The Dark Side of the NFL

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 and Stephanie 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.

Works Cited

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.

http://www.latimes.com/sports/nfl/la-sp-0125-football-violence-plaschke-20150125-column.html

40% of Former NFL Players Had Brain Injuries

<i>Concussion</i> Expert: Over 90% of NFL Players Have Brain Disease

http://www.espn.com/nfl/news/story?id=6069234

http://www.forbes.com/sites/darrenheitner/2015/09/09/93-billion-will-be-illegally-wagered-on-nfl-and-college-football/#428a8bb81ca8

http://www.nfl.com/history/chronology/1921-1930

http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/gamblers-bet-a-record-breaking-amount-of-money-on-super-bowl-50/

http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/why-is-gambling-wrong

http://www.nfl.com/player/timgreen/2500903/profile

8 thoughts on “The Dark Side of the NFL

  1. I wouldn’t take one man’s opinion on a topic in the same way you would take what the Bible has to say, or use that one man’s opinion to try to justify and build a whole Foundation of thinking on. It is a tough game, but so is farming, I don’t think the vast majority are out to physically hurt someone, even if there are some who do. Just like the vast majority of farmers are not out to purposely pollute the land, treat their animals bad, and take advantage of every other farmer, but some do. I am not much of a fan of the NFL, but the NFL, much like everything else, including churches, have a dark side to them.

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  2. >>How can we support a game, built on violence, wherein
    >>men who are made in God’s image attempt to damage
    >>each other?

    This is a good question, and your article opens a subject integral to authentic Christianity, but you have missed the deeper issue.

    The problem which the NFL poses for Christians is not ultimately
    the violence, although violence is a problem. The more fundamental issue, from the NT perspective, is the COMPETITION. It is the competition itself that fixes the faithful Christian in opposition to
    the game.

    As you say, men who are made in God’s image should not attempt to DAMAGE each other. But deeper still, men who are in Christ ought not attempt to DEFEAT one another.

    The Way of the Cross precludes competition.

    Christ Jesus our Lord chose humiliation and defeat as the means of our salvation. He gave himself up to his opponents in order to redeem us. Like a lamb taken to slaughter He did not resist the forces which intended to triumph over Him. Instead of fighting,
    as this world fights, He laid down. Rather than compete for glory,
    our Lord surrendered and embraced the Cross. This is what the
    NT calls Love.

    And this Love ruins the game. This Love reduces the game, not just to silliness and frivolity, but to a narrative that opposes the Lover. Competition is an abject contradiction, a repudiation, of Christ and how He lived in this world:

    “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name.” Phil 2:5-9

    The NFL, the NBA, and MLB all tell a story that is a lie. They teach us to grab for the glory by defeating the other. Christ Jesus turned this narrative on its head and embraced defeat so that the other may be eternally glorified in Him. The Cross and the Kingdom change
    everything. Losing is the way to Life now. Granting the glory to the other is now the true story of the world.

    All of this then turns the NFL into the devil’s domain. But it’s not so much the violence, although violence is a problem. It’s the grabbing for glory at the other’s expense. It’s the pursuit of a prize by punishing the other, subjecting him to loss and humiliation. We learn the precise opposite from Christ. He purchased us by an antithetical means. Jesus grabbed for DEFEAT and at His OWN expense. He pursued LOSS and DEATH as the way to the prize. No, it’s not the violence of the NFL that rejoices the devil’s heart. It’s the competition itself. For competition displays CONTEMPT for the Cross. And therefore competition is the SCORN of Jesus Christ.

    >>I’m not willing to throw a blanket statement over football
    >>and the NFL.

    You should be. For the devil uses football and the NFL to mock our Lord and corrupt true Christianity. He uses football and the NFL to press his false and evil narrative about the meaning of life. Frankly, the devil uses football and the NFL to spit upon Christ and His Cross.

    Why is it that we do not understand these things? It’s because we are not really followers of Jesus Christ. We are still in pursuit of the glory of this world. We still compete for glory. We have not understood the way of the Cross… or maybe we have just rejected it.

    And so the West is left without a witness to the Kingdom.

    [Good on you, Eddie, for “tackling” this subject :-)]

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    1. Football has become a HUGE idol in our country!! We need to be careful with how much we get into it(if at all).

      Thanks for taking time to write this article!
      God bless!!!

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  3. Pursue winning
    “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run,
    but only one receives the prize?
    So run that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24, ESV).
    The short-list had Bob, Sam and Kenny’s name on it. All were tight friends; one would get the job. They had spent months getting to this point in the application process. All that remained was to wait for the inevitable decision. Would their friendship survive?
    Have you ever known that you failed to be selected for an important opportunity — because they picked a friend of yours instead? Perhaps it was the chance to be the starting point guard. Or a lead role in a play or college musical. Maybe it was an interview for your dream job. You had pictured yourself in the role for so long. It seemed so right. You had worked hard for it. You deserved it. And now it was gone — because of someone you (used to?) call a friend. What went through your head? Jealousy? Anger? Despair?
    Those who know me well can tell you that I am a highly competitive person. I can barely play a casual board game. If we play ping-pong, I know what’ll happen: I’ll beat you. And if not, it will be two-out-of-three. However, over the last few years I have had some not-so-pleasant losses, and two-out-of-three was out of the question.
    Those experiences got me reevaluating competition altogether. It can seem so cold — so rude. Someone always loses. Wasn’t there a better way? Couldn’t we just not send out résumés or try out for teams or musicals and just wait until someone called us? I mean, after all, God is in control, right? If He wants something to happen, well then He’ll make it happen, won’t He?
    Competition is Unavoidable
    Some Christians today consider competition as inherently sinful. Others pursue it unreservedly, as if it had no connection to their walk with God. Sundays are for showing Christ-like regard for others; the rest of the week is for claw-scratching to the top.
    The reality is that competition is unavoidable — for all of us — regardless of our personalities and dispositions. In school, our professors compared us with one another, either for grades or for scholarships. Those involved in sports regularly competed against other teams, as well as against teammates for lead positions. Musicians competed for top chair positions in the orchestra; actors and actresses competed for lead roles.
    We then interview “against” our friends in going for summer jobs. I can remember an interview in which eight of us, all friends, were interviewing with a company we knew would only hire two of us. To make matters worse, it doesn’t end on graduation day. Most employers “rank” employees, at least within their level, and we compete for promotions and our share of the finite pool of money allotted for raises. Think you can get around it by working for a nonprofit? Then you haven’t seen the battle over the annual budget.
    What are we to think in these situations? On what should we focus? Should we intentionally not do our best in order to “lovingly” give others a better chance? Clearly competition has the potential to tempt us to prideful jealousy, self-sufficiency and anxiety, to name a few dangers. What’s so insidious about jealousy is that we’re tempted to envy those who are most like us — those with whom we share the most in common — those whom we should most admire and like. So it is that law students envy other law students, athletes other athletes, med students other med students, and (yes) writers other writers, and even pastors other pastors.
    Should we conclude that competition is fundamentally sinful? After all, strife and jealousy are works of the flesh (Galatians 5:20). We’re to count others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). But we need to also weigh:
    1. Competition encourages excellence. We assume this every day when we choose to buy gas where it’s cheapest (assuming it won’t kill our car), or clothes from the store having a sale, or the better-rated stereo, car or washing machine. When we’re the consumer, we want the most for our money. Shouldn’t others want the same, when we produce (or are) the product?
    2. Competition directs us into certain areas of work or passion. When we buy one stereo and not another, we are, in a small way, encouraging a particular manufacturer to stay in business. Just as failure in an endeavor can stimulate us to more focused effort, it can also cause us to redirect our energy, like when I got cut from the school choir. While I was disappointed at the rejection, I was able to put more time and effort into activities I preferred, like tennis and a full academic load. Likewise, assigning merit-based grades and letting the best team or player win encourages excellence and helps individuals discern their strengths. Whether we redouble our efforts in an area of weakness, or re-channel them into an area of greater personal aptitude, recognizing excellence leads to improved performance — and not just for the winning party. In fact:
    3. Competition enhances the performance of all participants, not just the winners. If you are a better tennis player than I am, I can become better just by playing (and losing) to you. You too can become better by becoming more mindful of your technique, by concentrating on fundamental skills as you help me with mine, or just by the additional court time. Intentional under-performance represents laziness (if not dishonesty or deceitfulness), ultimately cheating both your opponent and yourself.
    How to Regard Others
    So competition can serve some valuable purposes. But what should our attitude be toward others as we compete with them? On the one hand, it is imperative that we keep our eyes on the Audience of One. Colossians 3:23-24 tells us, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (emphasis mine). Our desire should be to do as much as we possibly can with the gifts and skills that God gives us — as faithful stewards. Excellence in work, sports, music, etc. is fundamentally good because it imitates God, as it involves harnessing the faculties He’s given us to accomplish something that is useful or beautiful for others. So we ought to perform with excellence for His glory and never with the express purpose of hurting others or to in any way injure their efforts.
    On the other hand, noticing the performance of others relative to our own is usually unavoidable. This brings a pair of temptations: jealousy toward those whose accomplishments or stature may (in God’s wisdom) exceed ours, and (its twin) pride toward those whom (by God’s grace) we can serve as examples. The answer is not to pretend everyone is the same. That would be a failure to acknowledge and steward the gifts God has chosen to give you (which may exceed mine).
    Instead, we ought to admire, respect and imitate those who are more skilled, experienced or accomplished. By humbly acknowledging their abilities and accomplishments, we can learn from them and, by following their example, become better stewards of our talents (note 1 Corinthians 11:1). Likewise, we should be gracious and humble to those presently less accomplished. In other words, we should recognize that our talents and successes come from God and look for ways to serve others. We should also remember that to whom much is given, much is required, and that — no matter what we’ve done — others out there have achieved even more. So it’s pointless to measure our worth by our accomplishments.
    Conclusion
    We are all bent to erring on one side or the other: some in laziness or misplaced humility fail to give their best, punching out of work early and not being strategic in the development of skills. Joash struck the ground only three times and was rebuked for stopping so soon (2 Kings 13:18-19). On the other hand, others toil out of pride and greed — motivated by excelling over others for the sake of excelling over others rather than to glorify God, or by the small goals of extra money or time for fruitless entertainment. Selfish competitors can also be tempted to gossip about co-workers or seek to jeopardize their productivity.
    Those who are passive, misapplying the truth that “unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain,” fail to exert faith-fueled effort in a skill-based pursuit. The self-reliant, on the other hand, believes the distortion that “God helps those who help themselves.” They are driven by anxiety and self-promotion rather than God-given strength (1 Peter 4:11), the fear of man rather than the love of God, and are characterized by envy and pride, rather than admiration and love for others. The biblical balance is this: God normally works when we work. In humble dependence upon Him who gives life and breath and every good thing, we should exert ourselves with vigor in whatever our hands or minds find to do.
    Though man looks on the outward appearance, God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Ultimately, it is our faithfulness that pleases God and puts Him on display. So we should wisely steward our God-given talents for His glory and the good of others. A competitive “marketplace,” under God’s sovereignty, drives us toward greater effectiveness in loving our neighbors by providing better goods and services with which to bless them. And when we love our neighbors in the name of Christ, we love God (Mark 12:29-31). Winning and losing become occasions for sanctifying and strengthening us, making us both more conscious of our sinfulness (jealousy, pride) and more effective in the deployment of our talents in all of our vocational and avocational callings.

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  4. >>Joe says:

    >>Pursue winning

    Jesus said:

    “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.” Luke 9:22-24

    NOTHING could be more antithetical and mutually exclusive than the pursuit of winning an athletic competition and the pursuit of Christian discipleship. The pursuit of competitive winning turns the cross into an instrument of self-advancement, self-aggrandizement and worldly glory. This is APPALLING and INTOLERABLE to a genuine follower of Christ. It is tantamount to calling evil GOOD.
    It is nothing less than the destruction of authentic Christianity.

    Pursue winning if you must… but renounce all claims to be a follower of the Man of Sorrows.

    No one who is carrying a cross is ABLE to pursue worldly winning and worldly glory. Take the cross off your back and you may be free to do so. But he who carries the cross, BY DEFINITION, seeks the other’s advantage not his defeat.

    O Lord, we have not known Thee nor Thy ways. Reveal Thyself to us once again, as you really are, and not as godless culture has conditioned us to perceive you.

    Turn us, O God, and we shall be turned. But unless you come to us in Mercy and Grace… we shall remain in DARKNESS.

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  5. >>Joe quotes 1 9:24 –

    >>“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run,
    >>but only one receives the prize? So run that you may
    >>obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24, ESV).

    I add the ensuing verse, 1 Cor 9:25 –

    “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. THEY do it to receive a perishable wreath, but WE an imperishable” (emphasis mine).

    Note the pronouns.

    THEY and WE.

    Paul is referencing two discrete groups… THEY and WE.

    What is the distinction between THEY and WE?

    THEY exercise self-control in order to gain “a perishable wreath;” that is, THEY discipline themselves in order to gain worldly honor. THEY are in pursuit of a prize that perishes in concert with all things material. The Olympic medal perishes with this world. The honor of the NFL MVP does not survive the finish line of DEATH. There are no Heisman trophy winners in heaven. That “wreath” is not regarded there. That accolade means absolutely NOTHING there. Tim Tebow, a Heisman winner, may make it to heaven, but if he does NO ONE will ever discuss his trophy there. We will be too embarrassed to do so and none more than Tebow himself, if he makes it heaven. THEY, the big winners in this life, those who have competed hard for worldly honor, rarely enter the Kingdom of heaven. See Jesus on the rich man.

    The WE also exercise self-control and discipline. But WHY? In order “to receive… an imperishable [wreath].” That is, the WE discipline our bodies because no one goes to heaven in the way of sin. The imperishable wreath that we are pursuing is the Spiritual Glory of an everlasting union with the Triune God. That is the prize for which the Christian “hits the weight room.” That is the JOY for which we endure “the after practice workouts.” We are running into an EXPERIENCE of the deepest possible union with our Savior. The exhortation of the apostle is to run in such a way that we are not, in the end, deprived of that ETERNAL EXHILARATION in the ARMS of our LORD JESUS

    So, you see, the athlete is a *METAPHOR* for the Christian.

    Therefore, do not follow Tebow into football and athletic competition.

    Rather, follow the apostle Paul into the spiritual discipline that will enable us to cross the finish line of our race into the OPEN and EXTENDED arms of our Lord.

    “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Cor 11:1

    [BTW, this is not salvation by spiritual effort alone. This is, rather, DO NOT expect to be saved without spiritual effort. Or more bluntly, you simply will NOT be saved WITHOUT spiritual effort and exercise]

    I told you doubters that I was not a Calvinist 🙂

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  6. There are some wordy replies on here but none of you have noted the most revolting thing about this article. In fact, it made me distrust this whole article. Clearly the author doesn’t know what he is talking about. Talk about destroying the body, who in their right mind washes down pizza with the abomination that is Diet Pepsi? Heathens. I’d write more but the pats and ravens are playing. If the ravens lose then Pitt is leading the NFC north. Woot woot.

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