Last week I began recording some of my thoughts on why people love sports. This is the second of what I plan on being a total of three posts.
The Blues Brothers may be an odd introduction on a post about sports, but the message in this song captures the thrust of this post. Everybody needs somebody to love. Humans connect with other humans. We’re relational to the core. Loneliness is not a virtue. And separation ( whether it’s divorce, bitterness, lawsuits, fights, break-ups, parting ways, etc.) are painful realities. So we long for communion, deep, steady, satisfying, authentic, passionate communion.
And sports, whether as a player or a fan, provides context for this kind of connection with others.
Attaching to an authority figure(s) is crucial for life to thrive. And in sports, athletes have the opportunity to relate through submission to a coach. The team follows his guidance, listens to his direction, and looks up to him as their leader. I’ve heard many players say that they felt closer to their coaches than they did their own parents. And I myself can resonate with a sincere, deep-seated loyalty to my coaches. I loved having their strong, experienced, and wise presence in my life. Coaches can provide a steadiness and a sense of order for their team. This relationship, this communion between athlete and coach is a huge part of what makes so many love to give themselves to the game.
As one example of the powerful relationship between teammates, think of the intimate ways they often touch each other. Baseball players slap each other on the rear end after a great hit. Football team captains walk to the center of the field for the coin toss holding hands. Rough and tough hockey players hug each other after a victory. If we saw these people touching one another like this outside of the sports arena, we’d think they were lovers. But it’s deemed appropriate on the sport’s field because they do love each other. They are communing together with such profundity that they shamelessly touch one another’s bodies in otherwise inappropriate ways.
When I think back on my time spent with teammates, tears can come to my eyes. Even if just for a short few years, I related with these men in potent ways. We relied on one another. We rebuked one another. We encouraged one another. We fought together. We cried together. We celebrated together. We saw each other in our weakest moments and in our strongest moments. So we could scarcely help from calling one another “brothers” and “family”. Where else does someone find this type of community?
“The Big Blue Nation”, “The Bama Nation”, “The Auburn Family”: These are just a few of the fan bases that have named themselves in such a way that indicates their communion. But all fan bases are such. Fans share a common language, especially shibboleths like War Eagle, Roll Tide, Gig ’em Aggies, etc. “Who says this kind of stuff? What do they mean?” If you’re in the family, you say it, and you know what it means.
Fans share common colors and logos. We happily emblazon our bodies in outfits that indicate who we belong to. It allows our fellow fans to know, “We’re together. We’re connected through these sacred colors and symbols.”
Fans share common memories and heroes. Fans can spontaneously meet up and immediately tell the legends of their history: Punt Bama Punt, Bo Over the Top, Miracle in Jordan-Hare, and Kick Six. These tales of greatness give fans a united memory, memories that enforce the meaningfulness of their union together under the banner of their favorite teams.
As the Blues Brothers sang about, and these observations about sports demonstrate, humans were made to experience other humans in relationship. And this is exactly what’s reflected in the biblical narrative. The opening chapters of Genesis speak of man being made in the image of God, and as we come to find out this God himself exists in an eternal relationship with himself (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). As creatures made in the image of this relational God, we reflect God’s image by relating with others. Thus in those same chapters in Genesis it takes very little time for God to conclude, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
But as the story progresses, sin enters the picture and separates the beautiful union that was meant to exist between fellow men. The first couple is at odds with one another (Genesis 3:12), and the first set of brothers ends in bloodshed (Genesis 4:8). And the sad story of separation continues for millennia. Graciously, God’s promised rescuer, Jesus of Nazareth, appeared in order to deal with the de-unifying effects of sin. The Apostle writes of Jews and gentiles, “In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:13-14). And he laters refers to the church as “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15). Having suffered the curse of sin on the cross, and having triumphed through his resurrection, Jesus’ disciples are now a part of a new communion, “the household of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15).
It’s for this communion that we were all created, communion centered around the authority of Christ, communion that is sealed by the Spirit inside of us. The communion that we experience through sports is a mere sample of this fuller reality in the church. All of our communing in sports, as meaningful and helpful as it can be, is only a shadow of true communion, whereas Christ’s body is the substance.
So the next time you experience community through sports, praise God. Sports are a grace from the Lord, and one of the gracious things about them is relating with other people through them. But also recognize that communion around sports is simply a pointer to the truer communion we were made for, communion in “the household of God” (1 Timothy 3:15).