December 25, 2015

Tearing Down the Goalposts: Should Christians Reconsider Football?

Editor’s note: The author works for the Seventh-day Adventist Church and is a member in good standing. The Adventist Review has chosen to keep his identity anonymous.

Football is the biggest rival to church attendance each weekend. But who has more fans: the quarterback or the pastor?

Football, not to be confused with soccer, is in the spotlight this month with the Christmas Day release of a big-budget Hollywood film, “Concussion,”employing recent scientific research to warn that trauma from repeated blows to the head is far more dangerous to overall health than we have known.

“Over the past two decades, it has become clear that repetitive blows to the head in high-impact contact sports like football, ice hockey, mixed martial arts and boxing place athletes at risk of permanent brain damage,” Dr. Bennet Omalu, chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, California, whose research inspired “Concussion,” wrote in a news commentary published in
The New York Times on Dec. 7, 2015. “There is even a Hollywood movie, ‘Concussion,’ due out this Christmas Day, that dramatizes the story of my discoveries in this area of research. Why, then, do we continue to intentionally expose our children to this risk?”

His research is controversial. When asked about playing the main character in “Concussion,” actor Will Smith hesitated noticeably and expressed concern about the possible public backlash.

This subject is all the more interesting in light of some research recently published in the sports world.

But the research isn’t actually new. Omalu noted in his news commentary that two leading and governing professional pediatrics associations in the United States and Canada — the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society — published a position paper back in 2011 “recommending that children should no longer be allowed to engage in high-impact contact sports … and willfully damage their developing brains.”

Seventh-day Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White raised the alert more than a century ago. She gave at least four reasons to shun “American” football. Not only did she call it “brutal,” but she also spoke about the idolatry of sports, the more useful forms of exercise in manual trades, and the dangers of engaging in competitive sports in general.

Some have wondered why Adventists historically have often discouraged competitive sports. The reason is linked to the fact that White, one of
Smithsonian’s 100 most influential Americans, was adamant that competition wasn’t something God encouraged. Our duty as Christians, she emphasized, was to build up those around us, not sack them for a 5-yard loss.

We read in a personal letter from White - “Do not substitute play, pugilistic boxing, football, matched games, and animal exercises, for manual training,” White wrote in Letter 27, 1895. “All of this stripe and type should be vigilantly prohibited from the school grounds.”

Read where you will, but Scripture seems clear on the dangers of competition, often described as “emulation.” Before the dawn of human history, Lucifer began to compete with the established team of heaven, and thus a war broke out.

White also shared her concern with the dangers of sports like football and boxing on the character and overall health of the mind, body, and soul.

“Some of the most popular amusements, such as football and boxing, have become schools of brutality,” she wrote in
Education, p. 210. “They are developing the same characteristics as did the games of ancient Rome. The love of domination, the pride in mere brute force, the reckless disregard of life, are exerting upon the youth a power to demoralize that is appalling.”

Many of those ostensibly awaiting the arrival of the Messiah in first-century Judea were absorbed in all of the games of the Greeks. First-century Greek and Roman historians even remind us that many among the priests were devotees of athletic competitions. Those Sabbath-keepers had lost sight of the mission that they were destined for. Could it be that the time spent absorbed in the sporting world could have been better used in preparing the world for the coming Christ? Could it have provided time for them to be more prepared personally and as a people?

“Satan has devised a multitude of ways in which to keep men from serving God,” White wrote in
Review and Herald, Sept. 10, 1901. “He has invented sports and games, into which men enter with such intensity that one would suppose a crown of life was to reward the winner. At the horse races and football matches, which are attended by thousands and thousands of people, lives for which Christ shed His blood are thrown away.”

We need to take a prayerful look on how we spend our time and and ask some serious questions. If football—high school, collegiate, and professional—absorbs more of our weekend than worshipping God and blessing the world around us, we should consider if at the end of our life we will be glad for making such decisions.

If sports, scores, highlights, stats, dunks or touchdowns absorb more of our time than blessing the world around us, it’s time to rethink our calendar. If we know more about the game than the sermon, there is reason to question which has our devotion and worship.

“Satan is continually seeking to turn them away from God. He brings before them one scene of excitement after another —horse-racing, football matches, pugilistic [boxing] contests,” White wrote in
Signs of the Times, July 4, 1900. “Around these scenes thousands of spectators assemble, greedy for excitement, anxious to see man getting the better of his fellow-man. As it was in the days of Noah, just prior to the destruction of the world by a flood, so will it be before the coming of the Son of God.”

There’s a world dying in ignorance of God and all that He has in store for us, and I fear too often we’re asleep to this reality.

Here’s the question: Should people who profess to be building up the kingdom of heaven be involved in activities that injure either their bodies or those of others? If the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, should it be subjected to repeated trauma?

Our faith should affect every aspect of our lives. I can think of no better reality to experience than the one Jesus came to establish. He said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

A world in chaos reminds us that we’ve entered the two-minute warning of Earth’s history. It’s time we are about our Father’s business.

@jasonturner176 – Let’s never forget that One Man turned the world upside down.