Culture At Large

Concussions and Christian football

Josh Larsen

It’s been a rough year for quarterbacks in the NFL.

Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears and Kevin Kolb of the Philadelphia Eagles have each already missed games because of concussions. David Garrard of the Jacksonville Jaguars will be out this Sunday and Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers almost missed last week's game due to a mild concussion. All this in light of increasing scientific evidence that repeated collisions while playing football may permanently damage a player’s brain.

A tipping point seems to be on the horizon for this particular sport. Some people are seriously asking: Is football too dangerous to play?

That would be a heretical question at the many Christian high schools and universities where the game approaches sacramental status. After all, football and Christianity have been in a long, committed relationship that has only intensified in recent years. In 2008, The New York Times reported on a surge of football-themed books from Christian publishers, while Chad Gibbs’ “God and Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC," published this year, chronicles how the phenomenon plays out in the Bible Belt.

At what point does the willful damage of our bodies by participating in a violent sport contradict Paul’s directive to “honor God with your body?"

Full disclosure: I played two unremarkable years for the football team at my Christian high school. The Lord didn’t lead us to many wins, but I still had fun playing this exhilarating, intricate game. I know from experience that the concussion question hits home for many Christians and their kids. How should we answer?

The NFL is putting on a good show – rewriting rules to better protect quarterbacks, penalizing defensive players for helmet-to-helmet shots, setting stricter guidelines for when injured players can return to the field – but the league will never consider the bottom-line issue: Is this simply too dangerous of a game?

Christians, of course, look at this as more than a physical issue. At what point does the willful damage of our bodies by participating in a violent sport contradict Paul’s directive to “honor God with your body.” If we’re supposed to treat our physical selves as temples, is allowing them to be pummeled to the point of concussion similar to excessive drinking, unhealthy eating and the abuse of drugs?

Perhaps that’s a stretch, but the more I hear about current NFL players being knocked silly – and read about former players who are now physical wrecks – the more I wonder: Is God pleased when he sees us do this with our bodies, one of his precious gifts?

Topics: Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Sports