A New Idol ?

SVILUPPO – A dad sent me this article from the New York Times dealing with our topic her. What I found especially interesting (in this era where “religious liberty” seems to be often ignored (at best), mocked or attacked, note what happened to Robert M. Beren (A Jewish Academy) concerning sports and playing on the Sabboth (or not). Remarkable what the threat of a lawsuit and bad press can do members of a ruling sports board of directors.


At a recent karate class I had an interesting conversation with one of our younger students.  She exclaimed, “I am so glad to be at karate class tonight.” I asked her why she felt that way. She answered, “I only have karate tonight I don’t have soccer practice.” I asked her how often she has soccer practice. She said almost every day.

karate class

Here’s where the conversation took an interesting unexpected and perhaps an unfortunate turn.

Me: “Do you enjoy soccer practice?

She: “The team is very competitive.”

Me: “Ok, but do you enjoy playing soccer?”

She: “We compete at a very high-level. We’re in tournaments all the time. We go to state finals almost all the time.”

Deciding to push the issue I said, “Yes, buchildren playing soccert do you actually have fun playing soccer?”

She answered, “No. It’s not about having fun.”

What’s particularly sad is that I have told this story to grade-school and high-school students and parents. Without exception, every one of them has said two things:

  1. Yes, Father that is absolutely so true, and…
  2. Our kids are just way too busy and quite frankly, as an adult, I am too busy with all of this stuff too.

We’ve all heard the definition of insanity, “Doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result.” So if this story is true – and if everybody recognizes it as a problem – then why do we keep doing it? Is it possible that sports have become an idol and the athletic field has become (as we reading in the books of Jeremiah and 1 Kings) the “new temple of Baal?”

I recall a radio interview with a former women’s soccer coach at a major, Division-1 university.  She ended up leaving her position after beginning to receive death threats from parents of student-athletes. Why? After investing tens- and maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars in their children’s sports programs, parents were “expecting” not only that their child would play – not only that their child would start – but that their child would definitely receive scholarship money (and most often, a significant amount). The problem was that so many of the student athletes did not possess the skill set to play Division 1-A varsity sports at the highest level. This was the case even though they had been successful in middle-school and high-school level athletics, attended numerous camps, had been awarded varsity letters, etc… Subliminally parents felt that they had “invested” in their children’s sport’s career and now were expecting a particular “return on that investment.”  The coach had to tell parents again and again that their assessment of their child’s talent was overrated and that the parents’ expectations of the university was misguided. This often lead to fiery confrontations and threats and, in the end, caused this coach to realize that the situation was totally out-of-control and that to continue in the position in which she found herself was not worth her own personal safety or mental health.

Webster’s definition of an idol lists:    idol

  • An object of extreme devotion
  • A false conception or fallacy

It is also helpful to look at a number of scripture passages dealing with worship of idols.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Matthew 16:26)

Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Corinthians 8:6)

It’s interesting to look at some “Articles On The Topic” listed below on the topic.

As a pastor I continue to be concerned when speaking with various groups on how to grow the parish. Overwhelmingly the number one issue affecting parish participation, Mass participation and active engagement in ministry is scholastic sports. Nothing else comes close.sports is my religion

Please understand that I am not against athletics. I appreciate the value of being in good physical shape, of sportsmanship, setting and achieving goals, healthy competition, and team camaraderie. I’ve been an active athlete my whole life. I lettered four years in swimming when I was in high school. I trained with an Olympic swim team. I played varsity golf.  I trained hard. Nevertheless, I was also involved in just two sports – swimming in the fall and winter, then golf in the spring and summer. Between travel, keeping up my grades and working part time (…to pay for gas and car insurance. No WAY dad and mom were paying for that), it was all I had time for.

I admit a bias here, but I don’t understand it when I hear young students engaged in three, four or even five activities.  I understand the goal of athletics, or any healthy activity, as an opportunity to keep young people “out of trouble” while developing character. I also understand that in a few, very rare cases, some student athletes can acquire scholarship money, which helps in the financial support of an ever-increasing and expensive college education.

All that being said, the situation, in my view, has gone into a realm where the question could be asked – not only on an emotional but also a spiritual level – what is driving all of this? Do the spiritual development of a young person and the value of a child’s immortal soul play any kind of priority when competing with sports and extra-curricular activities?

It is an issue that is certainly complex and has many sides.  Thus it does not lend itself to any quick, simple or easy solution. But the solution to any complex issue is to recognize, first, that a problem actually exists.



Articles on the Topic:

The Secularization of Sunday: Should Churches Change to Accommodate Sports?

Sports vs. Church

The Main Reason for Declining Church Attendance: Children’s Sports?

Are You Skipping Church for Your Kids’ Sports?

Practically Speaking: Separation of Church and Sports (An alternative view from Candace Bure, wife of NHL Hockey star Paval Bure)



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