TJ was a guy I admired. He seemed to be smart, funny and didn’t adhere to anything traditional. He was a little older than me and came from a completely different background, and I listened to him for a unique perspective on the world. One day over a conversation at lunch he was asked about sports, and he said something that caught my attention, “All sports are designed to feed the human ego and nothing more.” He was the very first person in my life that I can remember who questioned the endless sports activities we have here in America.
Through the years I have repeated all or part of what he said to numerous individuals hoping to get their perspective on the sports in which we participate. Usually, the conversation is greeted with surprise and often with heated tones. It was often stated like, “How dare you question this?” Which made me even more concerned over our undying devotion to something we label as a game.
There is always a list of the positive effects of sports in the life of those who participate of which I agree.
1. They promote physical fitness. Every parent is quick to point out that it is better for their kid to be on the field or court than sitting on the couch at home playing video games or watching TV.
2. They are fun activities. All the sports I know about were designed to bring joy to the player. They should result in smiles and pleasant memories.
3. They provide fellowship. You can call it teamwork or whatever label you like. The fundamental component is the interaction with other human beings. Obviously, not all sports are designed for teams, but many contain an element of intrapersonal connection.
These seem to be the primary three reasons most people promote sports, and I can see the values in each of these. But this is where I want to put up a boundary and begin to wave a warning flag, especially to people who call themselves believers. At some point, we can move beyond the foundational goodness of these events and cross into a dark new territory. Here are a few areas where we need to be careful in both our lives and in the hearts of our children.
1. When sports are where we find meaning and self-worth. It is easy to think that if you are bigger, faster or stronger than other people, then you are somehow special. Soon your identity can become wrapped up in your activity. We can think, I have value and worth because I am good at something. My questions are, “What happens when they get hurt? What happens when they meet someone who is bigger, faster or stronger? What happens when they get older and no longer can play?” Finding your sense of self-worth in sports is a dangerous recipe for disappointment.
2. When sports fill us with pride. If you win a few games, it is easy to begin to see yourself as superior to other people. My friend TJ was partially correct in his assessment. Sports are inherently designed to promote one person or team as better than another. Soon that can translate into an inflated ego, and a whole world of terrible actions can follow. The bible is clear that pride proceeds destruction (Prov. 16:18) and a Christian attitude is humility.
3. When sports become our master. This one creeps up on us suddenly. We see all the positive benefits, and so we can throw ourselves into athletics without thinking. Soon your life can be dominated by it. Every evening’s agenda is designed around practices and games. Weekend schedules are prioritized according to the games we are playing. Let me ask you this one huge question, “When a new activity comes up as a possibility is your first thought, ‘What would Jesus want me to do?’ or is it, ‘Will the sports schedule allow it to happen?’” The answer to that question will reveal a great deal about your priorities.
I know as you read this you might think I am an angry old person who hates these kids and all their athletics programs. In fact, the opposite is true. I have four boys who enjoy sports, and I am a fan at most of their games. I have also spent a lifetime watching the effects it is having on our parents and our young people. I want to spend today issuing a warning; please, please be careful with sports.