The time has finally come. The days are shorter, the leaves are falling, Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and the loyal believers are gathering together every Sunday….. for football! Yeah baby! It’s time for some bone-crushing, adrenalin-pumping action. It’s time to devote countless hours to stats, player profiles, and of course, fantasy leagues. This is what fall is all about, as they say, “tis the season.” But while you and your friends are sitting in front of the tube washing down wings and pizza with diet Pepsi for the next 17 weeks, hundreds of men will suffer injuries due to the game’s violent nature, and it will all be done in the name of innocent entertainment. This is the NFL.
It’s no secret that the NFL has skyrocketed since its initial formation in the 1920’s. What started out as a small, floundering organization has become a nationwide phenomenon, making more money and drawing more viewers than any other sport. The baseball bat is lying in a dusty corner and the pig skin has emerged as the new American pastime. I would venture to say that this is not only the case for the secular community, but also for the Christian community.
It is not uncommon to hear the young and old celebrating the big win, lamenting the big loss, or discussing the finer points of their fantasy leagues. Little, if any, thought is given to the ethics of the game. However, like so many organizations, the NFL does have a dark side and it is our responsibility as Christians to discern how we should interact with America’s national pastime.
Perhaps the ugliest side of the NFL is the violence. It is indisputable that there is a brutal nature to the game of football (If you don’t believe me, look at the injury list for this year). Tim Green describes his career with the Atlanta Falcons in his book, “The Dark Side of the Game.” Green compares his first NFL game to when he totaled his car. “I woke up the next morning hurting in places I didn’t know I had. Biological connective tissue, cushions, levers, hinges, and framing have all been shaken at the foundation. Everything feels a little loose. Everything hurts. The difference between football and a car accident is that a football game happens once a week for 20 weeks in the NFL” (Green 34). This is a chilling summary of what it’s like to play in the NFL.
These are the biggest, strongest players in the country and they all have one goal in mind: win! Green says that every time a player steps out on the field it’s like rolling the bones (dice). You might get the ace that leads to the pro bowl, or a deuce that ends your career with a debilitating injury. There’s no gamble like playing the game of football, where so many other elite athletes are coming at you from every direction and are actually intent on hurting you physically (Green 118).
Some may say that the NFL is not about the violence, it’s about the skill and art that goes into each play. Allow me to again refer to Green. “The difference between the NFL player and the average guy on the street is that the NFL player has learned to tap into the dark side of his psyche. Most football players can turn it on and off like a blender. You need to be bad on the field, vicious, mean, that’s part of the game. That is the game” (Green 65).
So here is a former NFL player saying that in order to play football at a national level you must tap into your “dark side” and “be vicious and mean.” There is certainly no question that football involves skill like any other sport, however, based on Green’s analysis, the main draw is the violence. This is what Americans watch on Sunday afternoons for the sake of entertainment: men who have trained both mentally and physically to hurt their opponent. This is the game that America worships.
So how should we as Christians respond to the NFL as we consider this issue? For a black and white person like myself it would be easy to recommend banning football all together, but, at the risk of being called soft, I don’t think I can say that. Is it wrong to play a game of tackle football with friends? Probably not. Is it wrong to enjoy an occasional NFL game? Perhaps not. I’m not willing to throw a blanket statement over football and the NFL. However, I will say that from a biblical perspective the NFL hangs on the edge.
How can we support a game, built on violence, wherein men who are made in God’s image attempt to damage each other? How can we support a game in which the players are admittedly vicious and mean on the field? As Christians we are to fill our minds with, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable” (Philippians 4:8).
Unfortunately these are things the NFL simply does not promote. I recognize that many will disagree with this position. My intent is not to give a dogmatic opinion, rather, my hope is that we can all consider these issues together from a biblical worldview. Thank you for taking the time to read this far. May the Lord grant us wisdom as we think about the tough issues in this world.
|Eddie Kinsinger and his wife, Stephanie, are currently living in Elnora, Indiana. He runs a small online business and is enrolled in a pastoral apprenticeship program under the direction of Truth and Grace Mennonite Church. He enjoys sugar, with a small drop of coffee as a garnish, and is greatly annoyed when forced to write a bio–in the third person. He enjoys reading and good conversations with friends.
Green, Tim. The Dark Side of the Game: My Life in the NFL. New York, NY: Warner, 1996. Print.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (ESV), Containing the Old and New Testaments. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print.