we demonstrate for the God who made us and to whom we owe our ultimate allegiance. It has also gone too far when we jeopardize other human relationships over loyalty to a team.