On Saturday, a young man from Tulane university, a senior studying cellular/molecular biology, suffered a broken neck, damage to his spinal column and a collapsed lung when he collided with a fellow player in a college football game against Tulsa University.
I wrote this post on Friday night, waiting to publish it on Sunday when people would have more time to read it and would maybe read it while watching a game or two. I didn’t anticipate such a devastating example of what I’m writing about. Thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family.
Unlike a lot of my posts, I’m not here to make a bold statement, or stir up controversy. I’m here to ask a question, and to open up dialogue. There’s a few reasons why: one is because a recent post on faith and science has shown me that some of my readers are willing to comment and have really great things to say.
But I must confess that the reason that I leave this question very open-ended is because I haven’t decided on an answer yet.
I try to keep a very open mind on all matters, whether faith, politics, or what have you. I think it is my responsibility as a free-thinking adult who worships a God so dynamic and who lives in a world so diverse to always be ready for correction, new information, and a better understanding. There are some things I hold very dear, and would take a lot to change my mind on, but for the most part, I consider myself a person who, and respect other people immensely who, are open-minded. That being said, I usually do form an opinion on things, even if it is open to change.
So this is one I haven’t yet formed my opinion on, and I thought I might get the opinion of the community here to think through things I haven’t thought of yet. So what I will do is give my thoughts on the matter, show the progress of thought and the “new information” that I’ve been presented with, and then open up the comments section to settle it.
The first thing you should know is I’m not really a big fan of football. The only sport I go out of my way to watch and follow is NBA Basketball. I know enough about NFL and College Football to hold my own in a conversation, but that’s about all. I’ll watch a game with my friends or family, and I’ll get fired-up if the game is intense, but it’s never truly my activity of choice. What this means for this conversation is that I have very little invested in the answer to this question. I have no traditions or hobbies or loyalties or emotions tied up in this answer. So if that means that my answer is different than your answer, that’s really okay.
And that’s my second important point. I don’t think this is, at all, an issue that needs to uniform for Christians everywhere or be written into doctrine or rulebooks. This is one of those issues that I don’t think is in any way a “clincher” for salvation or even a wholesome Christian ethic. I just think it’s worth thinking and talking about.
Alright. So now let’s actually get to the question. Should Christians support football? And I assure you, this has nothing to do with people wanting to leave church early to catch the afternoon game.
It has everything to do with this article
And since I know most people read through this without clicking links, I’ll summarize the article. (Though if you want to join the conversation in the comments, please read the article because he addresses a lot of the things I’m sure will come up… and it’s short.) It argues that supporting football is supporting an institution that does violence and irreparable damage to people. Anyone who follows sports and athletes after retirement knows that this is true of the sport. Several studies have come out showing that football, uniquely, leaves its life-long players with severe damage that all the money in the world can’t fix. So the article questions whether, as Christians, we ought to support the destruction of life and health simply for our own entertainment. The article anticipates rebuttals highlighting that the players “know what they’re getting into” and are paid handsomely for their pain. But what young person would turn down such money and notoriety at that age for fear of pain later? And, when it really comes down to it, that money comes from the fans in ticket/merch sales and television advertising. The argument could be made that we are paying these men to permanently damage their bodies and put themselves in future agonizing pain simply for our entertainment.
While I’m not sold on the argument, or with the “boycott” reaction, this is something I hadn’t thought of before. By watching, how am I participating? In an economic system like ours, does my viewership equal support for the results? I think it does. But is this an issue worth standing up against? Is this a moral issue? And if it is, what can be done about it? Is education the answer? Should the players be shown warnings of the outcome of the life they’re choosing? More importantly, if they did, would it make any difference to these young people?
This brings up a more important church issue. When and if (“if”, in this circumstance) the church deems that an institution such as football is contrary to the will of God, is the proper reaction then to boycott it or avoid it? You see this all the time, especially in my denomination, the Church of the Nazarene. It used to be that Nazarenes were not allowed to go to the movie theatre. While we all recognize that there is much at the theatre that is contrary to God’s best for the world, we realized over time that boycotting something for Christians not only hurts our witness to the world by setting us apart by rules and “holier-than-thou”, it also loses Church members who are forced to choose. And, on a deeper and more important level, it manages to put a limitation on God, saying that God is unable to speak to us through film, which happens to be a powerful lens to see the world from and to hear the story of God in new ways. No, the proper response is prophetic engagement. One might call it “incarnation”. We model the way Christ entered the world, rather than “boycotting” it, and worked for its good and ultimately saved it. We are called to do the same, even with those institutions we deem as “sinful” or counter to God.
One more thing to add to the conversation: I read this article earlier in the week, and it gives me hope that there is some positive movement on this issue. For those that won’t click, the NFL recently donated $30 MILLION to a health group researching specifically sports/football related injuries, particularly head injuries, the lasting ones that NFL retirees suffer. I wonder what the author of the first article would say in response to this, as his article was written 2 years ago and this is a recent development. I think it makes the NFL much easier to support, since they clearly see this as a major issue. (The article notes that this is the largest donation the NFL has ever given to any organization.)
If you’re anything like me, I’d never even thought of any of this as an ethical issue. But’s that’s how learning and growing works: you’re presented with new information, and you have to see whether it is consistent with that you already believe and know. This new information is stirring the pot, for me at least.
So, time to open it up. What do you all think? Currently, I still watch football (a game is actually on as I write this), because it looks like the sport itself is looking into making it safer in serious ways, and because I’m still unsure of how to respond morally to this situation. That being said, as the situation stands, I don’t think I will let my kids play organized football. While the chances are slim of going professional, I wouldn’t want to have to put them in a position to get seriously injured or have to choose between millions of dollars/fame and agony later on. I see this as no different than not allowing my child to become a UFC fighter or boxer.
The question then to answer: In light of the long-term violence and suffering caused on its participants, should Christians engage in football as a form of entertainment, and if so, how?