If you read this article regularly, you know that I try to keep up with most of the major sports (I only care about hockey when the Blues make the playoffs, otherwise, I couldn’t name more than five pro hockey players). Because of this, people often ask me about various happenings in the sports world, particularly when matters of faith are involved (anyone hear of this guy Tim Tebow? or Jeremy Lin?). Yesterday I saw a man take a pretty hard elbow in the head, and I’m not really sure whether it was intentional—actually, I’m pretty sure it was intentional, but I’m not sure the aiming was intentional. After seeing said elbow, I looked up the player who threw the elbow and found out that, like most people who are vilified, his career is more complex than “bad guy” or “good guy.” This caused me to reflect further—why do we care? Not “why do we care if someone gets concussed during a sporting event,” because that actually seems important. No, I was asking myself why is it that sports have become so consuming for us that we analyze them to death. Why do we invest so much into a team of men playing a game (albeit professionally) that we allow our emotions to rise to a level where we are probably able to throw our own elbows around?
Before I answer that, I’ll tell you about something else I read a couple of weeks ago. It’s a letter Mike Matheny wrote. He’s the current manager of my hometown St. Louis Cardinals. He wrote this letter when he was coaching his own children’s little league baseball team. He begins by saying this: “I always said that the only team that I would coach would be a team of orphans, and now here we are. The reason for me saying this is that I have found the biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents.” This encompasses everything that I think is wrong with sports. To boil it down to a simple form, sports cause us to worry about glory; be it glory for our town, for ourselves, or for our nation. Some of this glory seeking can be a healthy form of pride: you’ll never find someone who thinks it’s shameful to root for your country in the Olympics. Other times the glory seeking is obviously detrimental—like vicariously expecting your children to become stellar athletes to make up for your own shortcomings.
In this way, sports become a mirror for us. It allows us to reflect on what we actually find important in life—what our priorities have become. And, sometimes, we don’t like what we see. Here’s where sports bleed over into “real” life. When we don’t like what we see, what are our options? One is to cover our eyes and pretend we don’t actually see it. Or, to take it up a notch, to pretend we see something that is not actually there. Thus, we go from seeing dissatisfaction with how our lives have turned out into a superficial belief that we are the greatest person in the world! To avoid this kind of delusion, we need to decide what our priorities are. Only then can we look in the mirror and decide to change what we don’t like. When I consider my priorities, I think of what Jesus said in Matthew 6:33: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Keeping that in mind, I can look at the rest of my life through the lens of different priorities. I don’t have to measure myself based on an artificial measure—like did my team win the game. My teams, my sports abilities, can fall to their appropriate level of priority. Then I’m free to focus on the things that matter to me. Discover your own priorities and let the rest of life fall into place.