Culture At Large

Stewardship of sports viewing

Jeff Munroe

The Detroit Lions are good, the Green Bay Packers are great, the Chicago Bears are inconsistent and the Minnesota Vikings are incapable of holding a lead. That’s the sports news from the Upper Midwest a few weeks into football season.

I don’t know this from the newspaper or the sports station my car radio is tuned to or even from one of the two sports magazines I receive weekly. I know this because I’ve already spent several hours hunkered down in front of my television watching football. Yes, I have a man cave. There is a flat screen the size of Rhode Island down there with a stereo, surround-sound system, all of which makes it easy to focus on the game and shut out everything else.

There is something wrong with this. I spend too much time and too much money on my addiction. Sports don’t really matter and I distract myself from real problems by watching games instead. Plus, my self-esteem should not be tied to the won-loss record of my favorite teams, but I have noticed my mood changing because of what happens on a distant playing field.

But there is something right about this too. The state of Michigan, where I live, has been devastated over the last several years by one economic blow after another. As I write this the Detroit Lions are vastly improved and both the Michigan State and University of Michigan football teams are playing well. Sports are filling the people of Michigan with optimism and hope. It's all made me wonder about the stewardship of sports viewing.

Sports Illustrated recently ran a story entitled "Sports Saves the World," and even though I don’t fully endorse that title, I can’t help but be encouraged by the stories of people using sports for peacemaking and development. The events captured in the movie "Invictus" also come to mind, when Nelson Mandela used rugby to unite a fractured South Africa. Powerful things happen through sports.

Yet I wonder what Jesus thinks of man caves, couch potatoes, face paint and fantasy leagues. I have a few guesses as to what Jesus might say to us today. What would you add?

I think Jesus would point out that our games sometimes provide transcendent moments, moments where heaven seems to touch earth. I’m thinking of the time in Detroit last summer during a baseball game when an umpire’s missed call deprived pitcher Armando Galarraga of an extremely rare perfect game. Galarraga’s calm response of acceptance and forgiveness was stunning.

Yes, there are great moments that happen in sports, but I suspect Jesus would add that my hunch about spending too much time in the man cave is correct. I think Jesus would tell me one of the best parts of sports is participating and encourage me to play more and watch less. I think he’d also say that I should monitor my tendency to use sports as a sort of anesthesia to numb out reality and that sports are neither good nor bad, but like many things in life are something we infuse with value. It is up to us to redeem or profane them.

Finally, when it comes to the stewardship of sports viewing, I think Jesus would say that the exhilaration we feel watching a sporting event is a foretaste of the abundant life he promised. There are beautiful moments in sports when we get glimpses of grandeur and majesty. I imagine I hear him saying, “Enjoy those moments, but remember, it’s only a game.”

And, if I’m not mistaken, I think I hear him whispering, “Go Lions,” too.  He loves all of us, after all, but he’s got a soft spot for underdogs.

(Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.)

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