Football is back! For this boy with Southern roots, that’s a big deal: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
Shouts of “Roll Tide!” “Go Cards!” and—now that the Wildcats have posted a 5-0 start—even “Go Big Blue!” can be heard up and down the halls. “House Divided” tags adorn bumpers, and rally flags proudly wave above car windows.
Yes, I know basketball will always be king in Kentucky. I’ve grown used to that fact after nearly 10 years here. Still, the roar of 70,000 fans; the bands playing fight songs; a crisp, fall afternoon; the pop of shoulder pads; tailgate spreads of fried chicken or barbecue; and sharing all this with your family and close friends is dear to my heart. An upset of a top 20 team, a Gatorade bath, fans rushing onto the field—it’s the making of legends!
Around bowl time, it may get a little tense, especially if your team is destined for the playoffs. Fans by the tens of thousands will pour into cities like Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, Dallas, Birmingham, and Nashville—all cheering for their teams to win and bragging rights for their beloved alma mater.
For many though, it’s become a religion of sorts. At least one recent poll I saw even claimed that “the couple that cheers together stays together.” Wait! Isn’t that supposed to read “the couple that prays together, stays together?” Not anymore, according to the Religion News Service article.
“In their passionate attachment to their sports ‘families,” one couple it featured—who claimed to be “spiritual,” but weren’t attached to any religious institution—were “by no means unique,” the article observed. “As religious attachments have waned as a determinant of whom Americans choose to pair with, team loyalty has persisted,” the writer concluded.
Before we go any further, it might be good to note who conducted this online survey, which found that pulling for the same sports teams was more important than agreeing about religion. The survey of about 2,000 people was done by Fathead, a company that sells oversized wall decorations of sports stars, or should I say “icons.” Perhaps, the participants may have been a little biased, since they likely were avid sports fans.
We shouldn’t dismiss the results entirely, however, even though only about half of those being surveyed actually were married. The results do tell a story about the perspectives of many Americans who are attending weekend sporting events ritually. Here’s some of what the survey found:
•Approximately 25 percent of women and 41 percent of men said it was more important to have a partner who rooted for the same team than one who shared their religious perspective.
•Approximately 38 percent of men and 28 percent of women would be willing to make substantial sacrifices, such as adding 20 minutes to their commute, if it would change how much their partner cared about sports.
•Approximately the same percentage of men would be willing to add 10 pounds, if it would change how much their partner cared. As you’d probably guess, far fewer women felt the same way.
In the article, a Temple University religion professor who writes on the intersection of sports and faith said the results reflect how sports is replacing faith for many. “We see ourselves as spiritual, but we have a broad definition of spirituality,” Rebecca Alpert explained.
We’d have to admit that for true sports enthusiasts the line between faith and fandom does become blurred. For them, stadiums, arenas and ballparks often become sacred sites. Coaches become like priests, knowing the best plays. Some players rise to the level of icons. These fans don their colors from head to toe, and they live and die with every win or loss.
But, the sense of community they seemingly find on Saturdays among the other avid fans is short lived, existing only for a season—if their team is winning. There’s always next year! Hopefully. Even so, the victories don’t last. New champions are crowned.
If only they’d realize that the victory found through Jesus does last—forever. The community we share among fellow believers at church is real, genuine. God’s word is everlasting, the hope we share. It’s what truly binds us—and couples—together!
Maybe we should give our pastors a Gatorade bath. No, forget I said that! October is pastor appreciation month, and a complement, words of encouragement, a good cheer would be more appreciated, I’m sure—along with your faithful, energetic attendance on Sundays. Oh, and invite some fellow fans while you are at Saturday’s game to come pull for God’s team. We’re sure to win!