By DAVID NOWAK
I remember reading a synopsis of the five reasons for “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” by Edward Gibbon in which he listed the Romans’ obsession with sports at the coliseum as a cause of the fall of the empire.
I did not understand how or why that could contribute to the fall of a nation until I have witnessed it in our own age. The obsession with sports is one thing that is rooting out spirituality. We don’t have time for God because of basketball practice, the bowling league, one’s favorite team is playing on ESPN or going to a professional game. And sports pre-empts every other event. When a conflict between worship services and sports occurs (whether practice or the game), sports usually comes out on top.
America has become obsessed with sports from pee wee leagues to professional competition. What a change has occurred in sports. When we played sports, we were taught to abide by the rules of the game and to play to win as hard as we could, but to accept defeat honorably.
Far from molding character, some competition destroys character. The win-at-all-costs philosophy, the willingness to do anything honorable or dishonorable to gain an advantage over an opponent, has become an accepted part of sports from the pee wee to the professional level. The fall of Lance Armstrong is a perfect example.
In another time, coaches generally conducted themselves in such a way as to be a worthy example for young men to follow. Now coaches are sometimes the problem. Winning becomes so important that NCAA rules are violated to “buy” the best amateur athlete. There is even the scouting of players at the grade-school level by high schools. When they find a player they consider to be exceptional and he or she does not live in their school district, an offer is made to move the whole family into that district with housing and jobs provided if needed. All of this is legal, but is it ethical? The spirit of winning at all costs has infected all levels of athletics. Organized sports is sometimes more interested in winning than in being a wholesome, enjoyable, fun activity that children do together. I have told my boys that if playing sports is not fun, then do not do it!