How to Lose in Sports

I hate losing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a card game, a touch-football game, or Scattergories. Losing is like being forced to drink a tall glass of cottage cheese while watching your puppy get kicked by the opposing team.

One of the worst days in UO history.

One of the worst days in UO history.

I know that sounds slightly extreme, but it used to be a lot worse for me. Whenever I’d lose or my favorite team would lose, it used to depress me for days. Not minutes. Not hours. Days. The worst was whenever my beloved Oregon Ducks would lose a football game.

Growing up, the Ducks used to lose often, so fall was always a rough time for my heart. But once I hit high school, winning became a regular thing for the Ducks. It got to the point that in my freshman year of college—attending the University of Oregon, of course—the Ducks were well on their way to go to the national championship game, led by the Heisman-trophy-candidate quarterback, Dennis Dixon.

But while playing Arizona, Dixon’s knee gave out, a season-ending injury. Without their starting quarterback, the Ducks flailed and lost the game, forfeiting all national championship aspirations. They limped through the remainder of the season.

Needless to say, I was devastated. This was the worst loss of them all. I wasn’t just depressed, I was angry. I felt like this had been some sick cosmic joke, to come so far over the years just to fall flat. It was unjust.

Trying to cope with the loss, some friends wanted to watch a movie. If something else occupied our minds, then maybe we would feel better. Someone chose the movie Blood Diamond, which had come out on DVD not too long before. If you don’t know, Blood Diamond is a movie about conflict diamonds and how they are used to fund rebel armies who use child soldiers to wage their wars. It’s a gruesome but very well-made film.

There’s this one scene in the movie where the rebel general invades a village looking for new boys to join his army and slaves to mine for diamonds. The general massacres much of the village and rounds up all the males, boys and men. Hands get chopped off. Mothers get shot. It’s horrible.

I remember watching the scene and feeling disturbed because the crimes committed were so wrong. But then I suddenly felt more disturbed. I realized that although I was moved by this injustice, I was not angered by it—not like how I was angered by the supposed injustice of the Duck game. I was more furious about a football game than I was about an evil man brainwashing children to kill people. I remember thinking, I am a horrible human being. Football doesn’t matter as much as people.

Jesus took me to the mat for that one. Thankfully, from that point on I’ve had a sobered perspective on losing. Sometimes I have an initial emotional reflex, but it’s always tempered with that memory.

A couple years later, the Oregon Ducks actually ended up going the national championship game but we lost because of a last second field goal. I was fine. Watching the game was actually one of the most fun experiences of my college career.

I’m not saying losing should be easy. I understand the pain of losing a game. In a high school soccer playoff game, I missed a penalty kick that would’ve tied the game. Instead, we lost because of me. The pain is real, especially for the players and coaches. I’m not going to take that away from anyone. But I do know that sports is just a part of life, not life itself. While we’re losing games, people are losing loved ones. We should consider ourselves blessed when the most traumatic event in our life is just losing a game.

At the same time, we shouldn’t devalue the losses. Don’t pretend like they never happened. They’re tools to teach us, grow us. In many ways, you learn more when you lose than when you win. There is such a thing as getting back on the horse, stepping back into the ring, and the come-from-behind win.

Everyone is going to lose at some point, definitely in sports but also in life. The question is not if you will lose, but how will you react.

Sport-ology: Why We Need Sports

I have been surrounded by sports my entire life.

My father was a college track coach before becoming an athletic shoe designer. My grandparents were track coaches for decades. Their love for sports was definitely past down to us kids. The smell of sweat and grass was my permanent scent for the first eighteen years of my life.

Some of my earliest memories of sports involved watching the Michael Jordan fly across the court, embarrassing opponents left and right. My family and I lived in Taiwan for a good chunk of the 90’s and most of the NBA games they showed on TV were exclusively of his Royal Airness.

It never rains in Autzen Stadium

The first time football began to intrigue me was when the Oregon Ducks made it to the 1995 Rose Bowl. My whole family traveled down to Pasadena to watch the “Grandaddy” of all bowl games. Unfortunately us kids had to watch the Ducks lose to Penn State on a small TV at a relative’s house.

OBSESSION

We live in a country that is obsessed with sports.

The largest and most expensive structures built within cities are dedicated to the furtherance of the fanatic experience. Even in our struggling economy, billions of dollars are spent attending, viewing, playing, and experiencing sports.

Bitter rivalries between sports teams match tribal war proportions. You can mock someone’s politics, faith, or mother but God help you if you put on a Washington Huskies jersey in Eugene, Oregon—the brass knuckles to your spleen will send you back up the I-5.

The fact that sports can have grown adult men fist-fight each other whilst defending the honor of their team (which are represented by cartoon animals, mind you) manifests just how much love there is for sports. If drunken-sports-related brawls were dollars (streakers on football and baseball fields would be fifty cents), our economy would be unstoppable.

RECEIVE, REJECT, REDEEM

Since we are surrounded by such a gluttonous amount of athletic display, how are we as Christians to react to sports? Sports are a major part of our culture and they are not going away any time soon. Is there anything from sports, in the words of Mark Driscoll, Christians can “receive, reject, or redeem?”

Whether it is because of the rampant idolatry, psychotic fanaticism, materialism, self-glorification, steroids, play-for-pay deals, perspiration, violence, competition, or Laker Dancers many Christians have decided to reject sports. It just seems so worldly and so devoid of God.

The evidence seems to show that sports bring out the worst in human nature. Scandal after scandal has plagued the recent college football offseason. Every year we discover baseball players seeking to “enhance” their performance through the use of drugs. I have even seen my fair share of parents on the brink of going to jail for assault because they did not like something that happened in their child’s football game.

Shirl James Hoffman (Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sports), who wrote an extensive column for Christianity Today regarding Sports and Christianity, states, “while honesty, sympathy, and generosity are the idealized derivatives of a life lived with God, recent data reveal that immersion in a culture devoted to proving one’s superiority squelches rather than reinforces these virtues.”

And yet, other Christians have received sports and all its inglorious baggage. Unfortunately, in many cases Christians are the ones perpetuating the self-aggrandizing, dishonest, rage filled, sexualized, and greedy attitudes running on the fields and filling stadiums.

Ted Kluck (The Reason for Sports: A Christian Fanifesto) regarding Hoffman’s article, stated, “For many [Christian athletes], God has become nothing more than another lucky pair of socks—another performance-enhancing drug.”

Sports are fun and we like to win. We like to know we are better than others. It is as simple as that.

AN ALTERNATIVE

The big question Christians need to ask themselves is what does the Bible say about sports? More than you would think.

The biggest sports fan in the entire Bible is the Apostle Paul (although Elijah, who outran a chariot, comes in a close second). Paul saw sport (which was used as pagan worship in that day) as a means to communicate Gospel truths to his readers.

“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). Just as athletes work hard and discipline themselves to compete, Paul exhorts his readers to live the Christian life.

In fact, at the end of his life, Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Paul wrote much more about sports than even these two verses but they offer a glimpse into Paul’s perspective of sport. It is something to be redeemed, not whole-heartedly received but not rejected.

Christians need to take a biblical theology of sports; sport-ology, if you will.

We cannot cut ourselves off from the world in monastic fashion but we also cannot welcome with open arms the self-glorifying, win-at-all-costs attitudes that many athletes and fans retain.

Whether we play them or we watch them, in the end, sports can be another beneficial way to learn about living the Christian life.

In further posts, we will examine specific lessons that can be gleaned from the wide world of sports.

What are some that you have learned?

To Whet Your Appetite: 10/28/11

Every once in a while I will post links to articles or webpages that I find interesting, insightful, or hilarious. No one is paying me to do this but I wouldn’t mind it…sort of kidding.

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the Elephant Room 2. If you don’t know, the Elephant Room is the brain child of pastor James MacDonald where a bunch of influential pastors gather around and have straight shooting conversations about different issues facing the church such as multi-site vs. single site churches and whether or not playing “Highway to Hell” is a good way to reach the culture with the Gospel. Today Grace to You, the ministry under John “The Godfather” MacArthur, offered its take on what the Elephant Room is really trying to accomplish. Legitimate or not, I have to admit that the Elephant room is extremely entertaining.

Recently in the New York Times, Karl W. Giberson and Randall J. Stephens rebuked evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians for holding to “simplistic theology, cultural isolationism, and stubborn anti-intellectualism.” Tuesday, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, responded to the article in defense of biblical truth.

Multi-site churches are a hot topic in the evangelical world. Many of the largest churches in the nation are multi-site but this does not mean that all are happy about their emergence. Here is a recent panel from Baptist21 discussing the biblical and practical merits of multi-site churches. One of the panelists, James MacDonald (pastor of a multi-site church), wrote a blog post admitting to a couple difficulties with being a multi-site pastor.

By the way, Coldplay just released their new album and in my opinion it is excellent. Here is a review from the crew at Relevant Magazine.