A sports athlete who used to perform in Denver, whose name I forget, recently admitted that he looked at his fame as a platform by which to promote his religious convictions. Athletic success was nice, but the bigger payoff for him was the attention and promotion that came to his deeply held beliefs. Upon reflection, it occurred to me that professional football is a sport not only surrounded by spiritual men but is in itself a spiritual endeavor. Consider the similarities and characteristics:
- Where other major religions gather at a church, mosque or temple, football fans gather in spaces called stadiums. If a member of the church of football is among the infirm, the economically challenged or otherwise is unable to attend the main service, there is a support system in place to allow that parishioner to worship privately in his own living room or neighborhood bar. Instead of wine and wafer, however, the football worshipper partakes of beer and wings.
- Sunday is not a day of rest for the church of football, but it has significance nonetheless as the holiest day of the week. Football also has its major holidays, like the Super Bowl, the first day of the draft and the day the Detroit Lions make bail.
- Like other religions, football parishioners offer tithes, commonly in the form of payments to Ticketmaster or the cable company. Often these donations are of a shockingly large sum, yet in return there is no expectation of salvation. Rather, the tithe allows the parishioner to watch grown men beat each other to a pulp for a large salary and sometimes intentionally injure each other for a small bonus.
- Like other mainstream spiritual structures, followers of football hold a belief in a higher power. However, the power that rules over football does not provide unconditional and unending love. You hope for some love, but sometimes there is hate, which is often revealed late in a game and usually involves a turnover or stupid personal foul.
- In fact, unending love from any god of sport is downright dull. Like wondering if the afterlife will offer you a path towards Heaven or Hell, the whole reason a game is exciting is that you don’t know where you stand in the eyes of the immortal until after it ends. Take the 40-0 run by the Baylor women’s basketball team, for example. That was not 40 games of pure, spiritual ecstasy. That was 38 games of boredom followed by 2 games of, “wouldn’t it be interesting if they made it?” It’s the unpredictable, flippant, and often petulant attitude of the sport’s highest deity that draws so many followers.
- Further, the power that rules over football does not love all equally, but instead it displays overt favoritism. The Jets literally can’t buy a competent quarterback, yet the Colts have less than 90 days after the Payton Manning era ends before the Andrew Luck era begins? That’s your proof right there. Who knew the chosen people actually resided in Indianapolis?
- Ancient religions, like that of Greece, had gods, heroes, monsters, and the Oracle at Delphi. Similarly, football has owners, players, Art Modell and TV analysts. The parallel between the Oracle and the TV analysts is indeed striking. A vague prognostication is handed down, and the masses become obsessed in debate on the intended meaning of the words. Yet not until after the heroes battle will the true meaning of the prediction come to light.
- For some, conviction to the church of football takes precedent over all else. While many vow a devotion go God, country and then family, true football devotees vow first to their team and then their family, provided there is not a pre-game, game, post-game or sports debate show on. Also, they often ignore their own heath to embrace deeper worship through the consumption of even more beer and wings.
So, before any other athletes look to football as a vehicle to promote their own spiritual path, they should keep in mind that football is not devoid of its own system of beliefs. And besides, if their higher power wanted singular devotion, why did he schedule church during the pre-game?