To Ruin Sports, Idolize Them

MTV no longer plays music videos. The History Channel no longer discusses history. Before long ESPN may no longer show sports highlights. The so-called worldwide leader in sports will feature nothing but reports from courtrooms and press conferences. Former athletes will sit around tables and parse the latest PR spin for suspended, arrested, and otherwise disgraced players. And we’ll wonder why we ever cared so much about the games that made them rich.

Yesterday Major League Baseball cited “social responsibility” while finally cracking down on the drug scandal that has enveloped the storied sport for much of the last two decades. Commissioner Bud Selig handed down severe suspensions for 13 players, chiefly New York Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez, who would miss the remainder of this season and all of the next. But the talking heads at SportsCenter chattered about more than the long fall of the aging ARod. They also wondered whether college football’s best player would be suspended for his sophomore season. According to reports, brash Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel may have demanded payment for his autograph, an obvious no-no in supposedly amateur athletics. So yesterday was a big day in the world of sports journalism. And a horrible day for sports.

Writer and athlete Ted Kluck understands the consequences of treating a good thing like sports as an ultimate thing. Kluck, author of the new book Robert Griffin III: Athlete, Leader, Believer, is himself an intense competitor who wants his children to learn the best lessons of sports. But he also recognizes when he cares too much and needs to apologize to his children for not setting a godly example. Kluck joined Mark Mellinger and me for a special edition of Going Deeper with TGC, the podcast of The Gospel Coalition. We asked him why baseball decided now to crack down on this kind of cheating when athletes have always tried to gain illegal advantages over their opponents. We asked him how he would explain morality to athletes and announcers fumbling to explain what’s wrong with breaking the rules. We also asked him why baseball punished one of its all-time greats when football celebrates drug-aided athletes as they deliver concussion-inducing blows on each other.

Listen to the complete 25-minute podcast to hear how Kluck would share the gospel with athletes such as Rodriguez and Manziel who have been worshiped by the same media and fans who now gloat over their disgrace. And hear how he answers his son during NFL games when he asks whether each player uses steroids.

Download the podcast or stream the audio below. And be sure to subscribe to our iTunes podcast for fresh daily content including interviews, sermons, lectures, and more.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

  • Dean P

    How is this anything new. American evangelicals have been idolizing sports and sports figures for a long time now, while often times simultaneously being suspicious or critical of literature, and the arts. As long as imagination, intellectual inquiry and critical thought continues to be suppressed and ignored by our constant addiction to technology and our obsession with physical fitness/athleticism worship don’t expect to see any changes anytime soon. As Os Guiness said in his great little book FIT BODIES FAT MINDS we are a people who have “buns of steel with brains of silly putty.”

    • Jason @

      I love this Dean. :) Very well stated and so true!

  • Pingback: Ted Kluck weighs-in on MLB suspensions and Johnny Manziel @TGC @CollinHansen | Denny Burk()

  • Daniel

    I enjoy watching many sports, but I agree that our culture has become idolatrous in regard to sports, and that this idolatry is increasing. This goes back to the distinction C. S. Lewis made between first things and second things. If you place the second things first, you not only lose the first thing, but you lose the second thing also because it becomes corrupted.

  • Che

    As I was thinking about an appropriate response to news of A-Rod’s PED use, it reminded me of the woman caught in adultery and Jesus’ response. I had a stone in my hand that I needed to drop with respect to judging A-Rod. Just as Jesus’ also told the woman to go and sin no more, so God also asks of A-Rod, as well as everyone else for that matter. We all are in need of a Savior.

  • Martin

    Go play a sport instead of watch it – unless you are watching your kids. I’d rather play hockey instead of watching the Super Bowl. I’d rather golf myself instead of watching – even a major.

  • Curt Day

    I use to be an avid sports fan until I discovered that being an avid sports fan was just another way of being a manic-depressive. But it is not just the idol worship that is wrong in how we appreciate sports. First, with the emphasis on winning, the money involved, and the significance of being associated with a champion, the players have been objectified while players have less and less loyalty because their first concern is making “enough” money. Second, sports are used to encourage a tribal mentality in the people. That tribal mentality cares more for winning than fairness. And that tribal mentality is meant to be extended from the favorite sports team to one’s country. Again, the tribal mentality towards one’s country says that fairness is not important, winning is.

  • Pingback: 6-String Salvo, August 9, 2013 | Mike Lee()

  • Jason @

    Only if the aim of watching sports is to worshipfully marvel at the abilities that God endowed the human body with in a way that does not distract one from their role in the Body of Christ does it become a worthy endeavor. This would not be the aim of most evangelicals who watch sports.

  • Ben

    We all know ESPN is a mega-media outlet, aka popular. They’re going to show the ‘popular’ stuff, which is usually the dirt. Especially when theirs nothing else on. Only so many baseball games/highlights can fill one show. It annoys me too sometimes. But if you don’t want it, find another news outlet.

    And for what it’s worth…I wonder how many people would agree with the article, yet tune in when they hear the A-rod updates. I’d say…many. Along with that, reporting this kind of stuff offers lots of other angles for sports related conversations too.

    Lastly, Christians are just as addicted to NFL season as everyone. Sports idolatry is everywhere. Articles on how to combat it and live in a society with it and enjoying would be beneficial.

    • Che

      Ben, I don’t think keeping up on the A-Rod updates is necessarily a bad thing since we as Christians should be aware of the issues going on in our society and be part of the dialogue–something you kinda touched on about different angles of conversation. It’s when we use those reports to continue judging A-Rod in a self-righteous manner that become our pitfall.

      • Ben

        Completely agree. I listen to Colin Cowherd often, and like a lot of his perspectives on things. However, in his coverage of stories like A-Rod, Hernandez, etc he does judge…harshly. And I don’t appreciate that aspect of his show. Judging is often vindicated in the name of opinionated. It’s refreshing sometimes to hear some of his own colleagues, whom he brings on the show, rebuke him a little.