Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Love of Sports: One Man's Perspective

I am a fan of the Houston Texans. I have been since they started as an expansion team ten years ago. Through the worst of seasons to this season, their best yet, I've been faithful to claim them as "my" team. I also like teams in other sports (except basketball) as well as competitors in individual sports (golf, NASCAR racing, and UFC).

It's fun to watch some people who are rabid fans of teams. Their demeanor is determined, in large part, by the success of the team they support. They strut around arrogantly when "their" team is winning; they get violently angry when "their" team loses.

It's also curious how people include themselves as part of the team they are fans of. When they speak of "their" team, they speak in first-person, as if they were on the team and had an actual stake in the success or failure of the team.

This led me to wonder about the nature of our love of sports. I don't mean the "why" of our  love of sports. Explanations for why we love sports are legion and vary from sociological to psychological, to physiological. What I want to consider is the nature of our passion for sports from a Christian worldview.

At its most basic, sports is about competition. Though not all people are sports-lovers, almost everyone is a lover of competition, whether they see in themselves or not. Consider the popularity of "reality" television shows such as Survivor, The Amazing Race, Big Brother, American Idol, The X Factor, America's Got  Talent, and on and on. They are all, basically, competitions. Viewers of both sports and "reality" television pick their competitor(s) from the available choices and live vicariously through them.

We all, through competition, seek to be, or be associated with, the best individual or best team or best organization or best institution. We want to have the experience of, not just better, but best.

What does this say about us? I think it speaks to two related concepts: 1) an innate desire for excellence; and 2) an intrinsic understanding that not everything is excellent; that there is inferiority and mediocrity. Said another way, we understand that there's something imperfect (even broken) about the world, in general, and each of us, specifically. And we are hard-wired to desire something better. We desperately seek out an expression of the excellence we know isn't currently, but could be, even should be. Sports are simply an expression of that quest. Though sporting events existed in agrarian times, they escalated in popularity with the advent of the industrial revolution and more so with the technological revolution. People in our culture no longer have to spend all their waking hours just to survive; we have discretionary time. We work to afford a greater and greater standard of living--to get more. We spend our discretionary time vicariously living through others (sports stars, musicians, actors, etc.) in a perpetual struggle against inferiority and mediocrity.

We live in a constant tension between the dream of perfection and the reality of our own inferiority.

What is the nature of our hope for perfection? God. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are hard-wired by God for a deep longing for perfection in all aspects. We live presently in the reality of the curse brought on by the fall. Adam and Eve knew and experienced perfection; they walked with God. All was right. Then they rebelled and what was once effortless was suddenly difficult. All was no longer "right." As they sweat and toiled, they did so with the memory of what it was to have had perfection. That knowledge of perfection haunts us to this day. And it drives us to pursue excellence. It compels us to vicariously associate with those individuals or teams or organizations or institutions that are closer to, though not nearly achieving, the perfection mankind was created to be a part of.

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