Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sports as Spiritual Liability

I've discussed interscholastic sports as a distraction to education and a deterrent to physical health.  Now I want to look at the spiritual and social aspects of them.

Before I go on, I should say that there are a lot of sports in our society, and I enjoy watching professional games (mostly hockey).  You can't wipe them all out, nor is there any need.  But in our schools, the activities we provide teach lessons, sometimes unintended.

I would argue that focusing so much on sports promotes a point of view that is spiritually and socially unhealthy.  What is it?  That to be successful in life one must win -- beat the other -- that life is a zero sum game and if I get ahead, it is always at your expense.

Think about some of the phrases we've learned over the years -- phrases, I'm sad to say, that have been repeated by school coaches around the country for years:  "Winning isn't the main thing, it's the only thing" or "Second place is first loser" or even "We're number one."

I remember chanting those things back in school -- it was fun.  But think of that:  "We're number one."  Number one?  Sure, maybe on that day we played a better game of basketball, but number one?  There's always someone who can and will beat you.  To think we should take our identity from the outcome of a game we didn't even play and that could just as easily have gone a different way is silly.

But more importantly, it's dangerous to our souls.  I remember driving past a VA Hospital once, and a banner read, "Thanks to our Veterans, We're number 1."  Sadly, too many of us think of international politics as a sport.  Our country's best.  We can whoop you.  You other countries are losers.

We see it at every level:  interpersonal, business, politics (where you have to destroy your opponent even if you agree on 90% of the issues).  Our focus on sports isn't on having fun and being physically active, it's on beating the other.  

That's why we keep records and standings.  That's why High Schools across the country hang banners from the rafters that proudly proclaim, "Conference Champions, 1994."  It shows that they were winners.

All in all, the emphasis on winning defeats our very souls.  I've heard far too many adults say that the sports teach kids about real life -- kids getting cut from the team just makes them realize that tough things happen.  That losing happens, and you just pick yourself up and move on so you can win the next time.  Well, that's fine, and I agree that part of our job as adults is to teach our kids how to move on from the inevitable failings and disappointments we face.

But I disagree that our purpose is to beat the other.  That our business can only succeed by driving the competition out of business -- or at least by being Number 1.  I disagree with politicians who tell us that compromise is wishy washy or not being true to core values.  

I disagree with those who say we must be the best.  There is not such thing.  Only God is best.  The rest of us are here to learn from each other, to help each other and to cooperate.  Sports can be fun, but they are not the way to proceed in life.  

Many say that sports teach teamwork -- well, so does working together on a project in school.  But a project in school does not teach us to work against others, and our sports fascination does.  When we see our goal as beating the other, we have fallen into spiritual illness, and that's not something we should be teaching in our schools.