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Are televised sports compatible with Christian discipleship?

October 15, 2012

I tweeted this over the weekend:

I really don’t understand pro sports. Who has time to remember which sport is in season, keep all those teams straight, AND watch the games?

This is a busy season for sports which means social media feeds are buzzing about bad calls, good plays, and bragging rights. It also means those of us who are not into sports walk around with glazed-over eyes and cotton balls in our ears most of the time.

But it also has made me wonder: are televised, professional sports compatible with the life of Christian discipleship?

I imagine I will get a number of overwhelming YESs in response, but hear me out.

Given the number of hours in each game, set, or match, think about the collective good that could be done with that time.

After some brief Google research, it seems fair to say at least 20 million people will watch an NFL football game if it’s on TV. With most weekends having multiple games throughout the day, I imagine the actual number is much highe. But 20 million people watching a three-hour football game is 60 million hours of time that could be spent out in the neighborhood, gardening, reading, cooking, worshiping, creating, and playing. And that’s one game. Most people I know watch more than one game a week.

Because I’m sure this will come up, I do realize many people watch sports together. They get together, share food, and talk about life while peripherally paying attention to the game; this is an American past time, a way to bond and connect while cheering on our local team. But many, many people watch sports alone and, with enormously rich athletes and owners and with global corporate sponsors, there are few, if any, truly “local teams” to root for anymore.

Given the amount of money spent on professional and televised sports, think about the collective good that could be done with that money.

Professional sports are multi-billion dollar industries (and I imagine regularly televised sports at the college level are too). Player salaries, stadium construction and renovation, advertising and sponsorships, and bounty payouts  (zing!) all add up to a massive amount of money I don’t even feel like estimating.

World poverty statistics are too well-known and too numbing to bother citing. We can all think of about a million things that could be done with that money to affect real change in the local and global society.

These are things I think about that I think more people should think about. Although you can definitely read my bias in this, I want to this to come across as a genuine question (not as finger pointing, speck-in-the-eye picking, etc.):

Can these massively time-consuming and massively expensive activities be justified given what we know of the world and, for Christians, can they be compatible with a call to Christian discipleship?

What say you, sports fans?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 15, 2012 9:15 am

    Interesting take. Watching sports is recreation. As recretation, it could serve the beneficial function of Sabbath like any other form of recreation. As such, the same question could be asked of any other type of recreation (think of good that could be done instead of napping, video games, camping or any other hobby). When it comes to sports as recreation, it has undoubtedly been elevated on a national scale to an unhealthy and obssessive level. The amount of money and time devoted to this is clear evidence. For any recreation, the goal for the Christian should be to approach it with balance and perspective.

    Personally, I have tried to become less concerned with watching sports, even though I still really enjoy it. We do not have cable, but if a good game comes across the antanae, I will still occassionally watch it.

    • October 15, 2012 3:04 pm

      Jeremy, yes, definitely appreciate the look at recreation/rest/sabbath. I think this is definitely an important part of the conversation! I agree that balance/perspective is probably the solution (not total cessation from sports!). thanks for the comment.

  2. October 15, 2012 2:44 pm

    First of all, I resent that you said “SPECK-in-the-eye”…I get it…you were talking to me. I deserve it!

    I think this is a somewhat unfair question to ask. I get the point you are making and it is not a bad one, but there are plenty of us who like and watch sports while still spending our money in an ethically and morally responsible way, we care about the poor we just happen to also like football.

    There are a lot of things that take our time and money that we could say the same things about:
    You could say all these exact same things about the film industry – the millions of dollars that go into paying movie stars and set designs and promotions, oscar hype, etc. – should we stop watching movies or television? Things of the hours we could be spending there in community.
    Apple products
    Music

    I guess all of this comes down to balance. You don’t like sports – which is fine. You have your own things you like to do. I do like sports so that’s what I chose to spend some of my down time doing, relaxing. If I have found the balance in my own life that allows me to enjoy sports while still being a good disciple of my time – I think I’m okay.

    • October 15, 2012 3:09 pm

      ha! totally caught my subtle JAB! (kidding). I do, definitely, think that balance is key – and for someone who can find balance (which, honestly, is most of my friends who are into sports (and ALL of my coworkers!)) I think the issue is less a question of PERSONAL discipleship.

      However, I guess I do still wonder about the big picture. As a whole, sports are SUCH a massive industry (and I’d definitely be with you in throwing television/film in with them in a larger ‘entertainment’ category).

      I wonder if, given the massive nature of the category, there’s more room for critique/questioning, at least at the macro level of the industry as a whole?

      So, yes, balance!

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