The Seriousness of Sports

I stole this title from a chapter in Fr Schall’s book “A Better Sort of Learning.”

The thought crossed my mind today because I was going to Costco with the secretary from our parish to buy things for the hockey game tonight.  She told me how she found it sad this weekend at her garage sale when one of her neighbours came by to check things out.  In these here parts, the Canucks are on everyone’s minds.  So, naturally, she said “So, what do you think about the Canucks so far?”  He responded, speaking for himself and his wife: “We don’t do sports.”

She found that sad, as if to say sports are below them, or that sports have no real interest or importance to life.  I think, though, that such a person has lost a proper view of life a very long time ago.  I say that because, as I was driving at one point today, I was listening to the Team 1040, and they were talking to a football player who said “deep down, we’re all just children who just simply love sports.”  What a wonderful statement.  The reason my secratary’s neighbour’s statement is so sad is because it is a sign that he lost his childhood a long time ago.  Jesus meant it when He said “unless you become like this child, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”  To be a fan of sports is to be a child in every good sense of the term.

But there is something more to sports.  Sports are serious, in that they have something substantial to offer the world (in so far they are sport, I should say.  I don’t think the UFC is a sport: it’s men beating other men with no limits.  That’s not a sport.  That’s a fist fight in a ring.)  St Paul gives a great analogy to sports when speaking about the spiritual life, for example.  He is right: the crown one seeks in sports is fleeting, it has no lasting imprint, while the crown of glory and of Heaven is eternal: it will never pass away.  But he cites sports because they are serious.  Look at what people do to be successful in sports.  I give kudos to guys who are on the ice, for example, throwing their bodies in front of pucks going 100MPH.  That takes sacrifice.  They are on the ice even though they are in pain.  They work, they toil, they struggle, they do everything they can so that the team can have victory.

This is so very much like the spiritual life, and it is for this reason St Paul cites sports in reference to the spiritual life.  He doesn’t reference family life, work, personal pursuits: he cites sports because they are a sign of our eternal race.  What is fleeting does not make it less important, it adds to the importance of it by virtue of the fact that it is in reference to the eternal.

I think, in the end, God created us to be creatures of sport.  It has so much to teach us about the spiritual lives.  If only we have the ears to hear.



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6 responses to “The Seriousness of Sports

  1. Lawrence

    I disagree. UFC is a sport! Men have been fighting each other for sport for..well…EVER! It might seem barbaric on the outside but if you go deeper it is sport through and through. I’ve seen more sportsmanship in most UFC fights than I have in hockey matches (admit it Harrison, I know you agree). In UFC you don’t fight because you hate the other guy. A little different from our beloved Canadian sport where tempers flare, resulting in cussing and fighting. I’m actually not that big a fan of UFC, but Harrison you are going a little too far saying it’s not a sport…

  2. Sports and sportsmanship are not the same thing.

    Would you consider Gladiator events in ancient Rome to be sports? Because the UFC is nothing but a modern form of that.

    Just because people are sportsmanlike doesn’t mean it is a sport. You can be “sportsmanlike” when you lose a bet. It doesn’t make betting a sport. To be “sportsmanlike” presume, furthermore, that there is something enduring, valuable, and honourable about sport itself. Tell me what is enduring, valuable, and honourable about two guys in a cage beating the crap out of each other with no protection at all.

  3. Lawrence

    Except Gladiators fought to the death. It was sadistic. UFC is not about sadism. And they are protected, they have gloves and a referee there to make sure they are not severely injured. I suppose you are against fighting in hockey too 😉

  4. I am not against fighting, but a sport that prides itself on knocking guys out with their fists and kicks to me is not a sport, it’s a bloodbath. That is ALL the sport is about: how much you can kick the crap out of another guy with the tools of your body. And trust me, there will be death in the UFC. I was flipping through the channels the other day and saw it and stayed there for a few seconds. I was disgusted by what I saw as one guy just beat the total crap out of another guy, rending him unconscious. That is not sport, that is brutality and animality.

  5. Lawrence

    So you are against UFC but for fighting in hockey… What about wrestling, is that a sport? And is boxing a sport? And jiujitsu? Combine them and you get UFC. Come to think of it I can only recall a death from a hockey fight none from UFC. Regardless we are both giving pointless arguments. Agree to disagree. Haha

  6. David Henderson

    Thanks for the blog post, read it, and would like to push back on a few of your points, just to see where that will get us. As you may have intuited I’m not wholly invested in an opposition to sports, this is more Hans’ influence working on me, though I do think it is an interesting question to ask in a culture which invests so hugely (grossly) in sport.

    I appreciate your first point, sport as playfulness. I agree that sport represents something of a childhood love of play, an exuberant and abundant expression of physicality and the joy of just doing something fun. And, as an aside, I think your use of the often misused passage “unless you become like a child” fits well with this idea and is the correct use, the child is one who receives the abundant gift of created freedom with exuberance, thankfulness, and an over-flowing joy and wonder at the miracle of his being, and I do not think that it is a stretch to imagine ‘playfulness’ as the primary expression of the child in this. This of course never becomes wholly subjective, as if one could say “This is sport because I enjoy it,” for our expressions are always rooted in the moral dimension of creation … love of God / love of neighbor … which may go a long way in exposing the corruption of ‘playfulness’ that is on display in the UFC.

    Now, on the question of seriousness. First off, doesn’t this somewhat run against the logic of your first point? And second, if seriousness is justification for sport, I would see this as making it more difficult to differentiate between sports like lets say hockey and the UFC, after all, both are ‘serious.’ I feel that we as human beings are especially apt at making things appear more serious than they really are and then using that seriousness as justification for why we do them in the first place. Here I’m thinking particularly of the NFL and of the overly-dramaticized “event” that they put on every Sunday in which through rhetoric, music, graphics, pyrotechnics, and sheer religious ideology, they promote their brand of sport primarily by convincing people of its epic proportions. And I think, to a certain degree, this ‘seriousness’ is often played up and contrived as a means of garnering consumers for their product. Here too I think the rhetoric of the “toughness” and “sacrifice” of modern athletes is evidence of this contrived sense of the seriousness of sports, especially when athletes today, if anything, are more coddled, protected, and financially compensated than at any time in history. How serious is the super bowl? How serious is winning the Stanley Cup? And here I somewhat bristle at your comment, “They work, they toil, they struggle, they do everything they can so that the team can have victory,” because really, how serious is victory? Is the glory of sport in the seriousness of competing and being victorious, or is the glory in the joy of the performance? And when you have a contrived seriousness in which we strive, toil, and compete for the sake of ourselves and our team, does this not displace the true glory which is the performance of a human body at play?

    Those are my thoughts, I’ll finish with a few further talking points and see what I can provoke with these…
    Paul’s analogy of striving to win the race, I think does point to a ‘seriousness’, but I wonder if a distinction between athletics and sports might be valuable in this case. The striving, endurance, perseverance, and commitment of athletes I think are all commendable virtues and I think is what Paul has in mind, primarily in the context of a ‘race’ or ‘marathon’ which is run, not so much to win (at least not entirely to win), but with the “goal in mind” (the finish line). Is there a difference between athletics and sports?
    Modern sport is not just an ideology of seriousness, it is a package of emotions, often playing on the more base instincts of the human person: ‘violence, tribalism, sex, courage, joy, disappointment’ (to quote CBS’s Steve Kroft) put together for the sole purpose of being entertaining. To the extent that some of these qualities aren’t the noblest of attributes of the human person, to what degree is the entertainment value of sport “crass”? Does marketing sport as entertainment (something explicitly for our enjoyment) diminish, weaken, or subvert the principle of playfulness you spoke of first?
    The wedding of sport, national (or regional) identity, and religious values has been prevalent in almost all major political and military powers in the last two hundred years, and sporting events in this time have often been used as an analogy for nationalism, military prowess, and racial superiority (18th century British Rugby fields as “battlegrounds”, pre and post WWII Olympics in Berlin and London, Moscow and LA Olympic boycotts, and numerous examples of inner-regional rioting/strife). I suppose my question is whether we applaud a theoretical, abstract and somewhat naive concept of sport that ignores the ‘competitive’ element, that feeling of superiority or betterness over a defeated opponent. Is sport necessarily wedded with these tribal elements? Is “competition” an essential part of sport? And if so, how does this fit with sport as playfulness?

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