Is football the worst sport ever?

Football Boy
So, it that a football old-timey boy has, or a watermelon? I think it’s a watermelon.

[Note: Due to the fact that I worked on this from a short draft I began back in November of 2014, the effective “date” of the post here on my blog is 11/28/2014, even though I wrote this on 6/3/2015. Rather than move it to the proper date, seeing how there are already comments and such, I’m just leaving it here it is. I think we’ll all survive, won’t we? — WGS]

So, is football the worst sport ever, and its industry the picture of sin-incarnate? Part of the world is wondering if it is, these days. But which part of the world you are talking about makes a difference.

If by “football” you mean “American football,” then, for all its vices–shared, paralleled, or “one upped” by many other sports–the answer seems to be “no.” The American public seems to be slowly moving past Deflategate and is waiting disinterestedly for the next scandal. But if by “football” you mean the same thing that virtually the entire rest of the world means by “football”–for us Americans, that would be “soccer”–then some are, indeed, wondering if the answer might be “yes.”

[Note for those non-Americans reading today’s post: My apologies for calling football “soccer” for the rest of this post. Since most of my visitors–folks in my congregations, et al.–are Americans, I’m going to go the route that makes the most sense for them. But, for what it’s worth, I do think that “football” is the better description of the sport!]

If you haven’t been keeping up with the scandals of FIFA these days (the international governing body for professional soccer), you’ve been missing out. I won’t try to summarize it all, but it is amazing how corrupt the sport is. The Wall Street Journal just published an interesting op-ed piece comparing FIFA to the Clinton family’s approach to politics. Here is my tweet of that (using the Twitter link below should solve any paywall problems, I think:

If you want to know more specifically about the FIFA scandal, just Google it.

But it brings to mind attacks I have seen on football as the sport somehow most deserving of attack as somehow inherently sinful and immoral that deserves special attention above all other sports. And I continually don’t get it, when there are so many other better targets, as this FIFA news helps to demonstrate. [And, please note: I don’t say this as a fan of football. I didn’t watch a single game last year — not even the Super Bowl. I say it as someone who is an anti-fan of poor logic and of abusing the Bible to try and convince others that one’s personal opinions and convictions are equivalent to God’s own judgment.]

I recognize that Mr. Herbert Armstrong had commented in the past on why he didn’t have football at Ambassador College, and his thoughts are still very instructive. They don’t unarguably lead one to conclude that football, let alone watching it on television, is inherently evil or sinful, though they do lay out important principles, whether one draws similar conclusions or not. And those few I have seen who try to use his words to say so not only abuse his statement but also tend to ignore all other evidence of his opinions on the matter to turn what he said into a much stronger, broader, and far-reaching statement than Mr. Armstrong intended, and one flatly contradicted by Mr. Armstrong’s repeated approval and endorsement of the Church’s energetic participation in the Rose Bowl Parade, which he didn’t see a problem with even in light of Romans 14:22. I’ve blogged about such abuses of Mr. Armstrong and others before (“Zombie ministers: How some abuse the dead”) and on this topic, specifically (actually, I think, in the “Will there be football in the Millennium?” blog post), so I don’t see a need to kick that dead horse any further. The point of whether or not watching football can be biblically established as inherently evil and sinful is unaffected by any of that–neither proven nor disproven. One is simply left to say that some individuals’ time would be better spent on using Scripture to examine themselves instead of trying to publicly canonize their own personal preferences.

The FIFA scandals seem, to me, to simply be a reminder that some perspective is needed. In the past I dug around (digged around? dig dug around?) trying to see if I should think of football as the preeminent example of sin in sports? Is it at some sort of pinnacle deserving of special condemnation above the others? After all, if it were simply the matters that Mr. Armstrong brought out, those are now represented in our day in a vast array of popular sports, and certainly not just professional football. If the focus on hate-ranting about football as a uniquely, inherently evil sport to play or watch were rooted in some sort of justifiable reality and not just some anti-football blogger’s weird personal obsession, then maybe there was something I was missing.

For instance, is football (remember, American football) the Most Sinful Sport Ever™ because of its attitude toward player concussions?


Frankly, that would be highly debatable. Actions and recent lawsuits have pressed the case so that actual studies are being done. There are some very good arguments that soccer needs similar studies as the anecdotal evidence keeps piling up that the sport may be just as a injurious in this regard. However, while football treats a possible concussion during the game as a big deal (game paused, doctors brought out, players evaluated and possibly removed), soccer is known for blowing it off, as displayed in hoopla during the last World Cup. As one article said, “[Q]uite frankly, soccer doesn’t really care about concussions.” (Though, hopefully, recent actions may mean that will finally change for soccer. Bring on the actuaries!)

Still, perhaps football might be the Most Sinful Sport Ever™ because of fatalities and injuries, overall.

Well, no, not there, either.

If we were to ban the most deadly sport in America for young people, that would be softball. Actually, we should ban boys’ gymnastics and water polo, as well, each of which have higher rates of mortality per participant among high school students than football does. But, really, softball is the killer—more than double the rates of mortality per player than even second-place water polo according to statistics gathered from 1982 through 2011.

And if we move from mortality to simply injuries, there are other competitors looking for the title, as well. The high school sport with the greatest rate of injury is cheerleading. And by the way, that’s not cheerleading in support of sports teams, such as football and basketball, but competitive cheerleading—that is, competitive cheerleading against other teams of cheerleaders.

Really, when you look at the stats, injuries are sort of all over the place. But at least in America, competitive cheerleading blows them all away. (Texas Aggies are smart enough not to have cheerleaders. We’d rather have our gals in the stands with us than on the field getting injured. Gig’em!)

Where there is a lot of money to be made, there is lack of regard for human health and safety. To claim that football has a lock on this vice would be weird.

So, maybe with all of the money in football, it qualifies as Most Sinful Sport Ever™ because of graft and corruption? After all, it would be foolish to think that Deflategate is the only shady thing that goes down in the NFL.

Still, as the FIFA scandals demonstrate (and have before today’s headlines), football is not only less than unique, it is probably far from the worst. If anyone thinls that football is the worst in this category, they don’t pay attention to news. And if people were to think football were somehow the worst, they aren’t good at  And they didn’t lose money to Pete Rose.

Perhaps attitude makes football stand out? I mean, you have to admit that there is a lot of carnal attitude on the faces of some of those guys after a tackle or a touchdown.

Yet, if that makes football inherently or uniquely evil or sinful, it would apply to—well—pretty much every major sport these days. Haven’t you seen the prideful, “I’m the king of the world and I’m going to bite your face off” look on the faces of other sports figures? Ever watch basketball? Soccer? Actually, ever watched tennis—or even golf?

Fans of football can be truly atrocious in their behavior, true. Maybe the sport uniquely inspires such sinful attitudes in those who follow it?

Well, no, it doesn’t. In America, we have no idea how carnal fans can get relative to some other sports. There is a reason they call them “soccer hooligans” [OK: (Non-American) football hooligans].

Then there are the cheerleaders. No doubt about it: professional football cheerleaders are undeniably inappropriately clad.

But if you think they’re the worst in football, you haven’t seen the cheerleaders they use, for instance, in professional basketball. [No, I’m not linking to pictures…]

The objection some seem to have about football that, perhaps, makes them feel deep down that it truly is the worst of the worst may be that it seems such a violent sport to them.

But is it, really? The hits are sometimes, maybe even often, rougher than they should be, to be sure. We already covered that, and inappropriate aggression is present in a lot of sports. I’ve blogged about illegal, shameful schemes to purposefully hurt other players, and they are just that: illegal and shameful. And, also, not unique to football. (Think Tonya Harding. Or pitchers taking out batters and the subsequent brawls.) But does it seem more “violent” because there is grappling, pushing, and tackling? Do the presence of those items make it somehow inherently, violently evil and sinful? Like wrestling?

(Did you follow the link? I know—that was mean. But fun. If you want to claim that grappling, pushing, and tackling is inherently, violently evil and sinful, take it up with Jacob and Jesus Christ in the resurrection.)

Really, do we have to ban all roughhousing in sport or play? As a father of four boys (and, as rumor has it, I, myself, am a male, as well), I can say that physical play—wrestling each other, etc.—even intensely physical play is rightly natural to being male. And I say “natural” in terms of God’s design, not “natural” as a euphemism for carnal. The fact that a sport includes physical contact simply can’t, in and of itself, make it inherently sinful.

Bad attitudes on display in that contact? Yes! That would be sinful! But then, it would be sinful in any sport, right? In fact, it would be sinful even if there were no physical contact, right? So, where does that leave us? Right! With football still not being inherently sinful and certainly not uniquely “more evil” than other sports.

The idea that rough-and-tumble play among friends will not be allowed in the Kingdom has no basis in Scripture. To quote verses about “violence” to say otherwise is to assume what one desires to prove and is a logical error of the novice. You would first have to prove that all such play is violence. Have fun with that. And, even if you were to succeed against all odds and rationality, far more sports and play would be condemned than football—once again not making it unique in some way as the sinniest sinful sport in civilization.

Actually, someone who is truly offended by real violence in sports has so many other targets to choose from, and worse offenders, indeed. Consider ice hockey. Who hasn’t heard this joke: “I went to a fight once, and a hockey game broke out”? There’s a reason for that joke. In fact, even if it is a matter of just picking on America, in North America the rules concerning actual, literal player-on-player violence in hockey are looser than just about everywhere else in the world. Fights are actually expected, and are part of what the fans want.

Really, it’s hard to justify picking on football as the pinnacle of “sports evil” in the area of violence. (And, again, simply quoting verses about “violence” assumes what one wants to prove.)

Finally, perhaps football qualifies as Most Sinful Sport Ever™, at least as a public symbol, because it is so popular. Consider the TV ratings for the Super Bowl–they are huge. Maybe that should make football a special “punching bag” above all other sports.

Well, that just doesn’t cut it, either.

It took until 2010 for the number of Super Bowl viewers in America to get past 100M, climbing to a record 112.2 million in 2014. In 2015, that record was bested, bringing in 114.4 million.

Being a truly international sport, it is hard to aggregate the viewing figures for soccer’s World Cup, but even conservative measures of World Cup viewing put the totals for the final game at more than double that of the Super Bowl, such as the estimated 260,000,000 in 2006. And that doesn’t even count the number of people without access to television who obsessively follow the World Cup’s games through other means (print, public announcement, etc.). In fact, over the course of the entire World Cup tournament, total viewership of some of the action is estimated in the billions.

Actually, all of these things said… considering the often prideful and combative attitudes of its players, the corruption of the governing bodies, the lack of compassion for its players’ head injuries (including among children), the “hooliganism” and violent and riotous criminal activity associated with its fans, the vast, vast viewing audience—with some fans virtually addicted to the sport and its “heroes”—and its central role in the culture of Israelitish nations, I would say that someone sincere about tackling sin in sports would pick soccer over football any day. (Of course, I mean real football over American football.) And that’s even true if one is seeking to focus on the vices of Israelite nations, for which soccer is far more popular when one remembers that America is only one star in that constellation.

So, we don’t really watch much football at all around our house, but it isn’t because we see it as some sort of “super-sinfullestly sinful” sport. We see it as most other professional and college sports—something that isn’t inherently sinful, but which money, fame, and attitude corrupt, like they do with most things. Even international chess. I’m glad that my boys play flag football at camp, which is certainly less likely to cause injury than tackle football. (Though still with its risks, which is not a bad thing, especially when bringing up boys.) But if they ever play a game of tackle on a future Thanksgiving afternoon, or watch a game on TV that day? I don’t see any good, biblical argument that tells me I would have to condemn them as engaging in an inherently sinful activity by doing so. (Actually, since 75% of the Smith boys are fencers, I think a friendly post-Thanksgiving duel is more likely in the future, but that’s beside the point.)

As for me and my house? We’re going to begin a relentless public crusade against thumb wrestling. Well, at least I am. I’m tired of my wife always winning. It’s not my fault I have short thumbs.

[I said I would provide links, but I’m feeling lazy. Still, I will instead offer a search of the blog on the word “football”–it should have them in there, somewhere. 🙂 ]

12 thoughts on “Is football the worst sport ever?

  1. Dave Machanick

    Have you ever wondered if spirit beings play sports? An if yes, then what? Planetball? Dodging asteroids? Take physical bodies and play physical sports?

  2. I like Dave Machanick‘s question. I’ve thought about that for our own future.

    Mr. Smith: Once again, how do you put all this down while doing everything else you do? Maybe a Reader’s Digest version would help your schedule. Mine would look like this:

    Q: Is (American) football the worst sport ever?
    A. No. Compared to gladiator fights, for example, it’s still pretty tame. (It can be argued that Genghis Khan’s decimation of the world population, in his eyes at any rate, was just a game. Cf. his justification for it.)

    Q. Is (international) football the worst sport ever?
    A. No. Same reason.

    Q. Are (international) football fans the worst fans ever?
    A. Yes (possibly), and that makes me very sad. Although (American) football fans seem to be working to catch up with them, in some areas at least.

    Q. Will there be athletics in the Millennium?
    A. There would have to be. All of us, and some far more than others due to the temperament which God put into them, need athletic activity and even competition which “plays fair”.

    There. Fifteen minutes which I’ll never see again. 😛 I can’t begin to imagine how long your musings above took you to put down. I type 70 wpm after mistakes are subtracted. Ever time your writing in this blog? 😀

  3. Kinnear Penman

    I don’t know about the most sinful sport but I do know which is the finest field-sport. It is, of course, rugby. Rugby is played by real men. Soccer is played by “gurls”; as we rugby-playing schoolboys used to term those boys who opted for soccer. (In Kiwi culcha a tiny minority, I’m glad to say).

    The difference in the manliness of rugby and soccer players can be seen in every game. Soccer players spend the whole game pretending they have been injured. Rugby players spend the duration pretending they have not been injured.

  4. Oh – one more thought: testosterone (that hormone which is connected to male sexuality) isn’t necessarily the main driving force in sports, especially contact sports. Much more relevant in contact sports especially (and even more in “extreme” sports) is the hormone behind the S_P temperament, namely dopamine, and that factor isn’t gender-dependent.

    It may interest you to know that the sex hormones, testosterone and estrogen, are also the mediators of the NT temperament (yours) and of the NF temperament (mine). Dopamine mediates the S_P temperament (you see that hormonal drive disproportionately in every sport of any importance I can cite), and serotonin the S_J temperament. Testosterone is what mediates the drive for “knowledge and competence” in life, including in sports. Estrogen’s drive is for “human values, worth and meaning” as it were. Already you have two different measures of “playing fair”, both valid. The other temperamental drives add their own perspectives to that issue.

    Let me put it another way. The abuses of the four temperamental drives are vanity (NT), jealousy (NF), lust (S_P) and greed (S_J). Sports are not the problem – the “Gang of Four” as expressed in sports is the problem, and that includes what’s going on in the FIFA at the moment.

    I hope this makes sense! 🙂

  5. Mr. Wheeler: The links and such are items I came across over time going back to last fall, I think, with some observations already written in unpublished notes. (E.g., I already had the 2014 Super Bowl viewer stat noted; did a quick Google search to find the 2015 figure to complement and update it.) So, the post didn’t take too long to come together but was a pleasant diversion.

    Mr. Penman: Last two sentences there are hilarious. I remember a basketball player in my old high school who, in a game I was watching, laid down on the court with his arms and legs out like a human letter “X” in the hopes the refs would think he had been fouled. Most blatantly false move I’ve ever seen, while simultaneously hilariously goofy. And your soccer/rugby comments remind me of the actuarial/underwriting rivalry of my earlier life.

    Actuarial work — now there’s a manly endeavor, my friend! 🙂

  6. BOTH OF YOU: Consider this quote from a tourist’s guide to Great Britain, written in London by Londoners. It is alleged to be a long-standing quip:

    “Rugby is a thug’s game played by gentlemen; (association) football is a gentleman’s game played by thugs.” 🙂

    From all I’ve ever heard, as true as Mr. K’s analysis, and to me just as funny.

  7. obeirne

    Mr. Smith, The football over which FIFA presides is called ” soccer ” by many in the Republic of Ireland too – and by many Irish elsewhere as well. That is because we have Gaelic football, a field game developed to counter the prevalence of soccer in 19th century Ireland. It was primarily created to provide a sport for Irish nationalists and the organization founded was and is called the Gaelic Athletic Association. It was and is the umbrella under which hurling, a traditional Irish game for an estimated 3000 years and reputed to be the fastest field game in the world. People who considered themselves British were excluded and all who played Gaelic football or hurling were prohibited from participating or playing what were deemed to be foreign games – i.e., soccer, rugby, etc., THat rule has seince been abandoned.

    There is widespread support for soccer in Ireland overall, but Gaelic football especially and hurling and rugby to lesser extents dominate the Irish sporting scene. However the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have provided many top class professional players for soccer in England and Scotland and Ireland has has a pretty decent International soccer team.

    The Football Association of Ireland has been at the fore in trying to remove Sapp Blatter, the FIFA president and are at one with the other soccer associations in Western Europe in this drive. The Russians for their own reasons have continued to back Blatter.

    The majority of soccer supporters here and in Western Europe have long consider FIFA to be corrupt and have been deeply suspicious of Mr. Blatter. They have welcomed the actions of the FBI and are confident that corription will be rooted out – at least to a certain degree.

    I somewhat agree with Mr. Penman is his remarks as regards rugby versus soccer. Rugby is certainly a much more ” robust ” game than soccer and is certainly a game for ” real men “. The players in that game aren’t prone to feigning injury in order to gain an advantage over their opponents, which is not the case with soccer.

    Gaelic football and hurling are both amateur games and those playing are either employed or are students in college or university. Both games are extremely robust and little quarter is given. But I regret to say there is a certain degree of gamesmanship when it comes to tackling. Some players will pretend to have an injury which will have the referee – umpire to you – in order to have their opponent and team penalized.

  8. Obierne: I had to look up Wikipedia to remind myself of what the game “hurling” is – and sure enough, its age as you stated it shows up early. But in American football, we have referees as well as umpires – something I didn’t know until I double-checked. I don’t normally watch sports on TV unless something happens to be on: basketball, American football, soccer, golf, whatever.

    Golf. Watching that game gives me a great deal of peace for some reason. Maybe it’s because the PGA has been such a class act, or presents itself as one.

  9. Sheri

    For me a real man can do things like hunt, fish, fix farm equipment, build things, provide for a family, is physically fit, self sufficient. He may not own a big screen tv.
    I’m heading to central Utah. Please let him know if you meet one.

  10. Sheri Benjegerdes

    I guess what bothers me about the NFL is how they have partnered with govt which also controls our media which promotes evil agendas of the govt such as Obama care. I’d also rather not have scantily clad, busty females in my living room jumping around like monkeys in heat, or be told to spend, spend on this and that. I’d appreciate someone with reason saying it’s good to save my money and invest in precious metals, that I don’t need to buy things, and that things don’t make one feel good. I don’t want my mind controlled for me. I simply prefer true values.

  11. Thank you, Sheri, for your comments. Regrettably, it seems virtually all of sportsdom, like most all of everything else, is tainted by many things, and football is hardly unique, which was part of the point of this post. Thanks, again, for your thoughts.

What are you thinking?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.