“Imagine for a moment that you live in another country, one completely foreign to this one, and you have an opportunity one fall to spend a week in Birmingham. So you come on a Sunday morning, and you observe many people (maybe even most) slowly rising to make their way to a building they call a church. They groggily approach that building for some sort of ceremony. Clearly, whatever happens at the beginning of that ceremony isn’t that important, because most of the people don’t come until after it’s started. You watch them file in and begin to mouth the words to songs, many of them almost expressionless, virtually emotionless, after which they sit down and passively listen to someone talk to them for a period of time.
You notice people starting to get a bid fidgety and uneasy as the time for the ceremony to end approaches, and when it’s finally over, they quickly walk out. As you walk with them, you listen to them, and you hear many of them talking with one another about something that had happened the previous day. They smile and they laugh as they recount another ceremony they’d been to that was apparently a bit more interesting than this one, a ceremony that apparently happens on Saturdays. In fact, the rest of the week, that’s almost you hear people talking about—the coming Saturday ceremony. Even the people who were at the Sunday ceremony are strangely silent about what they heard and sang about there, but very enthusiastic about the Saturday that can’t seem to get hear soon enough. As your curiosity is piqued, you begin to eagerly anticipate the coming Saturday.
Saturday comes, and you see people wake up and leave their houses dressed in some sort of outfit that they love to wear for these types of days. Many of them drive out of the city—some an hour west, others a couple of hours south—where they gather together on what they call hallowed grounds for the Saturday ceremony. They get there early for this ceremony (way early) where they eat and drink and laugh and play not just with their family or with their friends, but even with complete strangers. You’ve never seen community like this.
When the time comes, they all, tens of thousands of them, enter a shrine together (you can’t think of another word for it) where they raise their voices with passion to applaud an assembly of children they don’t know playing a game on a field. As that game begins, they shout and chant and sing until they virtually lose their voices—with far more passion than the previous Sunday’s ceremony, for sure. People don’t look at their watches at this ceremony. They’re so engulfed in what they’re seeing and experiencing that they actually get excited when it goes into what they call overtime because going long like this is a sign of a really exciting game. And the fun doesn’t end after the ceremony is over, anyway.
When the boys everyone has been cheering for win the game, the celebration has only begun, and the amazing thing is that it’s not just the people who are at the ceremony who are celebrating. You come to find out that thousands and thousands of others stayed back in Birmingham to watch this game on a TV, though many of them are large enough to be virtual movie screens. They’re actually designed that way to make the most of watching ceremonies like this, and back in Birmingham scores of people have circled up together around their screens to be a part of the ceremony from a distance. They, too, in their homes, are jumping up and down and high-fiving each other, celebrating the ceremony when it’s over. Then when it’s all over, late in the evening, almost as if there’s nothing to be prepared for the next day, they go to bed.”
– David Platt from (The Cross and the Christian’s Sports)
College football has been a huge part of my life. Some of my most vivid memories growing up are of Tennessee football games. Being a football fan started when I was born. My parents placed two hats in my crib at the hospital, a Tennessee hat and a Braves hat. As I grew up, my passion grew, and I was always looking for the latest news about recruiting and the upcoming games. Scouring the internet for football stats and news took up most of my day. My friends knew to come to me with questions about Tennessee football, and I loved being known as that guy. I found part of my identity in whether Tennessee won or lost. If we won, it was a good day, but if we lost, I was upset and hard to talk to. Then around my junior year of high school, God intervened in my life and pointed out how I had made college football an idol. Its funny how God works. He used Tennessee falling from its prestigious, dominant status in college football to reveal how I was searching for satisfaction in man made things. I now am able to go to football games and enjoy myself, win or lose. By God’s grace, I now see football as a good thing that can be enjoyed when it is put in its right place.
Maybe you hear my story, and you are thinking I am going a little overboard, but I would challenged you to think back to David Platt’s anecdote. Why are we so drawn to college football, or any sport for that matter? It’s because we want to identify with someone or something. How many times are we sitting watching the game with our friends, our team scores, and everyone yells out, “We scored!” My question is, when did the guys on the couch become part of the team? How did “we” take part in that touchdown? We put our identity in sports teams because we think it will give us satisfaction and meaning in life. Sports become our religion. We show up on Saturdays for service, meet up and talk football in our “small” groups throughout the week, and read sports blogs as if they were our bible. We have replaced our relationship with God with our fan hood for football.
So how should we view sports? Should we never go to a football game again? No, of course not. But there does need to be a change in our hearts and lives about it. College football is a good thing that some of us have made a god thing. It has become an idol from which we seek to our find joy and satisfaction. The way we place college football in its rightful place, is to place God in His rightful place, and that is as the One who we look to for satisfaction. We look to him alone for our joy. The biggest change I’ve noticed in my life is that if Tennessee wins by 50, or loses by 50, my attitude doesn’t change. Now don’t get me wrong, its not fun to get blown out, but when our mindset is set on things of God, football is trivial, and the outcome is insignificant.
So my challenge to all of us who are die hard college football fans is this, stop caring so much. I know that sounds harsh, but it is something I had to learn to do. We can still be fans of our school’s teams, but lets not become more concerned about wins or losses than those who are beside us during the game. Being a fan of our football team should be secondary to being a follower of Christ.