Faith & Football

If you happen to be a fan of the NFL, or one of its teams, it’s been quite an exciting season! Some of the teams that were pretty crummy a year ago did very well this year (for example, the Chicago Bears). Some that used to be really good, well, let’s just say they weren’t able to relive the past (think, “Green Bay Packers”). There’s also been pretty decent parity—even the best teams, the #1 seeds in the playoffs, lost to some not-too-great teams.

What’s been particularly interesting to me as I’ve lightly watched the NFL is the number of high-profile athletes who’ve openly confessed their Christian faith and expressed a sincere desire to glorify God in how they play the game. Yet that bold faith and honorable desire should not be perceived as some kind of magic ticket to the Super Bowl. Sure, Carson Wenz, Zack Ernst, and several of their Philadelphia Eagles teammates are committed followers of Jesus Christ, and the Eagles defeated the Patriots in last year’s Super Bowl. They did make the playoffs this year, too, and defeated the Chicago Bears to advance to the next round. Interestingly, though, the Bears’ place kicker, Cody Parkey, who missed the game-winning field goal, is also a committed Christian. He demonstrated his faith most brilliantly in handling that disappointment. But back to the Eagles. Did they beat the Bears because they had more Christians on their team? Well, the next week they ended up losing to the New Orleans Saints. Ah, but Drew Brees is a Christian, right? Yes, but the Saints lost to the Rams.

Now we’re down to two remaining teams that will square off in the Super Bowl on February 3—the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots. Unlike quarterbacks Wenz and Brees, Tom Brady and Jared Goff certainly didn’t give public evidence of being followers of Christ. In the interviews following last weekend’s exciting victories, Goff praised his teammates for working their a___s off, and Brady described the contest with the Chiefs as one h____ of a game! Honestly, if you’ve been around competitive sports at all, you’ve heard plenty of such talk—and much, much worse! But the athletes vocal about their faith in Christ have pretty consistently avoided the “potty mouth” talk.

Now, why have I gone through all that? Couple reasons. One, some Christians seem to think that the athlete most faithful in his testimony for Christ should have the greatest success. It’s sort of a sports version of the prosperity gospel. And then they view the game itself—i.e. Eagles vs. Patriots—as a form of spiritual warfare: “May the godliest players win!” This idea is as wrongheaded as the notion that the godliest salesman will earn the most money. Here’s the thing. Being a Christian “anything” will not make that guy the best in his field. It will just mean he strives to do his best, seeks to be faithful to Christ, and endeavors to honor his God, wherever that takes him in terms of vocational “success.”

Second, sometimes the most compelling testimony for Christ comes not after an athlete’s stellar performance and glorious victory, but after suffering a humbling defeat. I really felt awful for Bears’ kicker Cody Parkey after that disappointing missed field goal and the consequent loss to the Eagles. But he handled the failure in a manner worthy of his Lord. As soon as he saw the kick was “no good,” he pointed heavenward in a gesture of submission to his sovereign Lord’s providence. No cussing. No stomping off the field. No ripping off his helmet and throwing it to the ground. Then, a few moments later, he and some teammates, as well as players from the Eagles, met in the center of the field and formed a circled together for a brief time of prayer. That’s Christ-like class.

So, in conclusion, beware of “prosperity gospel creep.” Being a Christian does not guarantee financial success or victory on the gridiron. Then, realize that a Christian needs to be—and can be—a positive reflection on his Lord and Savior in both victory and defeat.

Lastly, go Patriots! 😊