The Slippery Slope of Sports Fanaticism
by C.A. Phillips
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
Mark 12:28-30 (ESV)
Over the course of the past month or so, we’ve experienced some excitement in the sports arena here in the Atlanta area. From the Braves claiming the World Series title, to the Georgia Bulldogs contending for an SEC Championship crown – and now heading to Miami in the College Football Semifinals – the hype and energy have been palatable. As a lifelong Braves fan and a UGA alumnus, I have been right there in the midst of the emotional turmoil personally! As thrilling as the rollercoaster ride has been, it can be equally exhausting!
For those of us with a passion for our team or school that runs deep, we often delve into the dangerous territory of seeing our devotion morph into something unhealthy. Yes, when we love our team with every fiber of our beings, we leave our hearts exposed to the highs of ecstasy, elation and euphoria when things are going well; but, equally subject to the agony, misery, and torment that accompany disappointment when our team falls short.
When I was in my twenties, my weekend would be ruined with a Georgia Bulldogs loss. And, if it was a loss to Georgia Tech, there was a black cloud hovering for the next year. I took it hard, and I would have a bitter taste in my mouth for quite some time.
I recall hearing Dave Ramsey share a few years ago about some rabid Tennessee fans he encountered one weekend. Ramsey, also a Volunteers fan, was walking around downtown Knoxville one Sunday afternoon, the day after the Vols has lost a game. He ran into a husband and wife who were still licking their wounds and lamenting the defeat. Ramsey noticed their countenance, and struck up a conversation with the couple:
“What’s wrong guys? Why are you so upset?” Ramsey inquired.
“We lost yesterday. We’re just having a tough time getting over it,” they replied.
“Oh, I see,” Ramsey said. “Well (asking the husband), are you one of the coaches on the team?”
“No,” the man replied.
Ramsey continued, “Do you have a brother or relative who coaches for the Vols?”
“No,” they said in unison.
“Oh. OK, do you have a son who plays on the team?” said Ramsey.
The man and woman shook their heads.
“Then why are you moping around and letting it ruin your entire weekend?!?” Ramsey replied. “You’ve gotta get over it!”
We can all chuckle at this exchange, but we can also probably learn from it! At the end of the day, sporting events – for nearly all of us – are a form of entertainment. When we take it to another level, where our attitude and demeanor are determined by the outcome of a game, we need to take a time out and re-evaluate things.
Has a sport or a team become more than that to you? Has it become an idol or a “god”? Maybe your identity has become wrapped up in the success and failure of your team. You likely didn’t intend for that to happen – but perhaps over time, it has become a fickle substitute for the most important things in life.
In the end, there’s only One thing you can count on to give you all you need. His name is Jesus. And, whether your team ends up in the Championship game on January 10 or not, he’s anxious to fill your heart, mind, and soul with the thing that matters most – Him!
C.A. Phillips is a lifelong sports enthusiast and youth baseball coach, and currently serves as the Communications Pastor and Director of Men’s Groups at NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, Ga. He lives in Kennesaw with his wife, Amy, and his two sons, Chaz and Chandler.
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