We had a wonderful Cincinnati Spokesman Club meeting this morning, and football (American football for my non-American friends; here’s why football is called soccer in America and Canada, BTW) made a festive entrance into the “Table topics” session that was really enjoyable. Thoughts and opinions were diverse, though all rooted in good thinking, methinks. (And since I was the Director, I tried to tell to tell them so! 🙂 )
One of the fun questions that I’ll focus on in this post was this: “Will there be football in the Millennium?” Actually, the conversation during table topics was more broad, asking about sports in the Millennium in general, but with tonight’s Super Bowl event on folks’ minds (which might be going on right now as I type this, come to think of it), football had a starring role in the discussion.
The question and conversation also reminded me of a question I received from an elderly widow lady in one of my congregations. She is a sweet lady who happens to enjoy football on television. She had read someone preaching something that unnecessarily troubled her and came up to me at services to ask for counsel, worried that watching football might be “evil” in some way. For such a sweet lady in my care to be so worried unnecessarily about something which was not a sin required a response.
At the heart of the question about any particular sport being played in the new society after Christ’s return is this: Is the sport inherently evil? If so, then: no, of course, it would not be played.
So, is football inherently evil? No, it isn’t. Some might say that “No” is only the right answer for touch football or flag football, as if tackling is somehow the “inherently evil” quality. Yet, what is inherently evil about physical contact in a sports environment? Is wrestling inherently evil (not so-called “professional” wrestling, mind you). Arm wrestling? Thumb wars? Is it wrong for a dad to wrestle with his kids in a competitive way? (We’ll discuss competition later.) Is such contact inherently violent? If so, what kind of “violent” since not all “violence” is created equal (for example, Matt. 11:12 vs. Luke 3:14 (KJV) vs. Gen. 6:11), and some forms of violence (the Greek diaseio of Luke 3:14) are even present in chess. Was it sinful for the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ to physically contend with Jacob?
As a father of four boys, I can say that it would be a horrible shame to remove rough-and-tumble play from them. Not only is it fun, but–and it may seem odd to say this, though it shouldn’t–it’s manly. It’s physical. It requires strength and agility and toughness. And none of those things are inherently evil. In fact, in raising young men, I encourage those things.
Can bad attitudes begin to show themselves? Of course. Yet, if something is evil because there is the possibility that bad attitudes may arise during it, I would need to encase them in carbonite and put them on a shelf for the rest of their lives, as they have amply demonstrated over the course of their young lives that bad attitudes can show up during most any activity. (How can singing hymns or praying start a fight? Well, believe me, it can. 🙂 )
No, tackling is not inherently evil. I’ve seen good friends and brothers play a great game of tackle football, and with good attitudes the whole time. To say that tackling is inherently evil, they would have to prove that this is impossible. Can it be done in an evil fashion? Sure. But we’ll get to that later.
What else could make football inherently evil? Maybe a hateful attitude, huh? That certainly wouldn’t be right, and Christ condemns anyone who “is angry with his brother without a cause” and one would certainly be hard pressed to prove that being one’s opponent in a football game is just cause for anger or hatred.
Yet, what sport is immune to such possibility of “attitudinal abuse”? I’ve seen hateful attitudes among tennis players, baseball players, basketball players, soccer players, chess players, et al. (At least one chess champion used to say that to play the game best you had to hate your opponent.) If it’s not hate and anger, maybe it’s vanity — after all, many a display we see on the football field reflects a spirit of vanity. Yet, what sport is immune to this, either? Golf? Badminton? Track and Field events? Rock, Paper, Scissors? Sorry–I think we’ve seen vanity and self-glorifying celebration just about everywhere.
No, there is no inherent evil in football because of attitude, as it is not necessary to play with such an attitude. Again, how many people out there have played football with friends or family–even “tackle” football–and not hated your opponent? I have. In fact, playing against my closest friends was part of what made it more fun. We were enjoying the game together. If the possibility of bad attitude–or the predominance of bad attitude at the professional levels of the sport–made a sport inherently evil, then virtually every sport would be out. (Even a game of “pick up sticks.” Again, I have boys.)
Well, perhaps it is because the game is so competitive. After all, the whole goal of the defense is to prevent the offense from scoring, and the goal of the offense is to score despite the efforts of the defense. Does this make it inherently evil?
If so, it makes virtually all team sports evil. Tennis is evil. Basketball is evil. Baseball is evil. Soccer is evil. Badminton is evil. Cricket is evil. Volleyball is evil. Tetherball is evil. Shuffleboard is evil. Staring contests are evil. Thumb wars (a big part of my courtship with my future wife) are evil.
Competition in sport is not evil, if, again, it is played with a proper attitude. In fact, the act of playing well and striving to win but with a good attitude that respects your opponent and keeps it fun for all is what we call good sportsmanship. In our Church, we’ve always recognized that if played with an attitude of good sportsmanship, competition can be helpful, encouraging an opponent to play at his best by playing at our best, ourselves. In this way, competition in football is no different than competition in checkers.
What about the presence of malice in football–does this make it inherently evil? Well, if malice–the intent to cause physical or mental harm and damage–were a necessary part of the game, then yes it would. And surely some football players do this, and that is wrong. But not only is it not necessary in playing football, purposeful causing of harm is just as present in other sports. We see pitchers purposefully bean other players in baseball, for instance. In a world that teaches winning at all costs, a “Sweep the leg, Johnny” attitude is everywhere. (Yes, I know most of you will not get the “Johnny” reference. But some of you will!) Again, it has been seen in some of the most famous chess matches in history.
But the possibility of malice does not make the sport inherently evil any more than the possibility of other bad attitudes, as discussed above. In fact, one of the most vicious attacks on another person in sports I have ever seen was performed in a soccer match. Does that make soccer a sport that is somehow inherently evil? No. And neither does it make football so.
One of the best cases against football, in my opinion, is the risk of injury–and playing football definitely has this potential. Oddly, the use of the modern football helmet may make the risk of injury worse, since it gives players an illusion of safety, when unsafe and injurious play is still very possible with a helmet. The forces involved in a head-to-head collision can exceed the helmet’s ability to protect the brain. Do such forces have to be invoked? No. But do many players choose to play that way? Surely so. Many have even recommended going back to the “olden days” leather helmets, which will encourage more safety conscious play. (I’ve read that hard, modern helmets do a better job against catastrophic skull fractures, but are actually less effective than the old leather gear in the lesser-but-still-harmful-jostling that goes on.)
Of course risk of injury is always present in almost any activity. (The actuary in me can’t help but seeing risk everywhere.) The question is how it’s managed. And in professional football, it’s clear that many ignore wisdom for the sake of making it into the end zone.
But does that make the sport inherently evil? “Evil” is a moral distinction, not to be bandied about lightly. Doing something unwise, for instance, is not the same as doing something evil. Lack of wisdom is not identical to being evil, or else Jesus Christ, who grew in wisdom over the course of His life (Luke 2:52), would be guilty of some sort of evil, and of course He was not.
No, it can’t be considered evil just because it is played by some unwisely, especially the higher one gets into the “money” of the sport. In fact, the risk of injury is present in many sports. How many baseball players have ruined their arms by repeated, unnatural use? Does it make baseball evil? No. But the limits that many are willing to cross in the pursuit of “glory” and higher bonuses is, indeed, a shame.
(Speaking of money, this was one thing the club this morning seemed in total agreement about: Professional sports would be a thing of the past. The idea that people doing virtually nothing productive for society should be rewarded beyond the wildest dreams of even kings and queens of times past is a joke–a sad joke, indeed. And many of the corruptions of sports that we’ve mentioned on this page often seem tied to the presence of way too much money in those sports.)
As I told the scared elderly woman in my congregation, no, football is not inherently evil, let alone watching football. In fact, back when Mr. Herbert Armstrong was alive not only did the Church help out with the Rose Parade, which had become intimately and inseparably identified with the Rose Bowl football game (so much so that it’s often called by many the “Rose Bowl Parade”), we also published an article in the Plain Truth back in November 1969 under Mr. Armstrong’s watchful eye, in which Mr. Eugene Walter wrote in an article “Thanksgiving Day… What Does It Mean to You?”:
“There is nothing necessarily wrong with good food, family reunions and football games on Thanksgiving Day. But all too many use these activities wrongly and forget the purpose for the holiday.”
This is essentially the same point that I am making here. (And I had to remind this kind woman about this fact.) There is nothing inherently wrong with football games, nor in watching them. But it can be made wrong in the use and abuse of it.
Actually, Mr. Armstrong, himself, spoke about football at least once and did so rather negatively. In another old Plain Truth (June-July 1984) he explained why they did not have tackle football at Ambassador College, though they did have flag football. But he has to be read carefully. Actually, the principles he describes in his article are the very same ones I’ve used here. As he says, “It [that is, football] too often is played in an attitude of hostility and is dangerous and fraught with physical injury” (emphasis mine). And this is true: “too often” (not always) these things are the case. In fact, since then such attitudes and disregard for injury have, all the more, permeated virtually all of sports, it seems. While I would probably word some of the things Mr. Armstrong wrote differently (it’s a given, since I’m a different writer), the principles he espouses are spot on, and, as he says in the article, his intention was “to illustrate the application of the principle of God’s law to sports.” If I were running a college, I might not include football as an organized sport either if I saw that it had too great a potential for bad attitude and injury. Other sports might meet a stop sign from me, too. But does that make the sport inherently evil? As Mr. Armstrong says in the very same article, “Sometimes there is a fine line between what is within and what is outside God’s law.”
A fine line indeed. And to paint thick boundaries with a broad brush when Mr. Armstrong recommended a fine line would be a mistake.
As I reassured the wonderful, elderly lady in my congregation: No, she was not sinning by enjoying a football game on television — depending, of course, on why she was enjoying it.
And as the general conclusion was in Spokesman Club this morning, there will likely be many sports played in the Millennium among friends, with football possibly among them, as well as soccer, volleyball, et al. — not only a host of sports that we enjoy today, but very likely sports that have not even been invented yet. Sports — played well, fairly, and with a good attitude — are a great deal of fun and a great way to learn how to do your best while enjoying yourself at the same time. (Not mention that for those who are glorified in our future state, it may be a lot of fun to play ball when “go long” means flying to the other side of Jupiter.)
But will Madonna perform during the halftime of any of those sports? Maybe someone will ask that at our next Spokesman Club meeting…