Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christian Fandom

In response to my request for writing topics several days ago, my cousin Michael suggested that I take some time to put into words what I believe faith has to do with (or should have to do with) many of our commitments to various sports teams and athletes. Specifically, how does a Christian fan differ from a non-Christian fan. I'll try to put my conclusions on the issues in blockquotes so you can skip through my logic if you prefer.

Full disclosure: it will be impossible for me to be completely objective, or anywhere close to it, about this subject, but I'll try my best.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about Christian fandom over the past four years or so, not necessarily because I find the topic fascinating (though at times I do), but because I am fairly certain that I am awful at it. Examples of my failure in this arena are numerous. Some highlights (lowlights?) include:
  • Spending time before bed that I used to try to reserve for devotions scouring mgoblog.com for even the smallest tidbit of new information
  • Carving several hours out of every Saturday in autumn to watch football instead of doing the homework I should be working on
  • Spending hundreds (literally this year) of dollars on sporting events and merchandise
  • Praying for a win before the 2007 OSU game
While I do not find myself to be an awful person because of these things and others like them (well, except that last one...), they show an inversion of priorities that I am not particularly proud of.


One of the easiest, most tangible aspects of this issue to tackle is financial. How much money is too much money to spend on sports?

My first answer to that question was "whatever you want, as long as you can afford it." Of course, affording it includes being able to tithe in addition to taking care of one's car insurance and feeding his or her family. This issue can be applied to any purchase though. Should I buy this new laptop? Is it irresponsible to buy this house? Is it an indication of bad stewardship if I splurge on that car I have had my eye on for months even if I can afford it? I remember coming away from a sermon series on stewardship a bit miffed about it all. Several points came to mind as our pastor implied that buying a used car was a more responsible use of of one's funds than buying new.

First, if no one buys a new product, where do used products come from? If that is the case, it is a good thing there are morally depraved people out there to buy the 2010 model so I can pick up their dilapidated 2006 version.

Second, what happens to the jobs of those who work to make those new products? If we are all buying old products, who is going to make new stuff?

This is diverging from the original topic, but my point is that these questions apply to sports as well. Sports, in proper context, are a great thing. They teach teamwork, leadership, character, and a multitude of other lessons. In order for organized sports to survive there must be money coming in, and I see no reason why being a Christian should restrict our support of such organizations as long as it is within our means.
A Christian fan will always be sure that the money he or she spends on sports is not only available, but properly prioritized to allow for tithing and other expenses. Sports purchases are a luxury expense, and should be treated as such.


Luckily, most of the points made about money apply directly to the management of time resources as well. I can avoid going through it all again for your sake and mine, and jump straight to my conclusion.
A Christian fan is willing not only make adequate time for family, friends, and service opportunities, but will give up the time they have dedicated to sports immediately if the need arises. The big game is never more important than some things.

Energy and Emotion:

The final resources that can be dominated by sports are energy and emotion. Once again, the same arguments apply, but this is where most Christian sports fans, including myself, are a bit lacking.

Compartmentalization is a habit that a lot of people would say is a bad thing. Separating some parts of yourself from others can lead to some pretty sticky situations when they eventually come into contact.

When it comes to aspects of our lives like sports, though, it can be appropriate or even necessary. This is something I have worked very hard on in the past, and actually do a pretty good job of these days. It is impossible to not have my mood be affected at all after a tough loss, but the most important thing is being able to avoid taking that frustration out on others. (But heaven help you if you dare say, "Don't worry, it's just a game." I'll shield you from my wrath as long as you don't bring it up.)

Using sports as a metaphor for life is useful as well, and is one of the reasons sports exist. Learning to take defeat with honor and success with grace is as important in every other sphere of life as it is in sports, and being a responsible fan requires that acknowledgment. It is always interesting to me that making friends with opposing fans at sporting events is as simple as giving credit where it is due, and that strategy works just as well in personal and business relationships.
Being a responsible, Christian sports fan requires that we take to heart the fact that while we would never dare utter the words aloud, it is, in fact, just a game.
I know I'm missing a lot of things here, and I may come back and add to or expand on this at some point, but all comments are welcome.


  1. Good stuff Paul - helpful thoughts on an important but neglected topic.

    I particularly like the offhand comment you made about making friends with opposing fans. Being a sports fan can and should be a great way to build relationships for a Christian (even with opposing fans and especially with non-Christians). Being confident about the really big stuff (Christ's work and what it means for you) can make accepting defeat and victory graciously and giving credit where it is due genuinely possible. And genuinely doing that is a way to love those around us and good practice for other important wins and losses in life (another good point you made).

    I'm not quite sure about the compartmentalization aspect of the post. Maybe prioritization would be the right word?

    Anyhow, thanks for responding to my suggested writing topic!

  2. Yeah, I think I got knew what idea I wanted there, but you're right, compartmentalization probably isn't the right word.

    Weak compartmentalization, or prioritization like you suggested, probably makes more sense, but I tend to associate prioritization with letting things affect someone to different extents. In this case, I was thinking of situations like the following:

    -My team loses, it was ugly, and I'm furious about it.
    -I have a friend that calls me immediately after the game to tell me he/she is engaged.

    In that case it would be appropriate to completely separate those two things. It would be pretty offensive, and would ruin what had the potential to be a great lifelong memory, if I responded, "Oh. That's cool."

    I'm not sure exactly which words describe that best, but that's what's so great about writing on these kinds of topics.