[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.
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. 🙂 ]