Let me be the first to admit my ineptitude about sports–both in knowledge of most sports and, most certainly, in skill in any sport. But every now and then, when my son is in for a visit, I catch a blurb here and there from ESPN’s Colin Cowherd. I think he’s big on the Patriots–maybe Tom Brady, in particular; he’s not a fan of undefeated college football teams who failed to put any decent opponents in their schedules, and I’m pretty sure he has some sort of whacky divisions about deceased male movie stars going on right now. That’s about the extent of my Cowherd knowledge except for his unsettling story about the Saints last week. It seems that, even after having been warned by the NFL commissioner, some of the players continued to pay each other off for purposely injuring certain members of the opposing team (i.e.”I’ll pay you a thousand dollars if you hit ________hard enough to have him carried off the field on a stretcher.”)
“After the NFL made its investigation public Friday, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams admitted to running a bounty pool of up to $50,000 during the past three seasons, rewarding players for knocking targeted opponents out of games,” according to ESPN (espn.go.com/new-york/nfl/story/_/id/7660902).
What was disturbing to me as I listened was both that this unconscionable bounty pool existed and the public reaction to this injury for pay. I listened, in disbelief, as I heard fans call in and say “ This kind of thing is nothing new. It’s just part of the sport of professional football,” or “That’s why American’s love pro football; violence is just a part of the excitement of the game,” or “Why do we have to suddenly punish the Saints when we’ve been looking the other way on these kinds of locker room pay-offs for years?”
I know I’m just an empty-nest mom, coming off of twenty-eight years of making sure everyone was playing fair and no one was getting hurt, but give me a break! Am I really living in a country where people, who are smart enough to dial in and talk on a national radio show, see nothing wrong with paying one another to purposefully injure other human beings in order to win a football game?
This has got to be a least a microcosm of the kind of violence that called down the wrath of God in the days of Noah:
“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence” (Gen.6:11).
A pool of funds, especially designated for distribution among those who physically hurt opposing teammates, is pretty corrupt. The defense of these paid injuries by many fans of the sport shows a national propensity for anesthetization to the black nature of human violence.
The account of Noah was one of the first that I, as a child, heard from the Holy Pages. I remember wondering what kind of violence was occurring in the days of Noah. Were people beating up on each other with their fists or were they using sharp objects to wound and kill each other? And why? Why did people want to hurt each other in Noah’s day? I’m sure it had something to do with personal gain back then, too.
As I grew older and began to teach teens and ladies from the account of Noah, I often wondered how to most practically take lessons from the account of the violence of Noah’s day. After all, most of the women in my Bible classes would never consider hitting anyone, much less seriously injuring or killing anyone. When speaking about violence, I might have mentioned the horrors of abortion or the tragedy of child abuse. Still, for most of us, those examples are from the worlds of women in vastly different circumstances from our own. I know there are exceptions, but most of us, are just not perpetrators of violence.
But here we are. We do live in a country where the guys who play in the NFL make millions. And millions of Americans are enthusiastic fans of the game. I’ll wager (okay, not wager, but venture to say) that many of you readers have little boys who love NFL football and wear somebody’s number on a jersey. It’s a huge national pleasure and that’s okay. But members of an NFL team have admitted operating a bounty pool for the purpose of injuring opponents and the NFL is planning to levy some sanctions? If you ask me, the Saints should have their franchise pulled yesterday and be forced into the annals of once great NFL teams. Football is a sport. Here’s the definition of sport:
An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.
Did you get the purpose of a sport? It’s just entertainment. Yet, here we are…raising our kids in a society that very nearly worships at the stadium or in front of ESPN and bows down before the latest and greatest quarterback. It’s difficult for me to fathom that articulate worshippers have been led in the frenzied congregation to the point of verbally excusing and even supporting their icons in pay-per-view for pay-per-violence. But moms, mark it down: We’d better start early to teach our children that sports are merely entertainment forms and all entertainment is optional. We’d better make sure they know that sports are a distant second or third to spiritual activities when scheduling conflicts arise. We’d better let them see us using sports as opportunities to evangelize and to learn the value of fair play rather than sacrificing our values for the win at all costs. We can use the examples that come around each week– from the atrocity of the Saints’ behavior, to the common abuse of steroids, to the ethical issues surrounding recruiting, to the simple lessons of sportsmanship on the Little League field–to teach our kids some very practical lessons about life and godliness, or we can let those issues teach our kids that sports trump the spiritual. But we had better get ready for some dialog with our kids about sports and the relative unimportance of the games, because the devil really wants your kids to worship at the altar of some false god–and the idol of football is about as good to him as any other. I hope your family and mine can have fun at the stadium, the diamond, the court, the field or the rink without spiritual compromise. If we can’t, we should stay away.
“And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire” (Matthew 18:9).