The Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV. It was their first championship in fifty years. The next day, before downtown Kansas City hosted its parade or most fans sobered up, betting began on who would win the 2021 Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers hoisted the 107th Grey Cup in 2019. It was their first win since 1990 — the year of East and West German reunification. If you can’t remember when Germany was East and West, chances are you won’t remember when Tom Burgess quarterbacked either.
I’m a sports fan with a gift for remembering useless information, according to my lovely bride. I recall random stats like Dave Collins stealing 60 bases for the 1984 Toronto Blue Jays. (Yes, I actually remembered that!) How can I conjure up such worthless items but struggle to memorize Scripture or know the name of that guy I see at church every week?
Sports are enormously engaging and just as fleeting. This is the tension that both awakens a fire in us and simultaneously exposes our shallowness.
There is something beautiful, unifying, and inspiring in sports. Teamwork. Overcoming odds. Amazing physicality. The thrill of victory. The heart-wrenching, kick-in-the-gut defeats that make those victories so thrilling. Comeback wins make for tales told for years and nostalgic online searches for bat flips or overtime heroics. It all points to the wonderful mystery within us. We are made to celebrate, created to overcome; human beings do not want to lose.
Where does that come from? It’s part of the image of God in us. We even long to overcome the grave! It’s what was won for us through Jesus Christ, or as the old theologian Gustaf Aulen summed Him up: Christus Victor. The tense, anticipatory longing to win that erupts into thunderous ovation points to a larger celebration shouted by the Apostle Paul, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
Sports, it seems to me, direct our vision upward to a greater victory that we all long for. After all, we seem to know that every championship in this world is very, very, very fleeting.
Sports — especially at its absolute pinnacle — are fleeting. Winners become next year’s target. Champions get rings, but rings get auctioned, and the people who laud the victors will just as quickly boo if next year turns into a debacle. Sports remind us that many of life’s expenditures can be utterly and ultimately meaningless, as the preacher of Ecclesiastes bemoans (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2).
Furthermore, when you add up the absolute injustice of the amount of money and time thrown at sports and the “idols” worshipped, it becomes even more distasteful. Stars make millions. The same fans that are screaming to sign a free agent, whatever the cost, can criticize a living wage for the poor or withhold generosity from churches and charities. Fans tweeting responses to a deadline trade seem unmoved by the plight of those suffering under political oppression – like East Germans were back in 1990 or as the Rohingya are today.
So, we sporting types live a dichotomous tension. While the desire to win is a window into God-imitating overcoming victory in life, community, and eternity, our often too – blind fascination with fandom is a troubling indicator of our unaddressed brokenness and unthinking callousness.
So, cheer your team! Let every victory inspire a pressing on toward the true prize in Christ (Philippians 3:14). And, when the losses mount, or the odds are stacked against your colours, wake up and repent of missing the mark and placing your hope and energy in all the wrong places.