March Madness

Brad M. Griffin | Mar 18, 2010

Not to be the basketball killjoy or anything, but with the brackets in place and the gaming begun, I propose its worth pausing for a moment this March to consider the place of competitive sports in our culture and our faith.

I know, you probably dont want to talk about it. Theres a game on. But its fascinating to me on a number of levels the ways Americans and in particular evangelical Christians in the U.S. are obsessed with competitive sports. From little league to pro ball, were on it, and with passion.

If you missed it around Super Bowl time, Christianity Today released a thoughtful article entitled Sports Fanatics: How Christians have succumbed to the sports cultureand what might be done about it. Its contributed by Shirl James Hoffman, a former athlete and college basketball coach who has authored a new book, Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports. This paragraph in particular is game for good conversation about sports culture in the U.S.:

Variously described by those inside and outside as narcissistic, materialistic, violent, sensationalist, coarse, racist, sexist, brazen, raunchy, hedonistic, body-destroying, and militaristic, big-time sports culture lifts up values in sharp contrast with what Christians for centuries have understood as the embodiment of the gospel. There are simply no easy, straight-faced, intellectually respectable answers for how evangelicals can model the Christian narrativewith its emphases on servanthood, generosity, and self-subordinationwhile immersed in a culture that thrives on cut-throat competition, partisanship, and Darwinian struggle.

And this is coming from an honest sports-lover! If you can catch a moment (perhaps during commercials) this week, its an interesting read. Id love to hear feedback from folks who have read the book; I havent.

For me, big-time sports culture represents the epitome of cultural abandonment of kidsin this weeks case, the abandonment of 18-21 year old late adolescents who dont have any idea how to handle us screaming our heads off at them through our TVs or from our place in the stands. So yes, I do have a hard time reconciling that culture with my faith. And Ive very, very rarely heard a thoughtful Christian response beyond referring to a particular player or coachs outspoken faith (which we gleefully eat up). Perhaps ironically, Im a spiritual product of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and their high school camp program. I know all the analogies and reasons to believe in the redemptive and character-building power of sports. But standing on this side as a youth worker, researcher, and parent, I think its worth rethinking the faith we put in big-time sports culture in our churches and youth ministries, perhaps especially as it relates to the way we treat guys. What do you think?

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute, where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, writer, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of over a dozen books, including 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and Can I Ask That? Brad and his family live in Southern California, where he serves as Pastor of Youth and Family Ministries at Mountainside Communion.

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