— 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. Sports preempts 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.
Picture in your mind, if you will, two 7-year-old T-ball players facing each other on the baseball field. One player is standing near first base with glove in hand and the other is standing on first base. The caption reads: “Is your dad still yelling at you from the stands?” “Yeah, he thinks I’m going pro tomorrow.”
That is the same dad who does not have enough time in his busy day to go out in the backyard and play catch with his son. He’s the same dad that can’t find time to make it to his son’s games and when he does, he is yelling at him the whole time he is trying to play the game. How very sad.
My dad and my brothers would spend every evening after supper playing baseball in the backyard. My dad even went as far as to build us a baseball diamond in our backyard for us to practice on during the day. When I threw a baseball through the kitchen window one evening my mom stuck her head out of the broken glass and asked my dad what had happened? He responded by saying, “Did you see the arm on that kid”? My mom just smiled.
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 levels. 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 provide 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 and fun activity that children do together. I have told my boys that if playing sports is not fun, then do not do it.
Sporting games and activities throughout the ages have given athletes and fans opportunities to demonstrate skills, highlight expertise, provide physical and emotional outlets and entertain. Although the number of participants in organized sports has increased, it’s becoming less to do with the fun and challenge of learning a new skill and more to do with a parent’s dream of a college scholarship, professional career, financial success and their own reputation.
The win-at-all-cost mentality leads to cheating, breaking rules, scandal, pride, greed doping and anger. “Leagues that try to teach parents ethics and good sportsmanship are wasting their time until they deal with the real problem, and that is dialing back on our win-at-all-costs sports culture,” said Dr. Bruce B. Svare, the director for the National Institute for Sports Reform, in a story published by ESPN. “Kids need to have fun, participate and learn skills. These things should always trump the desire to win when we are talking about youth sports. But adults, coaches, league administrators, etc. won’t let this happen because their own needs get in the way.”
In the past young people were taught values ranging from fitness, cooperation, teamwork, and perseverance to sportsmanship as moral endeavor. All of that seems somehow archaic and quaint today. We have let culture, rather than scripture, define our priorities and passions, after all who has time to read and study the Bible with all the sporting events our kids are involved in. Playing sports to the glory of God must be primary; athletic ability and achievements must be secondary. And that means every time we step onto the field our priority will be to worship God, apply the gospel to our hearts, and become more like Christ.
There is only one kind of a life that truly succeeds, and that is the one that places your faith in the hands of the Savior. Until that is done, we are on an aimless course that runs in circles and goes nowhere. Material possessions, winning scores, and great reputations are meaningless in the eyes of the Lord, because He knows what we really are and what we really can be, and that is all that really matters.
America needs to become balanced in its attitude toward sports. Paul wrote, “For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (1 Tim. 4:8) We enjoy watching sports, but let us remember how little sports really matters and concentrate on godliness.
David Nowak is a Weatherford resident.