In Defense of Sports

“To me, pro sports is like a whole other religion. People pay through the nose to attend. They eat and drink. If the same people who go to games and get so excited, became so excited about Jesus and the true battle we live in, it wouldn’t be so bad. If not, pro sports is a real waste of time and money better spent feeding the poor, healing the sick, and getting people saved. Is any of this as important as pro sports? Whole countries spend more money paying its players than many churches get to help the poor.”

This comment is one I received some time ago from a listener to a podcast I was a guest on. The theme of the conversation had been about how Christians can interact well with sports, a subject I care about because of my faith and because I love sports. The sentiments shared in the comment above are not at all uncommon. Many people struggle to see the validity of sports, especially when it’s grandiosity and ego is so amplified through media. It is easy to see the downside, so what is the upside?

Here I seek to address each concern and criticism made point by point in defense of sports.

Sports is its own religion.

As we discussed on the podcast, sports can easily become an idol. But that does not make it an inherently bad thing. Money can be an idol. So can music; attend any concert and you will find worshippers there. Or family. Anything that we devote ourselves to can become an idol which can then become a religion – something which gives structure to our lives and determines our values. But the human ability to make idols out of anything does not make those things bad. And sports contains enormous good as a reflection of God’s creative power and the unique abilities he has poured into people as athletes, coaches, strategists, broadcasters, journalists, and more.

People should devote their excitement and energy to things of eternal value.

Taken at face value, this sentence is true, but when you use it to parse sports (or other forms of entertainment) out of life it creates a false dichotomy. Sports offer rest and refreshment. The energy poured into them is not draining a person from doing things that “matter”; it is restoring them for work. Sports also offer a kind of community and connection to people that is difficult to duplicate. Whether it’s regular pick-up basketball games, rooting for the same team, or being softball team mates sports bring people together. And people together is where real eternal ministry is done best.

The money and time devoted to sports are better spent elsewhere, serving those in need.

Such an objection is worthy of consideration as a matter of conscience at the personal level, but it is not a black and white issue. It is always wise to ask whether I am giving what I ought, helping who I ought, and being generous as I ought? I am I misallocating my own resources to serve my idol? This idol could be sports or it could be lattes or books or cars. This is not a question anyone can clearly answer from the outside in most cases. It is not wrong to spend money on any of the things I listed, but it could be a poor choice. Usually only God and the spender knows whether it was wise or not.

The money in sports (and all entertainment industries) is enormous. It is so because we demand to be entertained – cost and demand is a basic economic principle. We are better off examining our own lives to see if there is inequity or inconsistency than in haranguing about the system as a whole.

I believe sports are a gift, a good gift, that God gave through human creativity for our enjoyment. They should be participated in at every level and in every way as such. And just like all of life, we ought to approach them with thoughtfulness, discernment, and intentionality. This is why I wanted to respond to the objections posed. I hope these answers further the thoughtfulness and expand the perspective with which we approach and participate in sports going forward.

This Post is modified from the original which was posted at DesiringGod.org.