separation of church and sport

I consider myself a spiritually-minded man, even if I’m only occasionally religious. Now I believe that God CAN be everywhere, but I’m not sure God SHOULD be everywhere. Or wants to be. Sometimes I think it’s useful to think of the universe as a big company, with God as more of a…chief executive officer. Makes sure things are running in the black, but kinda removed from day-to-day operations. When I look at the universe this way, I’m struck by a profound realization–people pray way too much.

Just as you wouldn’t constantly pester your CEO with suggestions and special requests (do office employees at Apple constantly call Steve Jobs’ direct line with requests for more paper clips?), I don’t think humans should be bothering God with every detail of their own lives. I’m pretty sure God, if there is one, is too busy with the big picture stuff to address a lot of the things we’re calling about.

C’mon, you know there must be times when God thinks “Stop bugging me. Handle it.” In my conception of the universe, God wants us to at least try to handle our own shit. Or at least go through middle management first (not sure who ‘middle management’ is in my metaphor, but it’s my metaphor, so indulge me). What I’m saying is, we need to stop annoying God.

Which brings me to the Super Bowl (dizzying how I got there, isn’t it?) Apparently, during one Super Bowl, millions of drunk, Doritos-engorged football fans had to endure a thirty-second ad from a Christian organization called…not sure if I have the name right…Focus On (An Incredibly Narrow Homophobic Misogynistic Definition Of)  The Family.

One of their ads a couple of Roman numerals ago featured Tim Tebow, wunderkind quarterback from Florida. Now Tim is really into the whole God thing, to the point of inscribing Bible verses in his eye-black (and seriously Tim—if someone is close enough to you to read what’s written under your eyes, they’re probably planning to tackle you, and aren’t really gonna take the time to reflect on whatever wisdom might be found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians).

Another interesting thing about Tebow, and I guess the point of the ad, is that he wasn’t aborted. Well…congratulations? Me neither, Tim! We’re like…related! My point (and yes, I’m a little winded with how long it took to get there too) is that EVEN IF your God tells you the issue needs to be addressed, you’re not gonna change a lot of minds during the third quarter of the biggest sporting event in the western world!!! When that game goes to commercial, I’m probably gonna be grabbing another beer and swearing about the refs—I’m not in the most philosophical place!

American culture has cruised along just fine for decades because of one fundamental understanding–that on Sunday, you either went to church OR you watched sports on TV. Why risk tearing apart our cultural fabric? God does not care who wins a football game.

The players are as much at fault as the fans. It’s nothing new—Sandy Koufax was an observant Jew and wouldn’t play on the Sabbath. But it’s not like he had ‘Shema Yisrael’ written on the bill of his cap, and he didn’t try to convert anyone. I don’t mind the occasional prayer in the end zone, because it’s like a touchdown dance—silly, pointless, but it doesn’t last long. It’s the post-game interviews that bother me.

Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals used to refer to God so often after games it didn’t’t look like reverence, it just looked like he’s sucking up. Mercifully, God commanded him to retire. And by the way–if you’re gonna give God credit for what goes right during a game, why don’t players ever blame God for bad games? “I wouldn’t have thrown that interception if God hadn’t wanted my team to lose a playoff game.”

As a sports fan, I don’t WANT players on my team to be really ‘religious.’ Football used to be filled with tough sons of bitches like Lombardi. I’m sure away from the field, he was a deeply spiritual guy, but I can’t imagine Vince Lombardi praying during the game. I don’t want my middle linebacker to be particularly Christian—what if he has some epiphany and decides to forgive the nose tackle for blocking him? Christianity is about peace and love and a lot of admirable, but kinda…squishy, feelings. Nowhere does Scripture say ‘the meek shall inherit the Super Bowl trophy.’

I watched my Vikings play the Packers at Green Bay this year, and there was that guy. Big foam block of cheese on his head, no shirt, and scrawled on his chest was ‘John 3:16.’ Is this guy really the kind of messenger God wants? True enough, God created Wisconsin. God even created the ‘frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.’ And then God left and moved on to bigger things.

All I’m saying is that religion and the average sports fan have different agendas. As a fan, I want to be able to yell “Kill that bastard–and then rip his head off!” without being confronted with moral dilemmas, and I don’t want my cleanup batter to suddenly love his enemy, the pitcher. I leave my soul at the stadium gate–and my God is O.K. with this. I’m pretty sure My God actually wants to smite the people who hold up signs that say ‘John 3:16’—it sorta trivializes the message if the messenger takes the form of a fat guy in a rainbow-colored wig trying to do the wave without dropping his bratwurst.

So if you’re an athlete or a fan, do take the time to go to the church or synagogue of your choice. Sign up for missionary work in Zaire. Donate your entire salary to the Sisters of Mercy. But do me and God a favor–once the whistle blows, just play the fucking game and let me enjoy a three hour break from the brutal things in the real world that actually warrant calling on God.